For The Toronto Blue Jays, The Future is Looking Good

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APRIL is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

-T.S. Eliot, the Wasteland

_It’s been an interesting April here in Blue Jay land.  It’s been something of purgatory for the Jays, so far, with many key players from better-than-you-thought late aughts teams — Roy Halladay, Scott Rolen, Marco Scutaro, Alexis Rios – gone, but many of the guys who are slated (at least in our dreams) to be the next great Jays team may not yet make major-league contributions.  So we are left with a lot of in-betweeners playing key roles, guys like Jose Bautista, John Buck, Brian Tallet and Dana Eveland getting a ton of face time.   Only 4 of the 9 players currently making up the Jays’ starting lineup have anything resembling a future in a Blue Jays uniform.

One piece of the future who is up with the big team has been Travis Snider, and while the results haven’t been as expected (.127/.257/.254), there are some reasons to be optimistic going forward.  He has a 23.4% line drive rate (14.9% last season in the bigs) and has seen over 4 pitches per plate appearance (3.6 P/PA last season).  He is also walking 15% of the time (10.5% in 2009), while striking out 25% of the time (a third of the time in 2009) and a ridiculous .133 BABIP.  Give him time.

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_Adam Lind is doing his best to show that his huge 2009 wasn’t a fluke and has been hitting the ball well of late.  Aaron Hill got off to a slow start, hampered by a hamstring injury, but is back now.  Vernon Wells has turned heads with a huge start to the 2010 season (.333/.400/.716) with 17 extra base hits in 21 games.  On the pitching side, the returning Shaun Marcum has been mostly terrific while with sophomore southpaw Ricky Romero, you can omit mostly from that construction.

The others have been either better than expected (Jose Bautista, Alex Gonzalez) or not (John Buck, Lyle Overbay, Brian Tallet), up and down (Dana Eveland, pretty much the whole bullpen), or hurt (Edwin Encarnacion) but let’s face it – it really doesn’t matter unless you thought that someone was going to give up a lot for one of these fellows in a trade.

The important thing is who will man these positions going forward, not who is keeping their places warm now.  First base prospect Brett Wallace is tearing up AAA and looking like a viable everyday player down the stretch if the Jays find a place to stash Overbay.  Catcher J.P. Arencibia is hitting very well in AAA himself in an effort to rehabilitate his prospect status after a terrible and injury-hampered 2009 and has made strides on defense.

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Lefty starter Brett Cecil has already found himself promoted to the bigs after a hot start and the early returns have been quite good.  Fellow lefty starters Marc Rzepczynski (broken finger) and Brad Mills (rib injury in 2009, but off to a great start in AAA) don’t look to be all that far behind.  The Brandon Morrow experiment is ongoing.  Kyle Drabek and Zach Stewart, starting pitchers that came back in the trades for Halladay and Rolen respectively, are pitching at AA and are having some significant, if qualified, success there, while 2009 first-round pick Chad Jenkins just had his first dominant start (8 shutout innings, striking out 9 and walking one) in A ball.  Exciting young starter Henderson Alvarez is mowing them down in high-A ball, too.  And there are some early discouraging performances and injuries in the minors, too.

But this is what really matters, not whether Randy Ruiz should be seeing more at-bats than Lyle Overbay (he shouldn’t) at first, whether Jose Bautista is really good enough to play every day (so far, so good, though the platoon splits aren’t favorable), or whether manager Cito Gaston has been missing opportunities to pinch-hit (almost certainly yes).

For my part, I’m enjoying 2010, and plan on enjoying it even more as the pieces of the future play increasingly important roles on the team.  That may take some time, so patience is required at this point.  I don’t expect unqualified success, but it will be fun to see!

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