Who is going to be the starting left fielder? Travis Snider or Eric Thames?
-- Kimberly G., Vancouver, British Columbia
Thames entered Spring Training this year with a decisive edge in the competition for the starting job. General manager Alex Anthopoulos and manager John Farrell said there would be a battle this spring, but they prefaced that notion by stating that Thames finished the 2011 season as the starter in left, and that would have to be taken into consideration. In other words, it was Thames' job to lose, and Anthopoulos reiterated that point last week by stating Thames was the "front-runner" for the job.
There's no reason to believe that has changed, despite the fact that Snider has been the club's second-best offensive player this spring. He leads the team in home runs (four), RBIs (13) and has 10 hits in 12 games in the Grapefruit League season. Snider's mechanics at the plate appear to be greatly improved compared to 2011, and the way he holds the bat in a lower position has enabled him to get to some pitches that previously would have been unhittable.
Thames, meanwhile, has quietly enjoyed a strong Spring Training. The 25-year-old has displayed better range in the outfield and improved strength of his throwing arm due to some hard work during the offseason. He's also hitting .345 (10-for-29) with four extra-base hits and six RBIs in 10 games. Thames has been flying under the radar, not because of his results, but because Snider has been one of the club's most dangerous hitters since camp opened.
If Snider finishes the Grapefruit League season in strong fashion, he's going to put a lot of pressure on Toronto's front office. One thing working against him, however, is that Spring Training stats can often be deceiving. Rajai Davis led the club in home runs last spring and by all accounts was the Blue Jays' best hitter, but that success didn't carry over into the regular season. Snider will have to somehow prove he's different, otherwise he will begin the year at Triple-A Las Vegas.
What is the likelihood of Anthopoulos trading either Snider or Thames this season?
-- Melanie M.
There's no reason for the Blue Jays to cut bait on either player unless an attractive offer is presented by another team. Snider, who has spent parts of four seasons in the Major Leagues, has had his overall trade value diminished in the past two seasons because of injuries and frequent demotions to the Minors. But the former first-round pick is still just 24 years old and possesses the type of skill set that could turn him into a well-above-average corner outfielder. There are other clubs around baseball that see that potential but won't be willing to part with fair value until he proves it on a consistent basis at the Major League level.
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Thames arrived in the big leagues last season having not received a lot of hype during his career as a prospect. One major reason for that was a leg injury that cut his career short at Pepperdine University and caused his stock to plummet in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft. Thames has been working to re-establish his standing since, but the club believes it has an undervalued talent, and that doesn't translate well to netting a lot of talent in return from a trade.
Anthopoulos hasn't sold low on any player during his tenure as GM in Toronto, and there's no reason to believe he will start doing so now. Instead, the Blue Jays will begin the season with one of Thames or Snider starting in left and the other in Las Vegas waiting for an injury to open up playing time.
Is it possible that the Blue Jays will carry both Thames and Snider on their 25-man roster to start the season?
-- Bill K., Washington, D.C.
No. The Blue Jays have already indicated that the odd man out in the competition between Snider and Thames will begin the year at Triple-A. The club wants both players to receive regular at-bats to continue their development. With Edwin Encarnacion firmly entrenched at designated hitter, there simply isn't enough room on the roster to ensure that would happen at the Major League level.
That's one of the main reasons the club acquired outfielder Ben Francisco from the Phillies during the offseason. Francisco and speedster Rajai Davis will serve in bench roles and will see time against left-handed pitchers.
Is there any way that Brett Cecil doesn't travel up north with the big club? And if he doesn't, is Kyle Drabek the likely person to succeed him for a spot?
-- Jemel J., New York
For the second consecutive spring, a lot has been made of Cecil's lack of velocity. But by all accounts, the club is content with his overall progress. Cecil has been clocked around 87 mph on his fastball, and while that's still a ways off from his low-90s slot from 2010, it's still something he can be successful with.
The key to Cecil's success will be more related to his command than his overall velocity. He needs to be able to locate the ball down in the zone to be effective. While that was a problem at times in 2011, Cecil appears to be doing a better job of it this spring. Cecil's impressive changeup also gives him the ability to keep hitters off balance and does help the fastball appear to be faster than it actually is.
Also, it can't be forgotten that Cecil went through a grueling offseason workout routine that saw him arrive in camp having lost more than 35 pounds. It's hard to believe that Toronto wouldn't give him a shot to start the season with the big league club to see if he has been able to put a tumultuous season behind and regain the 2010 form that saw him win a team-high 15 games.
If Cecil falters -- and the same could be said for Henderson Alvarez and Dustin McGowan -- then Drabek becomes the obvious replacement. Drabek has displayed improved mechanics on the mound this spring, and his time will come at some point in 2012. It just probably won't be at the start of the year.
McGowan's regular turn on the calendar lines up with the home opener. It would not normally be his turn because of the off-day in Cleveland, but wouldn't it be appropriate to give him that start and then juggle him into the fifth slot later? It would be an absolutely perfect reward for his dedication to get back.
-- Tammy R., Ripley, Miss.
It would be a nice storyline, but that's not something the Blue Jays concern themselves with when making these types of decisions. The feel-good story will always take a back seat to what's best for the team and its long-term success.
McGowan's moment occurred on Sept. 11 of last year, when he made his first start since 2007 following a series of shoulder injuries. McGowan and the club are now looking to put those type of memories in the rear-view mirror. It's not about what happened in the past anymore, but what could happen in the future.
The Blue Jays have yet to make an announcement on the order of their rotation, but it's safe to say it won't be intentionally moved around for the home opener.
The Jays are kind of thin in the starting rotation in the upper level. If there is an injury and Anthopoulos can't acquire another arm such as Joe Blanton or Gavin Floyd, should we expect to see Drew Hutchinson or others sometime this season?
-- Jay T., Toronto
The overall potential of the Blue Jays' starting staff can be questioned -- especially after a season in which they posted a 4.55 ERA -- but the depth cannot, so I wouldn't classify the rotation as being thin. The club appears set on a starting five of Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Cecil, Alvarez and McGowan, but there is plenty of talent waiting in the wings should anyone falter.
That next group of talent is headlined by Drabek and also includes veteran Aaron Laffey, who could be called upon to make a spot start if needed. Plus, prospects like Hutchison, Deck McGuire and Chad Jenkins, who are all close to being ready for the next level.
Toronto has been linked to Floyd and Blanton in recent weeks, but those rumors have since been dismissed by the club. Blanton certainly doesn't appear to fit the profile of what Toronto would be looking for, and while Floyd would represent an upgrade, the White Sox reportedly are asking for an awful lot in return for his services. The Blue Jays would only be interested in adding a front-line starter, and it would have to be at the right price -- which doesn't appear possible at this point in camp.
I was wondering why the Jays chose to put Lawrie so far down in the order? He's a perfect fit for the No. 2 hole. I'm not sure why they want him batting seventh.
-- Jeff M., North Bay, Ontario
Farrell prefers to have a left-handed hitter ahead of Jose Bautista in the batting order. The belief is that when Yunel Escobar gets on base, Toronto can then put a hit-and-run play on that involves having that lefty pull a ball on the ground and potentially open up some holes, or at the very least put some pressure on the opposing team's defense.
That's just one reason why it appears as though Kelly Johnson will begin the year as the No. 2 hitter, and the other is his career on-base percentage of .364. Lawrie will begin the year hitting lower, but if he picks up where he left off last year, he'll force his way into a higher slot. It's possible he could eventually supplant Encarnacion in the No. 5 hole.