PANIC! The Blue Jays did not score any runs in their first two spring games against the Tigers and finally broke through in the seventh inning yesterday against the Phillies!
Actually there is nothing to panic about. It’s spring training and it’s early. If this was the last week of March and the Blue Jays, with many of their regulars in the lineup, were getting routinely shut out there might be cause for concern. Right now, the boys are just getting their at-bats in, getting used to facing actual pitchers again and figuring out what golf course they’re playing later that day (well everyone except for Travis Snider) or what they’ll be having for that night (especially Travis Snider).
What has caught my interest over the first three games is the battle for the final two rotation spots. Litsch and Rzepczynski both pitched well in their first spring outings and Jo-Jo Reyes struggled a bit yesterday against the Phils. The Jays defence kicked the ball around a bit yesterday (five errors) so it’s tough to pin the runs the Phillies scored on the pitchers. Kyle Drabek was scratched from his start yesterday due to a stiff neck so he’ll get the call on Saturday.
Mike Wilner of the FAN 590 in Toronto seems to think that Drabek is going to start the year in Vegas and get called up in May to delay his free agency by a year. The same applies to Zach Stewart. Thus, one can deduce that Wilner thinks the battle for the final two rotation spots is between Reyes, Litsch and Rzepczynski. I think if one follows this line of logic of letting contract status be a deciding factor a little further, given Reyes is out of options, he would be the favourite for the fourth spot with the fifth spot being a battle between Rzepczynski and Litsch.
Now when I start seeing the Jays beat writers and other media members start making the same type of assumptions and conclusions about players and say its “just a hunch”, makes me think that they’ve heard from someone in the organization who has given them some insider information but either that the information can be substantiated or the source has told them to keep it quiet. If it comes to be true, it gives the writer credibility and makes him/her look intelligent and if it doesn’t nobody really remembers because it was just a ‘hunch’ they had. Now I have zero experience as a member of the media so I could be completely off base with this observation.
The other interesting storyline thus far this spring is how the Jays top prospects are making out. From all I’ve read, Anthony Gose is turning heads with his speed, Adeiny Hechavarria is impressing with his defence and Brett Lawrie is proving capable at third base. Manager John Farrell has stated that Gose and Hechavarria are playing major league calibre defence at this point in their young careers and just now have to mature at the plate. Lawrie has yet to record a hit but again not many other Jays have recorded many hits at this point!
The prospect that has piqued my interest the most simply because I didn’t know too much about him is Eric Thames. Thames was in New Hampshire last season and tied for second in the Eastern League in homeruns with 27. He was drafted in the 7th round in the 2008 draft but according to www.jaysprospects.com he slipped down in the draft over concerns of an injury to his quad that he suffered prior to the draft. Thames has only recorded on hit in five at bats thus far but that one hit was a triple yesterday against the Phillies. He looks to be getting a strong look this Spring Training by Jays management just to see how close Thames is to being major league ready. He’ll likely start the year in AAA or maybe AA as there is no room in the Jays outfield at the moment. However, he is likely a candidate for a September call-up or possibly sooner if injuries strike.
If you’re interested at all in reading about Jays prospects, as I clearly focus on the major league level and don’t have too much knowledge of what is going on in the minors, I would suggest checking out www.jaysprospects.com . Through Twitter, I have been discovering all kinds of interesting Blue Jays blogs and sites. There are also a lot of Jays players and prospects and beat writers on Twitter who tweet regularly so if you’re a baseball fan or Blue Jays fan, I strongly suggest opening a Twitter account.
Ken Lott of the National Post has an interesting article on Zach Stewart in today’s National Post.
A thank you to April Whitzman, a fellow Jays fan and blogger, for bringing Mr Lott’s article to my attention. April can be found at http://jaysprospects.com/ or on Twitter: @Alleycat17
Back to Mr. Stewart. Zach is turning some heads in camp and after two stand-out innings in the Jays’ intersquad game yesterday has put himself firmly in the picture for a starting rotation spot.
It’s not like Zach Stewart has come out of nowhere. He was the key player the Jays received as part of the Scott Rolen trade in 2009. He has a great arm but it wasn’t clear if he’d end up being a starter or a late-inning reliever/closer but after a great year in 2010 in New Hampshire as a starter a rotation spot appears to be in his future. Alex Anthopolous noted late last season that Zach Stewart matched-up favourably to Kyle Drabek so it’s clear the Blue Jays think Stewart is close to being ready for the big leagues.
Now it has been well documented that the Blue Jays have two open spots in their rotation after Romero, Cecil and Morrow. The fourth spot is apparently Kyle Drabek’s for the taking and many believe after three solid starts last September that Drabek is virtually a lock for this spot. Assuming this is true that leaves one rotation spot open for one of Zach Stewart, Jesse Litsch, Mark Rzepczynski or Jo-Jo Reyes.
My thinking is that a solid spring from Litsch would land him the job given his experience at the big league level. That being said, Reyes is out of options so he’s going to get an extra long look as a possible starter or for a spot in the bullpen. Rzepczynski looked great in 2009 and struggled a bit in 2010 but has also shown he can get big league hitters out so he’s also a possible fifth starter or fit in the bullpen in long relief. Odds are that Stewart starts the year in AAA Las Vegas unless he completely dominates this spring unless Drabek and Litsch really struggle and he significantly outperforms Rzepczynski and Reyes. Of course any trade or injury to any of these arms could open the door for Stewart as well.
What is clear however, is that in 2011 more that five pitchers will start for the Blue Jays over the course of the season. Injuries occur, pitchers struggle, the odd double-header happens where starts become available and then of course there are expanded rosters in September where a team out of the playoff race can give a pitcher 2-4 starts to see where they’re at. Barring injury, I think it’s virtually a lock that we’ll see Stewart on the mound for the Blue Jays in 2011.