Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Let's talk Blue Jays Spring Training.

"I know you can be overwhelmed and you can be underwhelmed. But can you ever just be whelmed?" (ten things I hate about you.)

I'm back from Spring Training. It was wonderful, after a long winter to watch baseball again. But I am nothing but a realist, and I knew that the team was not just going to bust out of spring training like a world series playing team. In that regard, I was describe my time at spring training as being "whelmed." And I think it's a good thing, and I am about to tell you why.

Last year at Spring Training the team went 22-4-1. Lots of people jumped on the bandwagon that this foreshadowed great things. We all know it didn't. Between the end of 2011 and 2012, the Blue Jays line up didn't change. While there were a few competitions (ie: left fielder), no one new was added. Everyone on the 2012 opening day every day roster, had been in the line up at sometime during 2011. These guys were used to each other, knew their team and knew their role.

Now it's totally different. Kelly Johnson, Yunel Escobar, Travis Snider, Eric Thames, Omar Vizquel, Jeff Mathis are gone.

In their place, we have Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio, Maicer Iszturis, Melky Cabrera in the field along with these pitcher additions, R.A Dickey, Josh Johnson, Mark Buerhle and Esmil Rogers.

These guys need time to meld, learn each others routines, and get a feel for this new team dynamic. Not to mention that the fans are just adding a tiny bit of pressure.

In my first game, I saw R.A Dickey's spring training debut. He went 2.0 innings, he allowed four hits, two runs, one walk and one wild pitch. His velocity varied between 58 and 75 mph. In his book, Wherever I wind up Dickey mentions that when he comes to Spring Training with a guaranteed job, he takes the time to fiddle with his pitch, work on his velocity differentiation and really fiddle with his knuckle ball. So let's all calm down and think happy RA Dickey, knuckleball thoughts. Also read his book, its awesome.

In the same game, newcomer and tall man, Josh Johnson did not dissapoint. I saw him pitch two innings, one hit, two strike outs. His fastball velocity was consistent at 92/93/94.

Let's talk Adam Lind. This is without a doubt his do or die season.
 I saw so much potential in him this spring. More pop in the bat, moving easily, seeing the pitch better, taking walks and good base running. I noticed that Dirk Heyhurst mentioned on the Fan 590, said that Adam Lind looks so much like his former teammae from 2009 (his silver slugger year). I have high hopes Mr. Lind. Outside of Dustin McGowan, Adam Lind and Casey Janssen are the longest serving Blue Jays on the squad.

Ricky Romero, former ace plummets to rocky number 5.

In Ricky's first game, he went 1.2 innings, he cruised through hius first inning. Then allowed three hits, one walk and two runs. He was lifted before completing his 2.0 innings. He reacted with a surprising level of anger after giving a home run to to Joe Benson and then immediately walked Brian Ponzier. He threw mostly fastballs in the high 80s. One fastball reached 90. I hate to say this, but I was seeing more of the same. Ricky Romero's worst enemy is Ricky Romero, and his home run followed by a walk demonstrates that. He did not come back and battle, instead he walked the next batter on five pitches. Of course, this was his first start, and he did have knee and elbow surgery in the off season. Who knows how much effected this his performance, but right now Ricky's primary battle is with himself.

Baseball prospectus had this to say about Ricky, "look up broken in the dictionnary and you'll see this joke. And also a picture of Ricky Romero." they further go to say, that if the injuries were the problems, then the Jays have a "pretty good starter" if not "you can guess what happens next."

A big smile from Edwin.

 Edwin was a bright spot in 2012. And I truly think that he has a huge role to play for the 2013 season. Even if he dosen't hit as many home runs as he did in 2012, I see great consitency in his playing. Also, during the process of his extension in July 2012, he mentioned frequently how happy he was to be in Toronto, how much he loves the city, the team and his fellow players and i think that will continue to have a huge effect on how he plays the game.

Jose Bautista. The face of the franchise. Can he rebound from the season that really wasn't? April and May were slow going, and when he did finally get going it seemed we only got to see a glimpse before he went down with the wrist injury that horrible day.  Without him, and the entirety of the pitching staff, the team crumbled. But really what could the Blue Jays expect putting what was essentially a Triple A team in the major leagues.

While I was there, on his second at bat, Jose hit a monster home run to right field. He knew he had it. He flipped his bat and trotted. It must have felt good, and you could see it in his body. That is the Jose that we love. Jose does the work, there is no reason not to believe that we'll all see the results. And let's face it, the huge injection of energy, power and charisma can hardly hurt. The fact that Maicer Iszturis, Emilio Bonifacio, Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera are Latin guys can hardly hurt, and in fact could go a long way in helping Jose Bautista and Edwin make this their team and their time.

That swing.

He knows he's the boss.

Jose Bautista, Reyes and Izturis.

Melky Cabrera and Brett Lawrie.

Melky Cabrera.

 Melky Cabrera. I hate steroid use in baseball. When the Blue Jays aquired Cabrera, I didn't exactly jump for joy. Although, I felt a messure of respect for him, after he removed himself from the batting title race. When the Miami clinic scandal came out and tied Cabrera's name to Nelson Cruz and Alex Rodriguez, I felt relief that he had paid his punishment already and wouldn't become embroiled in this.

I did some research into Melky Cabrera. This is what baseball propspectus had to say about him in 2011.

"Cabrera arrived in Atlanta as a line-drive hitter who could at least hold his own in all three outfield slots, but he got fat and became a defensive hitter. In the end, the Braves were left with a pudgy switch-hitter who can't hit lefties, dosen't walk, dosen't hit for power and is limited a corner. When you add that all up, you get a release at the end of the year, followed by an invitation to join the Royals; meageries of mediocre outfielders. For the sixth year in a row, Cabrera may find himself with more playing time than he can possibly reward."

While nothing can excuse steroid use, I can kind of understand why it would seem like a viable option after many years of subpar performance.

I have decided to be open minded about Cabrera. The Blue Jays is a team for the rejects. Jose Bautista, Yunel Escobar came with rumours of bad attitudes and worse play. If Cabrera stays clean and works his ass off, I think this is the team for him. I don't expect him to the batting title champion or the All star MVP, but I think he will contribute and hope to be surprised. I think that a .285/.350/.400. If he could improve his walks, maintain his double rate and hit 15 HRs, he would have a verifiable second start in Toronto.
Bonifacio, Reyes and Cabrera. I rarely saw Reyes without a smile.

Jose Reyes. I didn't see much from him, but I did see his smile (see above) and saw him fly around the base paths on a double. R.A Dickey writes very good things about Reyes and his relationship with him when they were still on the Mets together.

"A player with Jose's talent comes along once every twenty five years, if that often. [...] a one-man energy plant and a breaktaking athlete."

"Jose moved quickly to his left, snared the ball, touched second and threw to first for the double play. End of threat. End of inning. Jose made this play all the time, and made it look easy. He probably saved me ten runs last year all by himself."

I am happy they are reunited in Toronto, and can't wait to see how many runs Jose can save for R.A.

So yes, a whelming Spring Training, and a team full of potential. I can't wait for April to start.

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