Blue Jays 2012 Season Preview

The Blue Jays will make the playoffs this year. There I said it. Am I nuts? I don’t think I’m that far off base. Ignore the fact they are a MLB best 21-4 in spring training…ok, maybe you can’t fully ignore that ridiculous record. Up and down the roster is strong. They also have a huge stockpile of prospects in the minors that they could use as trade bait to land important free agents to push them even closer to playoff contention. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, they are still in the toughest division in all of baseball. However, the Yanks and Red Sox are aging and showing some chinks in the armour and the Orioles are still horrible. The Rays are dangerous though and winning in Tampa this year will be key if the Jays have playoff aspirations (they have historically stunk at the Trop). I’m going to give my breakdown on the team below and maybe you too will become a believer.

Starting Pitching

1) Ricky Romero

2) Brandon Morrow

3) Brett Cecil

4) Henderson Alvarez

5) Dustin McGowan (may start season on DL with foot injury)

Henderson Alvarez (Photo From David Cooper/Toronto Star)

As with all teams, starting pitching will be the most important part of the team’s success. The Jays rotation is likely the weakest part of the entire roster. Ricky Romero is the unquestioned ace of the staff and has been improving yearly. Brandon Morrow has elite talent but has yet to piece it all together to be a consistent arm start after start. Brett Cecil had an awful year last season starting with a significant drop in velocity and his eventual demotion to the minors. Henderson Alvarez is a 22 year old flame-thrower  that had a cup of coffee with the club last year starting 10 games to close out the season. Alvarez has electric stuff, but needs to work on his off speed pitches to keep the fastball loving AL East beasts off balance. Dustin McGowan was the feel good story of the year last year after he successfully returned to the majors after several surgeries and seasons of rehab. There is no guarantee that his surgically repaired arm will be able to handle a consistent workload, but there is no denying he still has solid stuff.

There have been rampant rumours that Alex Anthopoulos (AA) is looking to add another arm or two to this list. I do believe that the above rotation as it stands would not be strong enough to push the Jays into the playoffs. Something likely will be done via the trade route. Possibly a package deal involving Travis Snider and a minor league prospect would be enough to lure a 2nd or solid 3rd starter.

Bullpen

Closer: Sergio Santos

Set up men: Jason Fraser, Francisco Cordero

Lefty specialist: Darren Oliver

Middle Relief: Casey Janssen, Luis Perez

Long man: Carlos Villanueva

Sergio Santos will look to improve upon the Jays 25 blown saves from last season. Photograph by: John Lott, The National Post

The ‘Pen last year was atrocious and thus was a major focal point in the off season for AA. 3 key additions were added in Santos, Cordero and Oliver. Santos brings an intimidating, fireballing, strikeout threat to the closer role that the Jays fans haven’t seen since maybe Billy Koch. Cordero is also a power arm that has over 300 saves in his career. Oliver is a seasoned vet that has had a sub 3.00 in the last 4 seasons and is as dependable as it gets for left handed specialists. The bullpen overall will look to improve upon the 25 blown saves from last season. If the Jays were able to convert on half of those blown saves last season they would likely have been a playoff team. The bullpen should be a strength this year rather than a weakness.

Outfield

Left Field: Eric Thames

Centre Field: Colby Rasmus

Right Field: Jose Bautista

The battle of the spring was for the starting left field spot between Thames and Snider. With Thames winning this battle it all but seals the end of Snider’s days with the Jays. Thames showed he could mash last year hitting 12 bombs in 95 games. He was a liability on defence last year, but he has worked hard in the offseason and looks capable in the field so far in the spring. Colby Rasmus was an exciting pickup by the Jays, a highly touted prospect that fell out of favour with the St. Louis Cardinals. By all accounts a rare 5 tool player that needed a change in scenery. Rasmus struggled last year, but the talent is there and the Jays have worked their magic on another disgruntled young player in Yunel Escobar so there’s no saying they can’t do the same with Rasmus. What more is there to say about Joey Bats? The 2 time defending HR champ, a solid fielder and leader in the club house. I forever blashphamized myself as a Jays fan when I skipped Bautista at pick #5 of my fantasy pool in favour of Troy Tulowitzki. You know I didn’t mean it Joey…always love.

Can Jose Bautista win another HR title? (FRED THORNHILL/REUTERS)

Infield and DH

3B: Brett Lawrie

SS: Yunel Escobar

2B: Kelly Johnson

1B: Adam Lind

C: JP Arencibia

DH: Edwin Encarnacion

Brett Lawrie is a stud (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

There are no doubts to who will be the starters this year in the infield. This is stark contrast to last year where there was a revolving door at 3B and a struggling Aaron Hill at 2B. I’m not going to hype up Brett Lawrie anymore since I’ve already professed my love here, here and here. Yunel Escobar is a gold glove caliber SS and a solid hitter at the plate as well. Adam Lind was surprisingly competent in the field at 1B last year, but he continues to be inconsistent at the plate especially against lefties. Arencibia had a solid first full year behind the plate and showed tremendous power knocking out 23 dingers. He will look to improve upon a paltry .219 average and also on his game calling and throwing. Kelly Johnson had solid power numbers for the 2nd straight season (21 jacks), but will look to cut down on his whiffs (163 k’s) and get on base more frequently (.304 OBP). Edwin Encarnacion ended last season on a tear hitting .291, 11 homers and 7 steals in the 2nd half. Double E has teased us before with flashes of potential, but I think this season is the season he puts it together and puts in a .280, 25 HR, 85 RBI type of year.

My prediction for the Jays this year is that they will win 91 games and the 1st wild card in the AL. Some other predictions:

- Joey Bats leads the league in home runs

- Brandon Morrow throws a no hitter

- Sergio Santos, Joey Bats and Ricky Romero make the All-Star team

- Brett Lawrie goes 20/20 (20 jacks and 20 steals)

- John Farrell wins AL coach of the year