01/31/2003 9:04 pm ET
Blue Jays Spring Training Rundown
By Spencer Fordin / MLB.com
Spring Training preview
MLB Radio preview
Dunedin Stadium at Grant Field
78-84, third in AL East
2002 Hitting leaders
SB: Stewart, 14
(min. 200 at-bats)
Avg: Josh Phelps, .309
OBP: Carlos Delgado, .406
SLG: Phelps, .562
Runs: Shannon Stewart and Delgado, 103
RBIs: Delgado, 108
Hits: Stewart, 175
2B: Eric Hinske and Stewart, 38
3B: Stewart, 6
HR: Delgado, 33
2002 Pitching leaders
(min. 30 IP)
IP: Roy Halladay, 239.1
W: Halladay, 19
L: Esteban Loaiza, 10
Win %: Mark Hendrickson (3-0), 1.000
S: Kelvim Escobar, 38
ERA: Hendrickson, 2.45
K: Halladay, 168
K/9: Escobar, 9.81
WHIP: Cliff Politte, 0.99
Projected starting lineup
LF Shannon Stewart
3B Eric Hinske
CF Vernon Wells
1B Carlos Delgado
DH Josh Phelps
RF Frank Catalanotto
SS Chris Woodward
2B Orlando Hudson
C Greg Myers
1. Roy Halladay
2. Cory Lidle
3. Tanyon Sturtze
4. Mark Hendrickson
5. Pete Walker or Justin Miller
LH setup man: Doug Creek
RH setup man: Cliff Politte
Closer: Kelvim Escobar
Spring Cleaning: Five questions that need to be answered
1. After Roy Halladay, will the Jays get enough out of their starting rotation?
The Jays brought in Cory Lidle and Tanyon Sturtze to back up Halladay and eat up innings. Between those three, Toronto should get 600 innings, which would seriously reduce the strain on the bullpen. After that, the Jays will depend on two of the following inexperienced pitchers: Mark Hendrickson, Justin Miller and Pete Walker. Even if Lidle has a breakout season and Sturtze rebounds from a terrible 2002, the back of the rotation will be key in Toronto's ultimate success or failure.
2. Can Eric Hinske avoid the sophomore jinx?
Hinske, last year's AL Rookie of the Year, is actually a solid bet to improve in his second season. As his comfort level increases, so should his production -- a scary proposition for AL pitchers. The third baseman is already one of Toronto's hardest working players, so the extra attention shouldn't really affect him. He's always in the weight room or taking extra fielding practice or doing something to improve his game. He's not content to be a good player -- he wants to be a great one. Hinske may be expected to emerge as one of the best third basemen in baseball.
3. Can Carlos Delgado return to All-Star status?
Delgado has established himself as the best power hitter in franchise history, and he's done so with consistency. He has hit at least 30 homers and driven in more than 100 runs in each of the last five seasons, putting him in elite company. Having said that, his numbers have dropped off substantially since his career year in 2000, when he finished fourth in the AL MVP balloting. Nestled in the middle of the batting order, Delgado seems primed for another big year.
4. Is Josh Phelps for real?
All indications point to Phelps being a Major League difference-maker, and sooner rather than later. The Blue Jays were patient with his development, allowing him the proper time to get comfortable at each level of the minor leagues before his promotion. As a result, Phelps became the MVP of the Southern League (Double-A) and was well on his way to an MVP campaign in the International League (Triple-A) before he joined the Blue Jays. As a big leaguer, Phelps may not be a finished product yet, but he will hold his own and get better as he gains experience. Expect a lot of home runs and a lot of strikeouts from the young slugger.
5. Will Shannon Stewart still be a Blue Jay after the All-Star break?
Stewart and the Blue Jays are currently headed for arbitration, and there's a major gap between the two proposals. This will be the leadoff batter's last season before he becomes eligible for free agency, which means the Jays will face an interesting midseason decision. Can they sink a substantial amount of money into Stewart, even with the financial restrictions surrounding the team? Can they risk losing him as a free agent without getting anything in return? He has proven to be a valuable asset at the top of the lineup -- the only remaining question is how much Toronto can afford to keep him there.
New faces: Players acquired via trade or free agency
RHP Cory Lidle -- Lidle was the team's main acquisition this winter, and big expectations are being heaped onto his sturdy shoulders. With a little run support, Lidle could win 15 games in 2003, which would represent his career high. For one month last season, he was the best pitcher in baseball. Lidle went 5-0 with an incredible 0.20 ERA in the month of August, and he was 6-3 with a 2.69 ERA for the second half of the season. If he can find some consistency behind Halladay, Lidle may well be ready for the best season of his career.
RHP Tanyon Sturtze -- Sturtze is coming off a nightmare of a season, in which he lost 18 games and notched a 5.18 ERA. In 224 innings, Sturtze allowed a league-leading 271 hits. He was much more effective in the two seasons before that, though, so the Toronto braintrust is cautiously optimistic. If he can cut a run off his ERA and win 10 games, he will validate that sentiment.
RF Frank Catalanotto -- Catalanotto will be counted on to provide some offensive punch in right field, a position that was a statistical black hole for Toronto last season. Both Raul Mondesi and Jose Cruz Jr. had subpar seasons, so just about anything Catalanotto does will be an improvement. Of minor concern is one simple fact -- Catalanotto has only played 16 career games at the position, but he's confident that he'll be able to make a clean transition. He's also excited about playing on turf, and he thinks it's a perfect surface for his style of hitting.
SS Mike Bordick -- The veteran infielder will provide wisdom and guidance for Toronto's young infield, which could sorely use a lot of both. Toronto's middle infielders have a lot of talent but little experience, and Bordick should be able to speed their growth process. He still can contribute in the field, but he's coming in with the understanding that he will play in a reserve role. Of course, should an injury occur, Bordick is an excellent insurance policy. Just last season, he set a Major League record for shortstops by playing in 110 consecutive games without making an error.
RHP Chris Carpenter
Carpenter, a former first-round pick by the Jays, signed with the St. Louis Cardinals. Carpenter is coming off surgery to the labrum in his throwing shoulder and probably won't be able to pitch until midseason, at best. Last year, he was Toronto's Opening Day starter, but a few separate stints on the disabled list spoiled his season.
OF Jose Cruz Jr.
Due for a possible $5 million payday through arbitration, Cruz was non-tendered by the Blue Jays and set free to find a new team. He recently signed with San Francisco, a team that had tried hard to acquire him via trade in the last six months. Just two seasons ago, Cruz was the AL's only 30-30 man. He was hampered by injuries in 2002.
RHP Esteban Loaiza
Loaiza was erratic in 2002, and recently signed a minor league contract with the Chicago White Sox. Loaiza, who started for the Jays on Opening Day in 2001, grossly underachieved during his Toronto tenure. He was given a multimillion dollar contract by the previous regime, but finished with a 25-28 record with a 4.96 ERA as a Blue Jay.
Returning from injury
The Blue Jays are blessed with a pretty healthy team, and Frank Catalanotto is the only player returning from an injury-marred season. Catalanotto struggled with a back injury last season, and once he recovered from that, his year was ended by a fastball that broke a hand. Two years ago, the only season in his career that he got more than 400 at-bats, Catalanotto finished fifth in the AL with a .330 batting average.
New kids on the block: Prospects to watch
LHP Mark Hendrickson
The southpaw starter was tremendous in a brief September audition, winning three of his four starts down the stretch. He posted a 0.92 ERA during the final month of the season, which was the top mark in the AL. He stacks up as a leading candidate for the fourth rotation slot, but it's hard to project if he's ready for that role. Hendrickson has thrown less than 40 innings as a Major Leaguer, a number he may top by mid-May.
OF Jayson Werth
Werth, a former catcher, was impressive during a September callup, but the Toronto braintrust wants him to play everyday. The Jays will take a long look at him in Spring Training, but he will likely start the season at Triple-A Syracuse. Werth is blessed with above-average athletic skills as well as good plate discipline and power, and he may be ready for Major League action by the All-Star break.
C Kevin Cash
Without question, Cash is Toronto's catcher of the future. The organization raves about his defensive ability -- throwing arm and game instincts included. He needs to work on his strike judgment and batting average, but he will probably be able to hit for power when he does make it to the Majors. The current prognosis for Cash is a promotion to Toronto shortly after the All-Star break.
RHP Jason Arnold
Arnold, a top-notch pitching prospect, came over to Toronto in a four-way trade during the Winter Meetings. He has breezed through the minor leagues thus far, posting a 20-6 record with a 2.28 ERA. Arnold already has excellent control and good strikeout numbers, but he still needs some more seasoning. He is a darkhorse to break Spring Training with the parent club, and will likely start at Double-A New Haven. If he succeeds there, he will be promoted to Syracuse early in the season and perhaps come up to the parent club by September.
On the rebound
Before 2002, Sturtze had a winning record for his career, and the Jays would settle for a reasonable facsimile of his 2001 statistics. In that season, Sturtze went 11-12 with a 4.42 ERA for Tampa Bay. With a better offense supporting him and a better defense behind him, that's a reasonable projection.
He was counting on being able to follow up 2001 with a strong season, but he was limited to just 68 games last year. In 212 at-bats, he hit for the lowest average (.269) of his brief career. His on-base percentage (.364) was still solid, though, and he will fit in well with Toronto's lineup. Given 500 at-bats, Catalanotto is a good bet to hit .300 and score 80 runs.
The bottom line
There is a palpable sense of optimism running through Toronto, largely because of the way the Jays stormed through the second half of last season. The everyday players are more or less set, barring any further trades, but the team needs to set an effective batting order. There are also a few questions regarding the starting rotation, but that's a situation that should be easily settled during Spring Training. When you look at the big picture, this much is certain: The Blue Jays are much better off than they were last year at this time. Now, they need to make sure that translates to the final standings.
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.