the Blue Jays are definitely garnering more respect from diamond pundits south of the border. Highly regarded scribe Jayson Stark believes the Jays will be one of the American League wild-card teams this season, a sentiment echoed by ESPN analyst Aaron Boone.
Toronto has plenty of reasons to be excited about the Jays heading into their season opener on Thursday in Cleveland, I’m not as optimistic as King, Stark and Boone about the Jays’ post-season
chances. Don’t get me wrong, I expect the Jays to win 85 to 90 games and I believe they will finish ahead of the Red Sox, who with Bobby Valentine as their dugout boss, seem destined to implode. But to secure a wild-card spot, the Jays will have to be better than one of the Yankees, Rays, Rangers or Angels (I’m convinced the Tigers will run away with the American League Central).
So while the Jays are likely to play meaningful games in September for the first time in 19 years, I believe that 2013 is the year that the Jays will battle the Yankees and Rays for the division title. With that said, I’ve compiled two lists for Jays fans: the first includes some of the things they can be
excited about in 2012, while the second highlights some of the club’s concerns:
To get excited about … Brett Lawrie (3B), Kelly Johnson (2B) and Colby Rasmus (CF) should be considerable offensive upgrades over the players that manned their respective positions in 2011.
Closer Sergio Santos’ slider was rated the best strikeout pitch in baseball by ESPN last July. He averaged 13.1 strikeouts per nine innings and should be one of the most dominant closers in the big
leagues for the foreseeable future.
By adding Santos and veterans Darren Oliver and Francisco Cordero, the Jays have significantly upgraded a bullpen that blew 25 saves last season.
Right-hander Brandon Morrow, who owns a high-90s fastball and a swing-and-miss slider, has worked to perfect his off-speed pitches this spring and seems poised to win at least 15 games.
Just 21 years old, right-hander Henderson Alvarez continued to be an efficient, strike-thrower this spring (3-0 in five starts) and should be a valuable part of the Jays’ rotation for years to come.
I can’t recall another time in franchise history where the Jays have had so many promising, young
position players. The Jays’ Triple-A squad will include Travis d’Arnaud, Adeiny Hechavarria, Anthony
Gose, David Cooper and Travis Snider. Any of these players could step into the Jays’ lineup and be
a solid contributor.
Similarly, the Jays also boast a number of up-and-coming mound hopefuls – including Deck McGuire, Chad Jenkins and Drew Hutchison – that will start the season in Double-A but seem poised
to make their big league debuts in 2012.
To be concerned about …
The starting rotation will consist of Ricky Romero, Morrow and three pitchers – Alvarez, Joel Carreno and Kyle Drabek – with a combined 24 big league starts to begin the season. Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos has been scouring the trade market for a veteran inning-eater. As mentioned, the Jays have a number of promising young pitching prospects, but it would be too much to ask of one of
them to jump into the rotation and make an impact in the ultra-competitive American Least East at
this stage of their development.
Though he came to camp with a new attitude, Rasmus still looks lost at the plate. The 25-year-old will likely begin the season hitting ninth in the Jays’ order.
With his back woes resurfacing at the end of the spring, Adam Lind, who’s coming off two unproductive seasons, is a question mark at first base. Cooper may be called up from Triple-A
sooner rather than later.
But even a healthy Lind hitting in the cleanup spot doesn’t provide much protection for slugger Jose Bautista. The Jays lack a bona fide No. 4 hitter that will force opponents to pitch to Bautista. Lawrie, who hit .524 this spring and will start the season hitting sixth or seventh, might be best suited for this