Monday, March 4, 2013

Season preview: Toronto Blue Jays

This month contributor Kenny Celelli will take a look at every team in the MLB. Kenny starts his preview with the AL East and the Toronto Blue Jays.  

In my first article I highlighted how the Blue Jays were easily the winners of the off season. They brought in big names and general manager Alex Anthopoulos stuck to his word and will field a great team this season north of the border. However, Anthopoulos may have traded the future for the present when he traded many of the great pieces that made the Blue Jays farm system one of the best in the league. For Blue Jays fans though the time is now, this team is filled with talent and very high expectations. But can they live up to them?

Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey
Jose Reyes, R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Melky Cabrera, and Emilio Bonifacio all join the Jays in an effort to make the playoffs for the first time since 1993, when they won the World Series. Their lineup will be potent with the likes of Reyes and Cabrera joining the already dangerous Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Brett Lawrie, and JP Arencibia. The rotation looks deadly with reigning NL Cy Young R.A. Dickey joining former ace Josh Johnson and workhorses Mark Buehrle, Ricky Romero, and the uber-talented Brandon Morrow. The Jays finally look poised to make the playoffs and be a very competitive team for the next few years.

The Field
C: JP Arencibia                      
1st: Edwin Encarnacion
2nd: Macier Izturis
3rd: Brett Lawrie
SS: Jose Reyes
LF: Melky Cabrera
CF: Colby Rasmus
RF: Jose Bautista
DH: Adam Lind

Josh Thole – Catcher
Rajai Davis – Outfield
Mark DeRosa – Infield
Emilio Bonifacio – Utility

That may be the best offense in the league. Bautista has hit more homeruns the past 3 years than anyone else in the league. Encarnacion, Lawrie, Cabrera, Lind, and Arencibia can all knock out 20 or more homeruns as well. Bonifacio, Reyes, and Davis can all steal 30+ bases while Lawrie and Cabrera can steal a double digit amount.

The team defense should be average as they have a decent mix of good defenders and some guys not so well known for their defense. Up the middle they are solid with Reyes, Izturis, and Rasmus all being pretty good glove men. The Melk Man and Joey Bats have huge arms but not always the greatest route runners when going for the ball. Edwin Encarnacion only plays the field because he is slightly less awful then Adam Lind, and Brett Lawrie has a great arm but his range can be somewhat suspect. Arencibia has been improving and has become a good game caller but his throwing skills still could use work at time. Emilio Bonifacio will be a defensive replacement in most games while Josh Thole was brought in specifically because he has caught R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball before.

The Rotation
R.A. Dickey
Josh Johnson
Brandon Morrow
Mark Buehrle
Ricky Romero

The ‘Pen
Casey Janssen (closer)
Sergio Santos
Darren Oliver
Brett Cecil
Steve Delabar
Aaron Loup
Brad Lincoln

The Jays had issues with the bullpen last year and this year it will remain the weakness this season. Sergio Santos started last season as the closer but injuries and ineffectiveness put Casey Janssen in the role and he converted 22 of 25 opportunities, enough to keep the spot for this season. The problem will be in middle relief most likely for the Jays, Darren Oliver is old but still solid at getting lefties out. Brett Cecil gets moved from the rotation to most likely become the long man. Brad Lincoln is coming off a pretty good season and has good strikeout and walk rates. Everyone else is just your run of the mill reliever and pretty interchangeable. The Jays will rely heavily on their star filled rotation and the numbers suggest that at least four of the starters will be very good, the weak link, Ricky Romero. The numbers for Romero last year were not good at all, walks were up, home runs were up and he overall just did not look like he knew what he was doing on the mound.

Player to watch
Emilio Bonifacio could be the player to watch in Toronto. 
I could go with one of the obvious, Jose Bautista, Jose Reyes, R.A. Dickey, or Josh Johnson but instead I will go with someone who could have quite an impact on the team, Emilio Bonifacio. When healthy Bonifacio is one of the fastest players in the league, he can play every position except, pitcher, catcher, and first base, he walks a fair amount, and won’t kill you with his strikeouts. If he stays healthy all season he will steal at least 40 bases, providing the potent Jays hitters with more opportunities to drive in runs. Just think about this, last season Bonifacio stole 30 bases in 64 games, and he was only caught 3 times. A full season could see him steal the league lead.

Predicted Finish: 1st in the AL East
I think every move pays off, I don’t think they win 100 games like some people think but this team is good and with the Yankees, Rays, and Red Sox all very vulnerable this season the division is the Blue Jays to take. I think Dickey regresses a little which is expected but Brandon Morrow continues to show talent and the bullpen is not too awful. The offense will strike out a lot, and I mean a lot, but they will challenge to lead the majors in runs scored and I think that translates to a first place finish in the division.

--Kenny Celelli

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