Comeback year for Saunders crucial for Blue Jays

Toronto needs bounce-back seasons from several as it attempts to defend AL East title

February 8th, 2016

TORONTO -- The official start of Spring Training is almost here. Now it's time to start taking a closer look at the Blue Jays' roster in preparation for Feb. 22, when pitchers and catchers go through their first workout.

Toronto will have approximately six weeks to get ready for the start of the season as the club attempts to defend its American League East title. It won't be easy, but the task will become a bit more manageable if several players on the roster bounce back from disappointing 2015 seasons.

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In the coming days, will preview every major aspect about the Blue Jays' roster. The first edition focuses on players who could be considered "On the Rebound" candidates:

LF Michael Saunders: The native of Victoria, British Columbia, tore the meniscus in his left knee while stepping on a sprinkler head during Spring Training, and Saunders was never the same after that. Repeated attempts to get back on the field didn't exactly work out, and he finished the season with just nine games under his belt. Saunders might have become somewhat of a forgotten man, but this is a player who posted a .341 on-base percentage in 2014 and still has plenty of power left in his bat.

2B Devon Travis: He isn't expected to return until at least May as he continues to recover from an offseason surgical procedure on his left shoulder. Ryan Goins will begin the year as the starter at second base, but the job could still belong to Travis if he comes back strong. Travis was the AL Rookie of the Month in April and likely would have been an AL Rookie of the Year Award candidate if not for the injury. The pain lingered for most of the year, but it wasn't until the offseason that both sides realized surgery was required. Once healthy, Travis could eventually become the leadoff hitter for this team.

SS Troy Tulowitzki: With the exception of a late-season collision with Kevin Pillar in shallow center field that resulted in a cracked left shoulder blade, Tulowitzki managed to stay healthy in 2015, but his overall results were not up to par. Tulowitzki seemed to struggle with adjusting to a new team, a new league and new surroundings when he joined the Blue Jays in a deal with the Rockies prior to the non-waiver Trade Deadline. Tulowitzki hit just .239 with a .697 OPS in 41 games for Toronto, which is well off his career marks of .297 and .877, respectively. If Tulowitzki remains healthy, expect a much better performance in 2016.

LHP Aaron Loup: All of the talk about the Blue Jays' bullpen centers around names like Drew Storen, Roberto Osuna and Brett Cecil, but Loup could end up being just as crucial. Toronto needs a second lefty in the bullpen, and Loup is the only obvious candidate on the 40-man roster to get the job done. The second lefty has been Loup's role in each of the past two seasons, but he's coming off a year in which he walked seven batters and hit six others over 42 1/3 innings. The 4.46 ERA wasn't pretty, but it was at 3.15 or lower in each of the three prior years. If Loup bounces back, the bullpen will be much better off because of it.