Saturday, February 26, 2011

Grapefruit League Action Begins! What To Look for In Toronto Blue Jays Spring Training

Sure, it has been a week or so since most of the Blue Jays players first arrived for workouts in Florida, but today is the first day of their Grapefruit League schedule.
Can Jesse Litsch re-find the success he enjoyed in 2008?

The Jays are busy taking on the Detroit Tigers in Dunedin (started at 1:05 pm), and there are certainly tons of storylines to look out for. I believe most of the games are only available on the Fan590, so break out and tune your radios (games not available streamed online, but there are various ways to get around that).

Here are five things to look out for in Toronto Blue Jays Spring Training:

1. Fifth Starter
Jesse Litsch has been rumoured have fully overcome his arm speed woes. After struggling through most of 2010 (in the time he wasn't injured), Litsch apparently is now rested enough to throw with his full strength.

But will it be enough to overcome 
Marc Rzepczynski? Rzepczynski has really bounced between the majors and minors a lot for the past two seasons, so the Blue Jays are certainly confused about what his future bears.

I like Marc Rzepczynski in this battle. In 2010, he got extremely unlucky, and nothing more than his .342 BABIP illustrates that. This won't continue, and it's likely that neither will his 1.13 HR/9. He was historically good at preventing homers in the minors, so I'm predicting some regression to the mean, as well as natural progress for the left-handed pitcher.

However, there are certainly dark horses in this competition. Scott Richmond can't be forgotten, as he is fully healthy and earlier today pitched well in a 'B' game. Robert Ray, Brad Mills, and perhaps even former all-world prospect Dustin McGowan figure also be in the equation.

2. Closer
While I routinely discount the notion that only one person must pile up all save opportunities, the Jays will surely use this type of closer and thus finding the exact man to do the honours is important. Returning arms David Purcey, Jason Frasor and Shawn Camp are both not expected to be in the race to close, but newcomers Jon Rauch, Octavio Dotel, and apparent favourite Frank Francisco should all be very much in it.

First things first, it shouldn't be Dotel. A closer should be able to annihilate both-sided batters and Octavio Dotel is pretty much the Adam Lind of pitchers. He can't get lefties out at all and therefore is much better suited to share a set-up role.

Francisco and Rauch are therefore the two pitchers I'd be comfortable with closing and frankly, I don't have a favourite of the two. What doesn't get touted enough is Francisco's xFIP of 3.31, which was far superior to his 3.76 ERA and I suppose adequate for a closer.

3. Bench Speed
Darin Mastroianni deserves a prolonged look in Spring Training for a major league bench spot. He did nothing but rake last year in the Eastern League (617 PA), putting up fantastic lead-off hitter numbers: .301/.390/.398 with 42 SB. Plus, he's supposedly a good defender in centerfield.

Now, the problem is that the Jays already have two players very similar to Mastroianni: Rajai Davis and Scott Podsednik. However, with Podsednik's recent injury and Rajai Davis's struggles against righties, Mastroianni could get his big chance. But regardless, he may force the Blue Jays hand if he starts in AAA and continues to rake.

4. Prospect Development
Spring Training is unique in that notable prospects get to spend time with the Major League coaches and get fantastic instruction along the way. There are lots of storylines prospect-wise, such as Brett Lawrie's pursuit to make the Blue Jays out of Spring Training, and whether or not he works hard to improve his defense at third base.

As well, Kyle Drabek has already been largely penciled in for a fourth rotation spot, but but that could all go down the drain with a terrible Spring Training.

5. Adam Lind's Defense
The Blue Jays seem committed to giving Adam Lind the full-time first base job, so many eyes will be on the former outfielder turned DH as he patrols infield. Yes, articles have been written recently about how in team workouts he seems comfortable and brisk at first base... but let's watch the games and see for ourselves. 

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