Written by: Andrew Hendriks (@77hendriks)
If you look hard enough, you can almost see the light at the end of the darkest tunnel known to Baseball fans… the Off Season. As we get closer to the day when Pitchers and Catchers report to Dunedin, I thought I would break down the potential offense (as I see it) in some of the simplest ways possible.
Catcher – There is no doubt that JP Arencibia is the starting Catcher for the Blue Jays in 2012. Coming off of his 1st full season catching in the Bigs, Arencibia looks to improve on his .219 BA as well as his .289 OBP. The power numbers are of least concern for Arencibia having set a Toronto record for HR’s (23) as a catcher in 2011 while steadily improving his defense behind the dish throughout the course of the year. Spelling Arencibia at Catcher will be Jeff Mathis, a light hitting Catcher known more for his Defensive work and ability to work with young pitchers. Mathis comes in to the season posting a career BA of .194 in parts of 7 seasons with LAA. You never know, maybe he will catch some of the luck that Jose Molina and or John Buck had during their time north of the border. Defense!
1st Base / Designated Hitter – Adam Lind & Edwin Encarnacion should have a lock for these position’s coming out of Spring Training. Lind adjusted to the move from the outfield better than a lot of people expected and proved to be quite the defensive player in the wake of Lyle Overbay leaving the club. Not to be out done, Encarnacion also flashed the leather when asked to spell Lind at 1st however the power hitting righty tended to hit better when used as a Designated Hitter in 2011 which could mean the transition to full time DH could be in order. The bottom line is that 1st base is an RBI position generally held by some of the game’s best power hitters, a category that could easily include Lind if he is able to put everything together ala 2009.
2nd Base – Kelly Johnson clearly impressed Alex Anthopoulos enough during his 33 games with Toronto in 2011. The 29 year old Second Baseman hit .270 while collecting an OBP of .417 not to mention 9 extra base hits (3 HR) during the span of 132 PA’s in the AL. It is known that an offensive 2B is an added bonus for any team and Johnson certainly has the tools to be called an offensive middle infielder.
Short Stop – Yunel Escobar is easily considered one of the top SS’s in the AL from an offensive standpoint and he’s not too bad with the glove either. Finishing the season 3rd in BA for AL SS’s, Escobar also drove in 48 Runs and hit 11 HR’s coming out of the leadoff spot in the batting order. Leading off for the Jays he didn’t upset collecting a .369 OBP which would lead the league for SS’s in 2011.
3rd Base – Mr. Canada aka Brett Lawrie will be looking at his first full season playing the Hot Corner for Toronto. Having played a mere 43 games in the MLB, Lawrie finished the season with a .293 BA to go with an OBP of .373 while collecting 21 extra base hits in the process. The defense will come for Lawrie as the young 3rd Baseman gets used to playing hard hit balls off of the carpet at the Dome. That being said, the BC native made some spectacular plays last season which should serve as a sign of things to come.
Left Field – One of the biggest question marks heading in to ST has to be who will man LF for the Jays in 2012. Thames showed remarkable potential in 2011 making his MLB debut in May. The 24 year old outfielder played in 95 games collecting a total of 41 extra base hits including 12 HR’s down the stretch.
Travis Snider only appeared in 49 games with Toronto in 2011 before being sent down to AAA Las Vegas where he hit .327 and drove in 42 runs. The sky is the limit for Snider as far as potential goes. The 23 year old Outfielder was ranked #6 prospect by Baseball America in 2009 however he has been plagued with injuries and inconsistency since his debut in 2008. I, like Greg Zaun and many other Blue Jays followers would like to see Snider get a full year of AB’s under his belt without the fear of being sent back down lingering in his head all season. This however is a tough decision to make if you’re Anthopoulos trying to give his club the best chance to win while having Thames knocking on the door. Ultimately a decision has to be made in Spring Training as to who the Blue Jays will go with in 2012… I’m just glad that I’m not the one making it.
Centre Field – Colby Rasmus has all the tools to be a premier outfielder in the MLB. His speed and ability to get to balls hit in the gap or otherwise is second to none and those reasons alone are why he will get the nod to be the starting Outfield Captain in 2012. Offensively the potential is there to have a 25 HR, .300 AVG guy out there. The Transition from the NL to the AL is tough for some of the most proven of hitters (see Prince Fielder 2012… calling it) and I expect to see Rasmus make great strides in the coming season to improve on his .173 AVG he posted with Toronto in 2011 (133 AB).
Right Field – Is it necessary to talk about Jose Bautista? Joey Bats is the best RF’er in the game. Case closed. Coming off a season where he improved his overall BA by 42 points, his OBP by 69 and continued to mash HR’s at record setting numbers, 2012 is looking bright for Toronto’s leader on the field. People see the drop off in Home Runs (54 in 2010 to 43 in 2011) to be a concern but when you look at the overall numbers, you can make a case for Bautista having a better season in 2011. Who isn’t looking forward to seeing what this guy can do in 2012? From a defensive standpoint there’s no denying what Bautista brings to the team with his arm. Opposing teams don’t tend to run on many ball’s hit to RF and that adds to his overall value to the team
Bench – With acquisitions of guys like Ben Fransico, Luis Valbuena and Omar Vizquel the Blue Jays are looking at a pretty loaded bench. Cuts will have to be made, its part of Spring Training and as I hate to see any of them go, I understand that its part of the business.
Here’s what we know. The Blue Jays have to carry a guy like Jeff Mathis, sorry Jero fans but the reality is that Arencibia will need a back up here and there and Mathis brings the ability to work with young pitchers to the table. Although Jeroloman is known for his defense, Mathis seems to be the better fit at this point. But anything can happen in March.
Another Lock for a bench role (I hope) is Rajai Davis. His speed alone off the bench is unparalleled and a 4th outfielder is imperative to any organization. Davis is a proven base stealer, something that Francisco is not which unfortunately leaves him out in the cold.
Luis Valbuena reminds me a lot of another organization outcast. A flashy fielder with some pop in his bat, I can see him learning a lot from Escobar. Not saying that he is Kelly Johnson but I would hate to see a guy with his talent go elsewhere. There’s something in the 26 year old infielder that when given the right opportunity and surrounded by the right people, might just show up.
Speaking of the right people, Omar Vizquel fits the bill perfectly. The future Hall of Fame middle infielder, in my opinion, has been brought in to work with some of the younger talent on the club. Unfortunately I see the signing as more of a glorified coaching position with the addition of being a sure handed defensive specialist that can go in late in the game and get you outs. That being said, I love the deal and really hope that he breaks camp with the ML team.
Poor Mike McCoy.