DUNEDIN, Fla. – Colby Rasmus found a comfort zone during the 2013 season, an overarching approach on how to be, how to work, how to perform. The Toronto Blue Jays centre-fielder keyed on things like staying relaxed, letting go of bad nights at the plate, freeing himself from the expectations of others and having fun—and he enjoyed one of his most complete seasons in the big-leagues as a result. “I always wanted to be that way, but it was hard,” he says. “Everybody always put expectations on me, telling me I should be doing this, doing that, should be hitting this certain amount with the talent I had.”
That Rasmus finally did, in essence, find himself as a baseball player is why he so appreciates the Blue Jays, and why all he wants to do this spring is to keep his approach from last year going. “Last year, Gibby (manager John Gibbons) and Motor (former hitting coach Chad Mottola) both helped me by saying, ‘Just enjoy playing the game, there’s always tomorrow, don’t let it beat you up,'” Rasmus says. “That helped me be confident, helped my talents come out. Where I was before, I wasn’t really able to relax. I was always fighting myself, trying to be something I’m not.”
Too often, the conversation about the 27-year-old remains about what he isn’t, unwisely ignoring what he’s become. Among centre-fielders with a minimum of 400 plate appearances last year, Rasmus posted a 4.8 WAR, behind only Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen, Carlos Gomez, Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo. And his defensive score of 12.9 runs saved above average, a FanGraphs metric, was fifth best at the position.
By no means is he perfect, but put simply, few in baseball provide the kind of all-around production in centre that he does—worth keeping in mind with Rasmus eligible for free agency next fall. Not only do the Blue Jays have only one starting outfielder under club control beyond 2014, they’re also in no position to replace all he brings. Bottom line, whether it’s the Blue Jays or another team, someone is going to pay him big.
Still, when asked if he's considered what the future holds with free agency looming, Rasmus replies without hesitation, "Zero, I haven't thought about it at all," he says. "For me, it's all about right now, and next year don't matter. My thoughts are going to be simple. If I've got a bunch of things going on in my head, and [negative] things start coming at me, it's a lot harder to filter those out."
Playing for a big contract has sullied the walk-seasons of many players, so perhaps that makes sense, especially given Rasmus's desire to pick up right where he left off.
Already there's one adjustment for him to make with the departure of Mottola, whose contract wasn't renewed after the season, and acclimating to new hitting coach Kevin Seitzer. A pull hitter, Rasmus isn't looking to make changes in the batter's box. "When that ball is coming from so many different angles and you try to hit it a certain way, your body moves," he says. "The next thing you know you're jamming yourself. For me, I try to work on using my hands."
That's fine with Seitzer. Even though he philosophically believes hitters should use the middle of the field, he has no intentions of trying to reinvent the wheel with Rasmus. "I told him, I'm not going to come in here and overhaul anything," says Seitzer. "My job is to work within your comfort zone, what you feel are your strengths... And I'll try to help you make adjustments when you get out of whack."
One habit Rasmus believes he's broken free from is the tendency to overwork himself when things go bad. A contributing factor to his second-half collapse in 2012, the Blue Jays believe, was the way he'd take to the batting cage immediately after bad games, sometimes taking as many as 200 post-game swings, perhaps making a mechanical adjustment to ease his frustrations. Mottola made sure to monitor and limit that workload last year, and Rasmus says avoiding that pitfall now will be easier. "I'm getting a little older now, the body can't take it quite like I used to," he says with a grin, "I can't beat myself up any more."
There will be no reason to if he maintains the form he showed last year. And through all the drama from his early years in St. Louis to the tumultuous and eventually redemptive transition in Toronto, he now knows what works for him: "Get ready for each day, be confident in what I'm trying to do, not put pressure on myself to go out and hit .300 and 30 (home runs)," he says. "I'm going to focus on being relaxed, using my hands, staying with my approach and trying to run the ball down in the outfield."
It worked well enough in 2013. The best thing for him, to use the baseball parlance, is to stay right there.