PRESEASON PREVIEWS: Toronto Blue Jays

PRESEASON PREVIEWS: Toronto Blue Jays

Former D'Backs Shea Hillenbrand and Miguel Batista are on the only remaining MLB team North of the Border, the Toronto Blue Jays. Big bat Carlos Delgado is gone, but Roy Halladay should be back to 100%. Question is, with the Yanks and the Red Sox still in the division, does any of it matter?

 

When the Jays come into spring training in a couple of weeks the biggest question will be how the team will handle the loss of first baseman Carlos Delgado. Last season was a setback for the Jays as they suffered several key injuries and finished in fifth place in the AL East, 19 games worse than they performed in 2003. After acquiring two bats to replace the loss of Delgado, and trying to sort their bullpen with a few free-agents, the Jays will look to prove they can beat not only Baltimore and Tampa Bay , but the division powerhouse teams of Boston and New York .

 

ADDITIONS:

Infielder Shea Hillenbrand (acquired in a trade with Arizona for reliever RHP Adam Peterson); LHP Scott Schoeneweis (free agent- 2 year, $5.25 million); RHP Billy Koch (free agent – 1 year, $900,000 thousand); 3B Corey Koskie (free agent – 3 years, $16.5 million)

 

LOSSES:

1B Carlos Delgado, SS Dave Berg, RP Valerio De Los Santos, C Bobby Estalella, RP Bob File, RP Kevin Frederick, SS Chris Gomez, SP Pat Hentgen, RP Auilino Lopez, RP Michael Nakamura, SS Chris Woodward

 

PROJECTED LINEUP:

1: SS Russ Adams

2: 2B Orlando Hudson

3: CF Vernon Wells

4: 3B Corey Koskie

5: DH Shea Hillenbrand

6: LF Frank Catalanotto

7: RF Alexis Rios

8: 1B Eric Hinske

9: C Gregg Zaun

 

When looking at this lineup you certainly hope the potential plays out for the 2005 Jays. Russ Adams came on the scene late in 2004, and held his own in seventy-two at bats, and should come into spring training and win the shortstop position this spring. Hudson should make a solid double-play combination alongside Adams , and with Vernon Wells in centerfield, the Jays have entered more into a defensive philosophy with the loss of Delgado.

 

Comebacks from injuries and key acquisitions will be the theme of this Jays lineup. Frank Catalanotto played hurt for most of the 2004 season, however, he is expected to be fully healthy by spring training, and his solid bat could be a solid presence behind the newly acquired bats of Corey Koskie and Shea Hillenbrand. Koskie should fill in the cleanup role behind Vernon Wells, and with his power and plate discipline, he should enter in the role General Manager JP Ricciardi wants him to fill, which is supply half of the productivity that Carlos Delgado did. The other half of that responsibility will go to Shea Hillenbrand who came over from Arizona , and will likely be the clubs designated hitter. Hillenbrand has average power, however, is a very consistent player, and you should expect 15-20 home runs with a .275-.300 batting average.

 

The biggest player in this lineup could be Eric Hinske. It is unrealistic to believe he will return to his 2002 form, however, the Jays are hoping he balances out his 2002 performance with his 2003 and 2004 performance, and giving the team twenty home runs with a .260 average in the eight spot of the lineup would be all they are asking for. Joining Hinske in the bottom of the lineup will be second-year player Alexis Rios and veteran catcher Gregg Zaun. Although Rios did not show power during his time with the Jays in 2004, he is still 24-years-old and his body is still filling out. His defensive abilities and speed will be an asset to the new philosophy the Jays are approaching, and when his power potential comes into play, he could be a powerful force in the lineup, as he is compared to a young Magglio Ordonez.

 

BENCH:

C Greg Myers

IF Frank Menechino

IF John MacDonald

OF Reed Johnson

 

The Jays bench is not spectacular, however, they do have some depth at the AAA level, and those players could come into play during the 2005 season. Outfielder Reed Johnson could platoon with Catalanotto in left-field, and will be the Jays best threat off the bench. Guillermo Quiroz, Eric Crozier, and Gabe Gross could each fight for spots on the 25 man roster come spring training, however, the likely scenario will be that those three will be given their at bats at AAA rather than spend time on the bench in Toronto .

 

Frank Menechino will provide a veteran presence at second base, and John MacDonald could begin the season with the parent club, or be sent to AAA to tutor top prospect Aaron Hill.

 

ROTATION:

RHP Roy Halladay

LHP Ted Lilly

RHP Miguel Batista

RHP Dave Bush

RHP Josh Towers

 

The first four of the spots appear to be locked in, and the major battle for the Jays during spring training will be figuring out the 5th starter, and the bullpen situation. We project that Josh Towers will win the fifth starter spot, however, he will have his share of competition as Gustavo Chacin, Jason Arnold, Justin Miller, Ryan Glynn, and Chad Gaudin will be battling for that fifth starter spot. The most serious threat for Towers will be Gustavo Chacin, and if Chacin does earn that spot, Towers could go into the Jays bullpen. Arnold is healthy again, and could be a surprise candidate this spring, while Miller, Glynn and Gaudin will put up a good fight, although they are the long shots in this race.

 

Roy Halladay will be returning from an injury plagued season, and the Jays will need him to return to his ace form, if they want to have any chance of success. Ted Lilly had a solid 2004 season, and he will be looked upon to improve his performance in 2005, as the rest of the Jays rotation is filled with big question marks. There were rumblings that Batista could be moved to the closers role for the Jays in 2005, however, it now appears that Ricciardi will give Batista one final chance to revert back to his National League form, after adjusting to the American League. David Bush will be the new youngster in this rotation, and the middle of the rotation should be his home. Realistically, Bush is not a front-of-the-rotation pitcher, however, a he does fit the profile of a No. 3 or No. 4 starter. Bush, originally was a reliever because he struggled with his third pitch – the changeup, however, if he can master his changeup he should have a long major league career ahead of him.

 

BULLPEN:

Closer Justin Speier

MR Billy Koch

MR Jason Frasor

MR Kerry Ligtenberg

MR Scott Schoeneweis

MR Vinny Chulk, Brandon League , Chad Gaudin, Steve Andrade, Josh Towers

 

Speiers, Koch, Frasor, Ligtenberg and Schoeneweis are pretty much assured of bullpen spots for the 2005 season, which leaves 1-2 more open spots. The biggest question will be who will emerge as Toronto 's closer for this season, and at this point the likely candidate appears to be Justin Speier. If Gustavo Chacin wins the fifth starter spot this spring, Josh Towers would be moved to the bullpen, which will leave Chulk, League, Gaudin and Andrade fighting for the final bullpen spot.

 

The most intriguing candidate would be Brandon League, because of his impressive arm, and his ability to pitch in the upper 90's with his fastball. Many believe, however, that League will be best suited spending some time at AAA to try to make succeed as a starter, although the hard-thrower could compliment the Jays bullpen very well with the likes of Speier, Koch and Frasor.

 

BIGGEST QUESTION MARK:

How will the loss of Carlos Delgado affect the Jays?

Corey Koskie and Shea Hillenbrand were acquired to lessen the impact of the slugger leaving, however, that combination comes with question marks. Koskie has been injury prone in the past, and if he spends significant time on the disabled list in 2005, any hopes for the Jays of success could be washed away. Hillenbrand will likely be batting behind Koskie in the lineup, and there are questions about if he has the bat in him to merit hitting in the fifth hole. If you combine the two players' stats, they certainly match up to the productivity of Delgado, however, neither player is the intimidating factor that Delgado was in the lineup.

 

BREAKOUT PLAYER:

RF- Alexis Rios

Rios certainly has the potential to be a solid five-tool player, but lacked in the power department during his brief tenure with the Jays in 2004. Rios will be patrolling right field, and he is a great asset to the new defensive philosophy the Jays are approaching for 2005. He also has the potential to be a major force in the lineup, and by years end could be batting in the middle of the lineup, posing a serious threat to opposing pitchers.

 

PROJECTION:

Toronto has built a decent team for the 2005 season, and if they can play a healthy free season, we expect them to be better than the Orioles and the Devil Rays. The trouble they run into is their two other division opponents, are pure powerhouses. Right now the Jays do not have what it take to be a serious contender for the AL East title, however, they have built themselves a building block with a true ace pitcher in Roy Halladay. Toronto is certainly going in the right direction focusing on pitching and defense, and if their young core of players could blossom in 2005, the Jays could be playing meaningful games late in the summer.

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