The 2003 Toronto Blue Jays are many times deeper, at the big-league level, in AAA and throughout the organization, than they were a year ago. The everyday lineup against RH starters is just about carved in stone, with only the batting order uncertain, and many attractive options there for Carlos Tosca (and us) to ponder.
In 2002, the pitching plan was Carpenter, Halladay and three rainy days. That's also improved. Doc, Cory Lidle and Tanyon Sturtze are set, and there will be a battle royal among many qualified candidates for the other two rotation spots.
I've set my crystal ball a few weeks ahead, but I can't quite make out who that is on the end of the bench in the dugout or the bullpen. Perhaps you can help.
Let's start with pitching. And let's go no further than Mark Hendrickson, for reasons I'm about to explain. It's tempting to hand the giant lefty a rotation spot, and I think he's up to the task. But that would leave Doug Creek as the lone southpaw reliever, so Jason Kershner, Scott Wiggins or a LOOGY to be named later would bump a deserving righty from the bullpen. I'm sure there are supporters within the organization, and among BB-ers, for the idea of using Hendrickson as the (very) long lefty in the 'pen, and going with five RH starters. That's just one of the questions that remain to be answered in Florida.
Doug Linton, Justin Miller and Pete Walker are considered the other candidates to start, and like Hendrickson, are virtually assured of bullpen assignments if they aren't in the rotation. To me, that's the real tussle in camp, and opinion is divided on Miller's readiness or suitability to start, so he faces the most pressure of the three to impress.
Returnees Escobar and Politte and newcomers Creek and Jeff Tam are assured of bullpen jobs, and unless he disappoints, so is Rule 5 draftee Aquilino Lopez, who gets people out. Someone mentioned a preference for an 11-man staff, but especially in April, and considering they have to keep Lopez on the 25-man, I'm sure they will go with 12 pitchers. A figurative cast of thousands will be auditioning for roles that just aren't available -- Corey Thurman, Mike Smith, Josh Towers, Brian Bowles, Scott Cassidy, Bob File, Vinny Chulk, Evan Thomas, Trever Miller, Tim Young, Pasqual Coco, Jason Arnold, Dave Bush and many others will really be trying to establish a next-in-line pecking order. Competition is a wonderful thing, compared to the desperation of last April.
Among position players, the equivalent to Hendrickson as a victim of his own versatility may be Jayson Werth. In the Jays' long-range plans, with Gross in RF, Griffin in LF, Phelps at 1B, Cash at C, Werth may never be more than a valuable utility man. He could begin that role in 2003, or be sent to Syracuse to work on his hitting. I'm confident that Ken Huckaby will be odd man out at C, leaving a Myers-Wilson platoon. Josh Phelps could strap on the tools in an emergency, so Werth's third-catcher status isn't the deciding factor in his immediate future. It's an organizational decision based on what's best for his development.
There are only 13 hitting spots. Bordick and Berg (who can play RF, don't forget) have jobs. If Werth is farmed out, who gets the final spot? Sorry, Dewayne Wise, you're an exciting defensive player, but you hit from the wrong side, and not hard enough or often enough. Howie Clark is a lot like Catalanotto, only not quite as good. I think it's between Werth and Bruce Aven, unless the Jays do well enough in the arbitration wars with Stewart and Escobar to sign another righty-swinging corner OF from the increasingly anxious free agent pool.
Just wondering; is there another MLB team entering spring training with as few, and as relatively insignificant, questions to be answered?