Thursday, June 30, 2011

Habs Draft Recap

Well we knew we weren't going to get a player that was going to play anytime soon. In fact, almost every team save 3 or 4 were going to land such a player, so the goal in the first round was to pick someone that was loaded with potential, and one that played the brand of hockey that fit the Canadiens mold.  In Nathan Beaulieu, the Habs snagged such a player, and maybe got a little lucky in the process.

Similar to Louis Leblanc two years ago, Beaulieu was ranked by many in and around the top 10-12 picks, and Gauthier was more than happy to select the big, slick, offensive defenseman. Compared to players such as PK Subban, Keith Yandle and Mike Green, you could probably guess why.  And with a name like Beaulieu, he'll probably be getting even more hype over the next couple of years, despite the fact that he doesn't actually speak much French.  What he does do is play a savvy, up tempo styled game, sees the ice remarkably well, and has improved in his own end every year in the Q.  His first big test on the world stage will probably come this fall in the World Junior tourney.  It will be a first glimpse for most Habs fans to see how he measures up against the rest of the top picks in this and last year's draft.  Its still fairly difficult at the moment to really say how good this pick is, but its hard not to like it from what I've heard and read.

As for the rest of Canadiens' picks, well it's pretty much a crap shoot when you draft from the 4th round on, but I'll try my best to analyze them as a whole.  What i took out of the Pierre Gauthier interview was that each selection feels a bit like a homerun type pick.   They will all take a while to develop (3-4 years) but there may be a gem or two among them.

Their selection of defenseman Magnus Nygren from Sweden really has that feel.  An overager (21 years old),  He was a relative unknown commodity up until this past year when he was called up by Fajerstad of the Swedish Elite league.  His stellar play (especially from an offensive standpoint) caught the eye of Canadiens euro scout Crister Rockstrom (ex Rangers scout), and after finishing the playoffs with the second highest point total amongst D-man, he got Timmins on board as well.  After recently signing Rafael Diaz form the Swiss league and having prior success drafting then overage prospect Mark Streit, we shouln't be too surprised with this pick, nor should we be surprised if it works out well for the Habs.

Say what you will about Timmins' draft success, one thing is certain; he has a knack for finding good mid to late round picks in recent years.  Names like Halak, Streit, D'agostini, Kostitsyn, Ryder quickly come to mind, all drafted after the 6th round.

The most intriguing pick by Timmins at this point is Daniel Pribyl of the Czech Republic, a tall lanky center (6'3 190) that could be a steal if he fills out and continues to improve.  At last year's World Juniors, Pribyl posted an impressive 7 points (3g, 4a) in 8 games.  His development may have taken a step sideways however, as he was not selected by a CHL team in the import draft. He'll continue to play in the Czech Elite league, where he'll most probably receive much less time than he would have otherwise.

Other draftees were Josiah Didier, An American d-man who fits Gauthier's profile of a rapid climber in the draft;  Quebecois Olivier Archambault, who was the 1st pick overall in QMJHL draft two years ago; Darren Dietz from the Saskatoon Blades, a rugged D-man who impressively climbed the depth chart on a very deep squad; and Colin Sullivan, a smooth skating d-man that has been on Timmins' radar for a while as a potential late round steal.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Blue Jays Review

Coming in to the season, there was obviously a lot of uncertainty about how the team would perform as a whole.  No one knew if the young pitching staff would hold up. No one knew who would end up closing ballgames (they still don’t).  No one knew if Jose Bautista would be the same kind of impact player.  The list of questions went on and on.  After 2 months and 56 games played, some questions have been answered, some haven’t.  Here’s how I’ve seen things unfold thus far:

Starting Pitching:

All things considered, a pretty decent start.  This is a very young and talented staff that is still learning how to pitch.  I know that may sound a bit trite, but it’s really evident if you watch each game.  No one is doubting how good guys like Morrow and Drabek will be; but they haven’t figure out how to harness all their pitches and become solid second and third starters.  Romero is already there in my opinion; he has the knack for winning.  Whether the Blue Jays will be a contender by the end of this season rests on the shoulders of the rest of the staff, and if they’re able to put it all together. 

Relief Pitching:

Good and bad.  The middle relief has been great.  The closers have been awful.  This sounds like a broken record for the Blue Jays organization, and you’d think they’d get it right eventually.  Between Rauch, Dotel and Francisco there has been no clear winner, and Farrell has been forced to pretty much go with a different guy each night.  Who knows, maybe that will eventually become a winning formula, keeping all three guys fighting hard to win the coveted spot.  As far as the middle relief is concerned, everyone has pitched very well.  To put it into perspective, Casey Janssen, Jason Frasor, Shawn Camp, Carlos Villanueva and Marc Rzepczynski have a combined ERA of 2.20 in over 127 innings pitched (as of June 1st).


Can’t complain much.  The Blue Jays are in around the top 5 in pretty much every major category, which is kind of surprising when you consider the amount of injuries the team has sustained thus far.  Adam Lind, who’s been out for almost a month, was the Jays hottest hitter before he got injured, and is their second best hitter overall.  Other key players like Bautista, Hill, Davis and Escobar have all missed time to an assortment of injuries, and Farrell has not been able to pencil in his opening day starting lineup since, well, opening day.  Lind has begun a rehab stint in Dunedin, and should be back in the starting nine this weekend against Baltimore.  It should be interesting to see how the lineup will shape up with his return.  I expect something like this: Escobar-Patterson-Bautista-Lind-Hill-Rivera-Arencibia-Davis-Nix.  Thames is swinging a good bat and I think he’ll be in the lineup as the DH against righties, and Rivera against lefties.  Encarnacion is the odd man out at the moment, with Nix looking more confident offensively and defensively.  I assume that Farrell would rather have Encarnacion at third rather than Nix, but Farrell looks to be a coach that will play the hotter player, regardless of a player’s potential.  With Lawrie bound to come up sometime this year, one can only conclude that Encarnacion’s days in the organization are numbered.

If this sounds like the resume of a .500 team, it’s probably because that’s exactly what it is.  The Jays currently sit 28-28, 4 games back of first place New York, and 2 games of Boston for the Wild Card spot.  No one really expected the Jays to challenge this year, but I wouldn't completely discount their chances from what I’ve seen thus far.  I see the offense continuing to produce and I also believe that key starters like Morrow and Drabek will be better as the season progresses.  The biggest question mark for me is the closers, as games against the best teams in the AL East will come down to the final innings.  If Francisco and Rauch continue to remain inconsistent, I really don’t see how the Blue Jays can compete.  I guess we’ll just have to wait and see, and who knows, maybe a knight and shining armor will emerge to take over the ninth inning duties, a job that no one has done well in recent memory.  At this point I’d probably take back B.J. Ryan.  Yeah, it’s gotten that bad…