The new-look Toronto Blue Jays are the new darlings of the AL East, projected by many to win out over perennial division powerhouses in the Yankees and Red Sox. The infield, which used to rely on Yunel Escobar and Kelly Johnson up the middle, has a new look with new faces in Jose Reyes, Maicer Izturis, and Emilio Bonifacio in place. And the corners have the tantalizing upsides of young star Brett Lawrie and 2012 breakout Edwin Encarnacion. If everything breaks right, the Toronto infield could be one of the best in baseball, despite not being very deep, in 2013.
In 2013, J.P. Arencibia won’t have top prospect Travis d’Arnaud lurking behind him any longer, as d’Arnaud was dealt to the Mets in the R.A. Dickey trade, and that means the everyday catching spot is firmly his. Arencibia is no great shakes with either the glove or the bat, but he does provide power on the regular. Last year, Arencibia mashed 18 homers in just 372 plate appearances, which would make him a pretty valuable fantasy catcher — if his batting average wasn’t quite so terrible. Arencibia’s 2012 batting average of .233 was enough to make even the most power-hungry fantasy owners cringe, and that was an improvement on his 2011 season. If you can live with a poor average in exchange for power and a few RBI, Arencibia could be a decent option in fantasy, far better than his projected backups in Henry Blanco and Josh Thole.
Finally. Edwin Encarnacion had a 2012 season that looked like the culmination of all the hitting potential Encarnacion had been hinting at for years. While he’d never been a bad hitter, Encarnacion exploded for 42 home runs, a 152 wRC+, and even 13 steals. He officially took the title of “Best Hitter on the Blue Jays” away from Jose Bautista, at least for a season. While no one expects Encarnacion to repeat last year’s performance, he’s emerged as a solid option as a lead 1B on any fantasy team, and he’ll hold down the regular job at first while perhaps slumming in the DH slot at times. Behind him, you could probably expect Adam Lind to back him up on his off days, or even Jose Bautista to fill in at first every once in a while.
Maicer Izturis finally looks to have graduated from one of the best utility infielders in baseball to a serviceable starter, now that he’s landed with the Toronto Blue Jays. Izturis doesn’t do any one single thing exceptionally well, but his balanced skill set makes him the front-runner in the competition for the starting second base job with Emilio Bonifacio. His defense may be what eventually lands him the full-time slot, but Izturis can provide value with the bat as well, with double-digit steal potential and good enough contact skills to translate to a batting average between .250 and .290 at best. Unfortunately, I’d expect Izturis to hit low in the Jays’ order, meaning that he won’t rack up runs or RBI, and his power isn’t substantive enough to bring many homers to the Rogers Centre.
In addition, Emilio Bonifacio isn’t a bad player, and is already contending for the starting second base job. A bad month could send Izturis back to his utility role, which would further diminish his fantasy value. Izturis could be a fine deep-league option, but I wouldn’t want to rely on him too much.
New import Jose Reyes is quite the upgrade over previous shortstop Yunel Escobar. Jose may not have repeated his MVP-caliber 2011 season last year in Miami, but he did play well enough to justify the first season of his massive seven-year contract. The fleet shortstop did his usual thing, posting a solid batting average (.287), stealing bases (40 of them), and providing just enough pop (11 HR). He even played in 160 games, his most since 2005. Reyes is a fantasy and real-life force every season, so long as he stays healthy. The turf in Toronto might be his biggest enemy this season, but he’s still an elite player.
Much was expected of Brett Lawrie in 2012, and some would say that the young third baseman didn’t quite live up to the offensive hype. Though his defense was stellar, Lawrie only hit 11 homers, which is just two more than he’d hit in 171 plate appearances the year prior. Currently, Lawrie is dealing with a nagging rib injury, and may not be ready to start the season, but he still provides rare offensive upside from a weaker third base position. He possesses power potential, good speed (13 SB last season) and a favorable ballpark to play in, but he needs to stay healthy enough to get plate appearances, and finish developing as a consistent hitter. Otherwise, the Jays might have to run Emilio Bonifacio or Mark DeRosa out at third base, and that’s hardly an ideal situation.
I guess this is the spot where Adam Lind will slot in more often than not, if or until he proves himself to be an inferior big-league hitter. Despite having a transcendent 2009 season under his belt, Lind has been a below-league-average hitter for most of his career … which is not exactly what one wants from their slugging first baseman. He’s basically a platoon hitter at this point in his career, as he’s painfully ineffective against lefties while only being better-than-acceptable against righties. If he weren’t possessed of a substantive contract, and the Jays had a better in-house option, he’d probably be trying to catch on with the Yankees today. Instead, he’ll ride a decent Spring Training performance to a regular role again this year, looking to make the most of what could be his last chance as a starter.
We’ve already talked about the second base battle, and while Emilio Bonifacio may have a little more fantasy value, I really wouldn’t be surprised if Maicer Izturis is the more “regular” 2B for 2013. That would push Bonifacio to a super-utility role, where he can back up at second, third, short, and center field as needed. Izturis doesn’t really have center field in his wheelhouse, and Bonifacio’s not quite as consistent as Izturis, either with the bat or the second baseman’s glove. But even in a bench role, Bonifacio might be worth owning, given his propensity to steal bases (30 last season) and his positional utility. Even if he’s a super-utility player, he still easily could see 400 PA if healthy, especially given the fragility of Reyes and Lawrie on the left side of the infield.
Mark DeRosa. I just … man, I just … I dunno here. DeRosa has been unable to stay healthy over the past three seasons, and his last remaining baseball skills seem to be taking walks and “playing” many defensive positions. Somehow, this seems to have earned him a spot on the Jays’ 40-man roster and a $750K major-league deal. With Brett Lawrie’s injury hanging on, it may just be that DeRosa is going to be the first guy off the bench at third base, though one might hope that Emilio Bonifacio or even Jose Bautista would get a look first. I won’t even get into DeRosa as backup outfielder, because it’s just too sad. No fantasy value. At all.
I expect Henry Blanco to win the backup catcher spot, even though Josh Thole might be a better hitter. It really doesn’t matter much, though, as neither would be of much fantasy value.
C: J.P. Arencibia
1B: Edwin Encarnacion
2B: Maicer Izturis
SS: Jose Reyes
3B: Brett Lawrie
DH: Adam Lind
Bench: Henry Blanco, Emilio Bonifacio, Mark DeRosa, Rajai Davis