Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Late to the party, but...NEWS!

As reported, basically, everywhere by now. the Blue Jays had some interesting news out of camp today. The starting lineup is not going to be what we were led to believe all spring.

Eddie E is back to starting at 3B, Joey Bats goes back to his preferred RF, and Juan Rivera becomes the principle DH.

Some have been sloppily referring to this as "all year" but at least on reporter (either Gregor or John Lott) tweeted that this will not affect Brett Lawrie's potential call up, so it very well might not be all year. But apparently the current plan is that Bautista is in RF for good.

Now, before you panic about EE's defense, the reports are that the Jays believe he's seriously upgraded his defense, particularly in regards to increased mobility having lost considerable weight over the off-season.

Another inference here, not stated by the team but logical, is that the whispers that Rivera isn't much to write home about as a right fielder are likely true. You might also gather that the Jays are satisfied with Lind's defense at 1B given that one would assume they won't be flipping a guy with borderline defense back and forth from one corner to the other.

I'll go against what I presume to be the likely trend and say that I like the move. Encarnacion's value as a player asset can only go up if he can indeed demonstrate capable defense, when you consider you are taking one marginal defender off the field for another, there's less negative impact, and there's a sense in which having Bautista where you want him from day one probably works well.

the one downside I see is that it might have been valuable to have the unpredictable latin SS flanked by the most mature and leaderly Latin on the team.

When there are in-depth reports on this with quotes from the decision makers, i'll come back and add the links.

Update:

See what happens? I wait until four days until opening day to write a "this is your opening day roster" post, and the Jays promptly go out and start maneuvering like mad the day after. Now comes word that the jays will indeed send Corey Patterson to the DL and that they have picked up Jayson Nix from the Indians for "cash considerations" with Nix presumably now at the front of the line to get the last bench spot. Nix has moderate power and a touch of speed but can't put the bat on the ball much at all.

Don't get too used to him, there are a lot of marginal guys hitting the waiver wire this week and he could be replaced before he get's his bags unpacked (Gregor Blanco, for instance, is on waivers).

Getting back to the bigger story, Mike Wilner notes here that the move certainly has the feel of the first part of a two-step process - that the Jays might be working on a deal for an as-yet unknown player (presumably better than Nix). He also opines that it could also be a matter of deep disillusionment with Rivera's defense.

John Lott's story found here portrays the Blue Jays managment team as building their case around EE's improved defense. Of course there's no real chance they would be caught on the record trashing Rivera's range.

Of course, there's a glut of blog reaction but that's not hard to find. I'm holding my breath to see what happens once I post THIS.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The 25

Or, well, actually The 30 - counting those who will spend opening day on the DL.

I reference, of course, today's roster cuts which leave only two players in the major league camp that won't be on the Opening Day roster or the DL next Friday (baring an unforeseen development of course). With these cuts - David Cooper, Eric Thames, and a handful of unimportant relief filler - we can now surmise what the Opening Day squad looks like.

Starting pitchers (listed in order of appearance):

Ricky Romero
Kyle Drabek
Brett Cecil
JoJo Reyes
Jesse Litsch

Bullpen:

Jon Rauch
Jason Frasor
Marc Rzepczyinski
Shawn Camp
Casey Janssen
David Purcey
Carlos Villianueva

Lineup (projected):

1. Raji Davis - CF
2. Yunel Escobar - SS
3. Jose Bautista - 3B
4. Adam Lind - 1B
5. Aaron Hill - 2B
6. Travis Snider - LF
7. Edwin Encarnacion - DH
8. Juan Rivera - RF
9. JP Arencibia - C

Bench:

Jose Molina, John McDonald, Corey Patterson, Mike McCoy

DL:
Brandon Morrow - likely to miss only one start, will bump either Drabek or Reyes from the rotation. My guess is Drabek for logistical reasons.
Frank Francisco - no idea how long it will take him to be up to speed. Not a LONG time as far as we know now, just an uncertain period.
Octavio Dotel - Likely activated as soon as he's eligible. The guy most vulnerable to demotion is Villianueva, who had an excellent spring but has options. Yo, Carlos - Jeremy Accardo can commiserate.
Dustin McGowan - no setbacks lately, road back is a LONG one though. He'll create a fascinating roster-crowding situation if/when he makes it back if no one is injured in the meantime.
Jesse Carlson - Uncertain shoulder issues, likely optioned to AAA when healthy.

If you are wondering, both Scott Podsednick and Chad Cordero are on minor league contracts. Cordero will open the season either on the DL or on the Vegas roster and Podsednick is not ready for game action yet. The other two players in the major league camp who are yet to be optioned out - but will be - are Jon Diaz, who seems to have really caught the eye of the Jays as a John McDonald type, and catcher Ryan Budde who's a minor-league journeyman destined to back-up Brian Jeroloman this year.

So, what have meaningless spring numbers taught us? Well, nothing obviously beyond health, but here are some of my impressions:

*Jesse Litsch is a swell guy who's never been real high on my list simply because I saw him as a guy who had maybe the 6th or 7th best stuff among the potential rotation candidates. But you have to tip your cap to him, among the starters only Brandon Morrow had a better spring. his 17:3 ratio in 17 spring innings (which leads the team) is very hard to ignore.

*Morrow did nothing to disabuse me of my prediction that he'll be among the very best in the AL this year. One earned run, complimented by 16K and only 3 BB in 12 IP will do that.

*I was not impressed when the Jays acquired Carlos Villianueva and considered him a shuttle rider, but you have to acknowledge he did everything he could to make the team. That said, Casey Janssen was right there with him. David Purcey, on the other hand, is in danger of playing himself off the team if he doesn't find the strike zone again. His ERA is fine but a walk per inning pitched simply won't do.

*All the veteran guys who make you ask "will he bounce back?" have, at this point, very good spring numbers, except Aaron Hill who hasn't the at bats for me to comment (reportedly he looked quite good today). Raji Davis, YEscobar, and Lind have much to brag about, as does Travis Snider. The counterpoint being that John McDonald is hitting .333 - so there ya go.

*JPA and Encarnacion have less than rosy averages, although EE has shown good power, but John Farrell insists he's impressed with both of them. in fact, if you listen to Farrell it's hard not to be excited about virtually everyone on the team.

*Speaking of Farrell (whom the Tao shows some love too here in a piece I completely agree with), one of the things that has most excited me this spring is the constant praise for the teams coaching staff. Not just Farrell, whom I've quietly come to adore, but Bruce Walton, Don Wakamatsu, and the ever beloved Brian Butterfield have come in for a lot of excellent clippings.

*The kids are alright. one of the ways John Farrell found his way into my heart was his lavish praise for some of my favorite prospects. Brett Lawrie, Anthony Gose, Henderson Alvarez, Travis d'Arnaud, and Eric Thames have all been the recipiant of the Manager's superlatives. Other prospects that have, for one reason or another, seemingly advanced their cause with the organization are David Cooper, the aforementioned Diaz, and possibly John Tolisano.

Let us note that the most important week of the spring is the one coming up. This is when the "A" line-ups are playing most of every game and players are more focused on production rather than, say, refining a pitch. But, laying aside unwarranted excitement over inflated stats, there's a lot here to be excited about.

I can't resist here a somewhat off-topic glance at Vegas and the rest of the farm. With Zach Stewart leading (for now) a much improved rotation, and at least six hitters you can expect to do well, along with the rebirth (hopefully) of Chad Cordero's career the 51's should be much more fun than last year.
Likewise, the Fisher Cats should make some noise. The offense stands to be very good, with d'Arnaud, Gose, Hechevarria, Sierra, and McDade worth your notice. The rotation, which I'd once thought might be a weakness looks more interesting if, as has been recently hinted at, Henderson Alvarez breaks camp in AA. Eventually Chad Jenkins will probably join him.

Dunedin might be a bit of a valley until some of the younger guys move up, but there are players to pay attention to, such as Jenkins and eventually McGuire, along with Antonio Jimenez and the last realistic chance for Kevin Ahrens and Justin Jackson (who'll get a lot of time in the outfield according to reports) to revive their chances.
Lansing looks to be loaded enough for a whole separate column.

I can't wait!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Final Countdown

With under 10 days to go until opening night, and frankly at a loss for any new content without simply repeating the "this guy is hurt and that guy isn't" news of the day that you can get 20 other places, it seems a good idea to review the 25 Questions and see what we've learned.

1. With the announcement that Morrow will begin with a short stint on the DL, this question is settled in the very short term but still up in the air as you look to the balance of the season. I'm still harboring a hunch that the Jas will be impressed enough with Reyes that they will go ahead and fram Drabek out for 4-6 weeks and see how he does. He will be back though, one way or another. Barring a lot of injury no one else from the minors should be hopeful for a start in Toronto before September.

2. With Francisco on the DL, you have Jon Rauch closing, supported by RHP Jason Frasor, Shawn Camp, Casey Janssen, and LHP Marc Rzepczyinski (yes, I'm calling it - he's in) and the last two spots depend on Dotel's hamstring. If he's healthy he's got one of them and the last one is between Carlos Villianueva and David Purcey, the later of which is out of options (and left handed) but who has had a pretty rough spring while Villianueva has cruised. Obviously if Dotel can go both make it. I still think the jays will be loath to lose Purcey on waivers and are unlikely to try getting him through. But he is going to have to get back to his 2010 performance level.

3. Lawrie was farmed out today, but comments from John Farrell give us reason to think he'll be back pretty soon. My gut still tells me sometime in June.

4. Still no answer to "Why?" unless it's because they are convinced lawrie will make the point moot soon. but it's very firm that he's not playing anything but LF this year.

5. Just now beginning to play at something near full speed - impossible to gues how much it will affect his hitting.

6. YES! (Okay, I don't really know this but, yeah, I'm calling it)

7. YEscobar has had a heck of a spring at the plate (albeit also with an occasional bout of Riositis on the basepaths and in the field) - I think he'll carry that over.

8. Both are still holding up - Cordero pitched in an "A" game and might be ready by the nd of a rehab asignment (which, IIRC, can't last more than 30 days); McGowan has had no setbacks but is probably, even if all goes well, looking at maybe mid-season.

9. I think there will be a steady trckle of moving guys out as other teams see what they need, but early season trading is always a slow game so you might not see significant moves until June if he doesn't shead a player or two in the next week or so.

10. Have not heard a single word about Campbell this spring. Emaus seems to have all but won the Mets' 2B job (albeit from lack of serious competition).

11. Thames slacked off some as he faced more and more legit major league pitchers but i still think he'll be a beast at AAA.

12. Lowe came over from the minor league camp for a game or two, and got a feature write up in a Toronto paper for his effort, but it's still unclear that the organization has big plans for him.

13. I'e seen or heard nothing to change my remark here.

14. Possibly not. If Drabek sticks in the major league rotation and Zep in the pen, that would ruin the rotation I had been imagining.

15. There were no poor health reports on d'Arnaud in ST, and John Farrell gushed about him.

16. I've heard nothing negative about Sierra.

17. Given the slow and careful approach the team is still exhibiting, I'd be very surprised to see Adeiny promoted before August at the earliest.

18. AA says that Gose will open the year in New Hampshire.

19. Tolisano is still playing a lot of games with the major league squad, and apparently the team is pretty impressed. Jackson has apparently, been assigned to learn CF this year. I've no specific news on Ahrens.

20. nothing new to add here.

21. He was one of the select players that came in for the hot prospect mini-camp but all the news has been about players who played in the major league camp and Sanchez wasn't in that group.

22. Another young player that Farrell drooled over (along with Gose, d'Arnaud, and Lawrie) - he made an impression

23. Obviously too early to tell on this.

24. Nothing came out of camp to suggest the team is wild about him. We'll see.

25. Apparently the Royals have an urge to carry Collins north when they break camp in their major league pen.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

25 Days - 25 Questions

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!