|Young Blue Jay Pitchers on Display in 2010|
Written by Jonathan Leshanski (Contact & Archive) on March 26, 2010
Just how do you respond to losing the guy who might be the best pitcher in all of baseball?
Well, you look at your organization, change your direction, maybe even change General Managers and start gathering as many pitching prospects as you can and cross your fingers, hoping one or more of them will realize the potential that they have and develop into ace pitchers, or at least frontline starting pitching.
Oh some of them are fair pitchers, and some of them have vast potential. And that largely discounts the injured quartet of starters (Dustin McGowan, Scott Richmond, Shaun Marcum and Jessie Litsch). Of the four, only Marcum and McGowan look likely to be factors in 2010. And neither is likely to be great as they both come off major surgery.
2010 will be about youth and growing up on the job.
That leaves righty Brandon Morrow as the team's ostensible ace. Morrow, first year pick in 2006, is just 25 and has a career record of 8-12 with a 3.86 ERA, 204 strikeouts and 16 saves in 197 2/3 innings of work. He's never started more than 10 games a season in the Majors. Morrow has plenty of upside and could eventually develop into an excellent pitcher, but he has spent most of his career as a reliever and has never pitched 70 innings in a season. That makes overworking him and injury a real possibility as the innings as a starter begin to pile up.
And while the Jays could institute some sort of "Joba Rules" thing, their lack of pitching depth probably precludes asking him to pitch less than 140 innings, a risky proposition for the long haul, especially since their three most likely prospects to make the rotation have pitched only a handful of innings more than Morrow even in the busiest seasons of their careers.
After Morrow the team's best young hurler is probably lefty Ricky Romero -- another first round pick from the 2005 draft who played his first season in the Majors last year and went a pleasant 13-9 with a 4.30 ERA. But those numbers fail to reflect his struggles in the second half of the season when he went 6-6 with a 5.54 ERA. His biggest weakness has been a propensity to yield walks (averages four per game) and then to struggle badly with runners on base (6.84 ERA with runners on). He's a very uncertain commodity going into this season, but with his vast upside, and the Jays lack of more refined starters, Romero will get to have his growing pains at the Major League level. The Jays let him throw almost 180 innings last season, which wasn't a stretch for him as he'd pitched 165 in the minors in 2008.
Marc Rzepczynski, another lefty, is a favorite at the moment to win the fifth starter job this year. Like most of the youngster on the list his Major League experience is severely limited -- just 61 1/3 innings, all as a starter where he compiled a 2-4 record with a 3.67 ERA in 11 starts. He's never thrown more than 121 innings in a season, but he's pitched well at every level, surprising many who thought this fifth round pick would take a few more years to break into the Majors.
Another youngster being thrown into the mix is lefty Brett Cecil, the 38th-overall pick (supplemental round between the first and second round) in 2007, who managed 17 starts for the Jays going 7-4 with a 5.30 ERA. The winning record is deceptive as AL hitters batted .308 against him last year and he yielded 17 home runs in just 93 1/3 innings -- roughly 30 shy of his career high in innings of 118 2/3. His AAA numbers don't suggest that he's ready for any sort of breakout, but he's only 23 going into the season and despite his 11.57 ERA he appears to still be in the mix for a rotation slot.
Opening day pitcher, right hander Shaun Marcum, who didn't pitch a single inning in 2009 as he recovered from Tommy John surgery, is the veteran of the staff with almost 400 innings under his belt and career 24-17 mark. Before he went down in 2008 he was having what appeared to be a breakout year (9-7, 3.39, 1.16 WHIP) but expecting him to come anywhere near that mark this season is unrealistic. Still he's just 28 and his prime years are ahead of him and he could turn into a core pitcher here in Toronto if he can regain his form and doesn't take too much of a step back.
The other starter in the mix is right hander Brian Tallet, who has failed to impress in any of his seven big league seasons. If the Jays do decide to give him a spot this year, they do so because at least one of their youngsters needs some time at AAA and the need someone to eat innings.
But no matter what happens in 2010, the Jays will get to see what a lot of their youngsters can do at this point in their careers. And for new GM Alex Anthopoulos that's what the season should be about -- assessing just what he's got to work with as he tries to build a future for baseball in Toronto. He'll hope there's enough to get him remembered for something other than being the guy who traded Roy Halladay.