It's Only for the Things that Matter, Only for the Things that Really Count: Keys to the 2010 Season and Beyond, Part I

This is the first part of a series of posts on the keys to the 2010 season.  I plan to make a post on each key, elaborating on both its importance and how much we can reasonably expect and hope to see.

Now that the season is almost upon us, it seems like as good a time as any to go over some of the keys to this season.  Unfortunately, as projected by ZiPS and by Chone (who projects them as having the worst record in baseball) among others, it does not very much look like the Jays will be competing for a playoff spot this season so much as they will be competing to stay out of the American League East cellar.  On the bright side, Alex Anthopoulos has embraced this opportunity to essentially rebuild the team from the bottom-up (particularly since the Jays will have several picks in the first two rounds of the 2010 draft).

What this all means is that when we talk about the "Keys to the 2010 Season," there's less emphasis on results and more on process for the Jays this year.  Even if the team stays in the AL's sub-basement all season, these games will be far from meaningless (well, from a baseball fan's perspective, anyway), because they will be an opportunity for us to see what will be coming down the pipeline for years to come.

So, without further ado, here are the keys to your 2010 Toronto Blue Jays season:

1. Kyle Drabek -- Even if Drabek doesn't throw one pitch at the major league level this season, his performance down in the minors is key to the Blue Jays future.  Fairly or not, the Doc deal will be scrutinized all season long and because Drabek was the centrepiece, from the perspective of many of the graders, it won't matter how well Brett Wallace and Travis d'Arnaud do if Drabek really falls flat on his face.  The fate of Alex Anthopoulos could rest on Drabek's performance over the next few years.

2. Adam Lind / Aaron Hill -- In my opinion, it's actually more important for us to see Adam Lind and Aaron Hill repeat their banner year performances of 2009 than it is to see some of the prospects take a big step forward.  Consider it this way: if Lind or Hill regress hard, there's a good chance that 2009 is a fluke.  Hill has been a consistent producer for some time now, but as he ages, his fielding bible award-winning glovework will decline and it will be increasingly necessary for him to hit like he did last season to retain his value over the next few years.  Lind, as we have seen, isn't going to be winning any fielding bible awards anytime soon and the Jays are going to depend on his bat both to keep them out of last this season and keep them in the playoff race in the seasons to come.

3. Ricky Romero -- Like Adam Lind, if Ricky struggles this year, 2009 could be a fluke.  Aside from the Jays long-term goals, given the injury problems and youth of this staff, the rotation is likely going to lean heavily on Romero this season.  If we can't get 200 solid innings out of him, it's going to be tough to stay out of last place.  A lot of guys experience sophomore jinx, but -- both in 2010 and going forward -- it's important for this team that Romero avoid it.  I think the importance of Ricky's performance has been downplayed in certain circles, but the continued success of the former first-rounder is paramount.

4. Vernon Wells -- Vernon's got a lot of money coming to him in the next few years, so if you think he's going to be wearing another uniform anytime soon, you're wrong (unless, for some reason, he decides to befriend some of those annoying fake umpires from last season).  As long as Vernon's healthy and his contract is still on the books, they're going to be playing him.  A nice bounce-back season could go a long way to making this team seem competitive again before 2015.

5. Brett Wallace -- Once the Lyle years are over, it's going to be Brett Wallace that we'll see at first base.  At just 23 years old, he's still got time to develop, be it in AAA or up in the majors, but having a masher like him is key to the Blue Jays longterm success.

6. Marc Rzepczynski / Brett Cecil -- If both of them prove that they can be league average starters in the major leagues at ages 24 and 23, respectively, this team should have a solid basis for the rotation for years to come.  The one big hurdle left for Rzep is to learn to finish off hitters.  If Cecil can locate his change a bit better, the walks to righties should come down drastically.  If both can keep hitters over the top of the ball, Alex Gonzalez and Aaron Hill should be pretty busy.

7. Shaun Marcum -- If Marcum can prove that he's fully fit and ready to compete in 2010, he could be a good #3 starter for a long time.  He's looked sharp so far this spring, but it remains to be seen what the strain of a full season will do to him.

8. Travis Snider -- If he hits at 22, all we have to do is make sure he doesn't go all Richie Allen.  Hopefully he can cut down on the strikeouts a bit without losing the walks and the power.  Like Wallace, it's not absolutely imperative that he make big strides in 2010, but it would sure help the longterm outlook.

9. Zach Stewart -- We'll see what the Jays do with him, but wherever he starts in 2010, Stewart figures to be an important part of the Jays rotation (hopefully) over the next several years.  He hasn't had any problems missing bats, but while the Jays stretch out his arm this year, hopefully we'll see him around the plate a bit more, since over 25 2/3 innings at AAA, he walked 14.

10. J.P. Arencibia / Travis d'Arnaud / Carlos Perez -- If J.P. bounces back and gets off to a good start out in the desert, the Jays could be looking at an embarrassment of riches at catcher with Perez and D'Arnaud coming up in a few years as well.  Plenty of upside in the three here, but if Arencibia's struggles weren't limited to vision problems, we're looking at some sparse years before the younger kids make it up to the bigs, assuming their development goes smoothly.

11. Dustin McGowan -- Dustin McGowan's progress could be a key to the Jays future success, but in 2010, they need to make sure he doesn't push himself too hard.  We know about his health issues, so recovery time is a crap-shoot.  We'll all be watching him closely.  Remember, if Shaun Marcum has the stuff to be a good #3 starter, McGowan has the stuff to be an ace, but even if McGowan stays healthy this year, it's no guarantee he'll be able to start 30 games in 2011 or 2012.

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