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2012 Fantasy outlooks: Toronto Blue Jays

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The Blue Jays went 81-81 last season, marking the sixth time in seven seasons that they won at least 80 games. And yet they haven't reached the playoffs in 18 years. Their tale isn't one of futility, though. By acquiring closer Sergio Santos in the offseason, general manager Alex Anthopoulos gave an optimistic assessment of the team's progress: After two years of purging bad contracts and accumulating draft picks, it's ready to take the next step forward.

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And somewhere in its tangled mess of arms and outfielders, it should have the pieces in place to do so. The Blue Jays' ongoing project this season will be to appraise the underachieving ex-prospects -- such as Colby Rasmus and Travis Snider -- and overachieving minor-leaguers -- such as Eric Thames and David Cooper -- to determine which ones are legitimate building blocks for the future.

If nothing else, their middle of the lineup is already intact. Jose Bautista followed up his fairy tale rise to superstar status in 2010 with an even better 2011. Joining him as a cornerstone of the franchise is third baseman Brett Lawrie, who lived out a fairy tale of his own last year by giving his best Mike Schmidt impression once he reached the big leagues. For Fantasy owners, the two should be among the hottest commodities on Draft Day, with Lawrie closing in on the elite class of third basemen and Bautista a possibility for the first overall pick.

The Blue Jays have as much to sort through in the starting rotation, where only Ricky Romero has established himself as a legitimate front-liner. Beyond Brandon Morrow and Henderson Alvarez, the questions abound, but with Kyle Drabek, Deck McGuire and Drew Hutchison waiting in the wings and a whole slew of higher-upside arms in the lower levels of the minors, the Blue Jays have the means to fill whatever holes develop.

The hard part is over. The talent is there. Now, they just have to figure out how to make the most of it.

Breakout ... Brandon Morrow, SP

By the most superficial accounts, Morrow took a step backward last year, his ERA rising from 4.49 to 4.72. But before you dismiss him as a lost cause condemned to perpetual mediocrity, consider all he did right. He lowered his WHIP to 1.29 by improving both his hit rate and, more importantly, his walk rate, which checked in at a palatable 3.5 per nine innings, and yet his strikeout rate was still tops in the AL. Best of all, he continued his steady accumulation of innings, putting him in a position to cross the 200 threshold for the first time this season. So why don't more Fantasy owners care? Apparently, somebody decided that last year was supposed to be Morrow's breakout year, inflating his draft value and setting up the Fantasy-playing world for disappointment. Coming off a 146-inning season and with the same control issues as always, he wasn't ready to make the leap to elite status last year. Now that he is, he's actually more affordable to Fantasy owners.

Bust ... J.P. Arencibia, C

Arencibia was one of five catchers to hit 20-plus homers last year, and he did it as a rookie. But before visions of Mike Piazza start dancing in your heads, keep in mind he was especially old for a rookie, turning 25 before the start of the season. He's 26 now, which means he's already in the thick of his prime, which means what you see with him might be exactly what you get. And it's even worse than it looks. Arencibia hit only .219 in 2011, which is discouraging enough, but when you consider he got worse over the course of the season, hitting .199 over the final four months, you have to wonder if his excessive strikeout rate makes him a sitting duck against major-league pitching. And considering the Blue Jays' top prospect is a catcher (Travis D'Arnaud) nearing major-league age (23), Arencibia might have a shorter leash than you think. He's fine as a second catcher in mixed leagues, but he'll get drafted in most as more.

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Sleeper ... Henderson Alvarez, SP

Alvarez wasn't considered a high-profile prospect at this time last year, so understandably, his 10 starts during a late-season trial weren't enough to put him on most Fantasy owners' radars. But consider just how impressive those 10 starts were. Better yet, consider how impressive his final eight were. He pitched at least six innings in each, posting a 3.06 ERA and 1.06 WHIP. He also issued only six walks during that stretch. Six. In 53 innings. And this isn't some soft-tosser who took the league by surprise simply by throwing strikes, a la Zach Duke in 2005. Alvarez throws in the mid-90s. He has top-of-the-rotation stuff to go along with a good feel for the strike zone and has already tasted success in the heavy-hitting AL East. The 21-year-old won't be a workhorse or anything -- not at this stage of his career -- but for the price of a late-round pick, he's a good bet to outperform his draft position.

2012 Toronto Blue Jays outlook
Projected Lineup Pos. Projected Rotation
1 Yunel Escobar SS 1 Ricky Romero LH
2 Eric Thames LF 2 Brandon Morrow RH
3 Jose Bautista RF 3 Henderson Alvarez RH
4 Brett Lawrie 3B 4 Brett Cecil LH
5 Adam Lind 1B 5 Dustin McGowan RH
6 Edwin Encarnacion DH Alt Kyle Drabek RH
7 Colby Rasmus CF
Bullpen Breakdown
8 J.P. Arencibia C CL Sergio Santos RH
9 Kelly Johnson 2B SU Francisco Cordero RH
Top bench options RP Jason Frasor RH
R Rajai Davis OF RP Darren Oliver LH
R Ben Francisco OF RP Casey Janssen RH
Rookies/Prospects Age Pos. 2011 high Destination
1 Travis D'Arnaud 23 C Double-A Triple-A
Unfortunately, D'Arnaud broke out in the minors the same year that Arencibia broke through to the majors. D'Arnaud is better, but he'll need help to debut in 2012.
2 Anthony Gose 21 OF Double-A Triple-A
Gose's numbers finally began to live up to his unbelievable tools last year. His blazing speed will make him a Fantasy asset even if he never refines his approach.
3 Deck McGuire 22 SP Double-A Double-A
The 2010 first-rounder doesn't profile as a Cy Young winner, but he's about as safe as pitching prospects get. He could arrive midseason, so stay tuned, AL-only owners.
4 Jacob Marisnick 21 OF Class A Class A
Marisnick is still a ways away, but he's looking like an offensive force, hitting for average and power with plenty of speed. He's sort of an under-the-radar keeper.
5 David Cooper 25 1B Majors Double-A
Cooper hit .364 in the minors last year, but his major-league showing wasn't so hot. His lack of power limits his appeal, but he'll be in the DH discussion this year.
Best of the rest: Noah Syndergaard, SP; Justin Nicolino, SP; Drew Hutchison, SP; Aaron Sanchez, SP; Asher Wojciechowski, SP; Adeiny Hechavarria, SS; Joel Carreno, RP; A.J. Jimenez, C; Danny Farquhar, RP; Chad Beck, RP; Chad Jenkins, SP; Moises Sierra, OF; and Michael Crouse, OF.
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Player News
David Hale takes loss Wednesday vs. Dodgers
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:47 am ET) Braves pitcher David Hale was stuck with a loss Wednesday, giving up one earned run on three hits in one-plus innings in his team's 3-2 defeat against the Dodgers.

Hale (3-3) gave up a two-out single in the ninth inning but was able to escape the frame unscatched. He then surrendered a leadoff single in the 10th and watched the runner move into scoring position on a wild pitch. The next batter delivered a walkoff single to end the game. Hale owns a 2.76 ERA and 31:26 K:BB ratio in 65 1/3 innings.


J.P. Howell picks up win Wednesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:45 am ET) Dodgers pitcher J.P. Howell walked two batters and struck out one while tossing a scoreless inning and earning a win in his team's 3-2, 10-inning victory over the Braves.

Howell (3-3) had issued just one walk in July coming into Wednesday, though it came one day earlier. He was able to work around his free passes to deliver a scoreless 10th inning before his team picked up a walkoff win in the bottom half of the inning. Howell owns a 1.22 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 36:18 K:BB ratio in 37 1/3 innings.


Alex Wood strikes out eight vs. Dodgers Wednesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:41 am ET) Braves pitcher Alex Wood didn't factor into Wednesday's decision after giving up one earned run on six hits and two walks in seven innings and striking out eight in his team's 3-2 loss to the Dodgers.

Wood surrendered a solo home run in the second to tie the game 1-1, and it turned into a pitchers' duel after that. It was an excellent rebound effort after giving up 12 hits and five runs in his last outing. Wood owns a 3.30 ERA and 102:26 K:BB ratio in 103 2.3 innings. He's scheduled to face the Mariners Tuesday.


Zack Greinke strikes out 13 in no-decision vs. Braves
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:41 am ET) Dodgers pitcher Zack Greinke didn't factor into the decision Wednesday, giving up one earned run on five hits and one walk and striking out a season-high 13 batters in his team's 3-2 win over the Braves.

Greinke tossed seven scoreless innings while striking out 10 in his last start, and he kept on rolling Wednesday, with his only damage coming on an infield single in the second inning. He owns a 2.65 ERA and 153:29 K:BB ratio in 139 1/3 innings. Greinke is slated to face the Angels Monday.


Kenley Jansen blows save Wednesday vs. Braves
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:41 am ET) Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen blew a save opportunity Wednesday, giving up one earned run on one hit in one inning of action in his team's 3-2 win over the Braves.

Jansen hadn't allowed an earned run in 13 appearances going into Wednesday's game, but he served up a game-tying home run to Justin Upton to lead off the inning. He was able to retire the next three batters, though he didn't strike out any of them. Jansen owns a 3.27 ERA and 68:13 K:BB ratio in 44 innings.


Justin Upton slugs 19th home run Wednesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:40 am ET) Braves outfielder Justin Upton had a big game Wednesday, going 3 for 4 with a double and a solo home run in his team's 3-2 loss to the Dodgers.

After the Dodgers took a 2-1 lead in the top of the ninth, Upton came through with a no-doubt, leadoff home run in the bottom of the inning to tie the game. While it was just his third home run in July, Upton has hit .287/.354/.511 with 19 home runs, 62 RBI and seven stolen bases in 376 at-bats.


Matt Kemp homers, knocks walkoff single Wednesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:40 am ET) One day after smacking two home runs, Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp went 3 for 4 with a walk, a home run and two RBI in his team's 3-2, 10-inning win over the Braves Wednesday.

Kemp smacked a solo home run in the second inning and scored a run in the eighth before coming up big in the 10th, collecting his third hit of the game and sending his team home with a win. He has delivered three straight multihit performances and is 17 for 35 with six walks in his last nine games. His hot stretch has bolstered his line, and he's hitting .288/.353/.465 with 11 home runs, 46 RBI and five stolen bases in 343 at-bats.


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Venable was just 1 for 14 in his last five games heading into Wednesday. He put his team up 4-0 with an RBI single in the fourth inning and capped off an eight-run seventh inning with a three-run home run. Venable has hit .212/.264/.306 with four home runs, 21 RBI and six stolen bases in 288 at-bats.


Jedd Gyorko homers, drives in four in big night Wednesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:24 am ET) Padres second baseman Jedd Gyorko delivered a big performance Wednesday, going 3 for 5 with a double, a home run and four RBI in his team's 12-1 win over the Cardinals.

Gyorko slapped a solo home run in the fourth inning, but his big hit came during an eight-run seventh, when Gyorko smacked a double with the bases loaded to drive in three. He's 6 for 11 in three games since returning from a lengthy absence caused by plantar fasciitis. Gyorko has hit .181/.232/.302 with six home runs and 29 RBI in 215 at-bats.


Jesse Hahn tosses seven one-run innings in win Wednesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:24 am ET) Padres pitcher Jesse Hahn earned a win Wednesday, giving up just one earned run on four hits and two walks in seven innings and striking out three in his team's 12-1 victory over the Cardinals.

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