Over the course of the next month or two, we will be previewing the Yankees’ competition in the American League. To do this, I will interview one blog for each team in the league.
Remaining in the AL East, let’s take a look at the Toronto Blue Jays. I had the pleasure of interviewing Jared Macdonald of Jays Journal.
1. Finishing 4th in the AL East, the Blue Jays actually had a pretty good year this past season, going 81-81. What are your thoughts on how the 2011 season went?
For the Jays, I really divided the season into two parts: before and after the All-Star break. I was content with the progress that the Blue Jays organization made as a whole in 2011, but the second half of the season was far more exciting that the first.
Before the break, they had Kyle Drabek and Jo-Jo Reyes at the back end of their rotation. I was of the mindset that Drabek should not have been rushed to the Majors since I felt that he could have improved in a variety of areas with more minor league seasoning. Instead, he broke camp out of spring training as the Jays’ No. 4 starter and limped to a 5.70 ERA/5.50 FIP in 14 starts, including 52 walks in 72.2 innings for a Major League-high 6.4 BB/9. Reyes didn’t fare much better as the Jays’ No. 5 starter, either, with an 11.5 H/9 and 5.40 ERA/4.63 FIP in 20 starts. Midway into the season, Drabek and Reyes were replaced with Henderson Alvarez and Dustin McGowan, two intriguing pitchers that will be exciting to watch in 2012.
From a position player standpoint, the Jays had lackluster players like Juan Rivera, Corey Patterson, Jayson Nix, and Aaron Hill all log a significant amount of at-bats in the first half of the season. Things got better in the second half, though, as Rivera and Nix were designated for assignment, Patterson was traded to St. Louis in the package that brought back Colby Rasmus, and Hill was traded for Kelly Johnson later in the year. Even though Rasmus didn’t hit with the Jays in 2011, he’ll be exciting to watch next season as a potential core piece going forward. Add the addition of Rasmus to full seasons of Brett Lawrie, Kelly Johnson, and either Travis Snider or Eric Thames, not to mention another season of Jose Bautista, and it’s quite possible that the Jays could be better offensively in 2012.
2. The Blue Jays have added several bullpen pitchers to the mix already, including Darren Oliver, Jason Frasor, and Aaron Laffey. What do you think of the moves the Jays have made so far this offseason to strengthen the ‘pen? Additionally, do you think there are other moves the team could make before Spring Training?
I think that the moves Alex Anthopoulos made to strengthen the bullpen, overall, were fantastic. Acquiring a legitimate closer in Sergio Santos has solidified the position for, hopefully, years to come. Adding Darren Oliver as a setup man adds a much-needed proven southpaw to the bullpen and also brings a veteran presence to a young club. In Jason Frasor, a familiar face returns to the organization and he’ll give you a quality inning anywhere from the fifth to the eighth. More importantly, though, Anthopoulos’ three offseason additions have clearly defined the bullpen roles for next season, which was something that the team sincerely lacked in 2011.
Anthopoulos has said he’d like to add at least one more reliever via trade, but it’s hard not to be impressed that he revamped the back end of the Jays’ bullpen at the expense of just three prospects, with only one of them being close to the Majors or notable at all.
3. The Blue Jays are a talented team with what seems to be a good GM in Alex Anthopolous. However, it seems as if the tough AL East competitors- the Red Sox, Yankees, and the Rays, make it difficult for the Jays to surpass 3rd and 4th place. Any thoughts on the overall unluckiness of being in a division with three other great teams?
Sure, being in the same division as the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays could be considered unlucky, but I view it as a plus, especially from a player development perspective. The Blue Jays are stockpiling so much talent in the minor leagues right now, including some pitchers that will make an impact in 2012, so what better than to test them against some of the best teams in baseball? Given the way that the Jays are headed as an organization under Alex Anthopoulos as well, the fact that they’re in the AL East likely shouldn’t be as much of a factor or emphasis in the future.
4. What is the general confidence level in the Blue Jays going into the 2012 season? Are there any definite strengths or glaring weaknesses that you foresee moving forward?
Overall, I would say that the confidence level in the Blue Jays for next season is high, seeing as the club did not lose anyone of value but successfully overhauled the bullpen and added talent or upgraded at at least three defensive positions. The one potential weakness, however, that prevents the confidence level in some fans from being higher is the starting rotation. Ricky Romero will lead the charge again and Brandon Morrow is primed for a breakout season with the introduction of a cutter to his repertoire, but there are question marks behind those two. The Jays do need to give innings to Brett Cecil, Alvarez, and McGowan right now in order to assess exactly what they have in them, but acquiring a top starting pitcher wouldn’t hurt, either.
5. How do you feel about the current state of the Jays’ prospects, and minor-league system? Are there any prospects that you think could have an impact on the 2012 team?
In a nutshell, it’s hard to imagine the Blue Jays’ minor league system being any better than it already is. Everyone has a tendency to hype their own prospects , but the group of players that the Jays have in their system is easily top 10 in the Majors, if not top five. I remember talking to one of the Jays’ Major League scouts in August who said that the talent level of the Jays’ system is “downright silly”, and that their system is full of talented, under-the-radar types that don’t get mainstream attention as well.
There will be a couple of prospects that could have an impact for the Jays in 2012, and the first one that comes to mind is 21-year-old right-handed pitcher Drew Hutchison, who pitched at three minor league levels in 2011 and had a 42-inning streak in high-A without surrendering an earned run. He has tremendous command of his fastball and is on the cusp of being MLB-ready after the significant progress that he made this past season. Other names that could make an appearance with the Jays are Travis d’Arnaud, Anthony Gose, and Adeiny Hechavarria.
6. Lastly, how do you project the team will do in 2012?
Tying in to what I mentioned in the fourth question, the fact the Jays upgraded their bullpen and at other positions around the diamond without losing anyone valuable implies that they’ll be a better team next year. Starting pitching remains somewhat of a question mark, but it’s unlikely that their rotation will have as bad of a first half in 2012 as they did in 2011. I think that the Jays will certainly be competitive next season, say, in the neighborhood of 85-87 wins and perhaps even challenge for a playoff spot if everything goes right. That being said, though, it’s not all about wins and losses in 2012. Things will become clearer as an organization in terms of what exactly the Jays have at the big league level, and the slew of prospects in the minors will inch closer to the big leagues. As a Jays fan, it makes me excited for the upcoming season, but also next year’s offseason and what’s to come in 2013.