2014 Toronto Blue Jays Preview: Fantasy Baseball 30-for-30

2014 Toronto Blue Jays Preview

The last two offseasons for the Toronto Blue Jays have been stark in contrast. Last year was all splash, with GM Alex Anthopolous active in both the trade and free-agent markets. This year, the team was content to stand pat while letting a few contracts walk out the door.

True to their nature, the Canadian club pushed plenty of runs across the plate in 2013 – their 712 runs scored were ninth in Major League Baseball and 185 home runs were good for fourth. Overall, though, the 2013 Blue Jays season was a disappointment (you’ll recall Vegas installed the Jays as offseason favorites to win the World Series).

But there were a few Fantasy bright spots – Edwin Encarnacion and a hot month from Colby Rasmus, for example – amidst the poor individual seasons that contributed to an AL East worst 74-88 record.

The team as a whole was inconsistent, as is evident from the fact that Adam Lind led the squad in average (.288) despite the fact that he still can’t hit a lefty to save his life (.208/.240/.333).

On the mound, injuries were commonplace – Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey managed full seasons, but that was it from the Opening Day starting rotation, and Dickey (4.21 ERA/1.24 WHIP) severely underwhelmed in his first season with the club.

Projected 2014 Toronto Blue Jays “Go-To” Lineup

Jose Reyes, 2014 Toronto Blue Jays Preview

There’s no arguing that SS Jose Reyes is a great talent, but he has played in over 135 games just once in the past five seasons. Even so, he’s worth a risk in 2014. Photo Credit: Keith Allison

  1. Jose Reyes, SS
  2. Melky Cabrera, LF
  3. Jose Bautista, RF
  4. Edwin Encarnacion, 1B
  5. Adam Lind, DH
  6. Colby Rasmus, CF
  7. Brett Lawrie, 3B
  8. Dioner Navarro, C
  9. Ryan Goins, 2B

Projected Pitchers

  1. R.A. Dickey
  2. Mark Buehrle
  3. Brandon Morrow
  4. J.A. Happ
  5. Kyle Drabek

Other starters to know: Marcus Stroman, Todd Redman, Drew Hutchison, Esmil Rogers

Setup men: Sergio Santos, Steve Delabar

Closer: Casey Janssen

Fantasy Studs: Jose Reyes, Edwin Encarnacion

Had he qualified, Reyes would have been the Blue Jays’ leading batter, posting a .296 average in 382 at-bats. With 10 home runs, 58 runs scored, 37 RBI and 15 steals, Reyes provided reasonably strong value across the five standard Rotisserie categories when he was on the field.

Early season promise (the shortstop hit .395 in the 10 games before his injury) was lost with a significant ankle injury suffered stealing second base on April 12, missing two full months. Still, Reyes played 160 games in 2012 and his injury last season wasn’t necessarily a question of durability. He showed no serious signs of regression, and factors in atop a lineup that is poised to score runs in bunches again this year. I wouldn’t bank on a significant uptick in power numbers, but another season around .300 with 80+ runs, 60 RBI and 25-35 steals is well within range. Reyes should be among the top three shortstops taken in your draft, just as he was last year.

Encarnacion followed his breakout 2012 season (42 HR) with a 36 homer campaign that featured 104 RBI and 90 runs scored, while slashing .272/.370/.534. All those figures were down year over year compared to 2012, but they were strong enough to finish among the top performers at his position.

Don’t pay for a progression here – this is a 30-year-old veteran, not a surprise breakout player – but Encarnacion’s 2013 peripherals were encouraging enough to suggest he can sustain the production this year.

Toronto’s projected cleanup hitter posted a 21.6% line-drive rate last year — the highest mark since his rookie season in 2005, and had a 1.32 BB/K ratio — by far the highest in his career. Both figures suggest legitimate progression, and bode well for maintenance of his counting stats this year.

Breakout Candidate: Colby Rasmus

Rasmus flashed the potential that prompted a 2011 trade for his rights in spurts in 2013. He finished with a batting average 50 points ahead of his 2012 line (.276 to .223), while knocking 49 extra-base hits in just 458 at-bats. He was on fire in July, too, before suffering the first of a series of nagging injuries that would derail his campaign.

Rasmus slashed .371/.413/.588 that month, and while a 30-day segment is an arbitrary line to draw, the string of production shows that the center fielder is a capable hitter when dialed in. He’s likely to stay streaky, and has hit above .251 just one other time in his career.  Those paying attention to BABIP would suggest he’s in for a regression after hitting nearly 100 points better in that category year over year. But  a .250 average with 30-HR potential will play just fine for a player expected to be drafted outside of the top-50 outfielders.

Sleeper Candidates: Brett Lawrie, Brandon Morrow

Lawrie, the homegrown Canadian talent, has fallen off the starting 3B radar in 12-team Fantasy leagues, and deservedly so. After an enticing 43-game cameo in 2011, the 24-year-old has been long on energy, but short on production.

Last year’s meager .712 OPS represents two straight years of decline in the area. Still, his walk percentage was slightly up and his strikeout percentage was slightly down, indicating that the still developing corner man progressed in his plate discipline last year. This is a player who is still growing into the role of a big leaguer (if you watched one of the 20 or so games in which he threw a temper tantrum last year you’d agree). Lawrie offers significant post-hype value as a result. He won’t cost you much at the draft table, and could easily deliver mid-to-low end 3B numbers in 12-team leagues.

It feels like it has “been the year” for Morrow every year this decade, so I won’t spend a ton of time trying to convince you that 2014 really is the season that it all comes together. But Morrow is just one year removed from a season that included a 2.96 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 7.8 strikeouts per nine innings.

Morrow discovered something in 2012, including a changeup that he threw 12.1% of the time compared to 6.2% while trying to overpower hitters in the prior year. Morrow missed most of last year with a nerve issue, but is set to report to camp fully healthy. A return to his 2012 numbers would be a stretch but he’s got the stuff to strike out 170-plus batters and post an ERA in the mid-threes, if he can get a full season together.

Brett Lawrie, 2014 Toronto Blue Jays

Blue Jays 3B Brett Lawrie has been a disappointment in his three major-league seasons. But he’s still just 24 years old. Photo Credit: Keith Allison

Bust Candidate: Jose Bautista

Speaking of hot tempered Blue Jays, it feels like Bautista is slowly becoming more bluster than bomber. Last year’s 28 homers in 450 at-bats play just fine for power numbers, but the 33-year-old outfielder has missed a combined 114 games over the last two seasons and isn’t delivering anywhere near the level of production he did during a sterling 2011 season.

If Bautista gets you 140 games, bust may be too strong a label for a player who is a good bet to hit 30 home runs. But with questions of durability and waning production, it’s time to wonder if he is on the downswing of his career.

Top Rookies: Marcus Stroman

Marcus Stroman is a starting pitcher worth keeping an eye on this year. There is some talk that he could break camp with the fifth spot in the rotation locked down. But the reality is that the 22-year-old right-hander who has never thrown a pitch above Double-A is probably in line for some additional seasoning.

Still, after posting a 3.30 ERA and 10.4 K/9 ratio in 111 innings last year, the smallish (5-foot-9) pitcher doesn’t fit the bill of a typical power pitcher. But he boasts a fastball that he can throw at 96 mph, a collection of offspeed and breaking pitches, and strong control. Whether he can demonstrate a strong third pitch will go a long way to his 2014 viability. But without proven options at No. 5 in the rotation, he should get a chance to pitch with the big club this year and if you believe the hype, you’ll like the results.

The outlook changes slightly if the Jays land Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jiminez or another arm. But in any case, Stroman should find his way to pitching some meaningful innings this season.

What You Should Know: 2014 Toronto Blue Jays

The pitching will again be the weak spot of the 2014 Blue Jays, a fact that won’t be aided by their presence in the AL East. The fact that they set up shop in one of the more run/home-run friendly parks in the majors doesn’t help either.

You won’t want to own a lot of the 2014 Toronto Blue Jays pitchers this year, but there is value to be had with most of their starting lineup on offense. Don’t overpay for anyone, but at the right price point, there are worse things than being attached to a player like Rasmus or Lawrie in a lineup that has finished inside the top 10 in runs scored in four of the last five seasons.

At Fantasy Sports Locker Room, we aim to take you “inside the locker room,” providing the type of insight that goes beyond perfunctory analysis to give a true picture of how things are shaking out with the real clubs, and how it relates to Fantasy results.

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