Posts Tagged ‘Toronto Blue Jays’

Well I always knew Kyle Drabek was going to be amazing and after his impressive 2011 season debut on Saturday, April 2nd, 2011 against the Minnesota Twins I think I have been proven correct.  Ok, so actually I was a bit rough on him in my Top Blue Jays prospects piece based on his so-so minor league resume and while one game doesn’t make a season and certainly doesn’t make a career his performance on Saturday was a step in the right direction.

The Minnesota Twins quite frankly looked lost against the relatively unknown major league commodity Kyle Drabek and Drabek took advantage carving up the Twins with a wide assortment of two and four seam fastballs and an effective cut fastball.  The cut fastball was especially effective on the outside corner of the plate against left-handed batters as Drabek caught a few Twins looking for strike three – though it appeared the strike zone at times was slightly favouring the pitcher. 

The Twins took feeble hacks most of the game during Drabek’s seven strong innings and his final line was pretty impressive – 7 IPs, 1 hit, 1 earned, 3 walks and 7 strikeouts.  It took him 101 pitches to get through seven innings and while his defense picked him up at times he was clearly in total command for most of the outing.

The seven strikeouts are extremely encouraging and although the league will adjust to Drabek as they learn his nuances a bit better an even better sign was the amount of worm burners he was inducing – 11 ground outs to only one fly out.  A look at the pitch f/x data will give us a more complete picture and I was especially curious to see how the cutter would look in terms of movement, velocity and placement. 

According to Brooks Baseball Drabek threw 14 cutters (9 for strikes, only 1 swinging) and the average horizontal break was 1.41 inches with an average speed of 90 MPH.  For comparison the wicked cutter of Mariano Rivera can move 2.5+ inches away from a righty, but that isn’t fair to any pitcher as he has made a living on one pitch and has obviously mastered it.

Here is another chart plotting horizontal movement with speed and pitch type.

Drabek changed speeds well, threw a variety of different fastballs to each side of the plate and flashed a pretty solid curveball at times as well.  Have a look at the vertical movement and horizontal movement of each pitch as well.

We have to temper our excitement and expectations given his age, lack of experience and in my mind still a suspect minor league track record but to not come away totally impressed with Kyle Drabek’s season debut is extremely imprudent.  Drabek’s next start should come Friday night (April 8th, 2011) against the L.A. Angels, I am sure a lot of eyes will be on that game to see just how he will follow up his stellar debut.

Let’s talk about Kyle Drabek and the Jays on TWITTER, follow me @tdotsports1

Toronto Blue Jays Coverage

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As the Toronto Blue Jays embark on their 35th season in major league baseball there is a renewed sense of optimism and hope resonating through Blue Jays nation.  General Manager Alex Anthopoulos has taken the reigns as new leader of the team and has shown himself to be quite capable, even shrewd. 

The Blue Jays surprisingly finished the 2010 season with an 85 win season in the super tough AL East division and again showed they are one of the better teams in baseball when considering strength of schedule – a major crutch for the team over the past decade, and certainly an ongoing challenge going forward.

Heading into 2011 the optimism isn’t necessarily only for the current roster and chances for a playoff run but the overall direction of the team.  Simply put the Toronto Blue Jays are poised to join baseball’s elite in the next 2-3 seasons given the new commitment to player development, draft resources and controlling costs with young assets.

Ownership has given the team the needed resources to ensure the Blue Jays are competitive in the international free agent market and the Jays were among the final few teams to nearly land Cuban lefty Aroldis Chapman (and his 105.1 MPH fastball).  The Jays were able to land a Cuban of their own in 21-year old SS Adeiny Hechavarria.  It continued last summer when the Jays landed top Venezuelan teenage pitching prospect Adonis Cardona, a right handed pitcher signed for record 2.8 million dollar bonus (in Venezuela). 

The Blue Jays have told fans that money will not be an issue if and when the team is ready to compete at the highest level (playoffs) and have gone on record as saying the payroll will easily eclipse $100MM if needed.  With a few big name free agent hitters hitting the open market at the end of this season (including Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder) the Jays could be in a prime spot to land one of the big free agents.

This past offseason saw Alex Anthopoulos pull off one of the biggest heists in recent memory when he managed to unload the entire Vernon Wells contract to the Los Angeles Angels, saving nearly $90MM over the next few years.  Notice I do not even need to mention if a player was returned to the Jays for this to be an unbelievable deal for the Jays, Wells’ contract was that horrifying and crippling.

The Blue Jays also dealt their best pitcher from 2010 (stat wise) when they moved SP Shaun Marcum to the Milwaukee Brewers for their top prospect 2B/3B/OF Brett Lawrie.  His bat and being a Canadian are the makings of an instant fan favourite.  His suspect defence, lack of position and questionable facebook pictures are the detriments at this point. 

My money is on a solid, if not spectacular Blue Jays career and Lawrie was considered the best prospect moved in an offseason that also saw Zack Greinke and Matt Garza moved you have to be happy hearing that if you are a Jays fan.  Shaun Marcum will be missed mind you but on a pure talent basis he was likely our fourth or fifth best pitcher, and oldest to boot.

The Blue Jays decided that Jose Bautista was for real and signed him to a five year contract worth $65MM ensuring the top HR hitter in 2010 remains with the team.  I like the contract as Bautista is more than just empty HRs, he plays defence, gets on-base and has proven to be a solid clubhouse influence.  I reviewed his massive 2010 campaign against the best in Jays history, who had the best all-time Jays offensive season?

There have been more than a few reviews of this contract if you want a more thorough evaluation, here and here.  There is no trade clause attached so if the Blue Jays are so inclined, they could potentially move Bautista if the market dictates.

Other key departures:

RP Scott Downs, C John Buck, RP Kevin Gregg, LF Fred Lewis

Other key arrivals:

RP Frank Francisco, RP Jon Rauch, LF Juan Rivera, CF Rajai Davis, LF Scott Podsednick, RP Octavio Dotel.

The Blue Jays also said goodbye to a familiar face as manager Cito Gaston stepped aside as the team’s skipper and the Jays hired Boston Red Sox pitching Coach John Farrell to be the new manager.  The consensus around baseball is he will make an excellent manager and is a great leader for a young emerging ballclub like Toronto.  If only the Blue Jays could have brought back Dan Schulman to do their play-by-play on a nightly basis, this would have been a stellar offseason as opposed to only a good one.

Overall it is hard to argue against a solid offseason as the Jays saved a boatload of money, added a top Canadian prospect and really didn’t weaken their current team all that much in my mind.  The last bonus is with some of the shrewd moves made by AA the Blue Jays hold a ton of picks in the top 3 round of the upcoming 2011 Amateur MLB draft, one of the strongest drafts in recent memory.

Let’s take a look at the current 2011 team:

Catcher – JP Arencibia & Jose Molina.

Synopsis – There has been a lot of pressure placed on JP Arencibia heading into 2011 and more than a few people worried he might crack under it.  Arencibia lit up Las Vegas and AAA in the ultra-friendly hitters paradise (301/359/626 – .412 wOBA) and after Blue Jays fans enshrined him in Cooperstown after a 5-hit debut he struggled at the major league level. 

Arencibia is 25 years old and just sniffing the show now and unlike a lot of folks I am not sold that he is our catcher of the future.  I would give him every opportunity this year to prove me wrong but I am excited about the depth at catcher the organization has amassed with Travis D’Arnaud and Carlos Perez.  But he is a concern for me, as well as for Drew at Ghost Runner on First (great blog).

Jose Molina is our backup catcher with the required skills for that position.

This spot could be a real weakness for the Jays in 2011.

First Base – Adam Lind

Synopsis – Lind is hitting his prime offensive years (he will be 28 in July/2011) and after lighting up MLB pitchers in 2009 (.394 wOBA) he came back to earth hard in 2011 (.309 wOBA).  His BABIP was down 30 points compared to his career average, his HR/FB mark was down 6 percent but he also showed less patience and more hack-tastic tendencies at the plate.  I like the fans projection (at Fangraphs) of 278/333/487, around 25 HRs and below average defence.

Second Base – Aaron Hill

Synopsis – Hill is hitting his prime offensive years (turning 29 this month) and after lighting up MLB pitchers in 2009 (.357 wOBA) he came back to earth hard in 2011 (.291 wOBA).  His BABIP was down nearly 100 points compared to his career average, his HR/FB mark was down 5 percent but he also showed less patience and more hack-tastic tendencies at the plate.  I like the Bill James projection of 260/319/446, around 20 HRs and average defence.

Yes, eerily identical as both Hill and Lind struggled mightily in 2010 after tearing it up in 2009, both are being counted on to rebound in 2011 and both should.

Third Base – Jose Bautista

Synopsis – Possibly the most discussed player in baseball heading into 2011 with the widest range of projections and expectations.  One of the better seasons in Blue Jays history in 2010 the 30-year old Bautista heads into 2011 as the everyday third basemen and a guy the team will lean on heavily in the middle of its order.

I’m going to take Bill James projection again (251/355/509, 34 HRs) and I wish the Jays could play him in RF because his defence isn’t exactly stellar at the hot corner based on past reviews (-24 UZR for his career at 3B).  His patience will be highly valued in this line-up of mostly hackers, the Jays could be poised

Shortstop – Yunel Escobar

Synopsis – Another solid move by Alex Anthopoulos was managing to get a guy who some considered one of the best up-and-coming middle infielders in baseball only a few years ago.  Escobar is 28 years old and coming off a subpar offensive season in 2010 (.301 wOBA) but he plays an excellent SS (4.3 UZR in 2010) and should rebound with the stick.

Marcel projections look most reasonable (273/350/378, possibly 10 HRs) with excellent SS defence and a definite asset for the Jays in 2011.

Left Field – Juan Rivera

Synopsis – Though not often discussed Rivera does provide an intriguing option at the plate.  Looking at 2009, Rivera was basically Vernon Wells 2010 with a slash line of 287/332/478 to go with 25 HRs.  The 32-year old provides a veteran presence in the line-up who has a career .834 OPS versus left handed pitchers (an area the Jays struggled with last year).

He is below average defensively and provides little value outside of his bat, if that doesn’t rebound he could be one of the least valuable players in the game (WAR).

Centre Field – Rajai Davis

Synopsis – Acquired by the Blue Jays in the offseason the 30-year old Davis will be counted upon to play the majority of innings in centre field.  UZR was not kind to him last season (-7.1 in CF) however he has been an above average defender at the premium CF spot for most of his career, hopefully 2010 was the outlier.

Davis is another hacker in the sense he isn’t keen on taking the walk (career 5.9 BB%) like most of the Blue Jays line-up this year.  Davis biggest contribution will be on the base paths as the speedster has stolen 41 and 50 bases in the past two seasons.  Expect 280/325/390 with good CF defence and a lot of SBs as new manager John Farrell said he wanted to be more aggressive in this regard.

Right Field – Travis Snider

Synopsis – Here is the real wildcard for me heading into 2011.  Few remember that Snider is only 23-years old and was an extremely highly touted prospect – could this finally be the season he shows us why?  He’s another guy who won’t walk much but Bill James projects 274/338/499 with 22 HRs in 2011, numbers most Jay’s fans would accept.

Scott Podsednick and Corey Patterson could see some time in the outfield and each brings a little something to a team, whether it is speed, bench help or defence.

Designated Hitter – Edwin Encarnacion

Synopsis – If there ever was a candidate to not own a baseball glove, Encarnacion might be near the top (though in fairness it is his arm that is most erratic).  Say what you want about his porous defence but EE can do one thing well, hit for power.  He cranked out 21 HRs in only 367 PAs to go with a solid .482 SLG, .238 ISO and .339 wOBA. 

He fits right in with the rest of the Blue Jays hitters in the fact that he doesn’t appreciate ball four nearly enough (career 8.9 BB%) and this could be a real issue for the Jays again this season if the HR/FB ratio dries up.  EE will spell Lind at 1B occasionally and should provide some decent value as the teams DH this year.

Starting Rotation – Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil, Kyle Drabek, Jesse Litsch

This is a pretty solid group again for the Blue Jays with Romero anchoring the young rotation.  Brandon Morrow has to prove 2010 wasn’t a fluke and continue to build on his solid peripherals.  Brett Cecil might emerge as the ace of the staff by the end of this season if he continues to develop.  Kyle Drabek will be on a strict pitch/innings count but he has the promise to develop into a solid #2 or 3 pitcher.  Jesse Litsch isn’t flashy but when given the chance he has shown the ability to get hitters out consistently.

Here are the “Fans” (at Fangraphs) projections for each of our starting five for 2011:

  IP ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 K/BB
R. Romero 212 3.75 3.77 7.5 3.4 2.2
B. Morrow 175 3.97 3.71 9.8 3.9 2.7
B. Cecil 186 4.16 4.11 6.6 2.7 2.2
K. Drabek 149 4.23 4.12 7.0 3.0 2.4
J. Litsch* 113 4.38 4.58 5.2 2.2 2.3

*Bill James projection (fans projection not available)

Marc  Rzepczynski  is another candidate for the fifth starter spot but I have to think that if Jesse Litsch is healthy the Jays will hand him the job.  Litsch could provide a decent trade return for a team looking for an arm at the deadline if he can establish his 2008 form (a league average starter).  With a staff as young as the Jays there are sure to be some hiccups along the way and health is always the big unknown from season to season.

The bullpen should be fairly strong again even with the loss of Scott Downs who has been consistently our best reliever during his Blue Jays career.

The group should consist of Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch, Octavio Dotel, Jason Frasor, Shawn Camp, David Purcey and Jo-Jo Reyes.  AA is apparently enamoured with Reyes, enough so to keep Reyes on the roster as opposed to losing him to waivers as he is out of options (thank you reader Adam, Reyes was acquired in the Escobar trade from the Braves).  The Blue Jays have a ton of depth in the pen and this should serve them well come trade deadline day or again qualifying them and hopefully receiving compensatory draft picks.

Final Outlook:

It appears 2011 will be a year of transition as we prepare and groom some of our minor league prospect (more on that below) to hopefully turn the Blue Jays into full fledged contender in 2012.  This season won’t be embarrassing and the Jays have some surprise to the upside this year but I think Jays fans are willing to take a step back in the win column when considering how much long term ground is starting to be gained.

I think the Jays will be a .500 baseball club.

Join the ongoing conversation about the Toronto Blue Jays, Kyle Drabek and the world of baseball on TWITTER, follow me @tdotsports1

Up next: Top 10 Toronto Blue Jays Prospects

Most (or all) of the top prospect guru’s and sites and ranked or handed out grades to the Blue Jays group of prospects including Baseball America, Keith Law, John Sickels, Fangraphs and B-Pro and I have read nearly every scouting report, ranking and grade known to man.  I have participated in deep minor league drafts, have a keen interest in the top young ballplayers due to my active role in a DMB based simulation league and have basically been addicted to prospect porn for the past decade or so.

I just finished reading a piece by a Toronto sports writer basically inferring Toronto Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos would ‘make a better accountant than GM’ because he is too focused on ‘next season’.  The writer wasn’t convinced about the short term direction of the franchise as he feels the business of sport is about winning games and selling tickets.

He even felt Vernon Wells was an all-star because he hit well in his games at the Rogers Centre – yeah, it clearly helped in the attendance figures last year.  He also felt the team has been playing the next-year game for far too many years and while I can’t argue that just who were the Blue Jays going to acquire in the past offseason that would’ve guaranteed success?

Shaun Marcum was traded for Brett Lawrie who is the best player traded in the offseason for any pitcher, including Zack Greinke and Matt Garza.  Shaun Marcum on a pure talent level going forward is the Jays fourth best pitcher behind Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil, Ricky Romero and some might even say behind prized rookie Kyle Drabek.

The Jays are becoming one of the best run organizations in baseball with an improving minor league system, about 8 picks in the first three rounds of the next MLB draft (called one of the best in recent years) and an ownership group stating when the time is right, the money will be there

Trading the most overpaid player in baseball doesn’t make them worse now or in the future, but that is another story and I think the Jays pitching will still be top-tier assuming good health but I wanted to do a little digging and ask the question, are the Jays actually better without Vernon Wells, immediately? 

The Toronto writer seemed to think it was only about money and on the surface I agree but I don’t feel we received two bad contracts for one as Juan Rivera is a free agent after this coming season and if the Jays don’t want to pay Mike Napoli, they can simply walk away from his arbitration ruling.  However I don’t think the writer follows baseball too closely to so quickly write off the value of the players they received.

Could the Jays actually be better on the field, immediately next season?  Let’s take a closer look.

Vernon Wells had a solid bounce back campaign last season for the Jays as in 157 games he slashed 273/331/515 good for a .362 wOBA and .242 ISO.  He cranked 31 HRs and drove in 88 runs and it’s hard to complain about that production however Wells also gave back quite a few runs with his declining defense (-6.4 UZR which would’ve been worse if not for his stellar error rate, his range factor was abysmal).  Still, a 4.0 WAR is hard to argue against.

A quick correction to the writer who claimed Torii Hunter will be the CF for the Angels in ’11 and is a great defensive player.  Hunter is showing signs of aging and is no longer considered elite in CF, not even close, and Peter Bourjos will likely be the everyday CF and this kid can shag flies with the best of them.  Even Bourjos is just a placeholder in CF until super prospect Mike Trout is deemed ready.

Taking over for the Jays in CF will be the speedy Rajai Davis who in 143 games slashed 284/320/377.  Davis is not known for his power but will supply a good deal of speed (50 SBs) and should play slightly better defense.  UZR wasn’t kind to Davis last season (-7.9) but the year previous in 113 games showed very solid range and a 12.1 UZR/150 rating in CF. 

Mike Napoli will provide a punishing (though one-dimensional) bat at C/DH and since 2008 has accumulated 8.2 WAR compared to Vernon Wells (5.5).  The Jays 1B/DH situation last season was pretty anaemic with Adam Lind seeing the most time there (237/287/425) so Napoli should improve on those numbers with Lind moving to first.  Napoli is also a lefty masher, an area the Jays struggled with last season.

The Jays will very likely get better production from the C/DH spot with Napoli, Encarnacion (and others).  Depending on how Arencibia handles a bigger load and whether Napoli plays catcher versus lefties there will likely only be a small drop off (if any) as while Buck hit HRs (20) he also had a lousy OBP (314), BB rate (3.7%) and was lucky (.335 BABIP).

Adam Lind was one of the best hitters in baseball in 2009 and Bill James projects a big bounce back in 2011 with a 281/338/497 slash line with a .362 wOBA.  Consider the production Lyle Overbay gave us last season (243/329/433) the Blue Jays will be hard pressed not to show improvement at 1B also.

Second baseman Aaron Hill should bounce back, shortstop Yunel Escobar is another bounce back candidate to hit for good OBP and a wildcard power source – he isn’t a step down from Alex Gonzalez.  Third base is slated to be Jose Bautista currently and he will be a step up over Edwin Encarnacion. 

The outfield might see some regression with the loss of Vernon Wells to LA and Jose Bautista to 3B but this should also be the season that highly touted rookie hitter Travis Snider starts to really show why the league was so high on Snider.  Rajai Davis will provide similar OBP and more speed than Wells (though less power) and Juan Rivera in 2009 produced basically the exact same season Vernon Wells did in 2010 (287/332/478 – 25 HRs).

All in all I just don’t see the Jays offense as any worse off and with a break or two and some bounce back seasons from Aaron Hill and Adam Lind (key 2009 contributors) it could actually even be better.

Jose Bautista has easily been baseball’s biggest surprise in 2010, going from a relatively useful yet unknown commodity to the game’s premier homerun hitter in the span of one season.  In 2009 the 30 year old veteran Bautista was a 1.9 win player (1.9 WAR) and slashed a rather pedestrian 235/349/408 and in 404 PAs he belted 13 HRs while posting a .173 ISO and .339 wOBA.  He provided value with his versatility (able to play multiple positions) and league average defense but all in all was likely considered expendable by Toronto Blue Jays brass heading into the season if his numbers didn’t improve.

Bautista’s unprecedented 2010 season has been well documented by a lot of great sources on the net but to quickly recap Bautista has been a revelation with the bat and is already a near 7 win player (6.9 WAR) and has slashed 260/378/617 with 35 2Bs, 54 HRs, 124 RBIs, 100 BBs and has even chipped in 9 SBs.  He has a ridiculous .357 ISO (career .207) and a .422 wOBA (career .346), he has been aided by an inflated 21.7% HR/FB (career 13.8%) but not a ridiculous rate and he has even been hindered by a low .233 BABIP.  Any way you slice it and whatever your preferred method of stat-ology might be it has been a huge year for Jose Bautista.

This piece is to do a little comparative action to compare Bautista’s giant 2010 and any past big time Jays seasons to see exactly where this season fits in terms of greatest seasons (offensively) for a Blue Jay.  As I scoured the books to see who I would compare his season to I stopped no further than a man who ranks as the greatest Blue Jays hitter of all time, our old friend Carlos Delgado.  Oh there were some nice years from a few other sources, the usual suspects of John Olerud, Roberto Alomar, George Bell, Joe Carter, Jose Canseco’s juice filled comeback season and the like but I figured it would come down to a showdown between Bautista and Delgado. 

So here is the matchup:  in one corner we have 2010 Jose Bautista (season still continuing of course, so counting stats will improve but rates shouldn’t move much) and in the other corner all the way from Puerto Rico it’s the 2000 Carlos Delgado.

First, we will start with some standard counting stats:

  PA H 2B HR RBI R BB K IBB
’10 JB* 683 148 35 54 124 109 100 116 2
’00 CD 711 196 57 41 137 115 123 104 18

Let’s now look at some more advanced numbers:

  AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO BB/K wRC+ wOBA WAR
’10 JB .260 .378 .618 .995 .357 0.86 167 .422 6.9
’00 CD .344 .470 .664 1.134 .320 1.18 182 .471 7.5

 Considering Jose Bautista leads the league in HRs this season, has 100+ RBIs, 100 BBs and basically having a once in a lifetime season yet his numbers still pale in comparison to Carlos Delgado’s 2000 I have to ask a couple questions:

1)      Should Delgado not be given the MVP considering that hack writer from Chicago left Delgado off his MVP ballot entirely, costing him the award?

2)      If Jose Bautista has been accused of potentially using PEDs how has Delgado managed to avoid the same scrutiny even ten years later?

3)      Should the Jays be actively looking to maximize Bautista’s value on the trade market?

It’s a shame this amazing season by Jose Bautista (and Delgado’s 2000 season) has basically been for naught in terms of the teams overall success, it would be nice to hot-tub time machine this beast of a year about two years into the future when the exciting and potentially dynamic rebuild is hopefully starting to really blossom in the highly competitive AL East landscape.  Either way, kudos and a big hat tip goes to Jose Bautista who has put up one of the better Blue Jays offensive seasons of all time, and definitely one of the most surprising in Major League Baseball history.

I decided to embark on a new five part series in which we will debate and argue the merits of the top five Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors and Toronto Blue Jays as well as the top five overall athletes in Toronto sports history and finally as a contrast we will do the top ten athletes currently residing in the ‘Big Smoke’.  Feel free to comment and please post your own opinion on any of the top five lists, I am sure there will be seriously differing opinions across the board and people definitely place a different emphasis on things like winning, personal stats and overall impact on the city.

Part I – Top 5 Maple Leafs of all time

Part II – Top 5 Raptors of all time

Part III – Top 5 Blue Jays of all time

Part IV – Top 5 Toronto Sports Athletes of all time

Part V – Top Ten Current Athletes in Toronto

This will be a quick breakdown of the top athletes currently residing in Toronto and it is a down and dirty look at the athlete’s ready to contribute on the Toronto sports scene.  This certainly won’t be referred to as the golden era in Toronto’s sports history, but I’d say the scene is definitely on the up-swing and improving almost daily.  The Jays are looking to be competitive in the next 1-2 seasons, the Leafs look to be in good hands with Brian Burke and the Raptors aren’t as bad as most think, though they are looking lottery bound in 2010/11 (not such a bad thing though?).  Well, here is my list for the top ten current Toronto athletes.

10) SP Brandon Morrow – Toronto Blue Jays

-A hugely talented arm with untapped potential, he might have the most upside of any of the current Blue Jays arms.  Putting together a great first season in Toronto, the future is bright and price to acquire him was right.

9) LW Kris Versteeg – Toronto Maple Leafs

-Coming over from the Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks (thank you salary cap) in which he was a key third line member and a heart and soul type player described as having a wicked wrist shot.  Only 24 years old and coming off back to back 20 goal seasons, I think Toronto fans are going to really like this kid.

#8) SP Shaun Marcum – Toronto Blue Jays

-Looks to be completely back after undergoing TJ surgery and has been the Jays best pitcher this season with 151 IPs, 3.70 ERA, 3.83 FIP and an impressive 3.8 K/BB.  Marcum will look to score a longer term contract in the next year or so and will hopefully continue to put hitters away with that nasty changeup for many more seasons.

7) SG Demar Derozan – Toronto Raptors

-The 7th overall pick out of Compton, California and USC University, the sky is the limit for Derozan and the ‘Young Gunz’ (along with Sonny Weems and Amir Johnson), fans are hoping for a big breakout year for Demar to give them some (any) hope for a Toronto Raptors eventual resurgence.  The kid has all the talent and skills you could want and just needs seasoning and some refinements to certain aspects of the game (mid range jumper and handle) to really take that next step.

6) RF Jose Bautista – Toronto Blue Jays

-Bautista leads the majors in homeruns and has been a total beast for the Blue Jays this season (41 HRs, 607 SLG%, .416 wOBA – 4.9 WAR), he has been so good there is some talk the Jays might be best served dealing their top slugger while the getting is good and his value is at an all-time high.  The most debated/discussed Blue Jay player this season, mixed opinions on whether or not he should be around long term.

5) D Tomas Kaberle – Toronto Maple Leafs

-What would a Toronto article be without Kaberle, fact remains he is still one of the best defensemen to suit up for the Leafs and if he remains this season will be counted upon to contribute a huge season. 

4) PF Andrea Bargnani – Toronto Raptors

-The smooth, sharp shooting 7-footer was the 1st overall pick in the 2006 NBA Draft and has shown steady improvement each season (in scoring) over the past three years scoring 10.2, 15.4 and 17.2 PPG.  He still needs to improve his overall game, with more focus on rebounding and weak side help defense, however a big man with the ability to drive and dish the rock who will likely average 20.0+ PPG, shoot around 48-49% from the field, 37-38% from 3-point land and hopefully average 7-8 rebounds and 1.5-2 blocks per game don’t exactly grow on trees.  Andrea doesn’t get enough credit for the player he has become, expect that opinion and sentiment to change with a huge 2010/11 season as the Raptors go to guy.

3) SP Ricky Romero – Toronto Blue Jays

-JP Ricciardi envisioned this type of success for his first pick (6th overall) in the 2005 MLB Amateur Draft but it took Ricky a few seasons in the minors to finally flourish and make it to the big leagues (too little, too late for our old buddy JP though) but flourish he has.  The Jays lefty recently signed a contract extension that will keep in Toronto for the next 5 seasons, hopefully his prime years are still to come.  In 2010, Romero has been great, in 172.2 IPS he has a 3.54 ERA, 3.59 FIP, solid ground ball rate and a pretty good 7.7 K/9.

2) D Dion Phaneuf – Toronto Maple Leafs

-When you are the new captain of the most popular team in town, you are going to get some attention and since entering the league Phaneuf has definitely drawn his fair share.  The top scoring defensemen since joining the league, the hard hitting Alberta native is being counted upon to lead the Brian Burke era in team history and fans are excited and anxious to see what a full season of a motivated Dion Phaneuf can bring to the team. 

1) RW Phil Kessel – Toronto Maple Leafs

-There haven’t been many better skilled Leafs than Phil the Thrill in the team’s long history and the slight forward will again be counted upon to lead the woeful Maple Leafs forward core to the hopeful goal of making the playoffs.  Playing with a relatively unknown (and rookie) centre in Tyler Bozak, Kessel still managed 30 goals in 70 games and fans are hoping he can take his game to the next level and become a 40-45 goal scorer with a full season to come in 2010/11.

Drafted in the first round (5th overall) in 2006, he has been called the ‘American’ Sydney Crosby with his unbelievable level of skill and shooting ability.  Kessel will only be 23 at the start of the season and though the trade and cost to acquire Kessel is hotly debated, the player we received certainly cannot be, Kessel is legit and one of the most skilled players in the game.

This concludes my five part series looking back at some of the greatest players to ever play for our beloved Toronto sports franchises and also a quick glimpse at who is currently leading the charge for hopeful future success. 

Hope you enjoyed it.

The Toronto Blue Jays have come to terms with their 1st round selection Deck McGuire for a reported $2 million dollar signing bonus, MLB recommended a $1.863 million dollar bonus for the 11th-overall selection so again the Blue Jays paid “over slot” to get the signing consummated.  Blue Jays scouting director Andrew Tinnish used the first selection the Jays owned to draft the 6’6” right hander out of Georgia Tech who has been described by most prospect mavens as a safe-ish selection who has an advanced feel for pitching considering his age and could be a potential workhorse down the line with ‘solid command of his 4-pitch arsenal’. 

However as we have learned projecting the potential career path for a 6’6” righty (or any prospect) has never been an exact science and I think it is a great move that we got McGuire signed before the deadline passed.  Not every scout is sold on his potential and some see him as a number three starter at best, there was even some talk making the rounds that the Blue Jays would simply walk away from McGuire and take their chances in next year’s stronger 2011 draft class however I think in this case the Jays made the smart play as according to my math two is normally greater than one.

If the Jays were holding a top 5-7 pick and they could project with some confidence what player would potentially be available at their selection for next year’s draft they might have taken that road but the draft is supposed to be extremely deep so I think they went with a sound strategy to sign their top selection Deck McGuire and add him to the ever growing stable of quality young arms (you can never have too much pitching in baseball) and you never know what type of development you can expect or how long it will take for each different player to reach the major leagues, if at all.

Furthermore, while looking ahead to the 2011 Amateur draft they will still be picking somewhere in 20s next draft anyway and if it is as deep as most pundits have claimed they will likely not see much of a drop-off in quality (or any) sliding from #11 to #20+, especially with a lot of teams letting more quality prospects slide in favour of picking a player who is more ‘sign-able’, aka cheaper.  All in all the Blue Jays made the best decision for the franchise going forward, whether or not Deck McGuire ever makes a huge impact for the ballclub it is essential to restock your minor league system annually and this is something that has been sorely lacking for the Blue Jays under the JP Ricciardi regime. 

The Blue Jays spent a big but necessary sum of $5.4 million on deadline day to ensure they signed most of their top selections, “I would think strictly for the sheer number of picks in such high areas, that alone, even at standard signing bonuses for every single pick, we were going to reach new highs,” said Anthopoulos. “I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but I’m fairly certain it would be a high-water mark for us.”

According to TSN the first firm offer to McGuire was tabled at around 10:30 p.m., and the sides worked from there, eventually settling at a bonus of $2 million. Griffin Murphy (2nd round) ended up with $800,000, Sam Dyson (4th round) $600,000 and Dickie Thon Jr. (5th round), who was seeking first round money to pass on a scholarship to Rice University, got it $1.5 million. Zak Adams (15th round) and Myles Jaye (17th round) each got $250,000.

“It was definitely right to the last minute,” said Anthopoulos. “Minute might be an understatement. This definitely is the latest we’ve ever gone in terms of a negotiation. Glad to have it done, and glad to have it behind us.”  The players were to be assigned within the organization Tuesday.

This is a huge development for a club that has for the most part obeyed MLB’s slot recommendations and while there is no ‘hard slot’ rule, the team hadn’t veered off that path too often in the past few years.   However to continue competing with the big boys of the AL East (Red Sox and Yankees routinely spend over slot to get top prospects) it is imperative they continue to place an emphasis on scouting and development with the overall focus squarely on the best talent and not just sign-ability.  This year the Blue Jays were able to sign 36 of their 56 picks and Alex Anthopoulos was given the green light to spend as much money as he deemed necessary and the Jays spent a record amount on this draft class.    

If this new draft strategy marks a permanent shift in organizational philosophy going forward I for one am excited for the future prospects (no pun intended) of the Toronto Blue Jays franchise, today was a step in the right direction for the team.

The best I could find for McGuire:

A solid clip of our 2nd round pick Aaron Sanchez:

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Ok, so I can readily admit it, I am a sports addict, obviously.  Anybody who devotes as much time as I do to a writing a sports blog (which may or may not ever be read by another human) would be in denial if he didn’t just admit otherwise.  Let me save you the time and anguish and say if you are reading this we will just assume you are likely one too. If I am not actually playing sports, I am writing, discussing and usually thinking about them in some manner – doesn’t everybody have a few fantasy teams out there to worry about?

I will always love sports because they provide a great outlet from the everyday grind, for me watching the Maple Leafs lose another game is a great way to unwind and escape the “real world” for at least three hours.  As a former athlete who played sports 24/7 I love watching the absolute best compete against each other.  Most of my friends are fellow sports lovers so it is a great social outlet also, nothing beats having a few beers discussing the current state of your favourite team while watching the game on the tube (or live). 

I was lucky enough to have taken in Justin Verlander’s no-hitter a couple of seasons back with my friend (he still owes me for that one) and we still talk about that game to this day, the tension, the electric atmosphere, and the sheer euphoria that ensued when “Mags” (Magglio Ordonez) caught the final out to complete the “no-no”.  It was a priceless moment which a good book just can’t always (or ever) deliver.

However, today I wanted to discuss the opposite end of the spectrum as I am sure we have all known (or heard of) one or two males belonging to this strange breed – the non-sports fan.  They are normally fairly easy to spot as they are either totally silent during any conversation involving sports or they are the one looking perplexed during a simple “Halladay or Stieb” debate.  Sure, sometimes they will try to throw you off the scent and will throw in a “Yankees sure look tough” from time to time, even if they are currently mired in an eight or nine game losing streak, but for the most they aren’t hard to spot.

To quote Seinfeld: “Not that there is anything wrong with that”, and there isn’t, to each his own.  I have a multitude of non-sporting interests, including poker, politics, fitness & exercise and I am also a confessed stock junkie but sports is something that I always come back to and cannot live without.  If it isn’t sports then I have to ask, what consumes your time, what are you passionate about and what the hell do you watch on TV?  When I have asked this question I normally receive the following standard answers:

1)      I read – I love a good book and I have even been known to read a few from time to time, including non-sports books!  Still, how much alone time does a man need, or have?   

2)      Music – Sorry, I have over 10,000 MP3s and counting and even play the guitar relatively well.  This will not end my love affair of sports and in fact they normally go together beautifully.

3)      Movies – Again, if you have seen the size of my DVD collection you will understand my passion and love for movies.  Goodfellas, 25th Hour and The Unforgiven among my favourites.

4)      Time – They just don’t have time.  Hard to argue that, and sometime a 3 hour ballgame can be redundant, but what else are you keeping tabs on, celebrity gossip?  Of course, this is also the same guy that is lighting up your email with terrible jokes and frivolously updating you on his every move via facebook.

5)      Girlfriend /Significant other – This one isn’t always easy to get around as some guys might want to watch sports (a lot more sports) but they cannot successfully navigate the always tricky “what is on TV” argument.  Maybe I am lucky in that regard, I am normally in charge of my remote control.

6)      Kids – Can’t argue this one, but get them involved in sports at an early age and you will gain an extra vote (and hopefully a small majority) in the household TV voting democracy.

This isn’t directed at the casual sports fan, nothing wrong with taking a smaller interest in your favourite team or sport so you have time to partake in all of your hobbies and interests.  I am more curious to find out how a male basically comes to lose touch with sports all together, and completely.  Is it simply a lack of interest, general knowledge, athletic ability or does the girlfriend/spouse simply wear the pants?

Gentlemen, what am I missing?

BallHype: hype it up!

New Jays SS Yunel Escobar

My first reaction upon viewing the trade consummated by the Toronto Blue Jays and the Atlanta Braves was the Jays came out way ahead in the deal.  In fact, I couldn’t believe Yunel Escobar was dealt in the first place, and to the Blue Jays to boot.  After letting it settle and looking into the secondary pieces involved going both ways, my opinion was slightly more tempered as while it appears the Jays did well on paper as always “time will tell” if this trade makes much of a difference in the long run.

First off, when AA (Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos) stated Yunel was in the discussion for one of the top young SS in the game, he was not exaggerating as Escobar is legit, and has the numbers to back it up.  Although he is mired in his worst statistical season ever, if Escobar reaches his full potential this trade will look completely brilliant for the Jays.  Even if he just returns to his 2009 season level and stats, the Jays have a solid keeper at SS for a few years.

In 141 games last season the 28 year old shortstop racked up an impressive 4.3 WAR, 357 wOBA and had a solid defensive 1.6 UZR rating.  His triple slash line of 299/377/436 was nothing to sneeze at and it was coupled with 158 hits, 26 doubles and 14 homeruns.  Plate discipline is something of a foreign concept to most Blue Jays hitters but Escobar has shown signs of an improving eye in 2009 he only struck out at an 11.9% clip, and swung at pitches outside of the zone only 21% of the time. 

More encouraging is that as lousy as Escobar has been in 2010 for the Braves (and the only reason a player of his calibre was even available) is that his season appears to be an outlier in my opinion.  His BB% has risen from 9.4% to 12.3%, his K% has stayed the same, he has more BBs (37) than K’s (31), his BABIP isn’t terribly low, but at .270 is 46 points below his career average.  His batted ball profile looks nearly identical from year to year as he is hitting the same amount of groundballs (50%), line drives (18.4%) and fly balls (30.7%) but the big issue is the fly balls he is hitting are not leaving the ball park.

In 2009, 10.1% of Escobar’s fly balls went from homeruns, in 2010 a big fat ZERO – yes, you read that right.  Escobar has been better in the field by most defensive metrics in 2010 and is essentially the same hitter he has always been, but predicative factors have rendered him a tad on the unlucky side.  This is a classic case of buying a decent commodity at its lowest value all while selling Alex Gonzalez at his highest on his career year backed by marginal peripherals at best. 

The Jays had to move an interesting reliever in Tim Collins, and everybody is impressed with the 70+ strikeouts in 40+ IPs but unless goes on to have a Trevor Hoffman or Mariano Rivera type career his value is severely limited being merely a relief pitcher.  I agree he certainly would have been a fan favourite due to his limited stature and quirky delivery, but you can’t fault AA for pulling the trigger on this deal, the Jays gain six years on their starting shortstop and gain three years of team control through arbitration so they get a cost controlled dry run to determine if he is worth keeping.