I’ve been busy at work and with a 20-month old son at home, time has been sparse to post but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been paying attention to what is going on in Florida. Here is my take on some of the stories playing out
With less than two weeks to go, the focus is beginning to shift from how the organization’s prospects are performing in Spring to how the actual regulars are performing and how the opening day lineup is going to look. There is one exception and that is Brett Lawrie (pronounced “Lorry” or “Lori” or “Laurie” but definitely not LAW-rie). Lawrie is still performing well and Jays fans everywhere seem to be asking whether he is going to make the team out of spring.
I’m not the first to say this and I won’t be the last but Brett Lawrie is not going to be in the Blue Jays opening day lineup. He’s 20. He’s adapting to a new position. He’s never had a AAA at bat. He is definitely knocking on the door and I think we’ll see him in the lineup at some point in 2011 even if it when rosters are expanded in September but there is no rational reason to bring him to the majors just yet.
Besides the reasons I listed above regarding Lawrie’s age, his lack of any AAA experience and adapting to a new position, the Blue Jays have a starting third baseman in Jose Bautista who just happened to hit 54 homeruns last year. Now I know the popular argument is that the Blue Jays can just move Bautista to right field. What do you do about Juan Rivera then? I know he is viewed as just a throw in on the Vernon Wells deal and considered a spare part but he is a proven major league outfielder who is capable (and has) put up respectable numbers. If you put Bautista in right then Rivera ends up splitting time with Snider in left or Encarncion in right. Then you also lose a bench spot that could go to a Corey Patterson, Scott Posednik (if he ever gets healthy) , or Mike McCoy.
Lawrie is going to Las Vegas!
The Final Spots in the Rotation
Romero, Cecil, Morrow then ????
At the beginning of spring the #4 and #5 spots were open to any of Jesse Litsch, Kyle Drabek, Mark Rzepczynski, Jo-Jo Reyes or Zach Stewart.
Stewart has been sent to minor league camp and clearly needs more work. We learned this weekend that Rzepczynski is no longer being considered for a spot in the rotation and is now competing for a spot in the bullpen (more on that below) leaving three arms for the final two spots in the rotation.
After another strong start yesterday, Jesse Litsch has, in my opinion, locked down one of those two spots. He’s been steady all spring, has regained velocity on his fastball and has experience at the big league level. That leaves Reyes and Drabek for the last spot in the rotation. What Reyes has going for him is that he is out of options so would be exposed to waivers if the Jays try sending him down to Vegas. That being said, Reyes could also be used in the bullpen. What Drabek has going for him is that he has performed well in three big league starts and has fared well in spring thus far. What Drabek has against him is that he can be sent down to Las Vegas and by doing so for at least a month, the Blue Jays keep him under control for one more season.
So this is where I’m not quite sure where Anthopolous and Farrell are headed. Prior to spring training I thought Drabek was a lock for the fourth spot but when I learned that the Jays could delay Drabek’s free agency eligibility by one season by keeping him in AAA for one month I started to wonder if that is what the Jays would do. However, I don’t think this is weighing into their thought process too much. I think they’re weighing whether Drabek has anything left to prove at the AAA level vs. what they should do with Reyes. In one scenario, the Blue Jays think Drabek is ready and they don’t want to risk losing Reyes so they slot Reyes in the bullpen as long relief and Drabek gets the spot. In the second scenario, where they think Drabek is ready and don’t think they have a spot for Reyes, they give Drabek the spot and lose Reyes on waivers. In a third scenario, they thing Reyes will make a capable fifth starter and Drabek would benefit from additional time in AAA. Of these scenarios I think the first is the most likely followed by the third scenario, but to me this is the biggest question.
At the start of spring the focus was on not so much who was going to be in the bullpen but who wasn’t. The team had Francisco, Rauch and Dotel as potential closers. Camp and Frasor as established relievers leaving players such as Casey Janssen, David Purcey, Carlos Villenueva, Josh Roenicke, Scott Richmond, Jesse Carlson and possibly Jo-Jo Reyes and Mark Rzepczynski battling it out for the final few spots.
Now as it stands today, you have Dotel battling a hamstring injury and Francisco (the front runner for closer) off to see Dr. James Andrews over a tight pectoral muscle. Not good, especially Francisco. He hasn’t pitched in game action this spring and to me this sounds like trouble in his shoulder. Hopefully this is precautionary and he’ll be able to start throwing soon and hopefully be with the club at some point in mid to late April. If not, I’m guessing the problem is more serious and he’ll be out for an extended period of time if not for the entire season.
That leaves Jon Rauch as closer, Frasor and Camp as late inning relief setting up Rauch. So here is how I see the pen shaping up for Opening day (assuming Dotel and Francisco aren’t ready and Drabek is in the rotation):
Set-up: Camp, Frasor
Mid-long relief: Reyes, Rzepczynski, Purcey, Janssen, Villenueva, Roenicke, Carlson (or Ray if Carlson still has knee troubles)
Assuming Dotel returns in early April I would think Roenicke or Rzepczynski are the first two candidates to head to triple A and Janssen gets stretched to long relief. If Francisco is ready to go shortly after that I would assume the other of Roenicke or Rzep would go to Vegas.
Aaron Hill is still battling a sore right quad. This concerns me as an early season problem with his hamstring last year sent his season off the rails and he never really gained any consistency at the plate. At least this year, Aaron is taking part in fielding drills, taking BP and is getting some action in minor league games. He’s just not going hard out of the batter’s box as this seems to be the only situation where his sore leg is still bothering him. He’s playing in his last minor league game today and if all goes well he should be in the lineup the rest of the way with the big club and be ready for opening day.
Snider, Lind and Bautista
This isn’t really a big story in spring training but this is what I’ve been following. Bautista looks as if he’s swinging the bat well in Spring Training and should be the player he was last season. He may not be 54 homerun Jose Bautista but he looks as if he’s going to take some heat off of Alex Anthopolous for inking him to the big contract. To me the player that is primed for a breakout year is Travis Snider. He has been hitting the ball hard in the games I have seen and is fourth in slugging percentage of the team regulars behind Davis, Bautista, and Adam Lind. Spring training stats are practically meaningless but nonetheless it is encouraging to see Travis hitting well.
Adam Lind is also having a great spring. I think being on the field everyday will help him stay in the game and focus less on each individual at bat. He seems to be adapting just fine to first base as well which is also good news.
I think a return to form from Lind, plus a breakout year from Travis Snider will be more than enough to replace the production of the departed Vernon Wells.
I could ramble on a few more points and stories but I think I’ll wrap this up and save the rest for another post.
If you have taken the time to read this, I thank you!
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