DUNEDIN, Fla. – It took a while, but Dalton Pompey was finally able to showcase some of his off-season gains Wednesday.
Pompey didn’t play in any of the Toronto Blue Jays’ first five Grapefruit League games because of a chest cold that had him coughing and sneezing most mornings. “It was a little tough to breathe because of what was going on,” Pompey said.
The 24-year-old continued taking part in team workouts, though, and by Wednesday, he had improved enough that the team’s medical staff cleared him to play in his first spring game of the year. Live batting practice against Aaron Sanchez and Jason Grilli Wednesday morning helped him get “locked in” at the plate before first pitch.
Appearing as a defensive replacement for Melvin Upton Jr., Pompey began his day with a running catch in left field. He walked in his first plate appearance, then homered his second time up, taking Detroit Tigers right-hander Sandy Baez deep over the left field wall at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium.
“Opposite-field power,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. “It’s in there. He’s just got to bring it all out. He’s got a chance to be really good.”
“That felt good,” Pompey acknowledged.
To this point in his career, Pompey’s been better known for his speed than his power. In recent seasons, his biggest contributions to the Blue Jays have often come as a pinch runner.
But with a view toward building strength while still preserving speed, Pompey gained 17 pounds of muscle this off-season. He now weighs in around 210 Lbs., up from 192 at the end of the 2016 season.
“I’m still trying to focus on my speed, and that’s basically my game, but I’ll run into one every now and then,” Pompey said.
Pompey flew down to Dunedin early in January and started working out twice a day to strengthen his legs, wrists and forearms. He’s hoping those workouts allow him to build on a 2016 season that saw him hit .270 with a .349 on-base percentage, four home runs and 18 stolen bases at triple-A Buffalo.
“I had to find a way to make that adjustment without feeling heavy,” Pompey said. “I started running a bit more and starting cutting down on (any) excess fat.”
Pompey’s speed remains an essential part of his game, not only on the bases but in the outfield. He has the tools to be a plus defender, yet this time last year the Blue Jays weren’t convinced that he got good enough reads on balls off the bat. In Wednesday’s opener he made one running grab while also bobbling a ball in centre field.
“He made a nice catch in left,” Gibbons said. “We booted a couple of balls in the outfield, that’s spring training—might be the bad field. But he looks good, and he needs some playing time.”
With the World Baseball Classic approaching, Pompey expects to play regularly in the week ahead. He’s an integral part of Canada’s WBC team as the projected leadoff hitter and centre-fielder.
When he returns, he’ll join a crowded left field mix in Blue Jays camp. With Ezequiel Carrera, Upton Jr. and potentially Steve Pearce in the outfield mix at the MLB level, Pompey’s chances of making the Blue Jays’ opening day roster seem quite slim. He has options remaining, which only increase the likelihood he returns to Buffalo.
Still, he remains on the MLB radar and should get the chance to contribute at some point this season—especially if continues building on Wednesday’s strong debut.