DUNEDIN - With just two days remaining before Blue Jay pitchers and catchers report to Dunedin for spring training, the Sun takes a quick glance at how the everyday lineup shapes up in the present, with an eye to the future as well.
Starter: J.P. Arencibia, 26
The Jays cleared the decks for Arencibia to be the No. 1 catcher a year ago and he rewarded that faith with a solid rookie season. Managementís priority for Arencibiaís first season was that he concentrate on receiving and game-calling skills. His improvement in those areas was obvious as the season progressed. Arencibia has hit at every level and, without putting emphasis on that phase of his game, he hit just .219 with a .282 on-base percentage but with 23 homers and 78 RBI. Expect a better contact rate and continued progress as a receiver.
Back-Up: Jeff Mathis, 28. Once a highly prized prospect, Mathis has never developed as a hitter but retains a reputation as a good handler of pitchers and game-caller. He will play 40 games or less.
In the Minors: Travis díArnaud, 23. The consensus No. 1 position prospect in the Jays system, díArnaud is destined to start at Las Vegas and could see time in the majors in 2012.
Starter: Adam Lind, 28. Lindís conversion to first base can be called a success in that he provided major-league average defence but, for the second year in a row, he failed to deliver the kind of offensive numbers expected of a corner infielder. At age 25 in 2009, Lind hit .305/.370/.562/.932 with 35 homers and 114 RBI. In 1,068 at-bats since then he has hit .243 with a .291 on-base, a .432 slugging percentage and an OPS of .722. His walk rate is down and his strikeouts are up. Lind, and he team, needs a bounceback season in the worst way.
Backup: Edwin Encarnacion, 29. Encarnacion will get the bulk of his at-bats as a designated hitter but has shown some acceptable defensive ability around the first base bag in a pinch.
In The Minors: Mike McDade, 22. McDade is still raw but the Jays like his overall package of skills. He hit .281 with 16 HR last season at double A, but with 104 strikeouts and just 24 walks. With more patience he could develop into a viable option.
Starter: Kelly Johnson, 29. In a year disrupted by a mid-season trade to Toronto, Johnson struggled for the second time in the past three years, finishing with some of the worst contact numbers of his career. He still hit 21 home runs and, like Lind, needs a bounceback season. To his credit, Johnson is patient at the plate and if he can turn that skill into walks or hits instead of outs, the Jays may get some value for that $6.375-million salary. Two years ago, he had a .370 on-base percentage to go with 26 homers and those are the kinds of numbers the Jays are looking for.
In The Minors: Fifth-round 2009 draft choice Ryan Schimpf has yet to play above high-A ball but has shown a bit of pop with 10 HR last season at Dunedin.
Starter: Yunel Escobar, 29. Escobar, over the course of his first full season with the Jays after being traded from Atlanta, was Torontoís second-best offensive weapon behind only Jose Bautista. Heís not a prototypical leadoff man but his bat and his willingness to take a walk made him Farrellís best option. In the field, Escobar has embraced a less flashy style than previously and that approach has made him a more consistent defender. He signed a club-friendly two-year extension, with two more club options that should keep him in Toronto until the end of the 2015 season.
In the Minors: Adeiny Hechavarria, 22. Hechavarriaís anaemic bat continues to lag behind his major-league ready defensive ability but he has shown flashes of offensive improvement. After indifferent results at New Hampshire, Hechavarria tore up the triple-A PCL during his final month in Las Vegas, hitting .389 with a .431 OBP and an OPS of .968. Itís a small sample size but encouraging all the same.
Starter: Brett Lawrie, 22. Lawrie came to camp last year with potential and confidence oozing from every pore. His presence, his hustle, his emotion and his talent impressed everyone but didnít get him a spot on the opening day roster. Unfazed he took his act to Vegas and only a cracked wrist kept him from coming back in May. His debut was delayed until August and his impact was immediate. In less than two months, Lawrie accumulated a 3 WAR, third on the team behind Bautista and Escobar. Already there is a buzz in anticipation of what Lawrie will do for an encore.
In The Minors: Kellen Sweeney, 20. You have to dig deep into the Jaysí farm system to find Sweeney, a second-rounder from the 2010 draft. He spent bits of two seasons at Bluefield in rookie ball but he has a high ceiling as an offensive player.
Starter: Up for grabs.
Eric Thames and Travis Snider are the primary candidates competing for the majority of at-bats in spring training. Rushed to the big leagues too quickly, Snider has had difficulty establishing himself at this level. Thames has overcome some serious injury problems and made the jump to the big leagues last season, performing adequately. His OBP (.313) left something to be desired but he did hit 12 HR in 95 games and did a decent job when asked to hit in the No. 2 hole. Snider has the best all-round tools and thus the most upside, but Thamesí usefulness during his rookie season earned him the admiration of many in the organization.
In The Minors: Jake Marisnick, 20. A five-tool player, Marisnick might be the best overall offensive prospect in the system. Heís a centrefielder now but could switch to a corner spot as he gets close to the bigs. Will probably start at Dunedin with a good chance to get to New Hampshire.
Starter: Colby Rasmus, 25
Like Lind and Johnson, Rasmus will be looking to rebound from a poor season. Embroiled in an uneasy war of wills with manager Tony LaRussa in St. Louis, Rasmus was dealt to the Jays at the deadline in a trade that did not cost Alex Anthopoulos a front-line player. Even with the distracting situation behind him, Rasmus did not rebound in Toronto and suffered a wrist injury that hampered him down the stretch. If he can get his act together, with his speed and quick bat, Rasmus could be a key offensive cog for the Jays.
In The Minors: Anthony Gose, 21. Already in possession of above-average big-league defensive skills, Gose has made some important advances as a hitter the last two years. Where once he was a punch-and-judy hitter, he is now making hard contact with some power. If he can refine his two-strike approach, either at New Hampshire or Las Vegas, heíll quickly make the last step.
Starter: Jose Bautista, 31
While his home runs slipped from 54 to 43, Bautistaís overall offensive performance in 2011 was better than it was a year previous as he repeated as the best hitter in MLB. He accomplished this while having to adjust to changing defensive responsibilities, bouncing back and forth between right field and third base. With Lawrie firmly planted at third, Bautista should be left alone to handle right field. Lawrie will also more than likely move into the middle of the batting order and help provide some protection for Bautista, cutting down on that league-leading walk total.
In The Minors: Moises Sierra, 23. Sierra missed most of the 2010 season with leg and wrist injuries but he bounced back large in 2011 with a .342 OBP and an OPS of .778, 18 HR and 67 RBI in double A. He possesses a rocket-arm not unlike Bautistaís and could work his way into the Jaysí outfield mix this year or next.
There are multiple candidates for the final three roster spots, all of them bench positions and itís unclear at this point whether the team will opt for two infielders and an outfielder, or vice-versa.
Ageless Omar Vizquel, an 11-time Gold Glove winner, is perhaps the most intriguing candidate. He comes to Torontoís camp on a minor-league deal needing 159 hits for 3,000 in his career though, at 44, heís unlikely to achieve that lofty plateau. Still, Vizquelís name is magic among other major-leaguers and he could be a valuable resource, both on and off the field. Luis Valbuena, 26, is a serviceable glove man as well, but not much with the bat. And then, of course, there is Mike McCoy, whose versatility has been his calling card through a couple of years bouncing back and forth between Toronto and Vegas.
First baseman David Cooper, last yearís PCL batting champion, could also factor into the mix.
Rajai Davis and Ben Francisco are both veteran outfielders who bring special skills to the table. Davis is one of the most dangerous and effective speed merchants in the game and his value as a disruptive runner off the bench is valuable on its own. Francisco, who hit a decisive home run for the Phillies in Game 3 of the NLCS last October, is a valuable pinch-hitter.
Tomorrow - The Pitching Staff