This season the Blue Jays have used 12 players in the starting rotation. There was the top prospects, the proven players, and the fill ins. There was disappointment in some and promise in others, but as a whole the Jays rotation is not yet championship or even playoff calibre at this point. With the loaded minor league system there is a lot of depth, but as we know not all top prospects become major leaguers. There is potential, but it can still be questioned as to whether or not it it will be reached. All of this and more goes with the uncertainty of the 2012 rotation.
The current Blue Jays rotation consists of Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil, Henderson Alvarez, and Dustin McGowan. Romero is the guy who on the ballpark scoreboard looks like a true pitching "Ace" with a 2.92 ERA, 15-11 record, and 225 IP in 2011. But, if you look into the advanced stats it suggests he is more of a good number two with a 3.82 xFIP and 3.63 SIERA. He is still only 26 and has taken greats strides to improve every year since joining the Jays in 2007, but I'm not quite sure how he will get better without increasing his strikeout numbers. Then Brandon Morrow is kind of the opposite being the guy with electrifying stuff, but he just hasn't been able to execute. His 4.72 ERA would suggest just that, but again delving further into the stats Morrow has a 3.53 xFIP and a 3.16 SIERA which are "Ace" type numbers. The one thing you do have to remember though is that Morrow is only in his second year of being a full time starter in the majors and he has been building up his innings count and arm strength (146.1 IP in 2010, 179.1 IP in 2011) so there is still room for improvement, but the question is will it be reached.
Getting to more of the mid rotation Brett Cecil is a guy who is a serviceable back end starter but probably not one who should be a number three long term in the AL East. With Henderson Alvarez you probably know the story, he was called up to the majors at only 21 this year and pitched to a 3.53 ERA and 3.38 xFIP in 63.2 major league innings. As well he produced at this level despite only really using two pitches as he is still trying to add a slider to his repertoire. He looks to have a pretty impressive future that could have him developing into an ace (if the slider works out), he has the stuff he just has to know how to use it. Finally with McGowan, he was essentially the feel good story of the year, he got in four starts he looked okay in the first start, pretty bad in the second start, stellar in his third start and back to pretty bad in his last start. He could be a rotation piece, but we won't be able to tell until spring training, when he has said that he will be 100%.
Looking towards the future, this year we saw three minor leaguers who really established themselves as top end pitching prospects with Deck McGuire, Nestor Molina, and Drew Hutchinson. McGuire before the season was regarded as a top end prospect after ranking at 95 on Baseball America's Top 100 Prospects List, but this year he has put his stuff into numbers. McGuire had a 2.75 ERA, a 1.21 WHIP and a 2.68 K/BB in 104.2 IP at Dunedin and then put in a 4.35 ERA in three starts at New Hampshire. He was said to be a guy who would reach the majors quickly after the Blue Jays took him with their first round pick in 2010 and he is doing just that.
Before this season Molina was really what one could call a surprise prospect. He was a reliever in 2010 but has flourished since becoming a starter in 2011. He put up a 2.58 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP with a 8.21 K/BB in 108.1 IP at Dunedin. From there Molina went on to absolutely dominate in 5 starts at New Hampshire having pitched to a 0.41 ERA, a 0.67 WHIP and a 16.50 K/BB. Molina is not generally regarded to have amazing stuff but if he can put up those kind of numbers then he will push his way to the majors. Finally arguably the biggest jumper on the prospect charts in the Blue Jays organization is Drew Hutchinson. He's a guy who started his season with the Lugnuts, but had pitched so well that by the end he too was getting a feel for the Eastern League. In 134.1 IP between lo A and hi A Drew pitched to a 2.68 ERA, a 1.07 WHIP and a 4.54 K/BB. Like the other two Hutchinson also had a New Hampshire cameo where he performed to a 1.20 ERA, a 0.64 WHIP, and a 10.50 K/BB in 3 starts.
Obviously Kevin Goldstein's opinion isn't the law, but he is a pretty respected member of the online prospect community and he is a guy who talks to a lot of scouts in the baseball industry. Thus meaning that none of these stellar seasons may transfer to top end major league success. That doesn't mean that any of these guys won't be able to be solid 2s or 3s (if any of them even make it to that), but it does lean towards the thought that these are probability players not ceiling guys. As well even if they won't be top starters in the AL East, having extra #2s isn't a bad thing and there is always the trade route, which with AA as our GM seems like a high possibility, especially with recent AA trades as well as recent trade speculation.
Along with these three big players are the likes of Kyle Drabek and Chad Jenkins (who is mentioned in the above tweet). Everyone knows the story on Kyle Drabek, he was #23 on Baseball America's Top 100 Prospects before this season. Drabek's first start was pretty impressive having gone 7.0 innings with 3 walks and 7 strikeouts, but since then well he was kind of awful in both the majors and minors. During his time with the Blue Jays he didn't know the meaning of the word command. He averaged 6.29 BB/9 and had a last in the league 0.93 K/BB. The Blue Jays waited it out but eventually they sent him down to AAA where he hasn't been much better. As for Jenkins he was the Blue Jays 1st round pick in 2009, which was the last draft of the Ricciardi era. He doesn't have as impressive stuff or numbers as the other 3 members of the Fishercat Foursome, but he could become a back end starter (at best) or long reliever for the Blue Jays or another team should the Jays decide to trade him.
Finally there is the guys with big stuff in the lower minors such as Noah Syndergaard, Aaron Sanchez, Daniel Norris, and Justin Nicolino. All these guys have good stuff and have shown it off in the low minors. The question then becomes whether or not they can develop it at the higher levels of the farm system next year. They all have a chance to become great major leaguers and potential top of the line starters, but they are all still at least 2 years away and definitely no sure thing.
What all this boils down to is that the Blue Jays need top of the line starters and with their current minor league system it looks like they will have to wait a bit longer in order to develop them. But then the question becomes can the Blue Jays afford to not compete while Jose Bautista is still in his prime years. The answer is no and the Jays will have a tough time competing without some top of the line arms. The only realistic route towards getting these arms would seem to be with Morrow capitalizing on his stuff, splurging money on the free agent market, trading the system for a top a the line starter, or the Jays could go after Japanese right hander Yu Darvish.
Any constructive criticism would be appreciated for this post as well as the Darvish and Trade posts.