Blue Jays counting on another big year by Bautista

Perhaps no major leaguer has come as far over the past 12 months

as Jose Bautista.

On opening day 2010 he was a virtual unknown, something of a

journeyman who’d finally found his first full-time job, batting

leadoff for the Toronto Blue Jays.

Fast forward through one incredible 54-homer campaign and he’s

baseball reigning long ball king, owner of a $65 million, five-year

contract and the new face of his team.

But after coming such a long way himself, how far can Bautista

take the Blue Jays?

That’s just one of several questions general manager Alex

Anthopoulos will be asking this season, and the answers will

determine how soon his talented but untested team can contend in

the hyper-competitive AL East.

”It’s going to be interesting. It’s going to be fun to watch,

but there’s no question that there’s a lot of things that will be

answered,” Anthopoulos said.

Bautista was an offensive force in 2010, smashing George Bell’s

club record of 47 homers and more than tripling his previous career

high of 16, set in 2006. His .260 batting average, .378 on-base

percentage, 124 RBIs, 109 runs and 100 walks were all career


Anthopoulos concedes it was a risk to pay big bucks for Bautista

before seeing a repeat performance, but said he’s willing to

tolerate a drop-off.

”He’ll have down months,” Anthopoulos said. ”He might have a

year where he doesn’t perform all that well. But you’re buying into

this for the long term and you have reason to believe he’s going to

be great.

”Prince Fielder has hit 50 home runs before,” Anthopoulos

added. ”He had 32 last year but he was still a very good,

productive player.”

Even with Bautista’s booming bat contributing to a major

league-high 257 homers, the Blue Jays went 85-77 last year and

finished a distant fourth in baseball’s toughest division. They

haven’t made the playoffs since 1993.

Toronto’s changes start on the bench, where rookie manager John

Farrell, plucked away from his job as Boston’s pitching coach, took

over from the retired Cito Gaston.

Farrell made three additions to his staff, bringing in former

Seattle manager Don Wakamatsu as bench coach, naming former Blue

Jays starter Pat Hentgen his bullpen coach and hiring a Boston

acquaintance, Triple-A Pawtucket manager Tory Lovullo, as first

base coach. Still, he retained three of Gaston’s coaches: Brian

Butterfield (third base), Bruce Walton (pitching) and Dwayne Murphy


Besides Bautista, Anthopoulos and Farrell will have plenty of

things to keep their eyes on. There’s a rookie catcher behind the

plate in J.P. Arencibia, last year’s Pacific Coast League MVP. At

first base, young slugger Adam Lind is transitioning to a new

position after playing mostly outfield and DH. On the mound,

right-hander Kyle Drabek, the first prospect from the Roy Halladay

trade to reach the majors, has made an opening-day roster for the

first time.

”We don’t have a long list of players that have had consistent

performances for three or four years in a row,” Anthopoulos said.

”We do know that it’s an incredibly talented group of players and

the group we think is going to be part of winning a championship in

Toronto. But again, they’re young major league players and still

need to establish themselves. Some of them are already starting

but, from my standpoint, you need to do it for a few years before

you’re truly established.”

The Blue Jays will hope for bounce-back years from Lind and

second baseman Aaron Hill after both had big drops in production

last season. They’ll also hope outfielder Travis Snider, limited to

82 games because of injuries, can blossom into the hitter Toronto

has been waiting for.

The starting five will be anchored by lefties Ricky Romero and

Brett Cecil and right-hander Brandon Morrow, three youngsters who

Anthopoulos says took ”great strides” last season. Morrow will

start the season on the disabled list, bumping Drabek up in the


While he admires Drabek’s fire and work ethic, Anthopoulos says

the son of former NL Cy Young Award winner Doug Drabek is still

learning the mental aspect of pitching.

”He’s ultra-competitive and sometimes he needs to learn to

channel his emotions a little bit and not let adversity on the

mound impact him,” Anthopoulos said.

With so much youth around the diamond, the Blue Jays also like

Bautista as a team leader. He’s become one of the most experienced

veterans on the roster after a pair of offseason trades that sent

right-hander Shaun Marcum, Toronto’s opening-day starter in 2010,

to Milwaukee and outfielder Vernon Wells, the highest-paid player

in franchise history, to the Angels.

”We wholeheartedly believe in Jose Bautista as a person, more

than anything else,” Anthopoulos said when the contract was

signed. ”I’ve seen where (long-term) deals have gone awry, maybe

because the bet on the person wasn’t what was expected. If we can’t

bet on (Bautista), we can’t bet on anybody.”