Thursday, February 28, 2013

37 Jays in 37ish Days: Yeah Yeah, I Wanna Loup, Baby

Who: Aaron Loup. Left-handed relief pitcher. 5'11", 205 lbs. 25 years old. Still listed with jersey number 62, though that seems like a number you give to non-roster invitees.

Provenance: Born in Raceland, Louisiana. An hour west of New Orleans. Drafted out of Tulane University in the ninth round of the 2009 amateur draft by the Blue Jays. Received a $100,000 signing bonus.

Contract Status: Contract purchased by the Blue Jays in July 2012. No contract for 2013 as of yet. Has accumulated 83 days of Major League service time. Remains under the Jays' control for the foreseeable future.

Back of the Baseball Card: A stellar 2.64 ERA in 33 relief appearances (30.2 innings). Struck out 18.0% of batters (6.16 per nine innings), walking just 1.7 % (0.59/9). Induces ground balls 55.4% of the time.
2012 Repertoire, as per Brooks Baseball: Sinker (77%, 92.29 MPH average); Curve (21%, 78.85 MPH); Changeup (2%, threw 12 in total, 83.27 MPH).

Recent Injury History: Missed two months with an unknown injury at the end of 2010, and started 2011 on the DL.

Looking Back: As far as surprises go, there are few in 2012 that were as unexpected or delightful as Aaron Loup. (Actually, there were few pleasant surprises at all in 2012, but let's not focus on that.)

Few would have imagined before the 2012 season that Loup would emerge to be named the Blue Jays' rookie of the year. But with the cavalcade of busted pitching limbs thrust him onto the roster and into the bullpen fire mid-way through last season.

It wasn't hard to like Loup when he appeared on the scene: A lefty who throws a hard sinker with a funky side arm delivery is as aesthetically pleasing as all get out. For an unheralded rookie, Loup's appearances became must-see events and high points of the latter stages of the season. His effectiveness was the delicious icing on the cake.

In terms of setting himself up for a future role as a bullpen southpaw, Loup did a great job of nullifying left-handed batters in his somewhat abbreviated first go-round. Of the 60 lefties he faced, he gave up just 12 hits, two doubles and one walk while striking out eleven. And while his numbers were slightly higher against righties (.268 OBP, .370 SLG), but he was still effective enough not to be immediately pigeon-holed into a LOOGY role just yet.

If there is a reason to pull back on the reins of our enthusiasm for Loup, it's the fact that not all of his minor league numbers necessarily point to this sort of success. He posted a 4.66 ERA in high-A Dunedin in 2011, and a 4.54 the previous season in low-A Lansing. Also, his big league BABIP of .277 seems likely to rise, with some of the other numbers sure to follow.

Still, his strikeout to walk ratios have been impressive enough to thing that he can miss bats and keep free runners off base.

Looking Ahead: As good as Loup was, he'll be hard-pressed to make his way into the 12-man bullpen that Manager John Gibbons says he'll carry to start the season.

Gibby has pledged not to weigh player options into his considerations of who makes the team out of spring training...but with Darren Oliver being a lock - barring injury - and Brett Cecil out of options, it creates a very narrow opportunity for Loup at the outset of 2013.

On the other hand, depth is a beautiful problem to have, and Loup is well-positioned to slide into the first available slot in the bullpen, whether if it opens in March or April. And those slots always do. 

Pessimistically: Comes back to reality to become. Spends time in Buffalo and serves as a depth arm at the bottom of the pen's pecking order. Is still forced to carry the Dora the Explorer backpack filled with candy.

Optimistically: Maintains something close to last year's performance, and is relied on in high-leverage situations to snuff out rallies and befuddle lefties. Develops a cult following. Gets a lower jersey number.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

37 Jays in 37ish Days - Darren Oliver and that Old Black Magic

Who: Number 38, Darren Oliver. Left-handed relief pitcher. 6'2", 200 lbs. 42 years old.

Provenance: Born in Kansas City. Graduated from Rio Lindo, California. Up Sacramento Way. Drafted in the third round of the 1988 amateur draft by the Texas Rangers.

Acquired: Signed as a free agent by the Blue Jays in January, 2012.

Contract Status: Blue Jays exercised his $3 million club option in October of 2012. Hilarity ensued. Free agent after 2013 season.

Back of the Baseball Card: 4.53 ERA in 716 games over 19 seasons with Texas, St. Louis, Texas, Boston, Colorado, Florida, Houston, the Mets, Angels, Texas (yup) and Toronto. 1866.2 innings pitched. Stuck out 5.88 batters per nine (15%) and walked 3.40 (8.7%)

2012 Stats: Continued his late career resurgence with a 2.06 ERA in 62 games (56.2 innings), marking the sixth consecutive season he lowered his ERA. Struck out 23.5% of batters faced (8.26 per nine innings) and walked 6.8 % (2.38).

012 Repertoire, as per Brooks Baseball: Four seam fastball (59%, 88.6 MPH average); Curve (24%, 76.12 MPH); Sinker (16%, 89.41 MPH); Changeup (threw 12 all year, 83.68 MPH).

Recent Injury History: Missed a month or so in 2004m and had a 15 day DL stint in 2009. Nothing since. Tommy John Surgery in May of 1991.

Looking Back: It's probably unfair that the memory of Darren Oliver that most Jays fans will carry in to the 2013 season is of the offseason contract communications snafus that became fodder for a few weeks.

It was certainly confusing, and many nasty things were hurled in the direction of the mostly affable middle-reliever. If nothing else, it reminded us of the existence of Jeff Frye. It probably also took some of the shine off that time he hit for the cycle.

Regardless, one would be hard-pressed to quibble with the results that he produced in 2012. Oliver was nasty against all hitters, stranding 84.8% of runners and holding batters to a .213 batting average against.

Oliver was tough on lefties, holding them to a .314 OBP and .330 slugging, but he was even tougher against righties (.252 OBP and a minuscule .262 slugging.)

Looking Ahead: It's hard to resist all of old saws about the value of veteran leadership. Given that Oliver had his ulnar collateral ligament swapped out when Marcus Stroman was five weeks old, one would think he has some perspective on the game to share to two generations of ballplayers coming through Toronto.

Moreover, Oliver made playoff appearances in six straight seasons from 2006 through 2011, so the hope would be that he could provide some ballast when the tides of the season begin to toss the good ship Blue Jays about.

But the expectations on Oliver are - and should be - far more tangible than that. He's not just a cheerleader playing out the string, and to compete in what will be an extraordinarily tight American League this season, the Jays need him to maintain his current streak as one of the most quietly effective relievers in baseball.

Pessimistically: This is the season when time and age finally catch up with Oliver, and maybe he becomes a decent left-handed specialist.The Jays might need to manage his workload to get him through the season.

Optimistically: Posts a sub-2.00 ERA, pitches some of the most important high-leverage innings down the stretch in the midst of a pennant chase.

Monday, February 25, 2013

37 Jays in 37ish Days - Learning to Accept Brad Lincoln

Who: Brad Lincoln. Right-handed pitcher. 27 years-young, 6'0", 210 lbs. Wears number 49. Also, goofy necklaces.

Provenance: Lake Jackson, Texas. Which is in the general area of Houston, if you were wondering. Drafted out of the University of Houston with the fourth pick of the 2006 amateur draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Acquired: Traded by the Pirates to the Blue Jays in exchange for Travis Snider on July 30th. Sadness and recriminations followed.

Contract Status: Not yet signed for 2013, though that's a formality. Jays control Lincoln for this year, and hold four more years of arbitration rights after this season.

Back of the Baseball Card: 4.78 ERA in 188 innings pitched through three partial seasons with the Pirates and Jays. 75 games pitched, including 22 starts. Strikes out 17.5% of batters he faces (6.79 per nine innings) and walks 6.8% (2.63).

2012 Stats: Posted a 2.73 ERA in 59.1 innings (28 games, five starts) with the Pirates, and a 5.65 ERA with the Jays in 28.2 innings (24 games, all in relief.) Overall, struck out 24.3% (9.0 per 9) and walked 6.6 % (2.45).

2012 Repertoire, as per Brooks Baseball: Four seam fastball (59%, 94.2 MPH average); Curve (32%, 83.9 MPH); Sinker (4%, 93.0 MPH); Changeup (4%, 86.2 MPH).

Injury History: Missed all of 2007 following Tommy John surgery. Missed half of 2011 after being hit by a batted ball in spring training. Missed most of training camp in 2012 with knee and lower leg injuries.

Looking Back: For someone who was a Travis Snider loyalist through to the bitter end, it was always going to be hard to accept the presence of Brad Lincoln on the Jays roster.

A failed starter and iffy reliever who had eked out a few good weeks seemed like a poor return in exchange for the years of pining that many had invested in the man they call Lunchbox. But with additional distance from the trade - and a lower level of pressure thanks to Snider's middling performance in Pittsburgh - we can gamely evaluate Lincoln on his own merits.

Lincoln hardly wowed the Blue Jays faithful after the trade, and the most vivid memory of his time with the team might be the six-hit, six-run boot-stomping he took at the hands of the Rays on September 22nd of last. In what was a depressingly lost season at that point, you would have been hard pressed to recall an inning where a Jays pitcher was hit harder.

One bad outing does not a season make, but unlike fellow acquisition Steve Delabar, there were not enough high points or impressive outings in August or September to give fans much to anticipate for the coming season.

On a more sympathetic note, a mitigating factor that has popped up after reviewing some of the old chatter around Lincoln from his Pirates days is the impact of the tinkering to his delivery that was done by former pitching coach Joe Kerrigan in 2010. Lincoln had been posting a decent-if-unspectacular season at Triple-A Indianapolis, but after his June summoning to the Bucs and Kerrigan's tutelage, he lost about six miles per hour on his fastball and was crushed by Major League hitters. Kerrigan was shown the door in mid-season, immediately following the demotion of Lincoln.

Does that mean that Lincoln was permanently damaged by a bad tweak? No, it doesn't, but if you were looking to find a ray of hope, maybe you could convince yourself that he just needed to shake off the ill effects of some early failure.

Looking Ahead: The Blue Jays have begun the season with the notion of Lincoln returning to the starting rotation. It's not a bad bet at all on their part given the gap that they need to bridge between their emergency replacements at the high levels of the minors and the prospects who are remain several years away.

Stretching Lincoln out and having him serve as a mid-rotation option in Buffalo gives the organization an opportunity to see if he may yet be able to fit into that role in the Majors. Even if he might have had success in the bullpen in the short term, Lincoln's value increases exponentially as a reliable fourth or fifth starter down the road.

Even if the Jays' needs dictate that he eventually returns to a bullpen role, it's better to have him stretched out from the outset rather than attempting to improvise mid-season.

Pessimistically: Does not impress enough to push himself into the picture. Remains a Triple-A depth arm next year, and a possible non-tender candidate by the end of the year.

Optimistically: Recaptures some of what made him a top prospect for several years. Performs well in Triple-A and establishes himself as the seventh starting pitcher in the Jays' depth chart. Holds his own when call upon.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Spring Depth

This is happening.  Actual baseball players are playing actual baseball on actual baseball diamonds.  Now, those players may be major leaguers half-assing it in the early spring, or minor league scrubs whole-assing it with no hope of making an Opening Day roster.  But it's baseball all the same, and it's a glorious thing.

Besides, there are at least a few things are already in mid-season form, like Prince Fielder's bat-flip, for instance.  Is it important that one of the premier sluggers in the game zeroed in on a Brandon Morrow offering and lit him up like a senior citizen's birthday cake?  Of course not.  To me, little tidbits of entertainment like these are the things that makes the otherwise tedious spring training experience more fun.  Even in the earliest games, we get a glimpse of the kind of best-on-best match-ups that keep us watching through the dog days.

Of course, we also get to see some of the kinds of plays that will eventually get real prospects into the majors one day, like Anthony Gose robbing Austin Jackson of at least one extra base, if not two or three.  Seeing Gose zoom straight back off the crack of the bat and track that fly ball perfectly got me thinking about depth on the Blue Jays roster for 2013.

While it's a given that Gose is slated for AAA Buffalo to start the year -- I mean, they aren't even pretending otherwise -- it bears repeating that he racked up a surprising 189 above-replacement-level plate appearances in the big leagues in 2012.  Even the most optimistic Colby Rasmus boosters (and I count myself among them) have to feel more comfortable knowing such a capable defender is available in case he struggles or takes a step backward.  With what should be a more potent lineup in place for 2013, even if Gose brings a bat that... um, let's say "needs maturing", he provides enviable depth in the outfield.

Add to Gose the fairly canny signing of Ryan Langerhans (despite his apparent maiming of Mike McCoy in an outfield collision on Saturday), bringing Adam Loewen back into the fold as a 1B/OF, and hell, maybe even Lance Zawadzki , and you have the makings of a respectable set of AAA outfielders who could be called on in a pinch as a fourth outfielder for -- picking a number out the blue here -- 15 days.

(EDIT: only took me a day or so after posting to realize Zawadzki is actually an infielder, but the broader point about depth in Buffalo stands.  Plus, Moises Sierra is still a thing that exists, so I guess you could throw him into the AAA mix of outfielders.)

Speaking of depth, I might be overreacting to a pretty minor feature of the defensive lineup John Gibbons fielded on Saturday at Joker Marchant Stadium, but I was intrigued by his decision to start the game with Emilio Bonifacio at shortstop and Maicer Izturis at second base, and even more intrigued when he flip-flopped the two of them a few innings in.

We're not quite in Tampa Bay's shortstop-at-every-position territory just yet, but it speaks well of the potential versatility of the infielders available that least three of them can play passably at the toughest spot.  If the withered corpse of Mark DeRosa can log a few innings a week at third, second or a corner outfield spot, there should be more than enough defensive options for Gibbons to spell Brett Lawrie, Jose Bautista, and Jose Reyes, maybe give them a half-day off as the DH, and keep them fresh over the 162-game grind.

Friday, February 22, 2013

37 Jays in 37ish Days: Adam Lind and the End of the Line

Adam Lind, in happier times.
Who: Number 26, Adam Lind. Designated hitter/First Baseman. Bats left. Throws left. 29 years old. 6’2”, 210 lbs. One-time Silver Slugger recipient. Whipping boy. Someone to despise.

Provenance: Anderson, Indiana. Drafted by Toronto in the third round of the 2004 amateur draft out of the University of South Alabama.

Contract Status: In the final year of a four-year, $18 million contract. Blue Jays hold options for 2014, 2015 and 2016. It’s hard to imagine those options getting picked up.

Top Line Numbers: .316 OBP, .460 SLG in 2887 plate appearances over 714 games with the Blue Jays. Isolated power of .194, with 117 home runs. Strike out rate of 19.3%, walk rate of 6.7%.

2012 Stats: .314 OBP, .414 slugging in 353 plate appearances over 93 games with the Jays. Demoted to Triple-A Las Vegas on May 17th in favour of Yan Gomes.

Injury History: Missed a month in 2012 with a back strain and a month in 2011 with back spasms.

Looking Back: According to Fangraphs, there are 39 players who are identified at first basemen and who have enough at bats to qualify for rate stats in the years from 2010 through 2012.

Among those players, Adam Lind ranks 39th in on-base percentage (.296). This goes along with a 38th place ranking in wins above replacement (-0.2), 36th in walk rate (6.6%) and 26th in strikeout rate (20.7%).

Regardless of who was in his ear, or how confused he became when asked to hold more than one thought in his head at a time, Adam Lind has been one of the worst first basemen/designated hitters in baseball in the years following his breakout season in 2009.

It’s painful to make a statement like that, because cruelty is not our bag. There aren’t many defenders for Adam Lind left around Toronto, and even those who chose to take up his cause do so with the most vague and tepid arguments in his favour. The notion being that if he’s healthy and locked in, he’ll be okayish again. Sorta. Maybe.

Lind has had moments where he tore up the league, although even those are deceiving. People will point to his return to the lineup in June of 2011, when he was the hottest hitter in the league, belting seven homers in two weeks. But all seven of those homers came against the Orioles and the Royals, two of the weaker pitching teams in the league that year.

Looking Ahead: It seems as though Jays fans have been saying this for years, but this really is the end for Adam Lind. There’s no years left on the contract. Only options left to be bought out now. With a team that takes itself seriously as a contender, it’s hard to imagine them giving a prime spot in their lineup to an underperforming asset.

Is it possible that this time – after all the other times – that Adam Lind finally does something to keep his job? It’s a remote possibility, but his success probably depends as much on how he’s used as on his own performance. Could he be passable as a platoon DH who doesn’t face lefties and hits further down in the order? It’s possible, but to call that success is to grade on a generous curve.

Last year at this time, the assessment of Lind in this preview series was thus: We hate to say a player is on his last chance, because we pride ourselves on not giving into the impatient hyperbole of fandom. But with a team that should be headed towards a Wild Card playdown within the next two seasons, Lind will either need to assert himself or move on. 

It’s funny how little has changed over the past year. At this point, Lind’s poor performance is a perpetual problem for the franchise, and one that has become a tiresome point of discussion.

There’s only so much tar and so many feathers.

Pessimistically: Maintains the same level of performance as in recent years, while injuries to other key hitters magnify his role in the offense.

Optimistically: Holds his own in a platoon role. Posts an OBP above .330 and slugs .500 while being shielded from left-handed pitchers.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

37 Jays in 37ish Days - Are Happ-less Days Here to Stay?

Who: J.A. Happ. Number 38. Left-handed pitcher. Starter? Maybe. Reliever? Sometimes. 6’6”, 195 lbs. 30 years old.

Provenance: Peru. (Illinois, that is.) Drafted in the 3rd round of the 2004 amateur draft out of Northwestern University.

Acquired: Came to the Blue Jays in the massive mid-season deal with the Houston Astros on July 20, 2012.

Contract Status: Avoided arbitration with a one-year, $3.7 million deal. Has minor league options remaining.

Back of the Baseball Card: Six seasons with Philadelphia, Houston and Toronto. 116 games (96 starts), 590 innings. 4.19 ERA, 1.39 WHIP. Strikes out 7.6 hitters per nine innings, walks 3.94.

2012 Stats: 28 games (24 starts) between Houston and Toronto. 144.2 innings, 4.79 ERA. Struck out 8.96 per nine, walked 3.48.

2012 Repertoire, as per Brooks Baseball: Four-seam fastball (91.2 MPH average) thrown on 48% of pitches. Also uses sinker (16%, 90.9 MPH), cutter (14%, 84.4 MPH), curve (11%, 77.7), and change (11%, 83.1 MPH)

Injury History: Missed the last month of 2012 with a broken foot. Also missed three months of 2010 with a left forearm strain.

Looking Back: By the time J.A. Happ arrived in Toronto last July, most Jays fans had just about abandoned hope on the season. The outrageous misfortune that befell the pitching staff left the team in such a state that Happ’s appearance seemed like disaster relief as much as anything else.

Oddly, the Jays brain trust immediately shoved him into a bullpen role, figuring that they’d rather see more starts from Aaron Laffey, Brett Cecil and the decaying corpse of Ricky Romero and his frayed left arm. After pushing the issue with the square-jawed chief-in-charge, Happ eventually wedged his way into the rotation, and the results were respectable if not spectacular (4.59 ERA, 39 Ks/12 BBs in 33 innings.)

Ultimately, though, no Jays pitcher could escape the grim hand of injury last season, and Happ eventually succumbed to a nasty break on his planting foot, resulting in his missing the balance of the season.

At his best last season, Happ showed what a decent left-handed starter with a dash of heat could bring to the table. Successive starts in August against a tough Texas lineup and a decent Tigers lineup featured Happ pounding the zone with strikes, fanning eight and seven batters respectively while limiting each team to an earned run. Yes, it’s a minute sample, but it showed that in flashes, he is more than a Quad-A or replacement-level starter.

Looking Ahead: It’s probably an exercise in narrative-building to say that the missed time at the end of the season led to Happ falling out of the Jays’ 2013 plans, even if that’s where our lesser instincts are pushing at this moment. It’s might be more fair to say that even in a rotation that hadn’t added three legitimate starters in the offseason, Happ would be a fringy candidate for the rotation at best.

At the same time, he wasn’t handed almost $4 million simply to enhance the entertainment value of the Buffalo Bisons this season. Given the injury histories of Romero, Brandon Morrow and Josh Johnson, the sixth or seventh starter needs to be a player who can legitimately step in and hold his own, especially in a season where this team fancies itself as a legitimate contender.

Happ’s role will be a thankless one in 2013. It’s doubtful that many will be happy to see him whenever he eventually gets the call. But he’s a very respectable option should the Blue Jays need reinforcements for any stretch of the coming season.

Pessimistically: Happ flounders in Buffalo, and falls behind Brad Lincoln or Chad Jenkins in the pecking order for emergency rotation slots.

Optimistically: Pitches well enough when called upon that the Jays have a legitimate pitching asset come the trade deadline.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

37 Jays in 37ish Days: Josh Thole Can Catch the Knuckleball. Maybe.

Who: Number 30, Josh Thole. Catcher. Bats left. Throws right. Catches knuckleballs (maybe). 26 years old. 6'1", 215 lbs.

Provenance: Breese, Illinois. Drafted in the 13th round of the 2005 amateur by the New York Mets. Acquired by Toronto from the Mets on December 17th, 2012 along with a mess o’ players in exchange for Travis d’Arnaud, Noah Syndergaard, John Buck, a minor leaguer and a $10 gift card for a coffee and donut chain.

Contract Status: Avoided arbitration with a two-year deal worth $2.5 million, with an option for 2015. Has minor-league options remaining.

Top Line Numbers: 308 games played in four seasons with the Mets. .331 OBP, .333 SLG, 7 HRs in 1026 plate appearances. Strikes out 12.4% of the time, walks 9.1% of the time.

2012 Stats: .294 OBP, .290 SLG in 354 plate appearances (104 games). Career high strikeout rate (14.1 %) and walk rate of 7.6%.

Injury History: Missed 24 days with a concussion in 2012 following a home plate collision with Ty Wigginton. Posted .273 OBP/.263 SLG in 262 PAs after the injury.

Looking Back: Josh Thole spent much of last season serving as the personal catcher for R.A. Dickey, so one would have to imagine that his value behind the plate would make him that much more of an asset to the Jays this season. The assumption being that because Thole HAS caught the knuckleball, he CAN catch the knuckleball reliably.

A few weeks back, I made that assumption myself when poo-pooing the notion that Henry Blanco might be the backup catcher to start the season. Blanco? What is this...2003? Did we acquire Greg Maddux when no one was looking? And can that guy even catch a floater? And he didn't even get a multi-year deal, so...duh.

It turns out that Blanco can catch the knuckler, and Dickey stated that he worked as well with the veteran as anyone. Meanwhile, Thole leads MLB in passed balls over the past three seasons with 38, including 18 last year. Bob Uecker's clever lines aside, a passed ball is not a wild pitch, and one would figure that any number of other catchers could chase Dickey's premium offerings to the backstop if given the chance.

There are parts of Josh Thole's game that are admirable. He generally has a decent walk rate, doesn't strike out too much, and hits the ball to all fields when he's right. His performance at the plate last year was subpar even by the relatively low standards applied to part-time catchers, but a charitable person might assume that the concussion he suffered blocking the plate might have affected his play for the balance of the schedule.

From 2009 to 2011, Thole was good for a .350 OBP and a .707 OPS in 672 plate appearances. Over his first three seasons, J.P. Arencibia managed a .708 OPS in 895 PAs, but with a .275 OBP. Yes, dingers are nice and slap hitters are frustrating. But making outs is the worst thing of all.

Looking Ahead: While the Blue Jays have evolved into big payroll team, controlling assets remains an issue. Yes, Josh Thole has a new deal, but he also has options, which weighs heavily against him in the battle for a roster spot this spring.

Mind you, there's a lot that happens to catchers in the run of a week, and a ding or crack or ouchie here or there will allow Thole to slide onto the roster if either Arencibia or Blanco can't answer the bell once the real games start. Otherwise, he'll likely be in Buffalo for the bulk of 2012.

The big question will be whether if Thole can regain his previous offensive form to such a degree that it will make up for his lack of power and his deficiencies behind the plate.

Optimistically: Thole comes back from a down year and posts a good OBP in Buffalo, eventually working his way into 150-200 plate appearances in the Majors by season's close.

Pessimistically: He posts decent numbers against righties in the International League, but backslides into a role as a no-power, slap-hitting, weak-gloved backup-to-the-backup catcher.

Monday, February 18, 2013

37 Jays in 37ish Days - Esmil Rogers: Unwilling Victim of Corporate Synergy Jokes

A note from the Blogger-in-Chief: Once again, I'm undertaking a prolonged player-by-player preview of the Blue Jays roster. Granted, it's rather silly. But it provides much needed focus and enthusiasm for the blog, even if only for a fleeting few weeks. 

This is the first of this year's series, and there will be 37 in total, because that seemed appropriate. Though I do wish that our Patron Saint had maybe chosen to wear the uniform number 27, or 14, or maybe 6.  

Let's play ball.


Who: Number 32, Esmil Rogers. Right-handed relief pitcher, 27 years old. 6'1", 190 lbs.

Provenance: Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Signed as an amateur free agent by the Colorado Rockies in 2003. Acquired by Toronto from Cleveland on November 3, 2012 in exchange for Mike Aviles and Yan Gomes.

Contract Status: Arbitration eligible after this season. No options remaining.

Top Line Numbers: 5.95 ERA, 1.66 WHIP in 237.2 innings over four seasons with Colorado (2009-2012) and Cleveland. 114 games pitched, including 22 starts. 8.1 strikeouts and 4.0 walks per nine innings.

2012 Stats: 4.69 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 83 Ks, 30 BBs in 78.2 innings (67 games) between the Rockies and the Clevelanders.

2012 Repertoire, as per Brooks Baseball: Four seam fastball (96.5 MPH average in 2012) thrown 63% of the time. Also includes a slider (20%, 86 MPH), cutter (8%, 89 MPH) and curveball (7%, 83 MPH).

Injury History: Missed half of 2011 with a right shoulder strain.

Looking Back: Rogers is another converted infielder in the Jays' bullpen, having made the switch from shortstop to pitcher in 2008 while in the Rockies' system. He served as a starter through most of his post-transition development, and advanced on the strength of his velocity and some decent strikeout numbers. By 2009, he was posting impressive numbers with Tulsa in the Double-A Texas League (2.48 ERA, 83 Ks, 19 BBs in 94.1 innings).

Unfortunately, life at a mile-high altitude was as harsh on Rogers as it is on many other pitchers, if not more so. He posted middling numbers at Triple-A Colorado Springs, and in spite of a promotion in late 2009, the Rockies would spend 2010 shifting him from the rotation to the bullpen (28 games, 8 starts) and back to the rotation in the PCL (12 games, 11 starts).

Rogers was plagued by injuries and ineffectiveness in 2011, and was BABIPed into oblivion (.425) last season before the Rockies gave up on him and essentially let Cleveland take him of their hands for nothing more than "cash considerations", i.e. the remainder of his contract for 2012.

What happened after the trade was something of a revelation. Freed from extreme conditions of Coors Field, Rogers' BABIP normalized (.294), and his walk rate dropped from 13.7% to 5.5%. In 53 innings for Cleveland, he posted a 3.06 ERA and struck out 54 batters, his best showing as a professional pitcher since leaving something closer to sea level.

Looking Ahead: Rogers' acquisition will be lost amongst the hullabaloo that ensued over the following two weeks, but this was a canny acquisition by Alex Anthopoulos. If we still care in this day and age in finding undervalued assets, then AA may have plucked a gem out of Ohio.

After reviewing a handful of his outings from last year, it seems as though Rogers gained confidence in throwing strikes after the move. As someone who doesn't typically watch a lot of Rockies' games, you forget how big that ballpark plays, and Rogers' approach in Colorado was an obvious and understandable avoidance of any part of the plate where the ball could be put in play.

In the outings with Cleveland, he threw more strikes and gave up some contact, but his stuff was enough to minimize that contact into foul balls and fly outs. He backed off the curveball and threw a more typical power reliever's mix of fastball/slider, and was helped along by a much better defense backing him.

In a packed bullpen, Rogers will have to impress to keep a spot in the long term, but his lack of options makes it seem certain that he'll at least get the courtesy of a spot on the roster heading north. You don't just give up Yan Gomes and Mike Aviles for nothing, right?

We're probably just a sucker for him, but the feeling here is that Rogers will stick based on merit, and might eventually get into the mix for slots in the later innings. But considering that high leverage innings can happen earlier in games, a reliable reliever with "closer stuff" can make a big difference in putting out fires in the middle innings, helping find the extra few wins that the Jays might need in the end.

Worst-Case Scenario for 2013: Goes back to picking and nibbling, and can't reliably find the strike zone. Jays try to hide him in the bullpen until such a time as they can DFA him without losing him.

Best-Case Scenario for 2013: Emerges to become a big arm at the back of the pen. Locks down middle innings and bails out starters. Eventually moves into the mix for save opportunities. (For whatever that's worth.)

Sunday, February 10, 2013

What To Expect When You're Expecting Spring Training To Start

You all know me as a person who steers clear of hyperbole, so you know I'm serious when I tell you there's 23 feet of snow in my yard and the idea that baseball is starting soon is the only thing keeping me from an irrevocable descent, Jack Torrance-like, into despondency and madness.

Alright, so maybe it's not as bad as all that.  Regardless, with Spring Training opening this week as pitchers and catchers report over the next several days, it's a bit dispiriting that without the means to jet off to South Florida and catch a few games, the rest of February and March are likely to be only slightly less baseball-free than the last few months have been.

That's not to say I'm not at least mildly excited.  There's plenty of time in May and June to fret about what the real world brings us, but in the meantime, Jays fans haven't had this much to look forward to in many years.  And one of the best things about spring is that it's not a time for tempered expectations or appeals to reason and realism -- even if the entire exercise is usually considerably less interesting once it starts than it felt like it was going to be in the period prior.  

One of the big differences in Dunedin this year as compared to years past is the fact that when it comes to competing for space on the plane going north, there aren't many open questions.  For instance, last season, John Farrell (bah! *spits*) was forced to piece together a starting rotation nobody truly expected to see when camp got underway, including a start from Joel Carreno in the third game of the season when Brett Cecil didn't make the Opening Day roster.  In 2013, if there are any questions about who will comprise the Jays' five-man rotation as the calendar turns to April, something will have gone dreadfully, horribly wrong.

Similarly, on the offensive side, any remaining areas of uncertainty relate more to the style of the roster than the substance.   The infield and outfield are largely set, save for sorting out the backup catcher battle and the Bonifacizturis situation at second base.  And as much as I'd have liked to see it, a right-handed DH platoon partner for Adam Lind is not walking through that door, so the approach to assembling the starting nine against left-handers still remains to be seen.  I've been keen on the notion of cycling some of the more capable right-handed bats -- Jose Bautista, Brett Lawrie, Rajai Davis -- through the DH spot on those occasions as a half-day off.  The more flexible makeup of the bench would allow for it defensively, and I think it makes sense.

With all these questions mostly answered, though, and the prospect pipeline not gushing with as much must-see talent in the big league camp this year, it could make for -- dare I say it? -- a boring Spring Training this year.  But boring works.  Boring is good.  Embrace the boring, I say.

Besides, even a boring Spring Training is better than nothing.  The snow and the cold are starting to get to me.