Every year, established major leaguers are replaced by young players who've been groomed for years in the minor leagues. And why shouldn't that be the case? Young players aren't financial burdens and many are likely to outproduce their predecessors anyway. Last season alone, the Blue Jays granted significant playing time to rookies Gustavo Chacin, Aaron Hill, Russ Adams, and Brandon League. The risk, of course, is that sometimes they simply don't pan out. For instance, Chacin and Hill performed very well for the most part, but Adams and League were very disappointing, to say the least. I think it'd be interesting to look at each player's outlook for next season and beyond.
Gustavo Chacin: He was discussed in detail in one of yesterday's posts, but the general thrust is that he'll have a hard time duplicating last season's production. However, the amount of value he provides relative to his salary is extremely valuable to the organization. In order to be able to pay exorbitant sums of money to the likes of A.J. Burnett and B.J. Ryan, the presence of valuable yet inexpensive players like Chacin is vital.
Aaron Hill: At certain times last season, he was very impressive, but he was also prone to extended slumps. I'm concerned about his second half struggles, in particular. For instance, notice the downward trend in his stats following his call-up in May:
When Hill first arrived in the majors, he was incredible. As time wore on, however, pitchers adjusted to him as they faced him more often. As a result, the wheels began to fall off, as illustrated by the 1-for-26 slump he endured at one point in the season. Therefore, it's imperative that Hill adjusts his approach at the plate in order to avoid the prolonged slumps that plagued him in 2005.
Russ Adams: Following Chris Woodward's departure, Adams was entrusted with the team's opening day SS duties. He was an enormous disappointment, as he posted an 87 OPS+ and was considered below average defensively. However, I do have some hope that he'll improve next season. For one, he walked 50 times compared to only 57 strikeouts, good enough for the second best K/BB ratio on the team (behind Greg Zaun's 70/73 ratio). Contrast that with the lack of plate discipline shown by other young players on the Blue Jays, like Alexis Rios (101/28). Although, since the team faces the dilemma of a crowded infield, Adams might not have the opportunity to play everyday next season. As of now, the brunt of the middle infield duties must be divided between three players: Adams, Hill, and Orlando Hudson. Barring a trade or an injury, Toronto's infield dilemma may prove to be a nuisance all season. From a fan's perspective, it'll be really interesting to see whether J.P. Ricciardi addresses this situation during the offseason.
Brandon League: In one season, League went from being arguably the team's top prospect to an afterthought in Toronto's bullpen. Not only did he have a poor season in the majors, but he also stuggled in AAA. His K/BB ratio (17/20), in particular, is a definite red flag for his chances of future success. Since his trade value is so low at the moment, the Blue Jays would be best off giving him another chance to prove himself. He'll be one of pitching coach Brad Arnsberg's reclamation projects in 2006.
What about next season? Well, it's not every year that four rookies from the same team are given a substantial amount of playing time at once, so I wouldn't expect a repeat of that in 2006. Dustin McGowan wasn't very impressive during his brief stint in the majors, but he has great potential and should be given playing time, either in the bullpen or as the team's 5th starter. Other young players should also receive some playing time next season (Guillermo Quiroz and Francisco Rosario, among others), but unless they're spectacular in spring training, they probably won't occupy major roles next season. With an influx of developing young players on the team (and several more to come in the future, I hope), it's definitely an interesting time to be a fan of the Blue Jays.