Given that he spent the past decade entirely with the Houston Astros after being drafted in the first round, 11th overall, out of the University of Connecticut, that shouldn’t be surprising.
All of the 31-year-old’s baseball milestones happened there. He came of age and experienced extended stretches alongside Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman, among others. He enjoyed years of relatively stable coaching, with A.J. Hinch managing five of his seven big-league seasons with the Astros, and it would have been six if not for the cheating scandal that led to the skipper’s firing last February. Dave Hudgens, who left in 2019 to serve as Blue Jays bench coach, was the Astros hitting coach for four seasons prior.
Now, Springer is in a different part of Florida for spring training, wearing a different jersey, on a team with a different vibe.
“It’s a new opportunity for me,” he said Tuesday after the day’s work in Dunedin, Fla., had been completed. “I'm enjoying this.”
Given that he signed a $150-million, six-year deal, he very well should be, but there’s a lot to adjust to for someone with a strict discipline to his routine. And unlike a player who changes teams after a down season seeking some new viewpoints, or a better opportunity, Springer and the Blue Jays want to keep him right where he was from a performance standpoint.
Hence, a seamless transition won’t be easy, which is why these early days of spring training are so important in that regard.
“Every organization does things differently, they believe in different things,” explained Springer. “For me, it's about understanding what's worked (personally), it's about understanding the success and the failure that I've had, and really trying to hone it in, but also trying to learn and understand the Blue Jay way, how it goes, how the guys work. That really comes from just sitting down and having conversations and speaking about the game, having hitting conversations, having outfield conversations, and saying, 'Well, this is how we operate here,' and going, 'OK, well, this is what made me go here' and all that. So it's a combination of both.
“But I’m really enjoying the conversations that I’ve been having the last few days.”
To that end, one thing Springer intends to replicate from Houston is his gameday routine, which was “developed over years with a lot of input from a lot of people.” From his techniques in the batting cage to his lifts in the weight room, he intends to “prepare the exact same way” while his post-game recovery will remain consistent, too.
At the same time, he comes to the Blue Jays with his mind open to new ways of thinking, too.
“I'm willing to do anything,” Springer said. “I'm willing to sit here and take any feedback, whether it's bad, good, indifferent, to understand things and to really help me become a better player in general.”
That’s wise and admirable, but not without its perils, as right-hander Tyler Chatwood, another new Blue Jays addition, can attest.
Three years ago, Chatwood signed a $38-million, three-year deal with Chicago Cubs looking to leverage his top-percentile fastball and curveball spin rates and a repertoire that gives him a chance to be dominant. Instead, he felt like he “lost myself” during his first season at Wrigley Field, when his ERA of 5.30 actually outperformed his FIP of 5.60, and his WHIP was a ghastly 1.804 over 103.2 innings in 24 games, 20 of them starts.
“I think it was trying to people please,” said Chatwood. “Guys wanted to change who I was after I signed that contract. And instead of doing what I did my whole career and sticking to what I do best, I tried to people please, switch up my mechanics mid-season, stuff like that. It's not fun to try to do that. I think that was a blessing in disguise, as well. I went back and found myself. The last two years, I feel like, is the best stuff I've had ever in my career. And I’m excited to move forward.”
Despite that experience, Chatwood is embracing a move to the first-base side of the pitching rubber, something the Blue Jays discussed with him before he signed a $3-million, one-year deal. He’s liked what he’s seen from the adjustment so far, feeling it will help his two-seam fastball and changeup.
The plan right now is for him to pitch in late-inning leverage, potentially being used for up to six outs instead of a strict three per outing, said manager Charlie Montoyo, who has spent the past couple of days holding individual meetings with each of his pitchers.
Once done on that front, he’ll begin meeting with each position player, and one thing he wants Springer to do as he gets used to a new situation is to “just be yourself, and just lead – we’ve got good people.”
Given his stature in the game and the contract he signed, Springer could very easily have arrived in Dunedin expecting others to gravitate towards him. Instead, he’s impressed Montoyo by working to build relationships organically with his new teammates.
“I've got to do a lot of listening, a lot of watching,” Springer said. “It's my job to earn the respect of all of the guys that are in the locker-room. It's not just handed out. And the atmosphere that's been here, that's been established here already. It's my job to understand it, it's my job to navigate it. It's not anybody else's job to figure me out. It's my job to figure them out.”
Hudgens isn’t surprised he’s taking such an approach and expects Springer’s presence to resonate in his new environment.
“He's going to be a lot of fun, guys are going to love him,” said Hudgens. “He's a great teammate. He's a professional. He knows the league and he's going to be able to help these guys when they're preparing for the game with what he's been through in the past and with the ups and downs. He'll be great in the clubhouse.”
As an early example of that, Montoyo pointed to how Springer likes to hit off the high velocity fastball machine as part of his routine, which some Blue Jays don’t like doing. “But they’re already trying it just because Springer said, ‘Hey, just try it, I think it’s going to help you,’” said Montoyo. “I thought that was great when I saw it.”
That type of leadership by example is part of what the Blue Jays were seeking when they pursued Springer all winter long and finally got his signature on a contract. Without a doubt he’s going to change them, and the expectation is he helps transform his new team for the better while being the same player he’s always been.