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2011 Blue Jays’ Preview: The Line-Up

Posted By Ben Fisher On Mar 23 2011 @ 1:42 pm In Toronto Blue Jays | No Comments

In the interest of logical flow, I would typically follow up a look at the Blue Jays’ rotation with a glimpse into the team’s bullpen situation. But with the relief unit still very much in flux, I’ll save that until a little closer to April 1 when we know more about the status of Frank Francisco and Octavio Dotel, as well as what their health means for Jon Rauch and others.

Meanwhile, the line-up seems to be falling in to place, with Brett Lawrie looking like a good bet for some more seasoning (at least for another three weeks until he’s another year clear of arbitration eligibility). That means that the rebuilding Blue Birds have a decidedly veteran look around the horn.

Let’s take a closer look.

J.P. Arencibia, C

Primary back-up: Jose Molina

Of course, there I go undermining my own point by kick-starting this list with a 25-year old catcher with rookie eligibility. For Arencibia, a full-time starting opportunity that should represent somewhat of a passing of the torch and a ‘catcher of the future’ tag appears to be more of a pressure-packed tryout. He will enter the 2011 season having done little to impress since his two-homer, four-hit debut last August. Since then, he’s had just one more hit in 10 more games, plus a disastrous spring in which he’s hit .156 and struck out 15 times in 45 at-bats. With catching prospects like Brian Jeroloman and Travis d’Arnaud quickly coming up in the system, perhaps no rookie position player faces more pressure to produce than Arencibia.

Adam Lind, 1B

Primary back-up: Edwin Encarnacion

If Lind’s spring offers an accurate indication of where his offensive production will be at come time for the regular season – as it has over the past two years – then the Jays don’t have to worry about last season’s hitting woes carrying into 2011. Which is good, since Lind will already have enough on his mind as he adjusts to full-time first base duty. With the bat this spring, the 27-year old Indiana native has hit a sparkling .368 (up from .222 during last year’s pre-season) and has put to rest much of the concern over last season’s ugly .237 average, 144-strikeout effort. With the glove, no one expects him to replace the defensively stellar Lyle Overbay, but his eleven error-less games at the bag are a good start.

Aaron Hill, 2B

Primary back-up: John McDonald

The good news: Hill overcame tightness in his right quad to make his Spring Training debut for the Jays on Tuesday against Philadelphia. The bad news: coverage of his return included phrases like “has not reached full strength” and “noticeable hesitant to run out of the batter’s box at full speed”. Particularly early in the season, little can be expected from the longest-serving Blue Jay, due to both his injury-delayed start to the year and his woeful 2010 campaign (.205 average and a .271 on-based percentage just one point higher than his career batting average). The team would love for Hill to establish himself as a clubhouse leader with Vernon Wells no longer around, but in order to be a leader, you need to be contributing on the field.

Yunel Escobar, SS

Primary back-up: John McDonald

The cynic in me continues to wait for the other shoe to drop on Escobar, who was reportedly a troublesome toxin in the Braves’ clubhouse before coming over in last year’s mid-season Alex Gonzalez deal. Last season, the 28-year old seemed genuinely revitalized by the trade, enjoying a boost in offensive numbers across the board and forging a common bond with Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, among others. If Escobar can remain a positive presence and continue to produce (his exceptional defence certainly isn’t in question), then the Jays will have gotten a key building block – and possibly a valuable arm in Jo-Jo Reyes – for what amounts to a bargain bin free agent signing (Gonzalez) and a pair of marginal prospects (Tim Collins and Tyler Pastornicky).

Jose Bautista, 3B

Primary back-up: John McDonald

Can’t say I agree with all the pressure on Bautista as to whether he can duplicate last year’s 54-homer output. Naturally, there will be some intrigue over whether Bautista’s breakout marked the birth of a late-blooming power hitter or was simply a one-year wonder, but it’s the rest of the team that should be under the microscope. Even if the 30-year old can duplicate his 2010 success, they’ll still need plenty more for the club to fare any better than last year’s 85-win campaign (and that was with Shaun Marcum, Wells and Overbay in tow). That being said, 25-30 homers and similar contributions in runs, RBI and on-base percentage would quickly turn his five-year, $65 million extension into a bargain.

Edwin Encarnacion, DH

Primary back-up: Adam Lind

I still don’t fully understand the team’s desire to bring back Encarnacion, who had perfectly acceptable power numbers last season (21 homers in 332 at-bats), but showed little to suggest he could be trusted as a full-time contributor. As a DH, the Jays are hoping he can improve offensively by being able to focus solely on his plate appearances. Still, while I’m all in favour of getting the 28-year old and his 18 errors off the field defensively, I can’t claim to be terribly excited over the offensive contributions of a guy who owns a career .258 average and can’t really be relied upon as anything more than a No. 6 hitter.

Juan Rivera, LF

Primary back-up: Travis Snider

Rivera was an afterthought when he came to Toronto in the Wells trade and remains so despite a .395 average this spring and .439 OBP. But here’s the rub: he might be the best offensive player on the club. For a young squad with a forward-thinking mentality, it’s hard to get overly excited about a 32-year old slugger who appears to be in decline. However, Rivera is just two years removed from a 25-homer campaign in which he hit .287 and accumulated 253 total bases, and, like Escobar last year, could be invigorated by joining a Latin-heavy clubhouse.

Rajai Davis, CF

Primary back-up: Mike McCoy? (I’m really not sure who else can play CF)

Given his impressive early track record, I feel compelled to trust Alex Anthopoulos with knowing what the team needs and executing the right move to acquire that asset, but that being said, the decision to trade for Davis and decline offering Fred Lewis a free agent contract was a puzzling one. I’m not saying that Lewis was certainly the answer for this club moving forward, but Davis can hardly be considered an upgrade and also happened to cost a promising pitching prospect (Trystan Magnuson). Consider the numbers: in a comparable amount of career games (Davis has played 476, to Lewis’ 436), Davis holds a slight edge in average (.284 to .272) but loses in OBP (.330 to .348 for Lewis) and is slightly older (52 days, but still). I suppose Davis’ major edge comes in being a more aggressive base stealer among the speedsters (143-51 stolen bases), but does that alone justify the loss of a quality arm? Still, Davis is well-suited to the top of the order for the Blue Jays and, defensively, should mitigate the loss of Wells in centre field.

Travis Snider, RF

Primary back-up: Juan Rivera

Forget Bautista, here’s the real wild card of your 2011 Blue Jays. Snider caught fire at the end of last season with a .353 average (18-51), five home runs and eight RBI, and hasn’t slowed down this spring (.389 / .421 / six RBI). If he can keep that production level up into April and beyond, the 23-year old will fill a void in the middle of the order, a position that he could well assume for years to come. And if he doesn’t? Like I said, he’s 23! He’ll still have time to develop.

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