Renewed Hope for the Toronto Blue Jays


Renewed Hope for the Toronto Blue Jays

And just like that the whirlwinds of another Spring Training are well under way as we begin enjoying the start of seeing the boys of summer on the field. With that springs a new hope for the Toronto Blue Jays just as it does for the other 29 teams in Major League Baseball trying to vie for potential October glory.

Many pundits have picked the Blue Jays to win the division. This is in spite of the fact of all the questions marks this team has. Honestly, I think Blue Jays’ fans should take this as a big positive. All of the analysts and talking heads know that the Blue Jays have some real questions in their line-up, rotation and bullpen, yet this hasn’t stopped many people from picking the Jays. This just goes to show what respect people and other teams have for the quality players the Jays do have, which is plentiful. I have previously criticized Alex Anthopoulos for missing out on quality budget outfielders like Ichiro (15-18 stolen bases, .284 Ave, $2 million dollar base contract plus incentives) while also taking the option on potential late-game relievers in John Axford, Francisco Rodriguez and an apparently interested Jonathan Papelbon. Though we’ve been told there really wasn’t enough money allocated to making a pitch at a high-priced reliever or starter after the signing of Russell Martin.

More from Toronto Blue Jays

With this in mind AA has done a good job of picking up some great pieces that were below the radar with Justin Smoak, Michael Saunders and most recently with Dayan Viciedo. These acquisitions will be imperative if the Jays are to make any kind of run at a playoff spot. We’ve had Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and others (Adam Lind 09’,11’,13’/ Colby Rasmus 13’) have monster years in the past but this hasn’t lifted us to the promised land. Smoak is a switch hitting first basemen whose been in the middle of the line-up during his time in Seattle, which is a pitchers ballpark on a team with not many great hitters. He was picked apart when a starting major league pitcher only has to really bare down for two batters in a line-up than good luck if you’re one of those two. The thing I like about Smoak isn’t just that he has 74 home runs to his name but it’s the fact that his strike-outs to walks are only 2 to 1 and his career OBP is 84 points higher than his average. A young power hitter that has patience has more time to figure it out. Let’s also not forget this was a first round pick touted to be a perennial all-star who is just now coming into his prime and understanding who he really is as a hitter. So hopefully his understanding of who he is as a hitter to go with his natural power will suit the Rogers Centre well.

After Smoak we have Saunders, who is a tall, athletic outfielder who has some real pop when he runs into a ball as well as having pretty good overall contact. Saunders has shown he can play, he just needs to stay healthy. Given that his knee injury had an early prognosis of being out to the All-Star break, I can respect his attitude in wanting to push back in as soon as possible. He’s been labeled a bit of an injury-prone guy and I think he wants to break this image.

After Smoak comes perhaps the sneakiest signing of the offseason in Dayan Viciedo. This dude is only 25 years old, which is only one year older than our new future second baseman Devon Travis. Viciedo came into the big leagues at the ripe age of 20 and has gone on to hit a career .254 with a .298 OBP. The OBP isn’t too impressive but hitting a career .254 while averaging 20 home runs and 64 RBI over the previous 3 seasons is nothing to scuff at and yet again it is another player coming into his prime years. This acquisition gives us some depth and gives us a fourth outfielder with real Major League credentials compared to Kevin Pillar. Given this I must say that I like Pillar and he has looked great so far in his first game where he hit a home run. I noticed a little more of a Bautista/Josh Donaldson load on his back leg on this swing where he starts gaining some momentum while keeping his front shoulder closed off. It looked good and if he can continue to show signs in Spring Training then I’ll enjoy seeing these two battle it out.

Feb 23, 2014; Lakeland, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers second baseman Devon Travis (74) poses for a photo picture at Joker Marchant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

With all of this it is Devon Travis who could be the wild card this year. He has been a little hitting machine since he has played pro-ball and announcers and scouts have really liked what they are seeing out of him defensively this spring, which was the previous knock on his abilities. He seems quick, athletic and has a strong-arm to go with the quality potential bat. This could be a great fit with this team that needs a few more ‘gamers’ to go along with the power sticks.  I’m sorry but Goins just doesn’t fit the bill.

Line-up aside everyone knows the questions lie in the pitching. They have some quality arms that are getting better in Marcus Stroman and Drew Hutchinson to go with the vets R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle. The question is the fifth and potential sixth spots. Aaron Sanchez is getting his chance to start though he seems to fit the young closer role perfectly for a team looking to win now but there is Daniel Norris and Marco Estrada there to compete as well. A sixth starter will be needed at times seeing as they don’t want to completely over-run Stroman while Hutchinson has had Tommy John surgery and you never know when lingering effects can pop-up.

“maybe they give the job to Aaron Sanchez, who came up and allowed just 14 hits in 33 innings. I get that you don’t want to give up on Sanchez as a starter, but he fills a need in the bullpen right now.” – David Schoenfield

Miguel Castro looks like a real big-league pitcher who throws hard with a pretty fluid delivery. If he can make a push for the bull pen this year than having him, Brett Cecil, Aaron Loup, Estrada/Sanchez, Norris, Steve Delabar and Rob Rasmussen who is coming off a year in AAA where he had a 2.72 ERA with 44k in 43 innings to only 17 bb. This has some good potential but the question marks are there.

With all of this in mind Blue Jays fans should be very pleased with this team and the potential it has. Early in spring they seem to be having a blast together and it looks like a fun dugout. This can only bode well for the season ahead.  In Adam Sandler’s Happy Gilmore his instructor Chubbs said this while referring to golf but it applies to baseball as well, “Isn’t it great? Blue skies, fresh-cut grass, birds chirping” to which Happy responded, “Geez, you love this golf stuff”. Yes, we do love this “baseball” stuff at Tip of the Tower and this year so should you.

Next: Is Marcus Stroman Set for A Big Year?