By Jason Menard
True innovation in sports? Overrated. In fact, it’s safe to say that once a winning formula’s been discovered, most teams are more than willing to drink the Kool-Aid.
That bodes well for the Toronto Blue Jays in light of the San Francisco Giants’ recent World Series win, as they’ve already started taking pulls from the same bottle.
The old adage that pitching beats hitting was again proven true in MLB’s playoffs. After years of bulked-up, steroid-induced production from the hitters, baseball’s reverted to form and dominant starting pitching, complemented by excellent situational relievers, solid defense, and passable hitting once again equalled success.
It’s interesting that the Giants, recently only known for Barry Bonds’ bat and baggage, were the team to benefit from embracing the concept of homegrown hurlers. Starting with Matt Cain (drafted 25th overall in 2002), San Francisco put a premium on pitching in the early rounds of the draft, following Cain with Jonathan Sanchez (2004, 27th round), Tim Lincecum (10th overall in 2006), and Madison Baumgarner (10th overall, 2007). Adding in the acquisition of their dyed-bearded closer Brian Wilson (a steal in the 24th round of the 2003 draft), and the foundation for this year’s success was built upon a commitment to stockpiling the mound with homegrown and developed pitching.
All of that should have Toronto Blue Jays fans looking to the future with even more optimism than was created with their surprise performance this season. The Jays drafted six pitchers with their seven picks in the first and second rounds of the 2010 draft – including their first five selections. And while those pitchers likely won’t impact the team for a couple of years at best, a look back at how the current roster has been developed holds out hope that they can follow along the path laid out by the Giants.
The 2007 draft saw the club select Brett Cecil, Brad Mills, and Marc Rzepcynski; 2005 brought Ricky Romero into the fold; 2004 added David Purcey, Zach Jackson, Casey Janssen, and Jesse Litsch to the roster; and Shaun Marcum was a third-round selection in 2003. All but Jackson were on the club’s 40-man roster to end the season, and after stops in Milwaukee and Cleveland (where he was part of the 2008 C.C. Sabathia trade), the lefty’s back in the organization.
This year, the club parlayed Roy Halladay into Kyle Drabek and stole Brandon Morrow from Seattle for Brandon League.
And with that, Alex Anthopoulos – with a deserved nod to the much-maligned former GM J.P. Ricciardi – has stockpiled an impressive collection of starting talent that can grow and develop together into a formidable unit. Will any of them become the next Freak? Who knows? But the club has a collection of young arms that can be used to stock the big-league rotation and be parlayed into other players once the club believes it’s ready for contention.
Not everyone on this list will toe the rubber as a starter, but that doesn’t mean they can’t transition into other roles. The club signed Kevin Gregg as a stop-gap closer to a reasonable contract, with two team options. He’s keeping the closer’s job warm until someone internally – perhaps Purcey — can be developed into a closer. And
But thinking of a rotation comprised of a starting foursome of Drabek, Morrow, Marcum, and Romero, rounded out by any of the aforementioned pitchers stepping up to lay claim to the fifth spot, certainly is a pleasant thought.
And with cornerstone bats like Jose Bautista, Adam Lind, Travis Snider, Aaron Hill, and Vernon Wells, complemented by intriguing prospects like Yunel Escobar and J.P. Arencibia, there may just be enough to turn the idea of early contention from a dream into a reality.
It’s been a long time since Toronto can legitimately look at itself in the mirror and see promise. For the next couple of years, it looks like the club has stockpiled enough arms to capably lift them into a pennant race.
And by following the Giants’ blueprint on the mound Toronto may enjoy its own San Francisco treat sooner rather than later.