Saturday, September 11, 2010

Infield Issues Surface

After watching Bautista last night make a highlight reel play on an Evan Longoria grounder, I may have changed my mind regarding making him our full time third baseman in 2011. My initial thoughts were that losing his superb defense and outstanding arm in right field didn't make sense and that we had lots of infielders to plug the hole at third. However, after viewing last night's outstanding play at third, by Bautista I realized that third base is a much harder position to fill than the outfield and that we have a very competent third baseman already in Bautista. Though our outfield isn't as strong minus Bautista, it is competent if not outstanding with Wells, Lewis, and Snider.

My greater concern recently has been the defensive play uof our shortstop and second baseman. Both Hill and Escobar are capable of gold glove defense at their relative positions yet they've made too many bobbles and errant throws recently to resemble anything of that caliber. Earlier discussions about moving Hill to third base to take some pressure off his defense and take advantage of his power are signs that he's also not doing the job at second base. Other potential candidates to replace him at second such as Brad Emaus and Jarrett Hoffpauir might replace Hills offense and play passable defense at second. This would allow Hill's move to third with an expected improvement in defense at that position. But there's nothing like having a true power-hitting third baseman and Bautista profiles better at third than anyone else the jays could put there.

It's clear that our best option for solid infield defense with above-average power numbers includes a Bautista at third, Escobar at short and Hill at second. Our issues finding a replacement for Lyle Overbay at first are being excluded for the purposes of this discussion, but remain an issue as well. Last night's errant throw by Escobar that resulted in the winning run by the Rays was exactly the kind of play one envisions when hearing Bobby Cox's comments subsequent to the trade in June. Escobar has incredible talent and makes some brilliant plays in the field, but the times he does appear disconnected and make errors on routine plays. He can be frustrating at times since everyone knows his talent level. It's probably best to remember how many years we struggled filling the shortstop position here in Toronto, remembering it's a long season, and just enjoy Escobar's overall play, his above-average defense and solid bat.

Keep in mind, we also have Hechavarria coming with his gold glove defense in the next 1 to 2 years. The Jays are going to have a nice problem trying to find spots for him and Escobar and Hill and a decision of which one will cover third base, until we develop or trade for a prototypical third baseman. So enjoy the ride along the way remembering that Bautista is likely only here for another 1 to 2 years and taking solace in the fact that our future infield without him is still pretty attractive.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Rule 5 Draft Preview

Shawn Hill and Robert Ray were called up to the Jays following Las Vegas' final game of the season last night in which Brad Mills had a very good outing. Surprisingly Mills didn't get the call and may be done for the year as Jays already have a sense for Mills from his previous visit to the big team earlier in the year.

Hill is going to get the start on Friday as Jays want to see what he can do in preparation for next year and to gather more information for finalizing their 40 man roster after the season. Ray may get some innings for the same reason. Ray has dropped way down the depth chart but still has the stuff to be a major leaguer likely as a 5th starter or middle reliever like Camp or Janssen. Jays need to know whether to use a roster spot on him or expose him to the rule 5 draft in December and use the spot for another player they view with more upside. With the lack of pitching, either of Hill or Ray would likely be snapped up by a team, like Milwaukee who is in desperate need of pitching.

Perhaps AA is hoping they have some good outings in September which would generate trade interest in the off season. Alternatively they could be used to sweeten a trade deal. It would be better to get something for them then let them be drafted off our roster. Remember, teams don't have to protect players until after at least 4 minor league seasons. So if AA can get a younger player in a trade for someone like Ray, it gives him some roster flexibility as well.

Below is my guess on the 40 man roster come December. With a full roster, the Jays couldn't draft anyone in the rule 5 draft so AA likely will leave 1 spot vacant "just in case" he sees someone he likes. The players I see at risk of being left off the list are, McGowan (depending on medical and workout reports, Robert Ray, Brian Jerolman (likely to be a journeyman backup catcher in major leagues).

Players like Drabek, Stewart, David Cooper don't yet have to be put on the roster unless they make it to the big team.

1B Mike Jacobs
2B Aaron Hill
SS Yunel Escobar
3B Shawn Bowman
C JP Arencibia
C Jose Molina
C Brian Jerolman
DH Adam Lind
INF Mike McCoy
INF Brad Emaus
INF Jarrett Hoffpauir
SS Adeiny Hechevarria

LF Fred Lewis
CF Vernon Wells
LF Travis Snider
RF Jose Bautista
CF Darin Mastroianni
RF Adam Loewen
RF Moises Sierra

SP Shaun Marcum
SP Ricky Romero
SP Brandon Morrow
SP Brett Cecil
SP Shawn Hill
SP Jesse Litsch
SP Mark Rzepczynski
RP Brad Mills
RP Jesse Carlson
RP Kevin Gregg
RP Casey Janssen
RP Josh Roenicke
RP David Purcey
RP Shawn Camp
SP Luis Perez
SP Dustin McGowan
RP Jo Jo Reyes
SP Scott Richmond
SP Robert Ray
RP Ronald Uviedo
RP Alan Farina

Jays have several players who could be taken in the rule 5 draft. Obviously, this list would need to be updated after the actual 40 man rosters are set prior to the draft. By then Baseball America has a list of the best talents available in the draft. However, I list my preliminary thoughts for discussion.

Of Aaron Matthews
1B Brian Dopirak
OF Adam Calderone
SP Reider Gonzalez
RP Adrian Martin

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Gregg Will Close in 2011....but Who Will Close in 2012

Great article about Kevin Gregg on Jays website today.

Gregg's option for 2011 makes him an affordable closer and we really have few other options within our system other than Frasor who is likely to sign elsewhere and Accardo who’s relationship with the Jays has soured and will be moving on. It’s unlikely the Jays would try to use one of their options at double AA like Farquahar, Farina or Magnuson and trust this difficult task to a rookie. They do have Roenicke who has the stuff to be a closer but would have to throw more strikes. As you know, it’s not just having the stuff to close but the mentality to do it as well and often takes a year or 2 to grow into it like Henke and Ward.

Potential free agent closers include:

Octavio Dotel (37) - $4.5MM club option with a $500K buyout
Frank Francisco (31)
Brian Fuentes (35)
Kevin Gregg (33) - $4.5MM club option for '11, $8.75MM for '11-'12
Trevor Hoffman (43) - mutual option worth $7-8.5MM; buyout at $500K-1MM
Chad Qualls (32)
Jon Rauch (32)
Mariano Rivera (41)
Rafael Soriano (31)
Billy Wagner (39) - $6.5MM option vests with 50 games finished
Kerry Wood (34) - $11MM club option

None of these guys is any better option or has a better record other than Soriano and I think the Rays will resign him. I believe Jays will pickup his 2011 option to keep things stabilized for next year and take their chances on free agents and re-evaluate in-house options at the end of next year.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A Peek Into the Future

If you wanted to get excited about the Jays future, all one would have to do is to look at the minor league box scores tonight.

In Auburn, Sean Nolin, Brandon Berl, Sean Shoffit, and Drew Permison combined on a 2 hit shutout striking out 9 though they did walk 7. Three of the four were draft choices this year while Shoffit was drafted in 2005 as an infielder. Shoffit was never able to put it together at the plate though he always had an exceptional arm. Finally this year the Jays and Shoffit decided it was time for him to take a shot as a pitcher and after a rough start, his results improved as the year progressed. In rookie ball he struck out 23 in 20 innings while walking only 5 prior to his elevation to Auburn where, including tonight's performance, he has pitched 5 scoreless innings. Perhaps we can catch lightning in a bottle again as we did with Dave Stieb. We will know better next year as Shoffit is moves up a level or 2 and faces better hitters. With a similar arm to Shoffit, third baseman Kevin Ahrens could be the next candidate for such a move to the mound if he doesn't hit successfully next year.

At Lansing, Drew Hitchison and Casey Lawrence who both started the year in Auburn combined on a 9 inning 6 hit, 1 run victory striking out 9 and walking only 2. Both pitchers were dominant before being promoted and are showing they may be too talented to start next year in low A ball. Just a reminder that Lawrence was a free agent signing this year after the draft. What a find!