Remember back in the fall when I was doing a weekly positional breakdown of the Jays as baseball traipsed through its eventful off-season and into the spring?
Well, I went across to diamond to every fielding position off the mound – and little has changed since then. At catcher, former Angel Jeff Mathis will take over the role as J.P. Arencibia’s back-up that was vacated by Tampa-bound Jose Molina. In the infield, Kelly Johnson is back at second after surprisingly agreeing to arbitration and Luis Valbuena has come on in a utility capacity. In the outfield, Ben Francisco will add depth as a fourth outfielder.
Which brings us to the mound, a site of notable transition among the relief corps and at least slightly disappointing sameness among the starters.
The Previous Guy(s)
Starters: Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil, Kyle Drabek, Jo-Jo Reyes
Waiting in the Wings: Henderson Alvarez, Drew Hutchinson, Noah Syndergaard, Daniel Norris, Deck McGuire, Justin Nicolino, Aaron Sanchez, Asher Wojciechowski, Adonys Cardona, Kevin Comer
How Did The Jays Fare?
The output of the Jays’ starting rotation in 2011 offered an early warning of the inherent discrepancy between potential and performance. Potential, of course, only extends as far as the capabilities one is expected to have, whereas performance comes from the consistent ability to stand out at the major league level. Of the 2011 rotation, only Romero proved capable of realized potential, while Morrow, Cecil and, especially, Drabek (all of whom big things were expected) disappointed. Alvarez, however, thrived in a short stint at the big league level and will be counted upon to fill one of the five slots this year. Among last season’s letdowns, Morrow has been extended with a new, reasonable contract based primarily on – yup – potential, so he’s pretty entrenched for the time being. Meanwhile Cecil and Drabek have no guarantees of even a major league roster spot heading into spring training.
Romero – His .244 batting average against on balls in play (dramatically down from his .299 career mark) is a slight red flag, but its hard to see him falling too far below his 15 wins or 2.92 ERA.
Morrow – MLB metrics people still love him (1.29 WHIP, 10.19 K/9), but eventually he still needs to transition those numbers into more meaningful numbers, such as wins (his 11 last season were a career high).
Alvarez – One of the most compelling Jays this season. Will he be able to get by for a whole season on just two (pretty nasty) pitches, or is there another minor league stint in his future?
Where Are They Headed?
With Romero, Morrow and Alvarez all but set for three of the five starting slots, questions remain over who will fill out the final 40%. There was some angst among Jays faithful this off-season that Alex Anthopoulos didn’t land a front-of-the-rotation arm to speed up the rebuild (although Anthopoulos says that it wasn’t for lack of trying), but what’s done is done, Mat Latos, Gio Gonzalez and Michael Pineda (among others) have found homes elsewhere and the club must move on with what they have.
That means that two of Cecil, Drabek, Dustin McGowan, Jesse Litsch, Carlos Villanueva and Luis Perez, with Hutchinson and McGuire looming as the dark horse prospects, will likely find themselves enmeshed within the starting five. Of course, with farmhands rising up the organizational depth charts and capable arms like Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels and Matt Cain closing in on unrestricted free agency (never too early to start the rumour mongering), things could change in a hurry.
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Written by Ben Fisher