Fred Lewis, acquired in a mid-April trade from San Francisco, is turning into a key component of the Blue Jays. While he started off slow for Toronto, he’s really turned it on in May, hitting .429 with five extra-base-hits, including some very deep doubles. Not to mention that slotting him in leadoff in place of Jose Bautista has really revived Bautista’s prowess at the plate, who’s certainly been more productive since Lewis joined the club.
Travis Snider has also been heating it up as of late, batting .417 in April with four extra-base hits. The big thing I’ve noticed about him is that he’s been getting much better contact, and driving the baseball hard. He had a flyout yesterday that was about a foot and a half from flying over the fence – and Shin-Soo Choo’s glove.
The Jays had a game to play yesterday, and what a game it was. In the top of the ninth, Cleveland’s (interim) closer Chris Perez allowed a deep double to Fred Lewis with two outs, and then induces a soft grounder from Aaron Hill straight at the shortstop Luis Valbueno to end the ballgame – yet Valbueno lets the ball go right through his legs and lets Lewis score to put the game at 4-3 Cleveland. You could tell Chris Perez wasn’t very impressed and he let it get to him, as Adam Lind took Perez for a two-run home run to right to put the Jays ahead 5-4. With Jason Frasor pitching for a single out in the eighth, he came in for the ninth as well as shut down the Indians to lock up the win.
Brandon Morrow pitched well in the game, although he only went 5 1/3 with three earned runs, he struck out nine with his fastball that touched 100 multiple times. Since he sometimes struggles through games and get’s lit up, I’m very happy with how he pitched this outing.
Meanwhile the question most Blue Jays fans are asking is, “What happens to the lineup when Edwin Encarnacion returns from injury?
With Fred Lewis coming in, the Jays logjam of batters has gotten even worse and something drastic will have to happen when Encarnacion gets back. With Jose Bautista currently starting most games at third base, and Travis Snider or Fred Lewis unlikely to sit in favour of either Encarnacion or Bautista, it really comes down to who’s more valuable for the Jays: Bautista or Encarnacion? They’re practically the same player hitter-wise, low-average players with 20-home run power and some speed.
I think that Encarnacion will get slowly put back into the starting role as he has the most potential, with Bautista starting every four or five games, while getting some outfield starts as well.
Top Prospect Watch
Brett Wallace went 3/5 last night with a double, a walk, and two runs batted in, leading Las Vegas to a 13-7 win over Reno. With his efforts he has pulled his average back over .300 to .304.
At AA, Kyle Drabek took the loss against New Britain while putting up a confusing stat line: 5 2/3 innings pitching with one earned run and a 7/2 strikeout/walk rate, good numbers for Drabek. Yet he managed to also allow 5 unearned runs, which ran his record back to 4-2.
Photo courtesy of Associated Press
Brett Wallace has been tearing up AAA as much as Vernon Wells has been tearing up the Majors. With a .292 average and 7 home runs in 65 at-bats, Wallace doesn’t seem to have any holes in his swing. He’s leading the Pacific Coast League in homers. There’s no question in my mind that he should get called up by the first week of June, when almost all the other prospects in his draft class will get the call. The only problem is that with the logjam of Blue Jays 1B/DH players, something drastic will have to happen to get him playing time.
To get Overbay out of the picture, he’s going to have to either play really good to be valuable in trading, or he’ll have to play really bad so that there’s no controversy if Wallace would start over him. If he keeps turning his season around and has a decent .265/.360/.450 line by the start of June, Wallace will have to wait his turn and keep playing in AAA. But really, Alex Anthopoulos isn’t going to delay the progress of Wallace, he has his straight-forward rebuilding plan, something that J.P. never had. That was the thing with J.P. Ricciardi, he was never ready to admit that he core wasn’t good enough to win, he was always try to make ‘this’ the year, costing the team key prospects and cash while giving fans false hope.
Pitching in AA New Hampshire, Drabek started a bit slow, but was terrific in his last start, pitching 5.2 shutout innings, lowering his ERA to 3.80. The Jays are playing conservative with him, not allowing him to pitch 6 innings in any of 4 starts this season. Many see Drabek as a late-2010 call-up, but I think he still needs a lot of work and should finish the season in AAA, being an early-June call-up in 2011.
The key component of the Scott Rolen deal, Stewart has closer stuff, but as I’ve mentioned before, the Jays see him as a starter despite him getting destroyed in his professional starts. Stewart has gotten … shelled so far in AA New Hampshire. In 9.1 innings, he’s allowed 8 earned runs, so for all those people projecting Stewart to be a 2010 call-up: he’s going to have to get a lot better to earn it.
Shaun Marcum: Opening Day Starter?
It’s certainly looking as if Shaun Marcum may get the opening day nod, as he has a 0.00 ERA in Grapefruit League play through five innings of work. He has allowed only one hit in his two outings. Although this is a very small sample size, I think it proves that Shaun Marcum is back and ready to headline the staff as he was before he got injured. Look for him to get the start if he continues his excellence.
Kyle Drabek improves on previous start with a two-inning shutout against Phillies
Kyle Drabek, seen by many as the team’s #1 prospect, had a good second outing, blanking the Philadelphia Phillies. He was traded from the Phillies in the Roy Halladay blockbuster, so payback may have been on Drabek’s mind. An encouraging start to say the least.
Jose Bautista continues sizzling Spring Training
It’s going to be hard to demote Jose Bautista from the lead-off spot in the lineup, as he has been tearing it up this March. With 3 homers in 14 at-bats and a .643 average, he seems really motivated to start this year.
With Spring Training starting, the Blue Jays are more than unlikely to make another significant move, having already made a few under-the-radar moves and traded the face of the franchise. I will analyze all the players that have left the team and all the significant players that have arrived to play for Canada’s largest city.
Coming To Toronto
Alex Gonzalez, signed one year, $2.75 million deal
This deal was to replace Marco Scutaro, who was destined to leave as a Free Agent, as after his breakout season would demand more money. This was fine for the Jays, who were happy with the draft picks they would receive (Scutaro was a Type A FA) in return, but it left them without a capable lead-off batter this season (Jose Bautista anyone?).
Alex Gonzalez has your average bat for a shortstop, certainly better than light-hitting John McDonald, but I think his brutal defense will put him in Cito and Alex Anthopoulos’ doghouse, leading them to play McDonald more than they should. I would have much preferred moving Aaron Hill back to SS and then signing Felipe Lopez (who’s still unsigned!) to a cheap deal, this would be an upgrade on defense and Lopez has about the same bat as Gonzalez. Plus, Lopez would have been fine with signing with Toronto (other FAs get caught up in switching countries) as he was drafted by the club in 1998.
Joey Gathright, signed to minor-league deal
Gathright won’t start many games at all, but he’s part of the defense and speed focus that Anthopoulos is trying to install into the club. He’ll pick up tons of pitch-runner opportunities, as John McDonald did last year when Rod Barajas got on base in the later innings. I think it’s a great signing for Toronto, it used up hardly any money and got a total speedster that may even convince other players to run a bit more as well.
Kyle Drabek, Brett Wallace and Travis D’Arnaud, acquired in Roy Halladay blockbuster
A deal involving Halladay was inevitable for the Blue Jays this off-season, as while they had a slight chance of contending in 2010 with him, it was time we woke up and decided to get full value for him when we can. I think we got a great deal for him, Drabek and Wallace are top-rate almost ready prospects, while D’Arnaud is great, but still a project.
Kyle Drabek should contend for a rotational position in 2011 and has been the top prospect in the Phillies organization for years. He has already had Tommy John surgery and has scouts questioning whether or not his stuff is good enough to be an ace, but he figures to be a decent piece of the puzzle when the Jays are ready to make a run for a title.
Brett Wallace is said to have a major-league ready bat, he just needs to get converted over to first base, as the Jays don’t want a defensive liability at third base. He’s got great power potential, but the big thing is his plate discipline. He gets on base at a good clip and doesn’t chase balls very often. Expect maybe a September call-up this year and for him to start the 2011 season succeeded the job of Lyle Overbay. A good acquisition, I’d rather have him than Michael Taylor.
D’Arnaud is now our top catching prospect and is a pretty good batter as well. His talents are certainly more raw than Wallace and Drabek, but he’s a first-rate prospect nonetheless and should contend for a position in 2012.
John Buck, signed to one year, $2 million deal
John Buck comes to Toronto to join a long list of temporary catchers the Jays have employed the last few years while they wait for their prospects to develop. I would have rather had Rod Barajas, but like Scutaro, he was looking for a bigger deal than the Jays wanted to give to an aging player that wasn’t going to be part of their future.
Buck is an above-average defender, so he was partly brought in to instill the defensive focus that Anthopoulos wants to bring to the club. He puts up power numbers similar to Barajas with a bad average, but whatever, he fit the description the Jays were looking for, a good signing in that part.
Brandon Morrow, acquired in trade for Brandon League and Johermyn Chavez
This is a great trade for the Blue Jays in my opinion, I never liked Brandon League at all, he put up decent middle relief stats, but it seemed whenever he pitched in a pressure situation, he fell apart. I think Morrow is a great player for the Jays to acquire, he has potential and they could get him cheap since Seattle never figured out how to use him.
Morrow will either play this year as the 4th starter, or play as Brian Tallet did last year: as the long relief guy that gets 12-15 starts. I think the Jays coaching staff will be great with him and he should produce well as a Blue Jay. A great acquisition in my opinion.
Kevin Gregg, signed to one year, $2.75 million deal
People have criticized the Blue Jays management for making this signing, but it’s not for much money and should put pressure on Jason Frasor and Scott Downs, the main closer contenders before Gregg was signed. He’ll probably just play as either the set-up man or as a middle-reliever and put up a 3.75 ERA, which is about an average figure for a player at his position.
Jose Molina, signed to a one year, $400 thousand deal
This trade gives the Jays more catching depth, a good think since they now have John Buck as their #1. They’ll probably start Molina in 40-50 games, making this a significant season despite the low money. He developed a great rapport with A.J. Burnett last season, leading to hope that such a thing happens with one of the Jays young starters, furthering their development.
Leaving from Toronto
Marco Scutaro, signed by Boston
Scutaro had a great season last year for the Blue Jays, leading the AL in walks for most of the season and putting up an acceptable OBP for a lead-off batter. It’s bad that he’s leaving, but the two picks we got for him were good compensation, and he’s not part of our future (he’s 34). We couldn’t have done much to pry him away from joining Boston, so I’m fine with management’s decision.
Roy Halladay, traded to Philadelphia
Halladay has been the face of the Blue Jays franchise since he was an out away from a no-hitter in his second career start in September of 1998. Winning 148 games, he destroyed the Yankees, going a blistering 18-6 against them in his career, one of the reasons the Phillies wanted him as they might have to face the Yanks in the World Series again.
The trade was a good one for the Blue Jays however, it gave them prime prospects better than the two compensatory draft picks they would have received for him if he left in Free Agency. Halladay will almost certainly be retired onto the Jays Level of Excellence in the Rogers Centre and will go down as perhaps the best Blue Jay in history. We’ll miss you Roy!
Brandon League, traded to Seattle
As I expressed earlier, I have never been comfortable when League is pitching, he seems to be terrible in pressure situations, and with all the pitching depth they acquired and prospects that might start at relief pitching, I feel better about out relievers after the off-season than before.
Rod Barajas, signed by New York Mets
I don’t get it. Barajas had a good year for the Jays last year and they let him walk despite him only signing a one-year $1 million deal, hardly anything considering they signed John Buck to twice as much. I’d rather have Barajas and we could easily have signed him, he was out of a job until mid-February, not exactly w
hat happened to Scutaro.
Kevin Millar, signed by Chicago Cubs
This loss hardly mattered, Millar was simply a role player last year: He had a few starts and pitch-hits and performed as a clubhouse entertainer. While they will miss his presence, I’m not losing any sleep over the Jays not retaining him, as he was only signed to a minor-league deal by the Cubs, meaning the Jays management isn’t worried about it either.
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