It's not rocket science to suggest the Toronto Blue Jays' offence should benefit from full seasons from Brett Lawrie, Kelly Johnson and Colby Rasmus in 2012.
But with the shaky state of the starting rotation, the Jays will need to score more runs and the role this trio will play in bolstering their offence can't be overstated.
While Rasmus's arrival at camp garnered considerable attention, Johnson and Lawrie landed in Dunedin, Fla., less conspicuously. But by offering the latter two more prominent roles in the batting order, the Jays could enhance their attack.
In fact, if the club pencilled Johnson into the leadoff spot and Lawrie into the cleanup position to start the season, an already formidable offence could become even more potent.
Here's my suggested opening day lineup:
Jays manager John Farrell will likely bat Yunel Escobar first and Johnson second, but he should consider flipping the two. Johnson offers more speed and recorded a .364 on-base percentage (OBP) and 1.083 on-base-plus slugging percentage (OPS) in 22 games in the leadoff spot in 2011.
In contrast, he hit just .175 with a .257 OBP in 73 contests in the two-hole. If Johnson can rebound to his 2010 form, the Jays would boast one of the top leadoff hitters in baseball. Admittedly, the left-handed hitting second baseman does strike out too much, but, in my estimation, he represents the Jays' best leadoff option.
A better contact hitter than Johnson, Escobar sprays the ball to all fields and is more than capable of tapping the ball through the right side of the infield if a first baseman is holding a runner on. Arguably the Jays' second most consistent hitter in 2011, Escobar has the potential to belt 20 homers and knock in 90 runs, and by hitting second, he would have a better chance to do so.
With a full season of Johnson and Escobar hitting in front of him and Lawrie behind him, Bautista would get better pitches to hit and have more opportunities to drive in runs. Bautista hit just .245 with runners in scoring position in 2011, but recorded a whopping .519 OBP - a clear indication that opponents were pitching around him.
Is it too much pressure to bat Lawrie in the cleanup spot with just 43 big-league games under his belt? Well, if anyone has the mentality to embrace this challenge and run with it, it's Lawrie. For most of his AAA tenure in 2011, the Canadian infielder hit third, so he's no stranger to the middle of the order.
In his 43-game big league stint, he batted .289 and registered a .553 slugging percentage with runners in scoring position.
After two sub-par seasons and a .242 batting average hitting fourth, Lind should be moved down in the order. His struggles were also the reason Bautista was pitched around for much of 2011. But Lind says his wonky back has healed and his .497 slugging percentage when batting fifth makes him a solid option to hit in the five-hole.
One of the Jays' most consistent hitters in the second half last season, Encarnacion is reportedly in the best shape of his career and appears to be poised for a 20-home run, 80-RBI campaign. With Lawrie entrenched at third base, Encarnacion can concentrate on hitting, although he might see spot duty at first base and in left field.
A rejuvenated Rasmus has arrived in camp ready to put his problems in St. Louis behind him. The 25-year-old Alabama native spent part of the off-season reducing the leg kick in his swing that messed up his timing in 2011. But a clear head and a fresh start will be the most important factors in his success, and though he has middle-of-the order potential, Rasmus belongs in the lower part of the lineup to start the campaign.
The likeable catcher belted 23 homers in 2011, but he needs to improve on his .219 batting average and cut down on his strikeouts. With uber prospect Travis d'Arnaud waiting in the wings, Arencibia will need to take his game up another notch this season.
It's time to give this 2006 first-round pick an extended look in left field. Yes, Eric Thames did a respectable job in 2011, but he projects to be a 15-to-20-home run guy with a low on-base percentage, while Snider, who has more speed and is better defensively, has the potential to lead the American League in home runs.
The Jays added light-hitting catcher Jeff Mathis to back up Arencibia and shored up their outfield defence by acquiring Ben Francisco. Outfielder Rajai Davis also returns and should be an excellent pinch runner.
Competition for the utility infielder's role is between Omar Vizquel, Mike McCoy and Luis Valbuena. Valbuena, who had 10 homers with the Indians in 2009, has the best bat, but is below average defensively and unlike McCoy, is out of minor league options. Even so, Vizquel is likely to head north with the Jays. The 44-year-old, 11-time Gold Glove winner can play second base, third base and shortstop and will serve as a valuable mentor for Escobar, Lawrie and Johnson.
Glew's 2012 Opening Day Lineup
1. Kelly Johnson, 2B
2. Yunel Escobar, SS
3. Jose Bautista, RF
4. Brett Lawrie, 3B
5. Adam Lind, 1B
6. Edwin Encarnacion, DH
7. Colby Rasmus, CF
8. J.P. Arencibia, C
9. Travis Snider, LF
1. Jeff Mathis, C
2. Ben Francisco, OF
3. Rajai Davis, OF
4. Omar Vizquel, INF
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