With Grapefruit League action well underway we finally have some real action to gauge this year’s championship-favored squad. Everyone knows that Spring Training results don’t mean a thing for the regular season. You only have to look at last season’s top-notch Spring Training results and the Jays awful Spring Training results from the championship years to see that. Results may not matter in the long run, but position battles and players returning from injury do. With that being said, here’s a quick rundown of the Top 5 things we’ll be keeping our eye on during spring training.
It’s highly possible the Blue Jays won’t have a true starting second baseman this season. Maicer Izturis and Emilio Bonifacio could end up splitting time at second base. Izturis should be used to the platoon lifestyle, having never appeared in more than 122 games in a single season. Bonifacio played in 152 games back in 2011 (only five were at second), but he’s coming off an injury-shortened 2012 in which he only saw action in 64 games.
At the plate the edge slightly goes to Izturis historically. During his nine- year career (spent mostly in platoon situations) Izturis has a hash line of .273/.337/.381 with a .781 OPS. Bonifacio’s line is just below that at .267/.360/.316, with a .753 OPS. Bonifacio’s stats are bolstered by a solid 2011 season, during which he put up a sweet .296/.360/.393 with a .753 OPS. Those are all career-best numbers and if Bonifacio could come close to repeating that he could force Gibbons to keep Izturis on the bench more often.
Where Bonifacio truly has the edge on Izturis is on the base paths. When it comes to stealing bags Bonifacio might have an edge on everyone in the Majors – at least until Billy Hamilton arrives. Last season in only 64 games Bonifacio stole 30 bases in 33 attempts. No offense to Izturis, but I want Bonifacio in the game as often as possible just to see how many bases he can steal.
Last season Sergio Santos was supposed to be the ninth inning saviour. Due to injuries, that never happened. All wasn’t lost though as Casey Janssen stepped up to do the job. And, he did the job well with 22 saves in 25 chances. He also posted a solid 2.54 ERA and had excellent control, walking only 11 batters in 63.2 innings with a 0.86 WHIP.
After a season like that Janssen was all but assured to be in the stopper’s role to start the 2013 season. John Gibbons said just that entering Spring Training, but Janssen’s shoulder might get in the way. During the offseason Janssen had a clean-up job on his shoulder and his recovery hasn’t gone as smoothly as anticipated. In fact, Janssen hasn’t even thrown from the mound yet.
Janssen’s less-than-speedy recovery from surgery on his shoulder could result in Santos reclaiming the ninth inning job. In his Spring Training debut Santos looked good in a quick inning against the Orioles. If Santos circa 2011 shows up to start the 2013 season in Janssen’s place the Jays could be in good shape when it comes to holding leads in the eighth and ninth inning this season.
The Blue Jays bullpen was either really good, or really, really, really bad last season. Alex Antopoulos wasn’t going to make that mistake and has loaded the ‘pen full of arms which leaves Gibbons with a few decisions to make in filling out the rest of the bullpen pen chairs. Five of the seven bullpen spots are already filled with Janssen, Santos, Darren Oliver, Steve Delabar and Esmil Rogers in place. J.A. Happ is expected to be the No. 6 starter/long man, which leaves one more vacancy. Vying for that slot are Brett Cecil, Brad Lincoln, Jeremy Jeffress and Aaron Loup. Chad Jenkins and newly acquired Michael Schwimer also have had their names batted around, but it’s unlikely either of them will be with the big club when the Jays head north in April.
If Cecil doesn’t make the team, his time in Toronto could be over. To get sent down he has to clear waivers and there are plenty of teams who could use a left-hander with Major League experience. If the Jays want to keep Cecil they could open up with Happ at AAA to get him work and make sure he’s ready if someone in the starting five goes down early on.
The real battle for the last spot in the ‘pen could be between Lincoln and Jeffress, so both bear watching whenever they take the mound in Florida.
Ricky Romero went from being the ace of the staff to the bottom man in the Blue Jays rotation. Now we wait and see how he will respond not only to the “demotion” but also from the worst season of his career.
If Romero’s going to rebound this season and get his career back on track after coming off the rails, getting into a groove in Dunedin would be a start at least. How a pitcher performs in the preseason doesn’t really add up to a whole lot in the regular season, but if Romero’s going to rebuild his confidence he needs to at least start to find his game in the spring.
Romero’s first spring outing didn’t go very well as he was touched up for two runs in 1 2-3 innings. It’s probably safe to say Jays fans will all be keeping a close eye on Romero each time he gets the ball this spring, hoping that at least a glimpse of the Romero who won 15 games in 2011 will start to shine through.
After their off-season upgrades the Jays hopefully won’t have to rely on Bautista’s big bat as much anymore, but he’s still one of the most important pieces to the Jays taking the next step to contention. For those who forget Joey Bats had season-ending surgery on his left wrist in late-August. At the time of the surgery it was reported that Bautista would need up to six months to fully recover. Well, six months was February, so where are we right now?
Bautista’s wrist is reportedly giving him no trouble so far and the mammoth home run he hit in his Spring Training debut is a good sign. Not only is his wrist holding up so far, the strength must be back, or at least nearly back if he can turn on a pitch like that already. Now we just have to hope it stays that way.
- Adam Lind at the plate
- Mark DeRosa the 25th man?
- Blue Jays at the World Baseball Classic
- The Hot dog guy (always keep your eye out for the hot dog guy)