Jays Lineup Grading At The Break

If someone had told Jays fans that the Jays would be sitting 2 games under .500 at the All-Star break, I think most would have agreed that it was likely where they expected the Jays to be this season. I did expect them to be a bit further ahead, but as usual, unforeseen circumstances have a way of making changes happen – such as 15 blown saves during the first half of the season! The Jays are 11 games back of the Red Sox, 10 games back of the Yankees and the Wild Card, and are 5 games behind the Rays who are holding on despite many personnel losses last off-season. The Jays also headed into the All-Star break with as close to an opening day roster as they’ve had the majority of the season, have won 3 in a row and 5 of their last 10, and actually have a better record on the road (25-25) than they do at home (19-22) – something I have no answer for.

Here’s a quick review and thoughts of each position player’s output, of the roster used just before the break, in the first half of the season:

Jose Molina – Catcher

  • .300/.375/.450, 9 doubles, 2 HRs, 8 RBI
  • One of the Leaders in the clubhouse and on the field when he plays, Jose has done nothing but shine all season long. He has heightened his stock so much this season that it only makes sense that Alex Anthopoulos would consider moving him at the deadline. The Pirates, Giants, and Mariners could all use him behind the plate. But, if the Jays do keep him and let him walk at the end of the year, they will receive a sandwich pick as compensation, so either way, Anthopoulos will get a tremendous return from signing Molina. His leadership has helped mentor J. P. Arencibia to get him to be much better behind the plate, and all pitchers who work with him learn from him. It’ll be a sad day to see him leave the Jays, but with Travis d’Arnaud ready to make the leap today, I don’t expect he’ll be a Jays catcher by 2012.
  • Grade: A

J.P. Arencibia – Catcher

  • .222/.287/.427, 9 doubles, 3 triples, 12 HRs, 38 RBI, 21 BB
  • Whenever you have a rookie hitter who hits 12 HRs before the All-Star break, people take notice. When he’s behind the plate, that’s true tenfold. Arencibia may not have the prettiest of batting lines to show for his efforts, but his 24 extra base hits are very impressive and he has been an RBI machine for the Jays (3rd on the team behind Jose and Adam). People also overlook the fact that he drew the 4th highest amount of walks for the Jays with 21 so far, showing a lot of maturity at the plate. Hindered by thumb and other hand/wrist issues, he hasn’t really been able to let it loose at the plate so far. I expect a better second half for Arencibia as he gets comfortable and heals a little over the AS break. If it wasn’t for the low Batting Average and OBP, he would also get an A.
  • Grade: B+

Adam Lind – First Base

  • .300/.349/.515, 8 doubles, 16 HRs, 52 RBI, 21 BB
  • Now you see it, now you don’t. That sums up Adam’s first half as he rode hots streaks and cold streaks the entire time. The Jays need a healthy and less streaky Adam in the second half of the season, and they may get it as he seems to be getting a lot of help behind him in the form of Travis Snider of late and could also be joined by Brett Lawrie in August. His defensive play at 1B has left no doubt that he can more than handle the position and that the Jays now hold a great trade chip in AAA’s David Cooper as a result. There is no doubt that Lind is a big part of the Jays future and it will be interesting to see if he can top his career high of 35 HRs this season. He’s entering the prime of his career and is now firmly entrenched in the core of the Jays lineup, so Jays fans can enjoy the Bautista-Lind Show for quite a few more seasons. If it wasn’t for the injuries and the streakiness, Adam would get a higher mark.
  • Grade: A-

Aaron Hill – Second Base

  • .234/.279/.328, 13 doubles, 1 triple, 4 HRs, 33 RBI, 17 BB
  • Nobody knows why Aaron is having such a hard time at the plate. The fact that Arencibia has walked more and driven in more runs than Hill despite playing in less games and being a rookie pretty much says all that needs to be said. His 2-year option at $8 million per season is almost guaranteed to be passed up at this point, and when you consider the fact that one of Adeiny Hechavarria or Yunel Escobar can easily be moved to 2B, it pretty much seals the deal. As a Type B FA, he would also bring the Jays a  draft pick. There is a chance that he will be dealt before the deadline to a team looking for a boost in leadership and production from 2B, such as the STL Cardinals. With Colby Rasmus looking for a new home, you never know what could happen. Still, it’s expected that the Jays will at least give Hill a shot to prove himself during the second half and prove that he may be worthy of that option (or negotiate a new deal at a lesser cost). He has earned that respect from the Jays and is still a beloved member of the team.
  • Grade: C-

Yunel Escobar – Short Stop

  • .291/.365/.438, 14 doubles, 3 triples, 9 HRs, 31 RBI, 38 BB, 3 SB
  • The Jays are now getting the much better end of the deal they made with the Braves. Not only has Escobar done a tremendous job at the plate, adapting to a new role as the lead off hitter and hitting with more gusto than ever before, but he has continued to get better on the field as well. He is making fewer running errors on the base-paths as the season wears on, and is at least slightly above average a defender on the field. It’s still expected that Hechavarria will one day take over at SS since he has the best range and arm at the position between the two Cuban infielders, but Escobar will surely be a staple of the Jays for the next few years as he has signed an extension that assures as much. He is now considered a core player and was the second best player in the lineup on most nights for the Jays after Jose Bautista.
  • Grade: A

Jose Bautista – Third Base

  • .334/.468/.702, 15 doubles, 1 triple, 31 HRs, 65 RBI, 74 BB, 5 SB
  • You can say all you want about the possibility of his getting injured while playing 3B, but putting his bat there does give the Jays one of the top 3 offensive infields in the game. His first half was a masterpiece of historic proportions, he earned himself a record setting number of all-star votes as a result, and he is the face of the Jays organization today and for the foreseeable future. How many free agents do you think will now be attracted to the Jays simply because they know Jose will be there for many years? For instance, why do you think Prince Fielder keeps talking about being willing to DH somewhere? Jose Bautista is not only providing the Jays with the absolute best bang for their bucks, but he is setting the stage for what is sure to be an excellent run for the Jays. He could be the first Jays hitter to ever hit 60 HRs or more in a season, could do so while hitting with an average above .325 or so, and is doing it with a ridiculously high OPS. If that, coupled with above average D at two positions, isn’t enough to keep Jays fans watching in the second half of the season, I don’t know what to tell them.
  • Grade: A+++

Eric Thames – Left Fielder

  • .308/.357/.519, 6 doubles, 2 triples, 4 HRs, 11 RBI, 6 BB
  • When we look at this rookie’s line, the fact that he was able to hit a HR off Cliff Lee, and the fact that he looks as great as can be in the 2-hole of the lineup, we get a little excited about what the second half could bring. Not only did his performance allow the Jasy to let Juan Rivera go – FINALLY! – to the LA Dodgers, but it solidified the fact that the Jays should allow the young guys to play in the second half of the season. He looks mean at the plate, hits to all fields, and infused a ton of energy and talent into a lineup that needed both. As a LHB, he’ll help balance the lineup nicely from here on out and should be a mainstay in Toronto for the majority – if not all – of the second half.
  • Grade: A

Rajai Davis – Center Field

  • .240/.264/.357, 16 doubles, 6 triples, 1 HR, 23 RBI, 8 BB, 24 SB
  • It took a long long time for people to get Davis to shorten his swing and to stop trying to hit HRs, but it seemed to get through as the AS break approached. He is still a regular in the bottom of the lineup, but he has at least returned to being a regular in CF and has provided the Jays with a ton of speed despite a low OBP. His .289 average over his last 10 games before the break are encouraging and he has a ton of potential to surpass his SB total from 2010 if he continues down that path. However, as a speed guy who is signed to a very affordable contract, he may also hold some trade value, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him being moved at the trade deadline. Looking back on the Dave Roberts steal for the Red Sox, you can understand why teams in the hunt would be looking for a player like Davis. Anthony Gose is much closer to being MLB ready than people think, and if the Jays are going to have Davis hitting 9th anyways, they may as well get Gose’s feet wet in September and allow Corey Patterson and/or Mike McCoy to field CF before that time. In any case, I do think that the Jays expected more overall from Davis than they received in the majority of the first half, even if he did prove to make a huge difference with his game–changing speed on occasion.
  • Grade: C+

Travis Snider – Right Field

  • .231/.302/.368, 10 doubles, 2 HRs, 20 RBI, 11 BB, 5 SB
  • The Kid went to AAA to revamp his swing, and revamp his swing and approach at the plate he did. You can look at his first half as a negative (which many people do), or you could look at it as a major positive since he finally seems to be putting it all together. He is 11 for 30 since returning from AAA, has a much shorter yet still powerful swing, and is keeping his shoulder turned in much longer now as he waits for his pitch. To me, if there’s one player who holds the key to a second half run for the Jays, it’s Travis Snider. The possibility of his “outburst” on the scene could definitely catapult the Jays into a new category, and his performance in the second half os one of those that deserves to be watched very closely. If he continues to mature and get better in 2011, how great will a core lineup of Bautista-Lind-Snider look in 2012? I expect he will also continue to run the bases hard, to give the Jays much better defensive skills Juan Rivera did, and that he’ll split time withy Eric Thames in LF and at DH once Brett Lawrie makes it to the majors, keeping him fresh and healthy. He may not get a high grade for his first half, but the potential is there for an outstanding second half!
  • Grade: C

Edwin Encarnacion – Designated Hitter

  • .255/.283/.405, 19 doubles, 6 HRs, 19 RBI, 9 BB, 1 SB
  • The man everyone thought would hit more than 30 HRs in 2011, he has done little to prove he is capable of achieving that this season. Not only did the Jays break their promise to use him as a DH only, allowing him to prove once and for all that he is 90% DH and 10% 1B, but they also allowed him to provide them with one of the worst DH performances of the first half at the same time. If you want to point fingers as to why the Jays are where they are in the standings at this point, Edwin-Juan-Aaron and the pen are pretty well the bulk of it. It’s his potential that keeps him in the lineup, as he has a massive amount of power to offer up. For whatever reason, he just can’t make consistent contact. His power potential and somewhat affordable contract could still make him an attractive option for a team like the Mariners, so there’s a possibility of the Jays moving him before the deadline. With Snider and Thames likely to split time in LF once Lawrie arrives, there’s no reason to think that Anthopoulos won’t make every attempt possible to move him elsewhere. To me, he’s the most disappointing player of the lineup in the first half, simply because I expected so much more from a hitter hitting his prime years and having hit 21 HRs in only 332 ABs the season before. His 6 HRs in 247 ABs this season are meager in comparison, and don’t allow for much of a return if the Jays do decide to move him.
  • Grade: D

Corey Patterson – Bench

  • .258/.292/.393, 16 doubles, 3 triples, 6 doubles, 33 RBIs, 14 BB, 12 BB, 12 SB
  • It’s a good thing the Jays had Patterson around to throw into situations all over the outfield and lineup, because he has brought veteran presence and some consistency that was deeply lacking on so many fronts. Sure, he scares the living daylights out of me defensively as I have a recurring nightmare that he’ll injure Jose Bautista one day as they collide in the OF after he wispers “got it”, but he has his best ABs against the best ptichers in the league and at the best moments in the game. The Jays will surely get some calls about him before the deadline and could be inclined to move him if they decide it’s worthwhile, but even if they keep him around, they’ll be well off because of it. He makes a ton of sense as a bench OF option and is really the only other person aside from Mike McCoy who can backup Rajai Davis in CF unless you believe Snider can handle CF.
  • Grade: B-

 Mike McCoy – Bench

  • .222/.333/.306, 3 doubles, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 12 BB, 3 SB
  • The Real McCoy is proving to be exactly what we advertised him to be, a great bench player who can do a little bit of everything. Need a pinch runner? He’s your guy since he can also take over ANYWHERE on the field and do an above average job defensively at any of them. Need a pitcher in a 15 inning game? No problem, McCoy’s willing and able to give you that inning! In short, he does it all, and he has great ABs to go along with it when called upon. To me, he’s an extremely valuable guy off the bench and could be the guy who moves into that full time role once or if John McDonald is no longer a Jays player in 2012. Until then, he’ll continue to earn his “Yo-Yo” nickname by going up and down from AAA to Toronto whenever required. You couldn’t ask any more from him aside form a higher average – something hard to do with sporadic play, and I sincerely hope he’s still around in 2012.
  • Grade: A-

John McDonald – Bench

  • .216/.262/.305, 4 doubles, 1 triple, 2 HRs, 14 RBI, 8 BB, 1 SB
  • Jays fans have grown accustomed to saying “yeah but” whenever listing Johnny Mac’s stats. That’s because those ugly stats come with some of the best defensive abilties in the infield of any player currently in MLB. Having said that, he’s about to turn 37 years old, can no longer be counted on to steal bases as he has slowed on the basepaths, and will likely play out his 2011 contract and try to land a job somewhere else for 2012. He’s one of the leaders in the clubhouse as well and leads by example more than any other Jays player, so he will be missed. If a team in the hunt needs someone of his talents for a playoff run, there’s no doubt in my mind that Alex Anthopoulos will attempt to move him and to give him a well-deserved shot at living through a playoff run. I, for one, would love to see that happen for him.
  • Grade: B

Overall, you have to feel good about where the Jays lineup is headed. Not only is there a great core group of Escobar, Bautista, and Lind, but Snider and Thames seem poised to join them and to support the more than anyone did in the first half of the season. Jays fans will also likely see Brett Lawrie in a Jays uniform before too long, and there are plenty of other options to consider, such as:

  • David Cooper. If Edwin Encarnacionis moved, he could get the call, although I do believe the Jays want him playing full time, so it may require more than that to get him to the Jays. A more likely scenario has them using Cooper as a nice trade chip. With Miguel Cabrera and Justin Morneau hurting, for example, the Jays have some suitors that could offer nice returns.
  • Travis d’Arnaud. If and when Jose Molinais moved, d’Arnaud should be the one to get the call. He has proved everything he needs to prove in the minors and was ready to be a game caller and receiver in MLB when the season started. Splitting time with Arencibia, who has soaked up all he can from Molina this season, will set the stage for 2012, when the Jays will field possibly the best catching duo in all of MLB.
  • Adam Loewen. There’s a chance that the Jays will move Corey Patterson to a contender. If they do, they could call on Loewen to see what he can do during his first stint in the majors. He has earned that shot with great D and a whopping 49 extra base hits to this point in the AAA season. His line is among the leaders at .311/.377/.549, and he also has some speed with 7 SBs. Along with Cooper and d’Arnaud, he represents the bulk of those I expect to see at some point in a  Jays uniform this season. As always, there’s a chance he’ll be moved elsewhere due to his “sell high” status after just regaining his hot prospect status.
  • Anthony Gose. I really doubt we’ll see him in 2011, but you never do know what circumstances will bring. His D is certainly ready for The Show.
  • Adeiny Hechavarria. Same as Gose.
  • Moises Sierra. Same as Gose and Hechavarria.

Jays fans seem to be screaming “Youth Movement” for the most part, and it seems that Alex Anthopoulos is slowly moving the Jays into that direction now that many prospects have earned their stripes in AA and AAA. The fans want a taste of what 2012 will bring, while Anthopoulos doesn’t want to jeopordize2012 by moving these great prospects too quickly. I expect to see at least 1 or 2 more top Jays prospects pierce the lineup at some point in the second half, so I look forward to seeing them in action. With the most likely lineup players to be moved being Jose Molina and Edwin Encarnacion, I do expect that David Cooper and Travis d’Arnaud will soon make their way to Toronto, with Adam Loewenbeing next in line if Corey Patterson goes as well. I expect the Jays to hang onto John McDonald and to send McCoy down when they call Brett Lawrie up unless they get an offer for Johnny Mac.

Such changes, including Lawrie, in 2011 would bring the lineup very close to what 2012 could bring with the following group:

  • Yunel Escobar (SS)
  • Eric Thames or Travis Snider (LF)
  • Jose Bautista (RF)
  • Adam Lind or David Cooper (1B)
  • Eric Thames, Travis Snider, David Cooper, or Adam Lind (DH)
  • J. P. Arencibia  or Travis d’Arnaud (C)
  • Aaron Hill (2B)
  • Brett Lawrie (3B)
  • Rajai Davis (CF)

I don’t know about all of you, but I sure am looking forward to seeing that roster lineup up to take the field and to be the lineup the opposing teams must face. For all of the fans screaming for the Jays to make substantial moves in order to help Bautista out in the lineup, I believe there is more than enough help listed above to make the Jays very competitive in the second half of this season.

All-in-all, I grade the performance of those listed above as a B+, obviously a high mark only due to the omissions of Jayson Nix and Juan Rivera. As for what to expect in the second half, I really expect to be able to grade the Jays as an A- as a minimum, with the real possibility of an A.

The future is extremely bright for the lineup. The first half was a display of the present core, the second half will be a display of the future.

For the Jays as a powerhouse in the A.L. East, it begins now in my estimation. While the Yankees and Red Sox have lineups filled with the highest salary numbers in all of baseball, the Jays can enjoy the knowledge that their internal options in the minors and on the roster not only match those teams in terms of potential, but that they’ll perform as such in the future at a fraction of the cost and for a much longer period of time. If the rotation and pen can catch up to the hitting performance the Jays will put on over the upcoming years, it’ll be a great show for all of us Jays fans to enjoy.

- MG

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Tags: Anthony Gose Brett Lawrie David Cooper Eric Thames Jose Bautista Jose Molina JP Arencibia Travis D'Arnaud Travis Snider

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