PLAYER TO WATCH
When he was four, Ricky Romero was sent home from his East Los Angeles preschool with a note to his parents. He was alternately using both hands to doodle and draw; the note implored his parents to help their son "figure it out." Ricky's baseball-loving father, Ricardo, encouraged his son to go with his left.
Wise decision. Two decades later that arm can throw a 94-mph fastball and a nasty sinking changeup, a combination that had many draft watchers comparing Romero to Johan Santana when Toronto took him with the No. 6 pick in 2005. That talk intensified last year when Romero, who finished his rookie season 13--9 with a 4.30 ERA, won 10 of his first 14 decisions. Before his debut, however, his development stalled. While other members of the famous 2005 draft class rocketed to stardom (Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitzki, Ryan Zimmerman, to name a few), he languished at Double A New Hampshire from 2006 to '08. "It was a combination of injuries, mechanics and, to tell you the truth, I just got hit," Romero, 25, says. "I felt like getting to the big leagues was going to take forever."
Even with Roy Halladay atop the rotation last season, the Blue Jays had the AL's fifth-worst staff ERA (4.47). That doesn't figure to be any better this year, but Romero could be a new ace to develop around. "We lost sight of the fact that he was still very young and still had very good stuff," says G.M. Alex Anthopoulos. For the rebuilding Jays, Romero was worth the wait.
Road losses by the Blue Jays in 2009, third most in the AL. That doesn't mean opposing pitchers were happy to see Toronto come to town. Only the Yankees hit more homers on the road, and only New York and the Indians had more extra-base hits away from home.
The Blue Jays will most likely have one of the worst outfield defenses in baseball. Vernon Wells remains in center despite declining range. But he can't be moved because the corners are manned by some combination of two natural DHs (Adam Lind, Travis Snider) and a converted third baseman (Jose Bautista). Any fly balls Jays pitchers allow are going to be in danger of becoming doubles and triples. To combat this, the Jays should stock up on ground ball pitchers to exploit a relative strength, infield defense. That means more starts for Casey Janssen and Mark Rzepczynski, fewer for Brian Tallet. Scott Downs and Shawn Camp should be used in high-leverage relief at the expense of Jesse Carlson and Jason Frasor. By tailoring their pitching staff to their defense's strengths, the Blue Jays can be as competitive as possible in the post-Halladay era.
WITH 2009 STATISTICS
Manager Cito Gaston
3RD SEASON WITH BLUE JAYS
1 9 3.09 1.26
MITCHELL LAYTON/GETTY IMAGES (ROMERO)
LATE PAYOFF His arrival in the big leagues took awhile, but Romero was worth the wait to Toronto.
MATT SLOCUM/AP (JANSSEN)