Sunday, March 31, 2013

2013 Blue Jays Preview, part 3

27 - LHP Brett Cecil 

Age: 26
Nationality: American
2013 Contract: $510,000

Another "bounce back" candidate for the Blue Jays, Brett Cecil is looking to hold on to a major league job, now two full years removed from his breakout 15-7 2010 season.  After much publicized weight battles and velocity loss, Cecil turned to the Next Generation Velocity Program that teammate Steve Delabar used so effectively to both strengthen his shoulder from injury and increase velocity. 

This spring, Cecil came to Spring Training having kept his weight off and with some of the velocity regained.   While some of his spring numbers are a little ugly (6.61 ERA), Cecil was being used in ways that were different than he most likely will be in the season, seeing more right-handed batters.  Still, while some numbers were poor, others show real improvement: he struck out 20 batters in 16 1/3 innings.  While his hits are a bit high, the walks are in a solid range and Baseball Reference rates the opposition quality as 9.1 (with 8 being AAA calibre and 10 being MLB calibre opposition).  In seeing Brett pitch a couple of times this spring, I have to say that I feel more comfortable about him coming into a tight situation against a left-handed hitter than I feel about bringing Jeremy Jeffress or Esmil Rogers into the game.  A lot of the hits that I saw against Cecil were of the "hit in the wrong place" variety.  With Cecil being out of options, I don't see him going anywhere when Lawrie returns from the DL.  However, a trade is a definite possibility for Cecil, particularly as a lefty who has experience as a starter.

28 - CF Colby Rasmus 

Age: 26
Nationality: American
2013 Contract: $4.68 million

Rasmus has been the subject of a great deal of speculation over the past two seasons.  Since arriving in Toronto from St. Louis, he has had a rough go of it, showing flashes of his incredible talent amidst long slumps.  A good defensive centerfielder, Rasmus is another Blue Jay entering a make-or-break year.  While the Blue Jays don't really have a replacement in the wings for Adam Lind if he has another poor year, the Jays have an extremely talented 22 year old centerfield prospect stashed away in Buffalo just waiting to take over as the heir to Devon White's mantle as the greatest centerfielder to patrol the Blue Jays outfield.  So, Rasmus needs to fend off the youngster and put it all together this season.

Much has been made of Rasmus's outstanding 2010 season in which he hit .276/.361/.498 for the Cardinals.  The problem, like Lind, is that his big season remains an outlier in his career.  While he had a career high strikeout rate (27.7%), he also had a career high walk rate (11.8%).  To contrast that, his strikeout rate in 2012, while still high, was 23.8%, but his walk rate was below league average at 7.5%.  In addition, in 2012, he swung at more pitches outside the strike zone and fewer pitches inside the strike zone (according to Fangraphs).  This troubling development has contributed to his batting average falling from .276 at his peak (with an unsustainably high BABIP in 2010) to .223 last year.  When you're hitting .223 and taking walks at a rate that's below league average, you're not going to be giving your team as great a chance to win.  The positives are that when he gets hits, he's hitting the ball hard (as evidenced by his good ISO numbers as well as the number of HRs he hits).  I'm sure the Jays are hoping that the enigma of Colby Rasmus is solved in 2013.

29 - RHP Dustin McGowan 

Age: 31
Nationality: American
2013 Contract: $1.5 million

I really don't think that I can shed any profound light on the plight of Dustin McGowan.  He has fought back from injuries so many times that I think he falls asleep counting his surgical scars instead of sheep.  The light at the end of the tunnel is that McGowan actually got into a spring training game (against close to MLB calibre opposition) and got all three of the batters he faced out.  He's on the 15 day DL to start the season, which means that, knock on wood, the Jays have about a month and a bit to figure out what to do with him.   He's also out of options, which means that if he does come back to the Jays, someone is going to have to go. 

32 - RHP Esmil Rogers 

Age: 27
Nationality: Domincan
2013 Contract: $509,000

I wrote about Rogers once before, when the Blue Jays acquired him in the off season.  Having seen him in Spring Training, he looked ok, and has shown pretty good stuff, striking out 17 batters in 12 2/3 innings.  He has some ugly numbers too, but apparently, there was one appearance in which he was tipping his pitches so that batters were all over him.  He had two particularly bad outings, one on March 5, and one on March 14 in which he gave up 7 runs in 2 1/3 innings combined.  Outside of that, he was much better over his last five appearances in the spring.  Let's hope that the latter Rogers comes north with the team.

33 - RHP Jeremy Jeffress 

Nationality: American
2013 Contract: $495,900

Jeffress was acquired for cash from the Kansas City Royals in the off-season after the Jays decided that his past troubles with marijuana are behind him.  While he has always had a power arm, he has struggled with his control, and this remains the story with Jeffress.  The Blue Jays think that they can help him unlock the key to finding control, or else they wouldn't have kept him on the roster to break camp with the major league team.  Of the three "on-the-bubble" pitchers (Cecil, Rogers, and Jeffress), the Jays have less invested in Jeremy and thus, while they would hate to see him catch on somewhere else and come back to hurt them, there's less at stake if the Jays simply try to sneak him through waivers and back down to the minors (although, he'd likely be claimed on waivers by another team). 

Jeffress has not looked good this spring.  He threw 13 innings, striking out 14 but walking 10 and giving up 18 hits against what Baseball Reference calls inferior opposition to either Cecil or Rogers.  If he struggles with his control, he will make the Jays decision of who to send out when Brett Lawrie returns from the DL that much easier.

38 - LHP Darren Oliver 

Age: 42
Nationality: American
2013 Contract: $3 million

While his awesomeness on the mound is beyond question, Oliver got the most press this off-season for the "trade me to Texas or I'll retire" ultimatum.  I'm glad that's all behind us as we roll into the season.  Oliver didn't pitch much in Spring Training, but at 42 years old he knows what he needs to get ready better than anyone else. 

What's left to say about "Black Magic"?  Just that he's posted a better ERA every year since 2007, culminating with last year's 2.06 mark which also was accompanied by the veteran lefty's best WHIP of his career. While positive aging can't continue indefinitely (as is indicated by his declining fastball velocity), I believe that he returned to the Blue Jays for two reasons.  The first is that he'd like to collect the $3 million that he signed for, and that he wants to retire after winning a World Series.  I truly believe that if the Jays hadn't revamped their lineup for 2013, Oliver doesn't come back.

43 - RHP R.A. Dickey 

Age: 38
Nationality: American
2013 Contract: $5 million

Dubbed the "most interesting man in baseball" by Toronto Star columnist Rosie DiManno, Dickey is certainly more erudite than any of the other Blue Jays in the clubhouse and would probably get along well with pitcher-turned-author-turned-radio/tv analyst Dirk Hayhurst.  With so much ink (digital and otherwise) covering Dickey's travails, I'll just say this: In the same way that Dickey has no idea what his knuckleball will do after he releases it, I have no idea how he'll fare this season.  Whether he'll be the "ace" in this rotation or not, I think that he'll be at least a solid arm on the mound, and someone who is fun to watch.*  I'm also generally not very interested in reading or hearing athlete interviews, but with Dickey, I'll tune in to hear what he has to say because chances are much higher that he'll stray beyond the typical Bull Durham-esque cliches.


* I'll confess to having always been a big fan of watching knuckleballers and thoroughly enjoyed the documentary film aptly named "Knuckleball" featuring both Dickey and Tim Wakefield.

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