Pompey ‘having more fun’ as opportunity emerges

Dalton Pompey (Darren Calabrese/CP)

MESA, Ariz. – One thing that’s become increasingly clear this week is just how much confidence the Toronto Blue Jays have in Dalton Pompey’s ability to contribute in centre field next year.

They wouldn’t have been able to trade Anthony Gose to the Detroit Tigers for second base prospect Devon Travis otherwise, leaving them to bank only on Kevin Pillar. Multiple viable options were needed.

So what started out as a three-horse race to take over from the departed Colby Rasmus in centre field last September is now down to Pompey and Pillar, barring a trade, with a competition between the two set for spring training.

In talking about the soon-to-be 22-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., before the trade, Alex Anthopoulos said Pompey has “tremendous upside.”

“The ingredients are there, he can be a complete player, he can be an above-average defender in centre, but I still think he needs to tighten up some things, and he’s been doing that in the Fall League,” the GM added. “Continue to get better with his routes, continue to get better with his throwing mechanics and not getting on the side of the ball, getting on top of the ball, because he’s got the arm-strength, and continue to have quality at-bats. That’s what we like about his offensive game, he grinds out at-bats, he’ll work a walk, it’s a quality at-bat each time.”

Told of the Anthopoulos’s comments Wednesday at Cubs Park before taking the field for Mesa’s AFL game against Peoria (he singled in the first, got stuck in the mud on a wet slide into second, slammed his head into the ground and came out for precautionary reasons), Pompey was grateful.

“It’s all positive,” he said. “Anything I can take from what Alex says or what John Gibbons says I’m going to listen and I’m going to apply it,” said Pompey. “For them to come out and say good things about me is only going to help going into next year. They believe in me, and if they believe in me I can believe in myself. I definitely have that confidence going into spring training that if I play well, there’s a good chance I can be where I want to be, and that’s the opening day centre-fielder.”

Here’s the rest of our conversation:

Sportsnet: The Blue Jays feel your plate discipline is one of the things that should allow you to transition successfully to the big-leagues. How would you describe your progress in that regard this season?

Pompey: “I think it’s gotten a lot better, I still think it can get better. I feel like it’s one of those things we don’t work on enough, recognizing pitches, knowing what pitches you can handle. I’ve really taken pride in doing that because once I got to the big-leagues I noticed that you’ve got to be more on top of your approach and you plan at the plate or else you’ll struggle. Going into the off-season, that’s basically what I’m going to work on the most, pitch-tracking and recognizing what’s a strike and what’s not. Once you get up there, you’ve got to know what you want to hit and what you hit well, or else the pitchers will get you out on a more consistent basis. For me it’s all about getting on base and if I get on I can score runs, steal bases, help the team win.”

Sportsnet: The sample-size was small, but did you notice changes in the way big-league pitchers attacked you from when you first got up to the end of the month?

Pompey: “Honestly, I think right off the start they were mixing their pitches. The first pitch I saw in the big-leagues wasn’t even a fastball, it was a curveball. I was facing guys like Kuroda, Tanaka, they weren’t just throwing me all fastballs, they were throwing me splitters, curveballs, changeups, so I don’t think they were pitching me a certain way. I did get 40 at-bats but by the end of it I had more of an understanding of what they were trying to do to me as the game progressed. I feel I got better at the end than I was at the beginning.”

Sportsnet: It was a trial by fire in some ways given the quality of starters you faced. What type of benefit does that type of crash course give you?

Pompey: “That’s what I was saying, too, when I got up there I was facing really good pitching, the Mariners, the Orioles, their bullpen was really good, the Yankees, the starters I faced like Tanaka and Kuroda, those guys are pretty good. Going into it facing those guys, I felt like it could only get better for me because not everybody is a Tanaka or a Felix Hernandez. It was good to face those guys right out of the chute.”

Sportsnet: From last year to now, what’s the biggest difference in Dalton Pompey, the baseball player?

Pompey: “I’d say the mental side, handling the ups and downs on an everyday basis. Last year I’d really get down on myself a lot if I didn’t have a good game and I put too much pressure on myself. This year, I still expect a lot of myself and demand a lot of myself because that’s the person I’ve been, but I think taking positives from each game and going into the next day with a positive mindset has really helped me progress. It’s really shown on the field this year.

Sportsnet: And from last year to now, what’s the biggest difference in Dalton Pompey, the person?

Pompey: “I’m having more fun. Last year I was miserable a lot, now I come out here and have fun with the guys, joke around, take ground balls in the infield sometimes just to joke around, and like being here. I felt last year I didn’t really like being here because I was struggling, I’d have a good game and I’d still be down. Now I just try to have as much fun as I can because I don’t know how long I’m going to be playing this game. I just have to enjoy it while I still can.”

Sportsnet: Who helped you on both those fronts?

Pompey: “My parents, they were there for me. Even talking to other guys, sometimes they’d come up to me and be like, ‘Hey man, just smile more. I wish I had more fun, sometimes we take this too seriously.’ Just hearing that from multiple people really makes you change your mindset. When you hear one thing from somebody you don’t change, but if you hear from multiple people, you realize that it’s real. My parents, listening to me rant and stuff like that, they’ve always been there for me, supporting me. Both those things really helped and will help me going forward.”

Sportsnet: When did that process start for you?

Pompey: “Probably in the off-season, looking back at what I could change. In spring training I tried to apply it and I felt a lot better about myself as a player and a person, so I just continued to do that and it helped me.”

Sportsnet: Are you big on post-mortems after each year, dissecting how things went down?

Pompey: “In general, I won’t go back to specific days or something like that. I’ll look back at what made me successful when I was in Dunedin, New Hampshire, Buffalo and even in the big-leagues so I can hopefully make myself better for next year.”

Sportsnet: Anthopoulos talked about the improvements you’ve made defensively but that he still thought there was some work on your routes to the ball and in your throwing. Where do you feel you’re at defensively?

Pompey: “I feel like I’ve gotten a lot better. They’ve told me certain things like working on my routes and my throws and I started working on stuff like that with (Blue Jays first base coach) Tim Leiper when I was in the big-leagues, and even when he came here, too. I think I can get better, too. I feel my reactions aren’t as quick as they could be.”

Sportsnet: What do you mean by that?

Pompey: “Getting myself into a better stance to make a move. (Blue Jays senior adviser) Mel Didier was here and he told me that I can get in a better position to get ready for the ball to be hit. When I started I would have my hands on my knees and he told me to have my hands higher on my thighs so there’s less pressure leaning over and less time to move. That’s the difference between the half-step on those balls just out of your reach that you end up catching. I’m applying that in BP because that’s the only time I can work on it other than when I’m in the game. But it has gotten better. I think I’m a pretty good outfielder but it can only get better from here.”

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