Thanks to current general manager Alex Anthopoulos and his predecessor J.P. Ricciardi (though fans are loath to give him credit), the Toronto Blue Jays boast a promising group of hurlers that should be the envy of Major League Baseball for the foreseeable future.
A surplus of good young pitching is a nice problem to have. Unfortunately, with only 12 roster spots available, several capable arms won't break spring training with the Jays for their regular season opener on April 1 against the visiting Minnesota Twins.
So who will crack the opening day staff and who will start the season riding the buses in AAA Las Vegas or AA New Hampshire?
Here are my thoughts on how the pitching staff will look on April 1:
Barring injuries, Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow and Brett Cecil will be the top three starters in 2011. John Farrell told the Toronto Sun on Feb. 27 that the battle for the final two rotation spots would be primarily between Kyle Drabek, Jesse Litsch, Jo-Jo-Reyes and Marc Rzepczynski. But several other pitchers would like to make an impression on their new manager and add their names into that mix.
PROS: Has proven he can win in the big leagues (13 wins in 2008) and has been impressive this spring (five shutout innings).
CONS: Injury-prone and concerns about his conditioning.
PROS: Excellent 2010 season in AA and is projected to be top-of-the-rotation starter one day.
CONS: Not particularly impressive in his September 2010 call-up and there are still questions about his maturity on and off the field.
In the Running
PROS: Outstanding performance in 2010 Arizona Fall League (4-0, 1.16 ERA) and has been effective in big leagues (3.67 in 11 starts in 2009).
CONS: Inconsistent this spring. Still walks too many batters.
PROS: Farrell says Reyes has four quality big league pitches. He is out of options, which means the Jays risk losing him if he's not on their opening day roster.
CONS: Track record indicates that he walks too many batters and allows too many home runs.
The Long Shots
PROS: A power arm that has impressed this spring (five strikeouts in two innings against Pittsburgh on March 6). Showed considerable promise as a starter in AA in 2010.
CONS: Has only one minor league season as a starter under his belt. Needs to work on his changeup.
PROS: Has big-league experience. Versatile, if healthy. Could be long man out of pen.
CONS: Not on Farrell's radar as a serious candidate. Has his shoulder fully recovered?
PROS: Appeared destined to be a top-of-the-rotation starter when he last pitched in the big leagues in 2008.
CONS: Has had multiple shoulder surgeries since he tossed his last major league pitch. Will likely begin season on disabled list.
PROS: Smart and poised on the mound. When location is sharp, he can be an effective pitcher.
CONS: Soft thrower who gets hit hard when he misses his spots.
Five relievers - Frank Francisco, Octavio Dotel, Jason Frasor, Jon Rauch and Shawn Camp - appear to be locks for the opening day roster. Here's a look at the candidates for the remaining two positions:
PROS: Struck out 67 in 52 2/3 innings in 2010. Five years of big-league experience.
CONS: Serves up too many home runs. Susceptible to big innings.
PROS: A left-hander in a bullpen dominated by right-handers. Occasionally demonstrates closer-type stuff. Like Reyes, out of options.
CONS: Generally untested with the game on the line. Continues to struggle with control.
In the Running
PROS: Can log more than one inning if required. His 2007 season was one of the best by a Jays reliever in recent memory.
CONS: Has struggled to find form since 2008 shoulder surgery. Generally one of the last options out of the 'pen with the game on the line last season.
PROS: Like Purcey, a left-hander in a pen chock-full of right-handers. Held left-handed hitters to a .158 average in 2010.
CONS: Shoulder inflammation has forced him to miss time this spring. Spent most of last season in the minors.
The Long Shots
PROS: Fastball can hit 96 miles per hour on the radar gun. Recorded a solid 3.64 ERA pitching primarily in a hitter friendly park with AAA Las Vegas in 2010.
CONS: Struggles with control (13 walks in 19 big-league innings last season).
PROS: With Carlson's injury and Purcey's struggles this spring, this left-hander's chances of cracking the roster have improved significantly.
CONS: Issues with command. Awful 2010 (6.75 ERA with Jays and 7.59 ERA in Las Vegas).
Surprises at Camp
No Jay has hit the ball harder this spring than Thames. In 10 games, the left-handed hitting outfielder has posted a .304 batting average and has a homer, double and triple. His 104-RBI campaign in AA in 2010 earned him an invite to big league camp this spring and his performance this March could help him land a big-league job in 2012.
This 21-year-old Langley, B.C. native is making it difficult for the Jays to send him down. The Jays knew he could hit (batting .333 in seven games this spring), but Lawrie, a second baseman in his two minor league seasons in the Brewers organization, has been impressive defensively at third base.
Bullpen coach Pat Hentgen raved about this 20-year-old right-hander during a recent radio interview. Still raw, the hard-throwing Venezuelan pitched in single-A last season, but Hentgen seems convinced that Alvarez is destined for a rotation spot with the big league club in the near future.
One of the most exciting Jays prospects in recent history, Gose has impressed with his speed and defence. After watching Gose steal a base this spring, one Detroit Tigers coach compared him to Rickey Henderson. His aggressiveness has led to some base-running gaffes and he has looked overmatched at the plate, but it's safe to say that Gose is the Jays centre-fielder of the future.
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