Reflections on the Blue Jays
- Updated: April 16, 2009
So spring training is over, the season is underway, and the Jays have gotten off to a decent start – not that it has changed any of the seemingly unanimous consensus around the baseball world and T-dot media that the Jays are going absolutely nowhere. I traveled from my home in Washington DC to Toronto for the opening series and was treated to 4 excellent games of baseball between the Jays and the Detroit Tigers. For 3 of the 4 games, attendance was abysmal, a reflection of the general sense that the Jays didn’t do much of anything this offseason and aren’t going anywhere despite being one of the better teams in baseball last year.
After a spring training pitched battle, the Jays’ rotation was rounded out with former first-round pick Ricky Romero, surely much to the delight of GM J.P. Ricciardi, who is still the victim of scorn for drafting Romero ahead of players like Troy Tulowitzki, Cameron Maybin, Jay Bruce, and Colby Rasmus. Romero started off the season, and his big league career, with a matchup against the Tigers and fellow first-rounder Rick Porcello, the first time in baseball history that two former first-round draft picks have opposed one another in each pitcher’s major-league debut. Romero pitched excellently and got the better of the matchup and the win, though Porcello also did quite well. Romero pitched great his second time out too, though he was denied the win through no fault of his own.
The Jays’ top pitching prospect, Brett Cecil, a sandwich pick in 2007 who has risen very quickly through the system, made a bid for the starting rotation as well but ultimately was sent to the minors to work on his consistency, his command, and his delivery (which apparently tips the pitch as the ball is released). My guess is we will see Cecil before June 1st. Another young pitcher who was sent down was Brad Mills, yet another lefthander (like Romero, Cecil, and third starter David Purcey) and one who the Jays seem to like a lot. With just a handful of starts in AA, though, the Jays ultimately decided that Mills could use just a little more experience in the high minors. He’s another guy that is likely to contribute in 2009, as is Casey Janssen, a former top 10 Jays prospect who did a great job in the Jays’ bullpen in 2007 but missed all of 2008 to labrum surgery. Janssen’s recovery has been somewhat slowed recently, but word is that he is likely to be ready to start in the majors sometime in May and reports on his pitching have been quite encouraging.
With all these bright lights on the horizon, why is the outlook on the Jays for 2009 so pessimistic? Certainly the offense should be better, given that the Jays are returning all the major offensive contributors from 2008 and can expect a full season of wunderkid Travis Snider and young slugger Adam Lind, who has gotten off to a very fast start, not to mention Aaron Hill, who missed most of 2008 due to a nightmarish set of post-concussion symptoms but is healthy and off to a great start in 2009. The Jays are also hoping for healthier seasons from Lyle Overbay, who played regularly in 2008 but experienced problems due to a broken hand in 2007, Scott Rolen, and Vernon Wells, who strained a hamstring this spring but was back in plenty of time to start the season in centrefield. That said, Wells’ hamstring strain was the same hamstring he hurt late in 2008, so there are concerns it could be a chronic problem.
Well to answer the question, the Jays are relying, to a great extent, on a set of young starters to hold the line after Roy Halladay. The most experienced among them, Jesse Litsch, is only 24 and his recent injury has brought into even harsher focus the lack of experience among the Jays’ starting corps.. Folks see 4 of 5 rotation spots filled with young and/or inexperienced pitchers and they figure, understandably so, that it’s going to be a long season. They may well be right, but, for my part, I am looking forward to seeing the youngsters pitch and there is no shortage of options should the first line falter. Maybe I’m just seeing the world though azure-colored glasses after a great start to the season, but I’m having a hard time believing the Jays will be in a battle to stay out of the cellar.
Hugo also writes for Bluebird Banter. Please follow the link provided to read his work there.