By Rob Ficiur
Everyone in Canada knows that the Toronto Blue Jays had a great season in 2015. The Jays best players were the best players. Contributions from surprise players made a significant impact on the team. Roberto Osuna came out of nowhere to be the Jay’s closer at 20 years of age. Chris Colabello was a thirty year old minor leaguer who came up and hit .321. Kevin Pillar went from a fringe player to an all-star outfielder. Without these three surprise players the Jays would not have been the best team in baseball for the last half of the season.
Who will be the surprise players for the 2016 season? In writing this I will be quoting pre-season statistics. I know that great pre-season numbers do not guarantee regular season success. However pre-season must mean something or they would not play the games and keep all the statistics.
Here are four players that might surprise Blue Jays fans this year:
1. Pat Venditte – Last year the 29 year old pitcher made his Major League Baseball debut with circus like fanfare. Venditte is a switch pitcher. He throws equally well as a right hander and a leftie. I have half an article written about the history of ambidextrous pitchers and how Venditte came to Blue Jays training camp. That history will wait for another week. Venditte could help the Blue Jays as a pitcher this year, not just as a circus side show.
So far in pre-season Pat has pitched 7.1 innings in 7 games. He has allowed two hits and zero runs in that time. His 0.00 Earned Run Average ties him for the best on the Blue Jays roster with eight other perfect pre-season pitchers. Venditte has pitched more innings than any of the other 0.00 ERA pitchers, at least three of whom have already been sent to the minors. Venditte has shown all he can so far. He will likely start in the minors, but if he is called up in the season, he could surprise fans that he can pitch effectively at this level.
2. Gavin Floyd – the 33 year old starter has pitched 21 games and 92 innings in the last three seasons. Injuries made it look like his career was over. The pitcher who has had at least ten pitching wins from 2008-2012 may have regained his form this pre-season. In spring training in his three games and twelve innings he has a career best 2.12 ERA. If he is healthy Floyd can provide veteran depth as a starter or long reliever.
3. Andy Burns is a 25 year old who has played in the Blue Jays minor league system the last four years. Last year his .293 batting average in AAA Buffalo continued to show progress towards becoming a major leaguer. In spring training Burns has batted .333 in 20 games. In his previous four spring trainings he only played 18 games, this year he has been in 20 so far. On a team with such depth Burns offers something that no one else does. He can play all infield and outfield positions with some skill. A depth player, who can play anywhere on the field, can give coaches more flexibility with other roster moves.
4. Steve Delabar is the most unlikely surprise player. In 2009 it looked like his career was over when he broke his elbow playing in an Independent League game. Delabar surprising career pinnacled with a Major League all-star appearance in 2013. The last two seasons have been dismal for the 32 year old reliever; with ERA’s of 4.91 and 5.22. As the 2015 season ended even his most loyal fans had to wonder if his career was over.
Through the off season and into spring training I have kept hoping Steve Delabar could regain his form. He has come back from so much can he do it again? His spring training ERA is now 2.70 over 6.2 innings. In 2013, his all-star year, Steve’s pre-season 3.68 was almost a run more than what he is doing now. Because of the depth on the team it will be hard for Delabar to make the 2016 Blue Jays opening day roster. If he continues to pitch like he has in March he will surprise fans with another come back season.
Every year teams have surprise players. I think at least one of these will a surprise for the Blue Jays this year. By September someone else, a name that fans barely know will come along and surprise everyone – because that is what surprise players do.