Thursday, March 29, 2012

Kan Kyle Keep his Kool?

I wouldn't attribute Dustin McGowan's recent bout of plantar fasciitis to divine intervention.

In fact, quite the contrary -- I'd be far more disposed to a theistic inclination if he stayed healthy for, say, two consecutive months of baseball.

However, there's something almost supernatural in the timing of McGowan's most recent affliction, as it comes at a time when Kyle Drabek looks more primed than ever to claim ownership of a big-league rotation spot.

And considering John Farrell's near-palpable skepticism that McGowan will be ready to go come Opening Day, it is practically a fait accompli that Drabek will get the opportunity for an extended audition with the big-league club. Should McGowan's health problems persist -- and at this point, there's no precedent that suggests they won't -- it's conceivable that Drabek finds himself flirting with the notion of a permanent gig, provided his performance warrants one.

Of course, Spring numbers must be taken with a grain of salt, but Drabek's performance, at the very least, evokes cautious optimism.

Over his last three Grapefruit League appearances, the 24-year-old has allowed just two earned runs in 11.1 innings. In his most recent outing, he held the Yankees scoreless over five innings while striking out five and walking just two.

But more encouraging than numbers is the fact that Farrell has extolled Drabek's " very good emotional control" this Spring. Composure, on even a semi-consistent basis, has thus far eluded Drabek throughout his brief big-league career -- one characterized more by pedigree than performance, and of course, a propensity for emotional outbursts on the mound.

So as Drabek begins to move beyond the incipient stages of his development, it's very encouraging to see -- or at least have Farrell recognize -- emotional maturation. Generally, tenuous emotional composure is not conducive to success on the mound, especially in the AL East.

But it's only appropriate that Drabek get a chance to substantiate the hype this year -- everybody else on the team does.




Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sigh, Snider

Once all the feelings of lachrymose and accusations of myopia subside, you'll realize that the Blue Jays made the right choice in anointing Eric Thames as the Opening Day left-fielder.

I realize this is a tough pill to swallow seeing as the affinity for Travis Snider from both the organization and fan-base is a profound one. He may not incite the same giddiness that Bryce Harper does, but Toronto's love for Travis Snider is still rather transcendent.

The thing about this love, however, is that, for the most part, it's unrequited. In 232 career games over four separate stints, Snider has accumulated a 1.7 WAR rating, a staggering 26.9% strikeout rate, and a meagre .318 wOBA.

And despite a valiant effort from Snider this spring, the Jays brass deemed that Thames is, for now, the right man for the job.

Even if you don't agree with the decision, it's definitely the fair one. Thames did nothing to lose his job. The body of work isn't exactly extensive, but in 82 games last year, Thames accomplished that which has continually eluded Snider throughout his career: he came to work every day and, for the most, performed as expected. By the time October came around, Thames had a .262 average to go along with 12 homeruns and an isolated slugging percentage 70 points higher than Snider. And when you consider the fact that Thames' spring thus far consists of a .333/.380/.511 line, it would've been a superlative injustice not to give him the job.

I sympathize for Snider. I can only imagine the emotional roller-coaster ride that has been his professional baseball career. I mean, even as a fan I've been kept up at night by his offensive volatility. But as much as it pains me to say it, just like a bad relationship, you need to know when to call it quits.

Of course, you never want to concede that the time you've invested and the anguish you've endured went for naught. But when you sift through the sentimentality, you see that Snider is a 24-year-old former-prospect whose development was so egregiously mismanaged that the player he is now bears no resemblance to player he was expected to be.

And there is a part of me that, like any other fan, wants to approach this emotionally rather than empirically. I want Snider to get the job because, well, he's Travis Snider. Before Arencibia, before d'Arnaud, before Gose, there was Snider. He was the first prospect whose professional development I meticulously followed. He was touted as a potential saviour during a period of despair for the Blue Jays. When Delgado was a memory, Wells was battling inconsistency, and Brett Lawrie was still attending Sweet 16 parties, Snider was a reason for optimism.

And the thing is, I don't think he's beyond salvation; he could very well develop into the middle-of-the-order bat that a myriad of analysts projected him to be, but it's hard to envisage him doing that in a Blue Jays uniform. We've reached the point where he needs to face major league pitching every day in order to progress, and with each at-bat in Las Vegas, Snider's development will continue to stagnate. The problem is, it's equally counterproductive to have him and Thames platoon in left-field, with each player receiving 12-14 at-bats per week while mutual resentment begins to fester.

But what really irks me is the temerity of Jays management who suggested a pretense of open competition for left field. With Thames firmly ensconced in left field at the end of 2011, Snider's performance this Spring would've had to be otherworldly to supplant him. Yes, it's good to light a fire underneath a player, but it's cruel to let him burn. And the kicker is, I'm not sure that Alex Anthoupolos is convinced Travis Snider is not his left-fielder of the future.

With only one year of options left on his contract, the time for some prudent decision-making is fast approaching, and it wouldn't shock me if either one of Snider or Thames was out of the organization sometime in the near future.

But whether it's Thames' rippling biceps or Snider's regrettable mustache that's removed from the equation, the fact remains, in baseball as in life, parting is such sweet sorrow.