DUNEDIN, FL. — With so many new faces in Blue Jays camp as the club gets ready for its first full-squad workout, Saturday morning was a chance to catch up with some of the old faces, and Edwin Encarnacion, Adam Lind and Colby Rasmus were among those who held court with the larger-than-usual media assemblage down here in frosty Florida (they’re expecting frost overnight — for real!).
Encarnacion is coming off a career year, one in which — finally healthy and free of the worry of having to play third base — he surpassed his previous single-season high in home runs by more than 50 per cent and fell just two bombs shy of Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera for the major-league lead. Edwin attacked this off-season the same way he did last winter, staying in the same routine, doing the same work (but working harder), because, well, it worked. Encarnacion said his goal is to try to be the same guy he was last season, and in order to do that he has to stay focused and have fun on the field.
He’s looking forward to having plenty of guys on base ahead of him this season, and has told new lead-off man Jose Reyes: "Get your legs ready, because you’re going to score a lot of runs."
As for Lind, who is expected to hit behind Encarnacion in the fifth spot in the lineup, a key for him will be new hitting coach Chad Mottola’s "one message" philosophy. Lind has been suffering from "too many cooks" syndrome for a while now, with several different voices in his ear, each of which seemed to be giving him a different recipe for success.
Last season, Lind spoke of the trouble he had deciphering the instruction to be patient, but aggressive, and you can’t really blame him.
Looking back on last season, Lind said "you have a manager telling you one thing, who was a pitcher, and it makes it tough because he was from Boston where they were very selective, and coming up through this organization that wasn’t something that was preached, or taught at the lower levels. That’s what he wanted to see, and then to have a hitting coach like Dwayne Murphy who’s an aggressive-type hitting coach, sometimes you get a little confused on who you want to please."
Lind was quick to point out that the managerial intervention happened with the best of intentions, and wasn’t John Farrell trying to override Murphy’s instructions, but that Farrell did get him thinking about different things with the advice he gave in the cage and in the dugout after certain at-bats. He also said that he didn’t want to use the conflicting advice he was getting as an excuse, but "you try to please people, especially a manager, because he’s the one who puts your name on the lineup card so you kind of what to do what he wants."
He went on to say that he believes that under John Gibbons, "the coaches will be given the freedom to do what they want", that there was quite a lot of micro-managing last season that won’t be there this season and that will lead to a better teaching and coaching environment.
I asked Lind about his status as the fan’s whipping boy lately, and he said that while he wasn’t aware of the specifics of the vitriol directed his way from many corners of the Blue Jays’ fan base, "I see my numbers and I know what they’re thinking. I’ve been at bars during football games and things like that, I’ve probably done it myself…but I didn’t put myself in a situation where I would read posts or twitter or go to sports bars where I could get punished by just walking in."
The next left-handed hitter in the Blue Jays’ order, Rasmus, has been a bit of a whipping boy himself, though probably not to the same extent as Lind because Jays’ fans haven’t seen Rasmus have a great year yet, as they did with Lind back in 2009. He appeared to be on his way, with a great six week, 40-game stretch from late May to early July over which he hit .298/.362/.607 with 14 home runs, but the second half was not kind to Colby, who limped to the finish line with a .176/.238/.278 post-all-star break line.
Rasmus said that this season he has to work smarter, not harder. That he undermined himself last summer by believing that his lack of success came from not working hard enough, so he went out and overdid it in the cage. The real solution, he says now, is in the quality of the work he does in the cage, not in the sheer volume of swings he takes.
New hitting coach Chad Mottola, who Rasmus describes as "a cool dude", will be part of the process to help Rasmus stay in that mindset.
A former National Leaguer, Rasmus has a history with new Blue Jays’ starter Josh Johnson having faced him 16 times, and is thrilled to now be playing behind him, despite having managed four hits in 14 official at-bats. He says the big righty is "always a fierce competitor, always slinging that cheese. He’s strong…big dude, I think that’s going to be a good add for us."
With the new additions to the offence, Rasmus is going to be busted down the batting order, likely to the lower third. Chances are he’ll hit seventh, between Brett Lawrie and J.P. Arencibia. The significance there is that his big hot streak last season coincided exactly with his being moved up into the second spot in the batting order, and Rasmus credited hitting there with his run of success, saying that always getting to the plate in the first inning helped him get into the game more quickly and stay aggressive.
Having had the chance to look back, though, he now says that "when I got switched to two, I changed a little something in my swing that helped me at that time. So I think if I just get my swing right, I don’t think it’ll matter (where I hit in the lineup)."
Blue Jays fans are certainly hoping so, because the line on Rasmus — twice a top-five prospect in all of baseball — is that he’s got the goods to be a perennial all-star.