When the Toronto Blue Jays traded former Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay to the Philadelphia Phillies late last year, they started a rebuilding process that will be on display this season in Las Vegas.
That’s good news for the 51s, Toronto’s Triple-A affiliate, and their fans, who will get a chance to watch many of the Blue Jays’ top prospects play at Cashman Field as they continue their climb to the big leagues.
Featuring 14 players with major league experience, a solid pitching staff and plenty of power at the plate, the 51s appear poised to snap a string of nine straight losing seasons by Toronto’s Triple-A affiliate.
2009: Mike Basso, former Las Vegas Stars catcher, guided 51s to a 71-73 record, going 45-33 down the stretch after starting 26-40.
2010: Dan Rohn, who played 54 games in the majors for the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians, has earned Pacific Coast League Manager of the Year honors three times (2001, 2004, 2005) in eight seasons.
2009: Led by PCL Most Valuable Player Randy Ruiz, who started the season with Toronto, Las Vegas had a league-best .290 average. Five players hit over .300 — Ruiz (.320), Howie Clark (.313), Kevin Howard (.310), Angel Sanchez (.305) and Buck Coats (.302) — but none returns.
2010: Rohn said six players — Brett Wallace, Brian Dopirak, J.P Arencibia, Jeremy Reed, Chris Lubanski and Jorge Padilla — could hit 25 to 30 home runs this year. "This is a power-laden ballclub," Rohn said. "We don’t have a whole lot of team speed, but we’re going to swing the bats."
2009: Left-hander David Purcey had the most wins (9-6) and strikeouts (109) on a staff that finished near the bottom of the PCL in ERA (4.65) but was second in shutouts (11).
2010: Nine of the 51s’ 13 pitchers played in the majors last season, including four in the starting rotation: left-handers Brad Mills and Brett Cecil and right-handers Robert Ray and Lance Broadway. Righty Ray Gonzalez, who will start Friday, spent last season at Double-A New Hampshire.
"The pitching staff’s outstanding," Rohn said. "It’s one of the best pitching staffs they’ve assembled in a long time here."
2009: Closer Jeremy Accardo led Las Vegas in saves, with 13, and Bubbie Buzachero had eight.
2010: Left-hander Rommie Lewis will start the season as the 51s’ closer, and Purcey, Sean Henn, Steven Register and Josh Roenicke are slated to serve as setup men.
"We’ve got power arms, and we have seven left-handers on this ballclub," Rohn said. "That’s something different."
2009: Poor play in the field was a factor in the team’s slow start. Las Vegas made 18 errors in its first 10 games (2-8).
2010: Defense doesn’t appear to be the 51s’ strong suit this season, either.
"We’re going to catch what’s hit at us, but we don’t have guys with tremendous range," Rohn said.
2009: Outfielder Travis Snider hit .337 with 14 homers and 40 RBIs in 48 games for Las Vegas, and Cecil went 1-5 with a 5.69 ERA. Each player saw significant action for the Blue Jays, but Arencibia didn’t. He spent the entire season with the 51s, batting .236 with 21 homers and 75 RBIs.
2010: Wallace, 23, acquired by the Blue Jays in the Halladay deal, is ranked as Toronto’s No. 2 prospect by Baseball America. In parts of two minor league seasons, the left-handed slugger is batting .305 with 28 homers and 99 RBIs in 192 games.
Right-hander Kyle Drabek, also acquired in the Halladay deal, is Toronto’s No. 1 prospect, but he’ll start this season at New Hampshire.
"He could be here quick, but he could also bypass us and go straight to the big leagues," Rohn said.
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at email@example.com or 702-383-0354.SALT LAKE VS. LAS VEGAS
WHEN: 7:05 p.m. today
WHERE: Cashman Field
RADIO: KBAD-AM (920)
MAJOR LEAGUE TIES: Salt Lake, Los Angeles Angels; Las Vegas, Toronto Blue Jays
TODAY’S PITCHERS: Bees LHP Trevor Reckling vs. 51s LHP Brad Mills