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Half Way to Opening Day

Posted By Ben Fisher On Mar 15 2011 @ 12:17 pm In Toronto Blue Jays | No Comments

With the Blue Jays about halfway through the Spring Training grind and inching closer and closer to April 1, there’s no time like the present to check in on what’s happening down in Dunedin and what it all means once the regular season arrives.

I will also be checking in shortly with season previews on the team’s rotation, bullpen and positional players.

What to Do with Lawrie?

It’s ultimately a nice problem to have when a young prospect is, somewhat unexpectedly, playing well enough to put pressure on the big club looking to bring him along slowly. But the more that Langley, BC native Brett Lawrie continues to rake (he is currently hitting .393 with two homers while playing solid defence at third base), the more questions are raised about what is holding him back from being a Jay come Opening Day. Is the team that committed to playing Jose Bautista at third and Juan Rivera in left field? Or, more likely, is the team so concerned about beginning the winding down of Lawrie’s arbitration eligibility? To his credit, Rivera is among the team’s hitting leaders and has done nothing to warrant losing his starting spot. But he simply isn’t a part of the team’s future, whereas Lawrie has clearly earned a shot at big league duty.

A Golden Gose

Lawrie isn’t the only Anthopoulos Era prospect making waves this spring. Anthony Gose may be fast-tracking his way to the majors with a hot spring that has seen him hit .316 and, most notably, a team-high seven stolen bases. While he isn’t a contender for a major league job right away, Gose could be earning consideration as a mid-season call-up to join an outfield lacking in depth. That is, unless Eric Thames (.294 average, .350 OBP, team-high eight RBI) gets there first.

Several Areas of Concern

Amidst the wide-eyed hope and optimism of Spring Training, it’s a lot easier to find the positive stories than the negative ones. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t out there. Toronto has some major question marks, with expected starters at key positions having either poor springs or no springs, at all. Anointed catcher-of-the-future J.P Arencibia is hardly easing concerns over whether he is ready, having amassed more than three times as many strikeouts (10) as hits (three) through 29 at-bats. Elsewhere, the team would probably like to see more from their DH than the .219 average and .235 OBP being produced by Edwin Encarnacion. And that doesn’t even touch on Aaron Hill’s quad issues that have kept him from any Grapefruit League play, or the fact that the team’s Opening Day starter Ricky Romero has a 7.20 ERA and nearly as many walks (nine) as strikeouts (10).

‘Pen Still Up in the Air

With Jesse Litsch having an excellent spring and Kyle Drabek having done nothing to take away from his inside track status, it appears that the rotation is all but set heading into the season. But pitching questions still abound when it comes to the relief corps. Frank Francisco still looks like the team’s closer, while Jason Frasor and Jon Rauch appear primed for late situational roles. Octavio Dotel, however, has been a disaster, currently boasting a 15.00 ERA through three appearances while other relief options like Carlos Villanueva, Casey Janssen, Jo-Jo Reyes, Wil Ledezma and Alan Farina have been impressive. The Jays might be stuck with Dotel occupying a bullpen spot anyway, but he will quickly be made a non-factor if he can’t bounce back.

Fourth Outfield Spot is Podsednik’s to Take

These next two weeks are critical in Scott Podsednik’s battle for the fourth outfielder position with the Jays, a job he’d likely already have if it weren’t for his struggles with plantar fasciitis. Now supposedly past the issues, he will be given every opportunity to surpass the struggling Corey Patterson for the spot off the bench, with Mike McCoy likely getting the final remaining roster spot due to his versatile ability to play multiple positions.

So What Have We Learned So Far?

Eye-Openers: Lawrie, Gose, Thames, Villanueva, David Cooper

Ready for April 1: Rivera, Litsch, Jose Bautista, Brandon Morrow, Travis Snider, Yunel Escobar, Adam Lind

Disappointments: Romero, Arencibia, Dotel, Encarnacion, Patterson, Hill, Podsednik

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