Contributor: Brendan Panikkar
For this section of my player highlight, I’m going a bit off the board and choosing not to cover why I feel Kendrys Morales is the most interesting on the team. I feel my colleagues have done a great job at that already.
Instead, I am going to cover why J.P Howell is on my list. In short, J.P Howell is coming off of a down year compared to what he did with the Los Angeles Dodgers from 2013-2015. In those 3 seasons, Howell never had an ERA above 2.39 or a FIP above 3.34. Very solid numbers for a soft-tossing left-hander who’s been described as Mark Buehrle with a better breaking ball.
In 2016, Howell had an ERA of 4.09 but his FIP of 3.50 and xFIP of 3.59 do suggest that he may have been the victim of some bad luck. It will be interesting to see how this extreme groundball pitcher performs in his return to the AL East, where he was last with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2012.
All in all, Howell has some pretty big shoes to fill in replacing Brett Cecil, who was one of the best left-handed relievers in baseball since 2013. As things currently project, Howell is the only seemingly guaranteed left-hander out of the bullpen and will be counted on to get some BIG outs for the team. If Howell is the guy he was from 2013 to 2015 with the Dodgers, at only $3 million for 2017, he will both be a steal and replace Brett Cecil beautifully in the bullpen.
Contributor: Clayton Richer
5. Steve Pearce
4. Kendrys Morales
3. Devon Travis
2. Marcus Stroman
1. Jose Bautista
Having just authored an article on “Why the Blue Jays will be better in 2017” I think it is important that I include the two new Blue Jays additions on my list. Steve Pearce offers Manager John Gibbons some positional flexibility between 1B and OF, especially in the wake of the season that Justin Smoak is attempting to rebound from. If Pearce can find consistent at bats he has 25 home run potential and can be a diamond in the rough for the Blue Jays lineup.
Kendrys Morales will attempt to fill the Edwin Encarnacion void with his stick and in all likelihood should benefit from the homer-friendly confines of the Rogers Centre. Morales was tabbed by Steamer to connect for 24 home runs in 2017 but I think a 30 homer campaign is more likely.
A healthy Devon Travis could be the straw that stirs the Blue Jays’ drink on offence. Travis has a proven ability for having good at-bats and putting the ball in the play. He needs to be a fixture in the leadoff role for a good portion of the season and hopefully, make the injuries a thing of the past, once and for all.
Marcus Stroman talks the talk and in 2017 the Stro-show needs to walk the walk. Time for Stroman to pitch like the ace he thinks he is. Plain and simple Stroman needs to have an Aaron Sanchez type season. A dominant Stroman makes the Blue Jays rotation one through five the most feared in the majors.
Cue the Jose, Jose, Jose chants. Jose Bautista is back and more motivated than ever to send baseballs into orbit. Joey Bats combined with Morales will attempt to replace the power outage left by the departure of Encarnacion. Bautista if healthy, is a 40 home run threat this season and a good bet for comeback player of the year.