By Rob Ficiur
For the last three seasons I have confidently predicted that the Toronto Blue Jays would make the playoffs for the first time since 1993. Every year I was wrong. In 2013 I was among the many who thought the off season trades would bring the Jays to the post season; no such luck. In 2014 I predicted that if everything went right the Jays would be playoff bound. For half of the season the Jays surprised everyone by leading the American League East. Injuries and lack of depth caused the Jays to finish six wins games short of October baseball. Here are the reasons why the 2015 Blue Jays will break their post season drought.
1. Alex Anthopoulos – This will be AA’s sixth season as the Jay’s GM. It will also be his last season as GM if the team does not make the playoffs. Often when General Managers know their job is on the line they make trades and sign players with the short term goal of winning now or they won’t be around for next year. During the last two off seasons Anthopoulos has avoided over paying free agents, which meant there was money to make some of the trades he did. He has done a good job drafting, which explains why there are six rookies in the Jays’ opening day roster. By making the trades that he did over the off season he has put the team in a position that they can and should make the playoffs.
2. Russell Martin – The 32 year old three time all star catcher was the key free agent signing during the off season. With the richest contract in Jay’s history, they feel they have a catcher who can bring the best out of their young pitchers. While catching was not a weak spot last year – it is now a strength this year.
3. Josh Donaldson – the 29 year old all star third baseman has averaged 96 runs batted in the last two seasons. He finished 4th and 8th in American League Most Valuable player voting the last two years. He solidifies a third place position that was vacant most of last year due to injuries. Last July when Edwin Encarnacion went down with an injury teams could avoid pitching to Jose Bautista. Now with the bats of Martin and Donaldson there is depth that will help all the hitters in the line up.
4. Daniel Norris came out of AA to earn one of five starting pitcher spots. He won four pre-season games with an excellent 2.93 Earned Run average. The 21 year old started 2014 playing Single A ball but moved up the Jays’ farm system playing AA and AAA before starting one game for the Major League team. Can his great play continue for a complete season at the Major League level? So far he has exceeded expectations.
5. Roberto Osuna and Miquel Castro are two rookie pitchers who came out of no where to earn opening day spots on the team’ eight man relief pitching staff. Osuna pitched last year in the rookie league and single A farm teams while Castro spent the entire year in Single A. In 2014 the team introduced pitching prospects Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman to the Major Leagues by using them in the bull pen. When he was comfortable Stroman was moved to a starting position. Sanchez has moved to a starters role in 2015. Since no one expected these two to climb to the majors this fast the Jays will start them in the bull pen as well. Can they continue their unexpected climb? No doubt they will have struggles at some point in the season. But their solid play forced veterans to earn their spots or be sent down. Rookies bring an enthusiasm to the team that veterans sometimes lack.
6. Center Field and Second Base were two weak spots for the Jays last year. This year two rookies are slotted in as the opening day starter. Dalton Pompey’s story parallels Daniel Norris. He started the year in Single A and moved his way up to Double A and Triple A before playing 22 games for the Blue Jays last year. His speed in center field will be an asset catching balls and stealing bases. He impressed fans and management alike to the point that no one was brought in to take the Center filed position when Colby Rasmus left via free agency.
At second base Devon Travis has earned the opening day start with an impressive .359 average in 27 exhibition games. When Travis was acquired from Detroit the reports said he was a year or so away from being a full time Blue Jay.
As opening day comes this week, the team seems to be stronger at every position than they were a year ago. We know that all rookies will have slumps and likely half of those who start the year will spend time in the minors. Throwing all those cautions aside- the Jays (and especially the rookies) had a great pre-season. Now all they have to do is carry that momentum into April and May. (and June and July etc). On paper the Blue Jays should end their 20 year playoff drought – now let’s play the games on the field.