Jays prolific beat writer Jordan Bastian never seems to struggle for things to write about, no matter how little Jays news there is. Anyway, Bastian checks in this week with a series of articles on the Jays' rotation hopefuls. Since we've been discussing projections for the Jays starters and the likely makeup of the rotation, I figure we'd mirror Bastian's articles and put forward what we expect from each of these pitchers.
Bastian's first article is on Bluebird Banter long-time favourite Casey Janssen, and, while not breaking any news, per se, it has a few choice nuggets:
"There's nothing holding him back," Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi said last week. "He's ready to go."
Janssen has been medically cleared to go into Spring Training like any other pitcher after a March 2008 operation to repair what Bastian refers to as a "slight tear" in Casey's labrum. JP has said that, assuming Casey is able to take the ball every fifth day, he will be pitching as a starter and is not a candidate to pitch in the 2009 bullpen.
There's no doubt that Janssen has a tough road ahead of him, as does any pitcher returning from a serious shoulder surgery. However, if Janssen is healthy, as all indications seem, that's a big addition to the Jays staff. After being drafted in the 4th round out of UCLA, Janssen cruised through the minor leagues putting up quality numbers, and was generally a better-regarded arm than Shaun Marcum. Casey has multiple quality pitches and compensates for less than dominating K numbers with very stingy walk rates (career 2.21 BB /9 innings) and solid groundball rates.
If you'll remember, Janssen broke in with the Jays in 2006 as a starter and was looking quite good at first. He trailed off, but it was subsequently learned that Janssen had attempted to pitch through a back injury and it's quite possible that that was responsible for his fall-off. Either way, Casey concluded the 2006 season with a 104 tRA+ in the majors (a defense-neutral metric used to calculate a pitchers actual talent level as scaled to league average). If Janssen can do that for the Jays this season, that would make him a very competent number 3 starter. If Casey is healthy and can take advantage of the Jays excellent defense (and being a groundball and contact type pitcher, he likely can), the Jays could be in for a very pleasant surprise. In 2007, Janssen made the Jays' bullpen and could have easily moved to the rotation but for the injury to BJ Ryan, after which Janssen was made the primary right-handed setup man and 8th inning guy. Janssen performed extremely well out of the pen, but JP has always seen him long-term as a starter, and Janssen prepared for 2008 as a starter and, in my opinion, had basically won himself a starting job (which would've bumped Jesse Litsch back to AAA, though he himself had a decent spring) with a fantastic spring before the shoulder injury.
Here at Bluebird Banter, we've advocated for the Jays to give Janssen a rotation spot if he shows he's healthy, and it's good to hear that now seems to be exactly what the Jays are planning on doing. What do y'all expect of Janssen this season?
Bastian's next article, and ours as well (in this series), will look at Scott Richmond, who Bastian considers one of the "other front-runners" for a rotation gig. I'm not sure I agree with that, but stay tuned. And by the way, yes, that was a Rentals reference in the title. I like the Tokyo Police Club version on the Rentals tribute record, though even that is overshadowed by the Tegan and Sara cover of "The Man With Two Brains," a haunting and beautiful song they totally nail.