Atkins says Blue Jays’ Pompey returning to baseball activity

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Toronto Blue Jays' Dalton Pompey hits a single in the fifth inning of a spring training game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019, in Dunedin, Fla. (Lynne Sladky / AP)

It’s been a long road to recovery for Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Dalton Pompey.

And the team plans to continue taking their time in bringing the oft-injured 26-year-old back up to speed.

In an appearance on Sportsnet 590 The Fan’s Prime Time Sports on Thursday, Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said his “heart goes out to” the native of Mississauga, Ont., who suffered a concussion in spring training after previously having ones in both 2016 and 2017.

Pompey had slashed .282/.282/.436 with a home run, three doubles and two stolen bases in 14 games before he was injured when he was bumped in the head by bats at the top of his locker at Dunedin Stadium.

“It’s tough when you have multiple concussions and how that affects the psyche as just everyday living and how difficult that is, and then getting into competing at a very high level — it’s so difficult, my heart goes out to him, man,” said Atkins.

“It is to go from 2015, and even 2016 contributing here, and to be being a near-household name in Toronto to not having found that consistency again because of those mishaps, the injuries and the concussions — is heartbreaking.”

Atkins said Pompey is beginning to return to baseball activity, but the team is taking its time with his recovery.

“We’re not expediting that — that is a very sensitive subject.”

Pompey has had 145 at-bats with the Blue Jays between 2014 and 2018, hitting .221/.289/.372 with three homers and 10 RBI.

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Atkins also addressed some of the team’s other outfield prospects.

Following Teoscar Hernandez’s return to the majors Wednesday after a three-week stint with triple-A Buffalo, Atkins said he was pleased with his progress and play at centre field.

“He’s really buying in, I think you could see it last night,” he said.

“He was a much more aggressive baserunner. He was a much more aggressive defender than even we’ve seen in left and that turns into confidence.”

Hernandez had previously manned left field for Toronto, but Atkins said the 26-year-old, who had played centre in 443 of his 688 games in the minor leagues, has the chance to be average defensively at the position.

“He certainly has the run tool, certainly has the throwing and now it’s just the instincts, angles and routes. And if he’s aggressive and taps into that athleticism, he’s as fast as [three-time Gold Glove winner] Mookie Betts. He can really move when he gets going,” said Atkins, adding that the duration of his stint at the position will depend on his performance.

The Blue Jays general manager also said Hernandez needed to make some offensive adjustments prior to his demotion, and Wednesday he demonstrated some “encouraging” changes, including better coverage of the top of the zone and lowered hands.

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Atkins was also asked by the Prime Time Sports crew why 24-year-old outfielder prospect Anthony Alford hasn’t gotten an extended look in the big leagues this season.

Atkins said Alford — who has four homers and 23 RBI along with a slash line of .213/.290/.356 for Buffalo — hasn’t checked off all of the organization’s boxes required for a call-up.

“Challenging someone when they’re still overcoming those performance struggles while they’re at a lower level, seems to be less than advantageous for us,” he said.

“Baseball’s hard, man. It’s just hard and it just doesn’t happen for everyone. He has all the ability to do it and he has the tools, and no one wants to hear that. Anthony doesn’t want to hear that — that he has the ability, it’s just that the performance hasn’t been consistent enough yet.”

Atkins specified that his issues boil down to his swing-and-miss approach at the plate.

“He has really big movements and creates holes for himself, and advanced pitchers can take advantage of this,” he said.

He added that they’re “not concerned” by his progress and he has the character and attributes to make the jump.

“Projecting performance is one thing, but at the major-league level you have to see it before you are giving guys playing time here,” he said.

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