So, Opening Day is 25 days away (including opening day, since I didn't get this posted earlier) and thus I shall employ that number as a gimmick to frame the 25 items on my list.
That's not the only way I'm forcing the gimmick either - because technically not all of these are really "questions" so much as "this is what I'm watching in 2011" - points of most interest if you will. also, if I was as diligent about churning out content as some of my peers, I'd post one a day until Opening Day but I'm not and, besides, who knows when NinjaGM will strike and (and no, not for Kevin-frickin-Slowey) and change up one or more of these scenarios.
One other disclaimer - these are not in any particular order.
1. "How will the back of the rotation fill out, not just on OD but throughout the season?" It sure seems that Jesse Litsch is all but certain to be the #4. Alex has suggested that Litsch could replace the innings and wins of Marcum and my hunch is that it will take a serious crash/burn, or an injury, to dislodge any of the front four. Given what we saw with Dana Eveland last year, you have to think the Jays might run the same program again this year with JoJo Reyes if he continues to look good in Spring Training. My expectation here is that before the Break he'll be gone though, as Eveland was, and one of the kids will take his place.
2. "How will the middle relief corp shake out?" First, dismiss from your mind the notion of long relief, John Farrel doesn't think there's a role for a long man here. Second, you have to assume that barring a deal (see a later item on that) that fully six of the seven (presumed) slots are set. Purcey, along with the five veteran righties, are in. That leaves a strong competition between Janssen, Villianueva, Roenicke, Carlson (hurting), Reyes (if not in the rotation), Zep (ditto), and maybe Richmond or Mills for that last spot. My STRONG opinion is that Janssen is the worthy guy. But it is a point of some uncertainty.
3. "When does Brett Lawrie arrive?" the question on everyone's lips. The assumption is that the Jays brain trust made up their minds before camp what schedule everyone was on - and unless you see Bautista taking some reps in RF you can probably roll with that - but Lawrie is doing just what he promised to do by trying to force the issue with his play. My guess? Rivera will be dealt, or waived, in June and Lawrie takes over then. And might just hit his way into the ROY conversation in the process.
4. "Why not play Snider in RF?" The reports on Rivera (per Twitter) is the turf won't be kind to his defense. It's true that when Lawrie (presumably) arrives the Bautista moves to right, but what if Lawrie gets hurt and Thames is raking? Thames is only going to play left and it seems to me the team needs to know if Snider can play RF. Still, snider reports he's been told to expect to be in left every day.
5. "How bad will Hill's slow spring hamper his recovery at the plate?" Despite the reputation of a slow starter, Hill's actual track record is having a good April in odd numbered years. The lingering issue with his leg threatens to break that pattern. Hill needs a good April.
6. "Will Brandon Morrow be a Cy contender this year?" Magic 8 Ball says "It is certain."
7. "Which Escobar shows up?" Will it be the 2010 guy with the .655 OPS? Or the guy who entered that season with an ops of .801? My guess is the latter.
8. "Will Dustin McGowan or Chad Cordero make it back to productivity?" And if they do, will the Jays manage to make roster space for them?
9. "So when does Alex start trading off the excess?" Let's assume, for a moment, the slim possibility that both Dusty and Cordero recover, and no one else has a major injury - the simple math of the matter is that even without putting undue faith in the Romie Lewises or Winston Abreus of the world, the Jays have as many as 20 pitchers who can make a reasonably good case for being on a pitching staff that likely won't exceed 12 players total. Something HAS to give. Injuries will thin that a bit, and it's true that some depth is a good thing. but that 20 players doesn't count guys who would make reasonably high quality depth like Robert Ray or Brad Mills. and if you need a starter, Zach Stewart (who I also left out of that 20) is right there. I keep banging the drum to deal Dotel but I seem to be alone on that.
10. "Whither Scott Campbell and Brad Emaus?" Can Campbell return to enough health to be a prospect again, and if so will the stick to the 3B experiment (which would mean shipping him to AA if Lawrie is in Vegas) or will the let him revert to 2B which is unencumbered at AAA? Unless of course the Mets decide to send Emaus back. He's not having a great spring but you have to think Alderson isn't going to let that drive his decision.
11. "Will Eric Thames be an absolute monster in AAA?" Sure looks that way to me. Lawrie will too, I expect. but he's also probably going to get a shot at promotion that Thames may not get because of roster logistics. The Vegas squad could have an excellent chance at a second (third?) consecutive league MVP award though.
12. "Does Adam Loewen have a future here?" The signals are certainly mixed. obviously he's unlikely to have a very high ceiling, and the opinions for the limited number of slots are starting to pile up. As much as the "Loyal Canadian" story is heartwarming, it seems like at best he might be a matt Stairs type (in role, not in skill set) sort of bench player for a few years if he stays here. If either Thames or Lawrie (to say nothing of both) develop to their potential, there's just too many bodies for him to get regular starts even if he develops into a major league hitter.
13. "Will Zach Stewart come up this year?" My prediction - not before September. If then. there are excellent reasons to wait and almost none to get in a hurry.
14. Will the Vegas rotation be the best in the PCL? If things deveoped right, Vegas could start the season with a rotation of Drabek/Zep/Stewart/Richmond/Mills - that's darn respectable. That might be as good as the Houston or Pittsburgh rotation on opening day. True Drabek (or Zep) will almost certainly be in the Majors by the first of July at the latest. But there's Bobby Ray to step into the gap, and when you look at the number of starts they gave to dregs like Lance Broadway last year, the AAA fans should be impressed with the upgrade.
15. "How will Travis d'Arnaud's back hold up?" It's really, apparently, the only negative about the presumptive AA catcher - if he's healthy he should be an exciting player to watch.
16. "Will Moises Sierra live up to the pre-injury promise?" A bit more under the radar than a lot of the Jays prospects. Would further crowd the OF depth chart if he does.
17. "Will Adeiny stay in AA all year?" My expectation is that he will, given the acquisition of Lawrie, there's less room to zoom him into the majors as quickly as possible. I bet the Blue Jays will take their time.
18. "Where does Anthony Gose open the season and will he break out this year?" He might well be ready for AA, but I have a hunch he'll get about 6 weeks in Dunedin until things warm up so they can continue to polish a few details. I do expect a really big year for him once he's in New Hampshire though (i say this because of how hard it is to be an offensive beast in the FSL).
19. "Whither the high school class of 2007?" Will Kevin Ahrens finally have a consistant quality year now that he's done switch hitting? Can Justin Jackson stay healthy and re-establish a future? Will John Tolisano find a defensive home and live up to the promise many saw? However these question play out, before you say "we were so excited and now look how '07 turned out" - remember that Arencibia, Cecil and Zep came out of that year. If no one else developed (and there are a few more that might) it would be an excellent year. If you get three quality players in any draft you are ahead of the curve.
20. "Check out that Lansing outfield!" Crouse/Marisnick/Kenect should be a LOT of fun for the Lugnut faithful to follow. And that's not to neglect to mention at least three other real prospects in the batting order (Carlos Perez, KC Hobson, and Gus Pierre) and a VERY promising rotation, especially if McGuire starts the year there.
21. Is Aaron Sanchez really that good?" I though last fall I was ahead of the curve in zooming him but as the "experts" have weighed in he's gotten much love. I'll be watching!
22. "How good will Henderson Alvarez be when he breaks out?" One of these years, maybe this year, he's going to get everyone's attention.
23. "Who are going to be the surprise steals from the 2010 draft?" Let's be fair, we all know the Blue Jays got great value on Woj and Sanchez and Syndergaard, and also by paying DJ Thon like a first rounder to forgo Rice. But I'm not really speaking of the top 5 round guys here, I'm thinking of guys like Shane Opitz, Mitchell Taylor and Myles Jaye. This time next year we'll all be talking what a steal some guy was.
24. "Will Darin Mastroianni EVER get any respect?" You ask a Keith Law or some such and no one seems very impressed, but the guy just keeps preforming, It's like he's got Tigerblood or something. I'm not saying he's going to be the next Johnny Damon or whoever . . . but I wonder if there's not at least a little Reed Johnson there.
25. "Can we find some way to con the Royals into dealing us Timmy Collins back?" Seriously? We may not NEED pitching but I miss the little guy!