March 9, 2012
Blue Jays working on finding the answers
By KEN FIDLIN, QMI Agency
DUNEDIN, FLA. - The week before Blue Jays training opened, we posed five questions to be answered. With three weeks of camp behind us and another three-plus weeks to go, it’s time for an update.
1. Who will play left field?
Both Travis Snider and Eric Thames have come out swinging in Grapefruit League games. Snider has hit a couple of home runs and driven in six runs. Thames went 1-for-2 with two walks, scored twice and drove in a run with a double Friday against the Astros in Kissimmee and is now hitting .286, same as Snider.
Snider has already thrown out two runners this spring. Coupled with his speed and his efficient routes to fly balls, he is clearly the better defender.
Right now, the battle is too close to call after these early games. However it falls, manager John Farrell and GM Alex Anthopoulos have both stated that the competition won’t be won on statistics but on who is making the most solid contact and who can project to have a more consistent approach at the plate as well as overall benefit to the club.
2. Who will emerge as the fourth and fifth starters?
Little has changed on this front over the course of the first week of games though there is a suspicion that Henderson Alvarez, with his unflappable demeanour and his consistent strike-throwing ability, may have already slipped past Brett Cecil in the pecking order behind Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow.
Cecil is being monitored very closely by Farrell and by pitching coach Bruce Walton to make sure his mechanics remain consistent. He hasn’t allowed any runs in his three innings of work so far but he has not yet been able to keep his delivery in the consistent position that will allow him to pound the bottom of the strike zone.
Dustin McGowan has been impressive to this point in bullpens and facing live hitters. Saturday he gets his first game action with two innings against the Astros in Dunedin.
Lefthander Aaron Laffey, who will follow McGowan to the mound, has emerged as a legitimate candidate should anyone falter.
3. Will the real Colby Rasmus please stand up?
Rasmus has come to camp with an upbeat attitude and seems determined to put his St. Louis days behind him. He is much more at home in the Blue Jays clubhouse now than he appeared last year when he arrived with something of a broken spirit following a summer of discontent with the Cards.
He has applied some swing changes, most notably a slightly lower leg kick, and while the hits have not exactly rained down, he is making good contact.
“I want to go out there with a clear head,” said Rasmus. “I want it to be fun, just see the ball, hit the ball, catch the ball like it was when I was 10 years old. Last year I was up at the plate thinking about what I was doing wrong and that’s no place for that.”
4. Who will be this year's Brett Lawrie?
In the 2011 training camp, Lawrie set the standard for rookie hustle and intensity in his first major-league training camp. He made it difficult for his masters to send him back to the minors, but in the end they did just that.
Among the young players in this training camp, the most likely candidate to impress is Travis d’Arnaud who had a breakout season last year at Double A New Hampshire. He has a rare combination of defensive skill and offence that showed itself against the Astros on Friday when he belted his first homer of the spring, a two-run shot. There is no scenario, barring injury, that would see d’Arnaud break with the Jays this spring, but he could very well be a mid-season callup, as Lawrie was, if needed.
Shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, who also homered on Friday, is another candidate for a callup this year. He has been called by some the best shortstop in baseball, even though he has yet to play his first game in the majors.
5. When is it time to go big?
Given the widespread optimism that pervades the organization this spring, starting with CEO Paul (Two to three playoff appearances in the next five years) Beeston and GM Alex (Any expectations are OK) Anthopoulos and extending right through the organization, it may be sooner than later.
Anthopoulos took a lot of heat this winter for not pulling the trigger on either a big free- agency acquisition or a trade for a No. 2 starting pitcher. He found the price too steep in both marketplaces.
He has always expressed a preference for making a big splash “at the appropriate time” and especially if that time was in mid-season, with the team in contention.
The Toronto minor-league complex is littered with blue chip prospects. Some of them will become major-leaguers, some of them won’t. But at some point, Anthopoulos will need to turn some of those young arms and bats into an arm or a bat that can help the team get over the top and back into the playoffs.
This 2012 Blue Jay team believes it can contend. And that’s legit as long as a lot of things fall their way. The starting rotation needs to go deeper into games and keep the bullpen fresh. Rasmus, Kelly Johnson and Adam Lind have to have bounceback years.
If the team can get itself into the mix and stay there through July, it would not be a surprise if Anthopoulos makes a bold move at the trade deadline.
But a lot of “ifs” have to come true before that happens.