At the beginning of the off-season, it seemed as though Toronto’s rotation was pretty much set in stone, the only things to consider were the order that the pitchers would go. Then came the big shock of sending Shaun Marcum to Milwaukee for Canadian 2B prospect Brett Lawrie. I already said I don’t think Lawrie has a legitimate shot of making the squad out of spring training, and there is now an open spot in the rotation. I imagine that Marcum would have stayed in the #1 spot as he was last year, and had a pretty good year. However, he is gone, and that means, that for only the third time in the last 10 years or so, we will have a new Opening Day starter.
I know that a lot of people have said that Kyle Drabek is a lock in the rotation, but I am not quite sold yet. He could really suck in spring and really struggle, so I think we can only say that there are three guys locked into spots. Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, and Brett Cecil solidified their spots in this year’s rotation. Main competition for the 4 and 5 spots are Drabek, Mark Rzepczynski, Zach Stewart, and Jesse Litsch. Scott Richmond, Brad Mills, Jo-jo Reyes, Deck McGuire, Chad Jenkins will be in camp but I don’t think any of those guys have a real shot.
The case can be made for Brandon Morrow to start on Opening Day. His pure stuff is evidenced by his 17-K 1-hit performance on August 8, 2010 against the Tampa Bay Rays. He is known to have top of the rotation stuff. He can flash a high 90’s fastball, and dial it back to low 90’s with run and sink. He has a devastating breaking ball and a changeup that is starting to come into its own with the work of Bruce Walton’s “everyone must have a changeup” philosophy. That being said, I believe his track record isn’t quite there to be named the ace. Ricky Romero’s win totals, ERA and FIP have improved both years in the big leagues, his K rate and BB rate have improved, and his HR rate has drastically improved. He gets a lot of ground balls and he is a work horse. He is becoming exactly what the Jays expected when he was taken 6th overall in the 2005 draft out of Cal State Fullerton. Morrow and Romero are the same age, and if they both progress, they will be a formidable tandem at the top of the rotation for years to come.
The third spot is owned by Cecil. His numbers have also improved from his rookie season to 2010. His FIP has improved, and although I don’t expect him to win 15 games again, I can see him with 12-13 wins. His K/BB has improved and I think as his ground ball rate improves, he will be a great #3 starter.
After Cecil, it is a relative toss-up. Pretty much everyone has Drabek etched in stone into their projections, but I only have him penciled in, for now. After all, he has 3 major league starts and he jumped up roughly 30 innings from the season prior. He too, has top of the rotation stuff, and projects to be a frontline guy in the relatively near future. I have seen reports that have said he has one of the best breaking balls in all of the minor leagues, so let’s hope this plays out for him at the big league level. Oh yeah, he has good genes; his dad, Doug, won a Cy Young Award in 1990 for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Mark Rzepczynski, or Scrabble, has had minimal success in the big leagues so far, but that is just because of unfortunate circumstances. In 2009, he pitched to a tune of a 3.67ERA in 11 starts. In 2010, he was penciled into the rotation, but due to suffering a broken finger trying to catch a ground ball in spring training, he was set back quite a bit. He never really regained his form, and it was a while until he got called back up. He has been a ground ball machine, getting just over 50% ground balls in is 125 innings in the big leagues. To go along with his high K rate, there is potential here for a pretty good season. His results were mixed, so the Jays sent him off to the prospect rich Arizona Fall League. He simply dominated there. 27 K in 31 innings, only 9 walks, and 4 earned runs, leading to a 1.16 ERA.
Jesse Litsch is an interesting candidate as well. His numbers seem to make him look like a better pitcher than he actually is. His FIP in 2007 was almost 1.5 higher than his ERA, and in 2008, his only full season in the MLB, it was almost a run higher. In the last 2 seasons, he has 11 starts for the Jays, and only 6 more in the minor leagues. His numbers weren’t encouraging either. Litsch is a contact pitcher who doesn’t walk many guys, but also doesn’t strike out many. He has a pretty good 47% career ground ball rate, but also gives up enough homeruns. Seeing as he hasn’t pitched much in the last two years, I don’t see him making an immediate impact in the 2011 season.
Zach Stewart was a reliever in college, and was taken in the 3rd round of the 2008 draft. He came over with EE12 and Josh Roenicke in the Scott Rolen trade. He strikes guys out with a mix of a great fastball and above average slider. A lot of guys have said that he will be a future closer, but for now, the Jays plan on keeping him stretched out to be a starter. I think he needs a bit more time in the minors, improving his control, and working on his changeup. Look for him in 2012 either as a starter or late inning bullpen guy.
So that rounds out the analysis, and here is what I think to be the rotation for the 2011 season:
1 – Ricky Romero
2 – Brandon Morrow
3 – Brett Cecil
4 – Kyle Drabek
5 – Mark Rzepczynski
I like how they alternate handedness in the rotation. Anthopolous has stated that he wants power arms to be able to compete in the tough AL East, and they have at least 3 of them here, as well as guys like Stewart, Deck Mcguire and Chad Jenkins in the minors.
****In the middle of writing this, I find out Napoli is traded for Frank Francisco. Guess I have to make new projections on the lineup now. Will post further updates shortly.