With spring training officially just under a month away, we continue with a series of projections on what the 2012 Toronto Blue Jays might look like. Each day (don’t hold me to this), I will profile a 2012 Blue Jays starter, closing with a set of numbers based on my (usually positive) expectations. Today, we look at the 3rd new Blue Jays starting center fielder in the last 3 seasons, Colby Rasmus.
It’s easy to understand the enthusiasm that came with last July’s acquisition of Colby Rasmus. It’d been the type of trade that had, more or less, defined the methodology of the Anthopoulos era: one of identifying low-cost opportunities to acquire high-ceiling assets at premium positions. Considering that at the beginning of the season, the very idea of the Blue Jays acquiring Rasmus would have been scoffed at as an unfathomable pipe dream, that the team was able to get him for (basically) Frasor, Dotel, Zach Stewart, Marc Rzepsczynski, and Corey-freaking-Patterson was truly a remarkable move.
At the same time, it also demonstrated just how far, and how quickly the then-24 year old’s 5-tool stock had fallen, at least in the eyes of the St. Louis Cardinals. It’s not entirely unwarranted either: after a strong .290/.374/.450 start to the 2011 season that had him poised to be a top CF in the league (top 4 OPS in the month of April), Rasmus’ production dropped steadily over the next 3 months: .777 OPS in May, .684 in June, and an outright ugly .544 in July. By the time he was traded to the Blue Jays amidst stories of clashes with Tony La Russa about his work ethics (and an overbearing father at odds with the organization), Rasmus was an erratic player who’d occasionally displayed his skills, but more often created outs at the plate and couldn’t draw walks (7.8% in July). For a team still looking to keep up in the playoff race, it’s understandable why the Cardinals made the move they did (and in all fairness, the bullpen pieces did contribute to their World Series run).
So Rasmus got himself a change of scenery to Toronto, where he was immediately anointed the center-fielder of the future. The results of his first go in the AL, however, didn’t exactly do much buoy confidence in Rasmus’ potential with the Blue Jays. After a show start that didn’t get him register a hit in the first 3 games, Rasmus managed to put together a .698 OPS in August, thanks to a slight resurgence in his power (.208 ISO). The walk rate, however, continued to plummet, as the outfielder drew just 2 free trips to 1st base over 75 PA (2.7%); although he’d fared better than his previous two months with a .236 batting average…well, I think you get the idea. Worse, any idea that Rasmus was making baby steps towards a strong finish to the season was derailed by a wrist injury late in the month, and by the time he came back in September, Rasmus managed to just eek out a measly .283 OPS over the last 12 games, limping out of a season that he’d probably rather forget.
Yet, despite the erratic play, and the shoddy results, the forecast going into 2012 for Rasmus remains positive. Personally, I would give Rasmus a full mulligan on his ineffectual .517 OPS with the Blue Jays in 2011 and call it an adjustment period marred by injury. 140 PA doesn’t really provide much of a sample size, and I’m not going to lower expectations on Rasmus based on that. Even if you don’t write off his time with Toronto, it’s not like Rasmus is a total unknown quantity either: coming into the 2009 season as a top-5 prospect in baseball, Rasmus managed a 2.8 WAR rookie season, something that he topped with a 20-10, 4.3 WAR 2010 at just age-23. Even with all of his struggles in St. Louis last year, Rasmus was still a .753 OPS player on pace for 15 home runs – on what you’d call a down year.
Of course, there are certain issues that have to be worked out in his approach to the plate, as evidenced by his rock bottom 0.13 BB/K in the AL thus far. But, given his previous profile, there’s nothing to suggest that it’ll remain there; if anything, his time in St. Louis in 2011 demonstrates that he was making improvements in that area. While it’s alarming that Rasmus posted a 15.5% infield fly rate in 2011; it’s worth noting that the number is near triple the rate over his previous 1000+ PA, a somewhat unlikely given his relatively normal GB/FB ratio, even if you discount the high .354 BABIP that fueled his 2010 season.
In short, there were a number of things that didn’t seem quite right with Rasmus in 2011, but they seem like aberrations to the norm, rather than a continuous trend. He still showed decent power in Toronto until the wrist injury, and was a plus defender for the Blue Jays. He is a better option at CF than what we had (and currently have), and even if he won’t hit that touted 25-20 potential in 2012, I imagine we’ll see a strong bounce-back season from the 25-year old Rasmus, who will be given every opportunity to succeed this year.
With that said, here’s how successful I think Rasmus will be in 2012:
590 PA, .260/.325/.445, 19 HR, 14 SB
Maybe I’m being a little too deliberate with the numbers here in suggesting that Rasmus can push 20-15 for the first time in his career, but I don’t really see a reason why it couldn’t happen. Rasmus hit 14 home runs in a down year last season cut by injury, so I actually think 20+ homers is pretty achievable for him, with the power he’s shown so far. If anything, the SB numbers is more of a push, as he’s only stolen 12 at most in a season. Obviously, it’ll depend on how much the team will want to use his speed on the basepaths, and given that Aaron Hill, Travis Snider and Jose Bautista all hit career highs in stolen base attempts with John Farrell last season, I imagine Rasmus will be give his fair shot to do the same in 2012.
Has Rasmus’ time with the Blue Jays put a damper on your expectations of his future performance? Does anyone think he’s bound for a repeat of 2010 – or better? As always, your thoughts and comments are appreciated.
Previous 2012 Blue Jays forecasts:
Part 1: J.P. Arencibia – 510 PA, .255/.315/.450, 26 HR
Part 2: Adam Lind – 600 PA, .260/.320/.445, 26 HR
Part 3: Kelly Johnson – 580 PA, .270/.350/.430, 16 HR, 11 SB
Part 4: Brett Lawrie – 610 PA, .280/.340/.490, 20 HR, 22 SB
Part 5: Yunel Escobar – 605 PA, .285/.365/.405, 10 HR, 5 SB
Part 6: Edwin Encarnacion – 580PA, .270/.330/.465, 23 HR, 6 SB
Part 7: Eric Thames – 300 PA, .270/.315/.455, 8 HR, 3 SB
Part 8: Travis Snider – 300 PA, .265/.315/.450, 9 HR, 5 SB