4:53 PM Eastern
I arrived in Florida yesterday, and spent the evening getting settled, finding my place (a 45-minute drive from Florida Auto Exchange Stadium as it turns out, but what can you do?) and this morning checked into camp for my first day of the 2012 baseball season.
The first thing I noticed was all the blue – it’s everywhere! Paul Beeston wasn’t kidding when he said it was time to put the “blue” back in Blue Jays. The new logo is all over the place, from the outer facade of the minor-league complex to the walls, the rugs, road signs, everywhere you look in Dunedin you see the new logo, and it’s fantastic.
But really, it’s just great to be back and be immersed in baseball once again. Watching batting practice, baserunning drills, infield practice, catchers taking sky-high pop flies off the pitching machine, it’s terrific – you should all come down and spend a few days at Spring Training if you get the chance.
There was news in camp, too, the biggest being that Adeiny Hechavarria is going to start getting some work in at second base. The young Cuban has been a shortstop his entire career, but with the Jays’ dearth of second-base prospects close to the big leagues, they need some insurance other than Luis Valbuena and Mike McCoy if Kelly Johnson goes down with a long-term injury. Hechavarria is going to be that insurance, though he’ll still play shortstop most of the time both in the spring and in Las Vegas. I asked Omar Vizquel about the differences between short and second, since he played every inning but one of the first 20 years of his big-league career at shortstop before getting 14 starts at second in 2009. Here’s what Vizquel had to say:
With Kelly Johnson going into a free agent year, it’s quite possible that the Jays want to see if Hechavarria is capable of being a big-league regular at second. With him there, Yunel Escobar at short and Colby Rasmus in centre, the up-the-middle defense would be spectacular. The question is – can Hechavarria hit? So far, he hasn’t done so at any level save for Las Vegas, where everybody hits. I’m looking forward to seeing him get a decent amount of playing time this spring.
John Farrell announced the pitching rotation for the Grapefruit League season. Brett Cecil will start Saturday’s opener, home to the Pirates, and he’ll be followed by Henderson Alvarez, Drew Hutchison, Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow. Dustin McGowan will step into Hutchison’s spot the second time through the rotation and, presumably, for the rest of the spring and into the season.
There will be a six-inning intra-squad game on Friday, and we will find out line-ups and stuff on Thursday – keep an eye on my Twitter feed @Wilnerness590 for the info as soon as it’s available.
News also came out today about the impending announcement of a second wild card team in each league, beginning this season. It’s an exciting thing for the Blue Jays, who are stuck in the toughest division in pro sports, though with each wild card team merely earning a berth in a one-game, do-or-die playoff, it’s not as great as getting a whole extra round of playoffs would be.
Looking back over the wild card era (which began in 1995), the Blue Jays would have made the playoffs only in 1998 – the Tim Johnson year – had the new system been in place. They would have fallen three games short of the White Sox in 2006 , missed out by the same three games to the Yankees in 2008 and been four games shy of the Red Sox in 2010. But the extra spot makes everything different. Teams that haven’t been in the race in July will now be in it by virtue of the extra spot, which changes the trade deadline, and in fact changes all sorts of in-season decision-making. There will be meaningful baseball late in the season in Toronto this year for the first time in a long time, even if the Blue Jays ultimately fall short (which Las Vegas, at least, thinks they will).
One other thing – in looking at how the players have been grouped here in the early part of Spring Training, there’s no question that Eric Thames has the early lead in the “Battle For Left Field” against Travis Snider. In live batting practice, Thames hit with Jose Bautista and Colby Rasmus, while Snider was grouped with Rajai Davis and Ben Francisco. Things could change in a hurry, though, when the games begin.
Here’s the audio of John Farrell’s daily chat with the media, for your listening pleasure:
Thursday is a complete day off for the pitchers – nobody throws at all – but the hitters will work out at the Bobby Mattick Minor League Complex in the morning and I’ll be there to get you all the info you could possibly want.
I’ll be joining Rob Wong at 7:00 PM Eastern on Sportsnet590 The Fan Wednesday evening, so make sure you tune in for that!
Comments are welcome – I read them all and respond to most!