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:

Download

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:

Download

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!

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21 Responses to “Day One”
  1. 1.

    Thanks for the photo opp today. The camera’ still working : )

    MW: I’m sure it won’t be for long. It was nice to meet you!

    - Dave & Shirley
  2. 2.

    I am a long time jays fan from NY. And I am wondering is there any way snider and thames can make the team. Especially if both have great springs. Can either or both beat out francisco?

    MW: It’s possible, I guess, but highly, highly unlikely. Both Snider and Thames need to play every day, neither one of them will make the team to be on the bench.

    - Jemel johnston
  3. 3.

    you mentioned another playoff round being better? I love the one game playoff. What drama the day after the season ends, a day night doubleheader of elimination games. It will be worth a sick day at work for sure. I also like it cause it gives a definite insentive to win your division to avoid the game.
    If you don’t want your whole season to come down to one game, win your division.

    - Kevin
  4. 4.

    Try the Marinova guest inn in downtown Dunedin or Beso Del Sol, a short mile or so up Alt 19 from downtown dunedin.

    - Tim
  5. 5.

    Hi Mike:

    Sucks that you have such a long commute to the spring training complex. But remember that there would be many who would gladly trade with you to cover the Blue Jays. Great first report on the 2012 spring training.

    I am really hoping to see McGowan emerge and be a viable starter this year. Since he is out of minor league options, and assuming he breaks camp with the club on opening day and given his stated 150 innings limit, what plan do the Blue Jays have in monitoring his starts during the season? Curious to see if you could check out this during the course of spring training and report back on your blog before camp breaks. Thanks Mike!

    - AJ Robbs
  6. 6.

    Mike,

    Who do you think has moe tade value, Snider or Thames?

    Does it make sense to move one of them packaging them with some other prospects for decent 3-4 starter?

    MW: The Blue Jays already have a bunch of better-than-decent 3-4 starters, though. Neither Snider nor Thames is anywhere near the peak of his trade value right now.

    - Brandon F
  7. 7.

    For no particular reason, I’ll throw in a suggestion that the AL East isn’t the toughest division in professional sports. Followers of Scottish football will point out that the last time one of Rangers (‘Yankees’) or Celtic (‘Red Sox’) didn’t win the league (‘World Series’), was 1983. The odd thing is that the stands are still full at Hibernian, Hearts, Dundee and Aberdeen every weekend, and nobody ever talks about ‘meaningful games in February’ – people just like the sport for the sport’s sake.

    Personally, I can’t abide soccer, but I’ve got to respect the level of commitment and dedication fans have there which your average Jays fan cannot begin to comprehend. Most importantly people enjoy each game as a game unto itself, that is meaningful on its own without reference to the rest of the season.

    - Ben
  8. 8.

    Ahh, spring training, hope springs eternal, you gotta love it.

    Mike, can’t wait for the Jays Talk to be fired up again for this season!

    Really excited for the upcoming season. Any plans for a spring training edition of the Jays Talk?

    MW: I’m hoping there’s time for one on Saturday and Sunday this weekend!

    - Dan
  9. 9.

    One word for the audio links – Awesome….

    Thanks for adding.

    MW: My pleasure!

    - Chris
  10. 10.

    Hello Michael. At last the basebal starts. Are the workouts at the Bobby Mattick centre open to the public?

    MW: Yes, they are.

    - Stan
  11. 11.

    What’s this talk of you calling games this year?

    MW: That’s the word on the street.

    - Adrian M
  12. 12.

    I really enjoyed your 2 minutes with Omar Vizquel. Seriously, I think I learned more about the nuances of 2B v. SS concepts in those 2 minutes than pretty much everything I’ve read from instructional manuals or heard from analysts or reasoned about in my mind concerning infield defence over the last 20 years. I hope you get to talk to him more this spring and during the regular season to ask him similar technical questions about 2B and SS.

    Last week, I checked his B-R page and was surprised by some of his offensive stats – just 159 hits away from 3,000 and over 1,000 lifetime walks, albeit a lifetime OPS+ of 82. Not bad for a guy who is synonymous with defensive excellence.

    But of course, it’s his glove that’s kept him in MLB for 23 seasons. I personally think he’s an HoFer but a question for you:

    If Ozzie Smith, whose career stats are interestingly quite similar to Omar’s, never exists, do people even mention defense-first types like Vizquel as a possible HoFer?

    MW: I certainly hope so. Bill Mazeroski is in the Hall pretty much for his glove alone. It did take him a long time to get in, though.

    - Adrian, co-alumnus
  13. 13.

    Hey Mike, Does Cecil seem happy with his velocity at this point in spring?

    MW: It’s far too early for that stuff.

    - Gdobs
  14. 14.

    Hello Mike

    It is great to see the increased baseball reports from all news agencies. Griff had two articles yesterday and you had two little snippets.

    Keep the news coming Mike, love the work.

    Question – when you ‘appear’ on radio shows, why are the conversations not posted on ‘Audio on Demand’

    Francis

    MW: I think it’s because I’m not important enough.

    - Francis
  15. 15.

    Several of my friends and I are really excited about 2012. I have followed baseball for many years and all I ask is for a competitive team.

    I keep having this “dream” of Travis AND Thames being in the outfield. Colby Rasmus not so much.

    I guess my view would be Bautista at 3rd and Lawrie at 2ne. But I am sure that is not going to happen!! Bautista hit well in the first half of the year at 3rd and he sure kept the infield alert when he was in there.

    Rasmus, Snider and Thames has some possibility of good things!

    MW: Please don’t hold your breath for that.

    - Gary R
  16. 16.

    The audio updates are a very nice touch. Listening to John Farrell is an insight all of its own.

    thank you

    - Casey Craig
  17. 17.

    Mike, I continue to hear that the PCL is a hitters league but never is it explained why. Is this because of the pitching, field dimensions, thin air, or a combination of factors?

    Johnny

    MW: It’s the thin air, the field dimensions and the sun-baked, rock-hard infield (at least as far as Las Vegas is concerned).

    - Johnny
  18. 18.

    michael,
    got a strong feeling about ricky r. breaking thru to the 20 win barrier this yr.
    pitched well enough to near it last yr i thought.
    lots of unfortunate circumstances and luck for the young mam it seemed that held back his w/l record a tad no doubt.
    so there you go michael, 20 wins for romero.
    how’s that for a prediction huh?
    i just love being a homer i won’t lie to you.
    it’s so much happier living this way.
    some say that it just puts us in a position to be inevitably disappointed
    in the end but then i just throw up a whole heap of denial to remedy that and it’s all good.
    win/win my friend.
    and particularly a good way to get thru a 162 game schedule when things aren’t going so well.
    i highly recommend it to all the cynics and critical thinkers out there…

    - darrell bishop
  19. 19.

    Mike…hypothetically, if you heard nothing about Brett Cecil’s weight loss, would it have been that easy to notice? It’s human nature to look for something when it’s been talked about somewhat. Just curious how dramatically different he looks.

    MW: I think it’s pretty impossible not to notice a 30-pound weight loss in a pro athlete. You can definitely tell.

    - chris m.
  20. 20.

    michael,
    you know baseball. let me ask you something.
    how important is it to get these 1st 2 wins against the pirates this weekend?
    these are winnable games my friend. you know it and i know it.
    and can set the tone for the rest of this season.
    we need to jump out early, get leads and let this newly revamped bullpen take her home for us….
    i’m freakin’ out here michael.
    we need these games.
    i just hate this time of year….

    - darrell bishop
  21. 21.

    Hi Mike,

    In regards to comment #14, I have recently wondered the same thing.

    I would like your conversations to be available in the ‘Audio on Demand’ section, so please pass that on to the higher ups for me.

    Thanks as always Mike!

    Eric C

    P.S. I was able to get tickets to the home opening series this year. I’m really looking forward to it, but since I’ll be sitting in the 500 level, I hope my son won’t have to see any drunken idiots that I’ve heard discussed on your show the past few home openers.

    MW: I hope so, too!

    - Eric C
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