The Blue Jays despite losing their ace and stopper Roy Halladay are actually not in bad shape even though their competition for the rotation is nearly wide-open. They have depth and talent that most organizations would just love to have. In fact, they may end up in a happy bind by mid to late season as their top prospects start pushing for big league jobs.
Spring Training Contenders
Ricky Romero pretty much has one of the top-five spots locked up. The former first-round pick made 29 starts posting a respectable 7.1 K/9 and 4.0 BB/9 and got ground balls over 50|PERCENT| of the time. From a splits perspective, his peripheral numbers were better against left-handed pitchers than right-handed pitchers, but his overall results were the opposite. There is interesting upside here if he can improve his control, particularly against right-handed batters.
Dustin McGowan will be nearly a year and half removed from surgery to repair a torn labrum. Prior to the injury he had ace potential - combing a 95 mph fastball, plus complimentary pitches, and ground ball tendencies. A torn labrum is perhaps the worst and most difficult type of surgery for a pitcher to come back from, so keep a close eye on his velocity and K/9. He could easily start 2010 on the disabled list/extended spring training.
David Purcey entered last spring training on most AL only leaguers' potential breakout candidate lists. Instead the former first round picks' control was erratic in both triple-A and in the majors though at least he did manage a 7+ K/9. He also remains an extreme fly-ball pitcher albeit with an 8.2|PERCENT| HR/FB rate. He has shown better control in previous minor league seasons and must find a way to regain those skills before he can be recommended for pick-up.
Shaun Marcum will be about a year and a half removed from Tommy John surgery by the start of the season putting him on a competitive trajectory for a rotation spot. As with all TJS veterans, the BB/9 is leading indicator to be watching to see the extent of his recovery. Marcum was intriguing in 2007 and 2008 because of his solid strikeout and control skills despite topping out in just the high-eighties with his fastball. When healthy he utilizes a fastball, slider, cutter, curve, and change to good effect. The caveats here are his fly-ball tendencies and high HR/FB rates.
Brian Tallet is one of the few candidates on this list without much upside as a 32-year old with only 31 MLB starts and fewer than 200 total appearances. He is not without strikeout skills at a 6.7 K/9 for his career, but his control has never been a strong point and his career BB/9 is 4.0. He falls into the class of soft-tossing left-hander with his high eighties fastball, cut fastball, and changeup combination. While he does stand a fair chance of once again landing a roster spot it is more than likely he will once again take up the mantle of long-reliever and spot starter.
Scott Richmond lost his rookie status as a 30-year old and produced an ERA over 5.00. He did, however, manage to translate his strikeout skills to the majors posting a 7.6 K/9. However, his control which had been considered above average throughout his minor league career, did not translate as he walked nearly 4 batters per nine innings. He also showed extreme fly-ball tendencies and allowed over 14|PERCENT| of those fly balls turn into home runs. There are the skills and talents for better performance here, but given the number of candidates he will have to turn things around quickly. He might manage winning a spot in a stop-gap situation.
Brett Cecil was another young pitcher at the top of most AL only keeper leaguers' minor leagues draft sheets given a repertoire of two-plus pitches, decent control, and strong ground-ball tendencies. Instead the former college closer performed poorly in triple-A watching his K/9 drop to a sub 6.0. He actually pitched better in the majors, striking out more batters per inning and getting ground balls 43|PERCENT| of the time. In fact a 6.7 K/9 and 3.7 BB/9 is pretty good for a rookie pitcher. His undoing was a .338 BABIP and 15|PERCENT| HR/FB rate, two items that should improve given experience and improving his command in the strike zone. I still wonder if he will develop a good enough third pitch to remain a starter, but this is a pitcher to still watch and not run away from yet just because he posted a 5+ ERA.
Brandon Morrow on the other hand is someone to stay away from. The Mariners kept flip-flopping him between starting and relief and the Blue Jays seem intent on at least giving him a shot to start still despite the fact that he has yet to show he is more than a thrower. He still has a 95 mph fastball and a plus slider that have generated impressive K/9's. Even though the Jays have three closer candidates already on the roster in Frasor, Downs, and Gregg, Morrow has the best stuff of the group and could push his way into contention for such a role. For now he does not throw many balls for strikes and he is also an extreme fly-ball pitcher who has had some difficulty with allowing home runs and is purely a speculative end-game play at the moment.
Marc Rzepczynski, like Romero, pretty much has one of the spots in the rotation locked up after his excellent rookie performance in which he posted an 8.8 K/9 and 3.67 ERA over 61.1 innings. There is room for improvement here given the 4.4 BB/9 he produced compared to his career minor league 3.5 BB/9. He is not a hard thrower, topping out in the high eighties, but has good breaking stuff and compliments it well with a sinker ball and overall induced ground balls more than 50|PERCENT| of the time. Some regression in terms of ERA and WHIP can be expected given his .280 BABIP and a somewhat high left on base percentage, but if he improves his control he could also offset that regression. Right now Rzepczynski is a very viable AL only play and is on course to have a future as a middle of the rotation inning eater type.
Brad Mills made two starts for the Jays in 2009 and has an outside shot at making the rotation. Mills will be 25 when the season starts. He falls into your "crafty left-hander" class. Actually he joins both Rzepcynski and Richmond in that affiliation. He is someone who has been able to generate strikeouts at the minor league level (9.1 for his career) due to good across the board secondary stuff and decent control (3.4 BB/9). He has enough depth of pitches to combat right-handed batters, though his K/9 splits in Triple-A last season show a fairly large split (9.8 lefties, 6.7 righties). He is primarily a ground-ball pitcher too and I think is someone who could slot in nicely in the back end of a rotation given the opportunity. The chances of doing so with Toronto, however, seem a bit slim and he could find himself moved to middle relief or a loogy role where quite frankly he could flourish too.
Dana Eveland was acquired from Oakland just recently. The 26-year old perhaps has the most MLB experience of any rotation candidate listed here and that may give him a leg up. However it is rather difficult to get excited about someone who struck out less than five batters per nine innings and walked more batters than he has struck out. He has, however, performed better than that in the past and remains a ground ball pitcher, but overall he is someone who has yet to establish a track record for success and has had a good deal of difficulty throwing strikes at the MLB level (4.6 BB/9). He could win a starting job with a good spring, but there is no reason to believe he will keep it given his inconsistencies and the other available options the Blue Jays have..
Robert Ray is a journeyman right-handed pitcher who got jumped to the majors with only a single start of triple-A experience. While he managed to translate his above average control over four starts with a 2.2 BB/9, the strikeout skills did not watching his K/9 plummet to a sub 5.0.He is a ground-ball pitcher who can touch the low-nineties and might be best suited to relief given a long history of shoulder trouble including an injury that forced him to miss much of the 2009 season.
Zach Stewart was acquired in the Scott Rolen deal and is already rated as one of the top arms in their system. It is uncertain as to whether or not he will remain a starter after being used solely as a reliever in Triple-A after coming over in the trade. He is a lefty with a plus heavy sinking fastball/slider combination though he has trouble with the consistency of his command with the latter pitch. His changeup gets mixed reviews and will be the critical factor in determining his long-term role, but his upside as a starter or late-inning reliever is exciting and makes him worthy of consideration in minor league drafts.
Luis Perez is not a high-end prospect but is a name worthy of note as someone who will be moving up to triple-A to start 2010. He is a sinker-ball throwing left-hander who does not translate to being a strikeout pitcher in the majors, especially as starter, but has enough stuff between the sinker and his slider to be in the back-end of the rotation or more likely, a middle reliever. For now he is expected to be in the Triple-A rotation and as such could end up getting a few spot starts in the majors this season.
Rei Gonzalez falls into the Luis Perez class of someone without a high upside but who is likely to find himself in the Triple-A rotation. His stuff rates out as average across the board but he has plus command of all his offerings and is able to generate a good deal of ground balls. He could fall into a few spot start opportunities if the stars align just right.
While some might say that the Blue Jays will be pressured to bring up Kyle Drabek since he was the primary pitcher acquired in exchange for Roy Halladay, the pressure may in fact be on the rest of the Blue Jays rotation to perform. Drabek has cruised through the minors and has 14 starts of experience in Double-A and promotion to Triple-A to start 2010 is more than reasonable, so his timetable could in theory be after or just slightly before the All-Star break. This will depend greatly on the development of his change and his effectiveness against lefties. His fastball and especially his curve, however, will insure he makes to the majors, thought it is possible that could be in relief.
So the Jays have quite a few options, some with upside, some who fall more into the inning-eater mode of pitcher. While I like Rzepczynski as probably the safest selection of the group, I might be most interested in Marcum, McGowan, and Cecil as having higher upsides and as perhaps having lower acquisition costs than him. I like Romero's upside as well, but still seem him as a 4's ERA guy unless he makes improvement to his control and command. I would stay away Eveland completely and only pursue Morrow as an end game flier.