March 2012

Q + A with Travis Snider

Travis Snider has dealt with more than his fair share of adversity during his young baseball career but has always handled with a lot of class. He’s still only 24 but speaks with the type of maturity of someone well beyond his years. I think after being optioned to the Minors for the fifth time in three years most players would take the opportunity to rip their organization but that’s not Snider’s style. Instead he opts to take the high road and put all the blame upon himself and past performance in the Major Leagues.

Snider took some time to chat with myself and another reporter on Friday afternoon at the Bobby Mattick Training Center. There’s a feature on the main site that can be found here but below you can also find a segment of that interview. Don’t forget, you can follow me on Twitter @gregorMLB

What was your reaction to being optioned to the Minors earlier this week?

“I had a pretty good feeling that was going to be the decision that was made. I thought Eric had a great camp in perspective of the competition, I had to come away and tip my cap and understand coming down here is not to feel sorry for myself, or feel like I got screwed out of something. It’s more an opportunity to come play every day, get my at-bats, continue to develop as a complete player and have fun with a great staff and a great group of guys.

“The fact that Eric was the starter at the end of last year, he had a good year, and for him to come into spring training it was going to be an uphill battle for me to try and take that job back. He played well, you have to tip your cap, and move forward.”

How do you deal with being in a different status now within the organization?

“I don’t think it’s so much how you feel about it, because it is what it is, I don’t have anyone to blame but myself, it’s a performance-based game and business and when you don’t perform, there are going to be people waiting to take your job. Accepting that was part of my off-season, realizing it was time to shift gears a little bit and come in with a little different mindset from years past, when it was, ‘Here it is, it’s your job,’ versus now you’re competing for a job, you’re fighting to get back up to the big-league level and establish yourself as an everyday big-league player.

“I don’t think it was necessarily a hitch in the confidence or ego, so to speak, just being realistic with the situation and developing the right mindset so coming into it, the emotions, feelings aren’t getting hurt. This is a business, I know what I can bring to the table, and concentrating on what I can control has kind of been my motto all spring training and will be throughout the rest of my career.”

What things did you do at the plate this spring that you really liked?

“I felt good about the power. Last year was a down year for me in terms of driving the baseball consistently, driving guys in is something I feel like I’ve done good job at over the years when situations have been presented to come up with an impact at-bat or an opportunity to put your team in position to win a ballgame by driving in baserunners, I felt like I did a great job of that during spring training and was very happy with the progress I saw in my swing.

“Moving forward, the two main focuses going into Vegas are continuing to refine my approach and be a patient hitter, because when I’m able to do that, I get better pitches to hit, get on base more and am just more successful all around, and also facing left-handers, continuing to develop the approach against them as well as I saw some success early on, and then faced a couple of tough lefties on my way out, and look to learn from those opportunities that were given to me.”

What did Farrell and Anthopoulos say to you during the meeting before you left camp?

“It was pretty short to the point that the decision was made, they reiterated the fact that they liked the changes I’ve made mechanically in my swing and the adjustments that I was able to make within an at-bat instead of going out there and being 0-2 and giving in to a pitch that’s not in the zone or isn’t a pitch you can handle. I think I showed the capability of doing that again, that’s something I got away from at times in my career, and just establishing that day in and day out at whatever level you play at is important to being a successful player.”

Not much else you could have done this spring, how do you move forward and clear your head now?

“You control what you can control, you go out there, put up your numbers, play your backside off and leave it all out there on the field. If I walked away with any thought in my mind that I wish I would have done this, there was none of that. The goals are there, the focus is there, took a couple of days off to kind of regroup, get some things organized for going to Las Vegas to start the season, and come here with an attitude ready to work and ready to continue to grow and develop as a player.”

Ability to deal with adversity…

“Off the field I dealt with a lot of things early on in my life. I think that instilled some resilience and some ways to work through your problems but when you don’t experience that same adversity in baseball it becomes a little bit more of a shock. The first few times I went through getting sent down those were hard things for me to understand, for me to grasp onto and say ok this is what it is and be able to move on with it.

“As you go through it more and more, it’s not something that you ever want to go through, it’s not something you look forward to going through, but being able to approach it with the right mindset, with the right support group in my life, whether it has been personal or baseball related I’ve always had a huge family of support within baseball and outside of baseball. The Blue Jays have supported me through a lot of those times later in my life since I became a part of this organization so I’m very thankful for that as well as all the family and friends back home.

“The fans in Toronto, the support has been unbelieveable and I know what it’s like to be a fan, I know what it’s like to see guys struggle, young guys, whether it’s in different sports that I watch. The way that they’re stuck behind me I’m very thankful for that and all the support that has been given to me by everybody.”

Upcoming Blue Jays pitching schedule

Here’s the pitching schedule for the final Blue Jays’ Spring Training games:

Saturday @ Philadelphia:

Ricky Romero (five innings)
Carlos Villanueuva (two innings)
Jason Frasor

Sunday vs. Pittsburgh:

Brandon Morrow (five innings)
Sergio Santos
Francisco Cordero
Casey Janssen

Monday @ Tigers:

Brett Cecil (five innings)
Luis Perez (two innings)
Minor Leaguers

Tuesday vs Tigers:

Henderson Alvarez (five innings)
Kyle Drabek (two innings)
Aaron Laffey (two innings)

The starting rotation hasn’t been set but whoever wins the No. 5 spot between Drabek and Laffey will remain in Dunedin for another start before heading north for their first appearance of the regular season.

Blue Jays annual Minor League Awards

The Blue Jays held their annual Minor League Awards ceremony on Friday morning at the Bobby Mattick Training Center. More than 200 players were in attendance for the event and while you can find a note about festivities in today’s notebook on the main site here is a complete rundown of the recipients:

Service Award Winners (years spent with the organization):

Five-Year Player Service Awards:

Kevin Ahrens
Daniel Arcila
Aleson Escalante
Alan Farina
Balbino Fuenmayor
Leo Hernandez
Justin Jackson
Mike McDade
Alex Ramirez
Jonathan Talley
John Tolisano
Marcus Walden

Staff Service Awards:

Five Years:

Dan McIntosh
Chad Mottola
Danny Solano  

Ten Years: 

Voon Chong
John Schneider

Fifteen Years:

Vince Horsman
Dane Johnson  

Winning Baseball Awards:

Quality At Bats Champions

Las Vegas: David Cooper
New Hampshire: Anthony Gose
Dunedin: Brad McElroy
Lansing: Marcus Knecht
Vancouver: Jon Berti
Bluefield: Andy Fermin
GCL: Eric Arce

Pitching Awards:

Las Vegas:  Brad Mills
New Hampshire:  Chad Jenkins/Joel Carreno
Dunedin: Matt Wright/Ryan Tepera
Lansing: Casey Lawrence
Vancouver:  Justin Nicolino
Bluefield: Tyler Ybarra
GCL: Colby Broussard

Baserunning Award

Doubleplay Buster Champion – Markus Brisker

Tony Fernandez Award, which is named in honour of Toronto Blue Jays Gold Glove Shortstop Tony Fernandez.  It is awarded to a player who displays a tremendous work ethic, pride in their defense, and a passion and gracefulness equal to that displayed by Tony Fernandez. 

2011 winner: Adeiny Hechavarria

Staff Awards

Four Managers of the Year

Appalachian League – Dennis Holmberg
Midwest League – Mike Redmond
Florida State League – Clayton McCullough
Eastern League – Sal Fasano

Trainer of the Year:

Northwest League – Shawn McDermott

Coach of the Year – Award

Eastern League – Brian Pike
Florida State League – Armando Gutierrez

Community Service Award Winner: Anthony Gose

Bobby Mattick Award – Dennis Holmberg

Webster Award Winners (MVPs):

Dominican Summer League: Jario Labourt
Gulf Coast Blue Jays: Jorge Vega-Rosado
Bluefield Blue Jays: Chris Hawkins
Vancouver Canadians: Justin Nicolino
Lansing Lugnuts: Jacob Marisnick
Dunedin Blue Jays: A.J. Jimenez
New Hampshire Fisher Cats: Travis d’Arnaud (also won Eastern League MVP)
Las Vegas 51s: David Cooper

Individual Achievements:

Appalachian League – RBI leader – Art Charles  61
Eastern League – stolen base leader (70) Anthony Gose
FSL – saves leader (32)  Wes Etheridge  — also a Dunedin franchise record
NWL – saves leader (15) Drew Permison NWL – wins leader (7) Phillip Brua
Gulf Coast League record for home runs, 14 by Eric Arce
Florida State League – Home Run Champ – Brad Glenn (26)
PCL Batting Title –  David Cooper .364
Appalachian League Batting Title  – Kevin Pillar .347      

Major League Debuts:

David Cooper
Darin Mastroianni
Joel Carreno
Luis Perez
Henderson Alvarez
Brian Jeroloman
Eric Thames
Daniel Farquhar

Drabek takes centre stage

Dustin McGowan’s minor setback this week could turn into a major break for 24-year-old Kyle Drabek. Nobody ever wants to win a job because of an injury to one of their teammates yet this is the situation that Drabek now finds himself in with just seven days remaining until Opening Day. McGowan’s right foot ailment should open the door for Drabek to break north with the club and how long he stays there ultimately will depend on his early performance.

Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos confirmed on Tuesday that McGowan will have a secure spot in the rotation once he is deemed healthy and back to full strength. That could come as early as April 21st against the Royals but it’s too early to know just when McGowan will be able to get back onto a Major League mound. What all of that means is that Drabek will have at least one start and possibly more to make a case that he deserves a full-time job in the big leagues and not just a spot start.

Drabek’s main competition will come from Brett Cecil, who could still open the year as Toronto’s No. 3 starter but will need a strong month of April to solidify his spot. If Cecil struggles and Drabek excels that likely would be enough to justify making the switch. It’s shaping up to be an interesting first month of the season as the competitions in Spring Training spill over into the beginning of the year.

Don’t forget you can follow me on Twitter @gregorMLB where I am posting various news and tidbits from around Spring Training. Here are some recent leftovers about Drabek’s five shutout innings on Tuesday night against the Yankees:

John Farrell on Drabek:

Ability to repeat delivery help control emotions on the mound?

“No question they go hand in hand. It’s somewhat the chicken and the egg. To me, when he pitches with more emotional control as he has shown, he doesn’t overthrow the baseball, he doesn’t come out of his delivery, he’s able command the fastball and particularly all his pitches more consistently. So, he’s doing a very good job.”

What were the minor tweaks to delivery?

“He had a tendency when he got to the top of his balance point, to have his weight shifted to his heels. It created a bit of a back arch, so when he came out of his delivery to the point of his landing, his head was off line a little bit. He’d get inside the baseball and that’s why you’d see a lot of those fastballs missed up and in to right-handers or up to his arm side. As he’s repeated that one delivery, that’s allowed him to establish a release point that has been much more consistent as has the overall strike throwing ability.”

He was falling off to first base side?

“When he overthrows. Not uncommon for any pitcher. They’re going to fall off to their glove side just by over exerting and that goes back to that trust and relaxation versus overthrowing and pitching with more of a linebacker mentality as opposed to a pitcher.”

Common for a young pitcher to not have control of his emotions?

“It’s probably more common that a young guy has them when they first come to the big leagues. The transition phase for any young player, particularly a young starting pitcher because everything is so magnified because of the position, sometimes it takes getting your feet wet, going back down and learning from those experiences, and coming back with the knowledge that you gained the first time around.”

Magnified because of place in the trade as well?

“No, magnified because of the position. Players come to the big leagues through many different paths as we know. Kyle’s a Blue Jay. Obviously he was drafted by the Phillies, but the fact that he’s here with us now, there is an added magnification because of who he was traded for, but as a starting pitcher as we all know you can’t hide out there and the focus is on you from the first pitch you throw to the last pitch you throw.”

Differnt this spring than last?

“There are subtleties in the mechanics. If you didn’t know them before you might not say there has been a drastic change. it’s not like we changed an arm slot or a full windup, more than anything what he has shown is that he knows himself better. What that line of over exertion is, what the right line is his delivery.”

Last year you guys asked Drabek to stop throwing his cutter. What’s the current status of that pitch?

“Right now he has used that very sparingly. We haven’t mandated that he not throw it but we wanted to emphasize basically simplifying his game. Making his delivery more consistent. Getting back to three pitches, not five and refining three there’s a long list of big league pitchers that have pitched with three pitches. Just overall simplification and just getting things pretty straight forward for him is where the consistency has to start for him.”

Did that pitch become a crutch for him last season?

“That goes back to the mental side of it. many young pitchers, when they’re unsure of themselves in a way of how effective their fastball is. When he’s a four-seam fastball pitcher he feels like he has to get greater velocity. That’s where the inconsistent command came in. So he went to the cutter, it had late movement, he trusted it to move off the bat head a little bit more. That’s where the two seamer has replaced the cutter and it’s less stressful on the arm, it has later action and he puts the ball on the ground with it.”

Kyle Drabek:

Happy with your outing?

“I was more happy that when I was getting in trouble I was able to keep my composure and mechanics in check.”

McGowan’s injury change things for you?

“I hope he comes back as soon as possible. I’m just trying to go out there and make all the starts I have left and just compete still.”

Keeping emotions in check?

“Some of it going 2-0 in the count I was rushing a little bit but I was happy that I was able to keep my mechanics the way I wanted them after that to get back to an even count or have them swing and hit a ground ball.”

Climbing ladder with the fastball…

“Sometimes it works sometimes it doesn’t. Today was one of those days that it did, I can’t remember if it was the Astros of the Pirates but tried to do it and I threw it right down the middle. To me, it’s a pitch I have to be careful with.”

What have you changed to be able to keep your composure more effectively…

“I think it was getting the experience and learning from it. Stepping back, breathing a little bit, trying to slow your heartrate down, it tends to help for me.”

What did Farrell say to you after you came off the mound?

“It was just really, great job, way to pitch out of the trouble. Way to keep your mechanics in check. Pretty much all of the stuff that I’ve been working on. We both thought it went good.”

Do you feel more in control of your mechanics?

“Sometimes I get out of it but that’s when you have to step off and remind yourself to stay back and all of that good stuff. Last year I ended up changing it up a few times which definitely couldn’t have helped. This year working on it everyday playing long toss and working on it in the ‘pen it seems to help out pretty good.”

What changed for you in the past during those situations on the mound?

“Sometimes heart rate gets up and I kind of want to rush it. I’ll start leaning forward and that’s when my arm has to catch up with my body. That’s when we’re trying to keep me back so everything’s in line.

“It’s more excitement. You just get excited and for me that’s why I have to step off and breathe a little bit. That’s why I have to slow my body down to where I can be where I need to be.”

The cutter…

“Barely using it this year. Last year I think I might have used it a bit too much and trying to make it move too much too which I think caused me to fall off to first base. Some times doing that and then trying to throw a four-seam I would do the exact same thing and that’s why I think I tended to be wild with my fastball.”

Reaction to McGowan extension

Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos is known for catching people off guard with his moves but usually that is reserved for trades. On Monday afternoon, though,  Anthopoulos pulled another trick out of his hat by announcing he had signed Dustin McGowan to a two-year contract extension worth $3-million plus a club option in 2015 valued at $4 million, which can be bought out for $500,000.

I don’t think anyone saw this deal coming — at least not this early in the year. It was a calculated risk for the Blue Jays but one that comes with a relatively minimal downfall if things don’t pan out. The $3-million in guaranteed money is not going to make a difference to the club’s bottom line and won’t impact which players the club can pursue in the future. Sure, it’s still a lot of money but when compared to the amounts handed out in the First-Year Player Draft and international signings it’s relatively similar and both come with high risk and high reward.

There’s no way of knowing whether McGowan will be able to stay healthy but the fact that he has been throwing in the mid 90s during Spring Training is an encouraging sign. The walk rate needs to be lowered and command within the strikezone needs improvement but what else would you expect from a pitcher who has thrown just 21 innings during the past three years in the Major Leagues. He still needs plenty of work to shake off the rust but now the club can take all the time it needs in the development process without worrying about McGowan leaving like Al Leiter and Chris Carpenter did before him.

Here are today’s leftovers from this morning’s press conference to announce the two-year deal…

Alex Anthopoulos:

Why now…

“There’s no question there’s a risk but that’s part of what we have to do. The one thing is, I’d be lying through my teeth if I said there isn’t a risk, of course there are health concerns, of course there’s risk that’s just a reality of what he has gone through. But at the same time, I find I’ve learned as an assistant GM and then going into GM, the one thing I think I’ll put my head on the pillow as we do more of these is the person we invest in.

“I know I say it, I know it sounds corny, or cliche, but I believe in it more and more each year. If you give the money to the right human being — and obviously you have to have ability, the ability speaks for itself — but if you believe in the person, most times you’re going to be right more than you’re wrong. Whether you’re a little high on the money, a little low, at the end of the day the mistakes I find we’ve made as an organization we may not have done an evaluation of the person first and foremost. Whatever happens, from here forward, it’s not going to be because he isn’t going to work, it’s not because he isn’t going to be a tremendous teammate, it’s not going to be because he isn’t going to lead my example. He’s going to do everything how we want it to be.

“Now you start lining up in the rotation with a Romero, Morrow, a McGowan. All have great ability but the way they carry themselves, the way they handle themselves, the way they go about it day in and day out, for all the young kids that continue to come, we’ve now really set up a formula and a module for how this is going to be done and these guys are going to impact everyone else.”

Did Chris Carpenter situation affect this move?

“I wasn’t here, I wasn’t part of the organization. I know Chris is great, he has developed to become a great starter but I didn’t know the dynamics there. I just know that even when (McGowan) came up last year and the numbers weren’t great, from a scouting standpoint I still loved what I saw. I loved the delivery, I loved the stuff. But at the same time we’re not blind to the fact that yeah, there’s a ton of risk here. But, again, in this division with what we’re up against and what we’re trying to do we have to take a little bit more risk or maybe a lot more risk than a lot of the other teams and that’s part of it. But I’ll take the risk on the right human being and if you bet on the human being you’re going to be fine.

“I think at the end of the day, if we wanted him to be here, and he wanted to be here, you always end up getting a deal done. Just the distraction and the time involved of getting these things done during the season, things can change and so on, it’s always better to do it offseason or even Spring Training at the latest. If it would have had to go into the season we would have done that we would have done that as well but I prefer not to.

Element of risk for McGowan here as well…

“I think in anything, when a player signs a multi-year deal, you should be rooting to outperform your contract. That’s really the goal of these things. If you don’t outperform your contract, well sure financially it was good for you but that probably means your career isn’t going too well and that probably means you’re not having any success on the field, fans, media. From a front office standpoint it probably doesn’t look good on our end. Any time you sign a deal you’re guaranteeing yourself that money, you’re eliminating the risk but you’re hopeful that you outperform it and that there’s a second contract that comes to that.

“I always say that the downside to a player not taking a deal is significantly worse than a player saying I cost myself a little bit of money and oh, you know what there’s a second big deal that’s coming down the pipe and that has happened a lot of times in this game.”

Why two years as opposed to one…

“That was more us. Obviously we’re the ones making the contract offer, we’re the ones making the proposal. On the flip side, you could argue that well, one year it’s less guaranteed money. From our standpoint, he’s going to need to be built up over time. I don’t think he’s going to go to 200 innings or what not during the year. Knowing that we’re going to take him carefully and slowly build him up we wanted to be sure he was going to be here for a certain amount of time as he continues to build up as a starter. I think the years were important with respect to knowing he was going to be here for awhile considering the fact that we were going to build him up. That was something we requested and wanted and it was just a matter of coming up with what the right dollars were in terms of the option and everything else with the options.”

Paul Beeston was really upset when Al Leiter left as a free agent. Did you guys have any conversation about losing a guy you put so much time into?

“Just talking internally there was a lot of sentiment in the front office why are we doing this now? Let’s just wait. It’s not that everyone doesn’t love him and believes in him. But obviously Paul gives me a lot of autonomy. He always says I’m held accountable and he doesn’t want me to come back to him two years, three years from now, a lot of times I make trades he says I don’t want you coming back to me two or three years from now saying I didn’t allow you to do something. If you want to do something I’ll let you do something but you’re going to be accountable for it either way. From my standpoint, I wanted him to be here either way.

“If you know you want to be here then why not get a deal done unless you know you want to be somewhere else. I can tell you from my standpoint, I know my contract status has never been revealed but I want to be here so I don’t care what the money is. It’s kind of the same thing and I don’t care if other GMs make more money, this is where I want to be, it’s my first priority. It’s the same kind of thing with me, talking to my wife, if this is where you want to be, you’re happier. We’ve seen a lot of players go to places where they didn’t want to be because of money and end up getting traded, not happy and things don’t go well. I think there was going to be loyalty either way on both sides. I think we could have talked about it during the season, I think we could have talked about it at the end of the season. But I think we have a very competitive team and we wanted the focus to be on the field.”

Are you saying that Paul was skeptical?

“No, not at all but he always takes the other side. No matter what I bring to him, I come to him with an idea, I might be gung ho a certain way and he’ll say have you thought about this, this, and this. But Paul endorsed it 100%. When I walked Paul through the thought process and why he totally endorsed it.”

Dustin McGowan:

On the deal…

“It feels great. Toronto is where I wanted to be and it’s the only place I’ve ever been. The organization stuck by me the entire time. I’m grateful for that and I wanted to continue it here.”

Were you surprised…

“I was a little surprised, yeah. But when he talked to me I was very thrilled and looking forward to getting it going.”

Was there a point when you wondered if the Blue Jays were going to stick by you?

“Yeah, I guess going through that many years of being injured you’re always going to wonder. It’s just like wondering if I would ever pitch again but they stayed with me and it made me continue to work harder just because I knew they wanted me here and they seen something in me. This is where I wanted to be.”

Weight lifted off your shoulders now?

“Any time you get something done like this it’s just another thought in your mind that you don’t have to think about. Do I think about going out and performing just to get a contract next year? This eliminates all of that. It gives me a little bit of security and gives me a chance to just focus on pitching.”

Did you sign this deal because of the guaranteed money or out of a sense of obligation?

“A lot of both. Any time you’re guaranteed money you want to take it no matter what probably the deal is. They were very loyal to me so I have to be loyal too. It works both ways. It was one of those things where I had to sit down with my wife, we talked about it, and at the end of the day when I lay my head down to sleep at night there’s no regrets whatsoever. Even if I go out and have two or three great years people might say well you signed for, it wasn’t enough, to me it doesn’t matter. I made the deal, I’m going to stick to the deal and in my mind I made the right deal.

“There’s risk and reward. It’s a risk to hold out all year and see what happens. This way we got the deal done and I can concentrate on what I love to do and that’s pitch.”

Was there one major low point for you during your rehab?

“I don’t think there was just one. Spending three years down here it was like groundhog day. You’d have days where you’d just go out and throw and be like man I just had surgery and this still doesn’t feel good. But you go out there the next day and have a little bit of zip on the ball and things felt good and that gave hope and gave me confidence too. That always put my mind that things were going to be better and I’d get through it.”

Upcoming Blue Jays’ pitching schedule

March 26 : Off-day

Ricky Romero (Seven innings Minor League game)

March 27 @ NYY:

Kyle Drabek (five innings)
Sergio Santos
Francisco Cordero
Casey Janssen

Brandon Morrow (five innings in a Minor League game)

March 28 vs Baltimore:

Brett Cecil (six innings)
Darren Oliver
Carlos Villanueva
Jason Frasor

March 29 @ Boston:

Drew Hutchison (five innings)
Drew Carpenter (one-to-two innings)
Jesse Chavez (one-to-two innings)
Jim Hoey (one inning)
Robert Coello (one inning)

Darren Oliver (Minor League game)
Henderson Alvarez (five innings Minor League game)

Q+A with Anthony Gose

The Blue Jays won their 16th game of the Grapefruit League season on Thursday afternoon, which ties their mark from 2011. Prior to the game, I had an opportunity to chat with Blue Jays top prospect Anthony Gose.  Below is a segment of that interview and I’ll have a feature on Gose later today on the main Blue Jays website.

Also on the main site, you can find a notebook with items on Sergio Santos, injury updates on Brett Lawrie and Eric Thames, plus an item on a new batting order. Don’t forget you can follow me on Twitter @gregorMLB where I’m also posting daily news and tidbits from around Spring Training.

How much more comfortable are you this season with this now being your second year at the big league camp?

“Any time you can do something over and have a second crack at it you always feel a little more comfortable, a little bit better and a little bit more confident. Last year I didn’t know what to expect in my first big league camp whereas this year I kind of know how things work, know some of the guys being around the second time also know what to expect from the coaches and what they expect from me.”

You’ve gone through a pretty big change with your swing over the past 12 months. How difficult has that process been?

“It was pretty drastic for me at the beginning. I knew I was supposed to swing harder but I didn’t know the mechanics to it, staying behind the ball, driving down, things like that. As time went on it became a little bit more natural and I kept working on it day in and day out. Now I’m feeling really confident with it. Last year I had Justin Mayshore, who is with the Rangers now, and this year I have Murph and Chad.”

I was talking with Tony LaCava about you last week and he mentioned that in 2011 he wasn’t concerned with your overall results, the number of strikeouts, etc. For him it was more about the overall process of the new swing than the actual results. Is it difficult as a player to not worry about that — the results — though?

“Any time you’re a player it’s hard not to focus on the results because you see it instantly. You feel what’s going on so it’s difficult but it’s also reassuring to know that the organization is behind you with everything that’s going on and that they back you. It’s sometimes difficult to deal with the changes from a player standpoint but in the back of my mind you know having guys like Tony and Alex behind you it’s a bit more reassuring.”

How much of a difference have you noticed in your abilities this spring compared to last spring?

“I feel like a whole new person. I feel like everything is coming together and I’m a lot more comfortable, confident, with what I’m doing. So now if I can just keep doing what I’m doing, continue to get better, I feel like I’ll be there hopefully soon. ”

The Blue Jays are letting you bunt again this year — what is that going to do for your overall offensive approach?

“It just adds something else to my game. Instead of an 0-fer night I might be able to scrounge up a hit or instead of going into a longer slump I can just break it with a bunt. Keep myself on base , I have to get on base because that’s my job batting at the top of the lineup, get on base, use my speed, score runs any way possible to help my team.”

Looks like you had a really busy offseason with the Arizona Fall League and Venezuelan Winter League. Did you have any time off at all this offseason?

“I had about three weeks off but it was great because I got to go out to Venezuela and play. That was the most fun baseball I’ve ever had playing in my life, being able to experience that, continue to play and see some better pitching and guys that are going to throw a lot more breaking pitches it was a great experience.”

What was it like working with Sal Fasano last year in Double-A?

“Sal’s a great manager. You can tell by his career, he wouldn’t have been able to play in the big leagues for 15 years if he wasn’t a great guy and knowing the game as well as he does. Having him as our manager last year was unbelieveable. What he brought to the table, in his 15 years in the big leagues, he’s seen everything the game has to offer so having him helping me from what to look for from catchers in regards to stealing bases and base running things in general. What he looked for as a catcher was middle infielders, he would let me know so I can use that to my advantage. Calling games, he’s talked about what catchers might look for, their tendencies, things like that.”

Quick post and pitching schedule

The Blue Jays have an off-day on Monday and I’m not working Tuesday night’s game in Fort Myers against the Red Sox, which means I won’t be posting again until I’m back on Wednesday. Before I go, I wanted to post an updated look at the upcoming pitching schedule.

Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @gregorMLB and below you can find a lengthy Q+A with Brett Cecil. That interview goes along with a feature I wrote today for the main site. On you’ll also be able to find a notebook with items on Eric Thames, Jose Bautista and an injury update on Brett Lawrie.

March 20 @ Boston:

Aaron Laffey (Five innings)
Drew Carepenter
Chad Coello

Dustin McGowan throws in a Minor League game.

March 21 @ Baltimore:

Kyle Drabek (Four innings)
Chad Cordero
Casey Janssen
Rick VandenHurk
Luis Perez
Jim Hoey

Ricky Romero and Sergio Santos throw in a Minor League game.

March 22 vs Phillies:

Brandon Morrow (Five innings)
Carlos Villanueva (Two innings)
Darren Oliver
Jason Frasor

March 23 @ Tampa:

Brett Cecil (Five innings)
Drew Hutchison (Three innings)

March 24 vs Atlanta:

Henderson Alvarez (Five innings)
Sergio Santos
Francisco Cordero
Casey Janssen
Luis Perez

Q+A with Brett Cecil

Here’s my recent sitdown Q+A with Blue Jays left-handed starter Brett Cecil:

You obviously came into camp having lost an awful lot of weight. What did you change in your offseason workout routine?

“Nothing really changed, it just got more intense. I used last year as motivation for me, I didn’t want it to happen again. I just wanted to work hard at what I was doing, I was putting in the time, so I wanted to get the utmost out of it. I didn’t really do anything different weights wise.

“Core and endurance was a little bit different … It was a new company that came out and they were measuring biomechanical speed of shoulders, torsos, everything, so everything was good in my shoulders and my legs were fine but the muscles in my (core) weren’t firing at the right time and they said it could be a lack of endurance. The strength was there, we have a routine, the starters lift legs and do ab workouts, so I had the strength but I wasn’t able to contract and hold it for a long period of time. So did a lot of planks — toes and sitting on your elbows — for 30-45 seconds and they did this with a lot of guys not just me, using the video of my season as example of working the core out more so they incorporated it more into one big workout.

“You’d have a set of legs, then a super set that would incorporate your core endurance and planks, all different types of stuff. That was really the only thing that changed. I took the initiative to jump on the elliptical after my workout, after warming up, jump on the elliptical for about 20-25 minutes, run 10 minutes on a treadmill, run for 25 minutes, whatever it may be. My thinking on that, starting a little bit later in the offseason you start getting into routines of a long day followed by a sprint day, a long day and then a short sprint day, kind of what we’re doing right now, and my thing was I wanted to shed the weight and that would initially make me quicker, faster, keep my heart rate up for  a longer period of time instead of short sprints. You get a lot out of that but as far as trying to lose 40 pounds, it will take awhile, so for the first two and a half months I did an extra 25-30 minutes of cardio each day. It wasn’t light cardio either, I was getting after it a little bit. The core endurance workouts and the amount of cardio I did every day is pretty much the only thing I changed, everything else stayed the same.”

How often were you working out?

“I’d go Monday-through-Friday with offdays on Saturday and Sunday. Weights Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and just straight cardio on Wednesday.”

How do you think having lost all of that weight is going to help you on the mound this season?

“It’s going to help with everything. As far as mechanics, I was joking around with Papi (Blue Jays pitching coach Bruce Walton), I don’t have 40 extra pounds pulling me towards the first-base side so it’s easier to stay on line. I say that kind of as a joke but it’s true, I don’t have that weight coming across the body and just shoving me over towards first base so it’s easier to stay online. It has made my feet unbelievably quicker, my arm is a lot quicker, which I’m trying to get used to now. Last year my arm was dragging a lot, my arm speed was slow, now I feel like it’s not too fast — it’ll never be too fast — but right now it’s too fast for my body so it’s a matter of getting the timing down as far as when everything fires a certain time, all your muscles fire at a certain time, and now the arm just wants to get out in front. So I have to make a few adjustments but I don’t think they’re going to be very hard.”

To a certain extent it almost seems like you’re pitching with a completely different body…

“Since I’ve been over 200 pounds the lowest I’ve been was 208 and that was sophomore year in college. The same thing happened then, my arm speed got quicker, I was a closer then, but that’s when I started throwing 93-95 as a closer and eventually in the Cape League I got it up to 97-98. I know I’m in the right shape to do it — I’m not saying I’m going to throw 96 — but hopefully it will be a lot better than last year. But, again, I’m not worried about that, I’m worried about location more than anything and that’s what’s most important. But do I think I will get back up there? Yeah, I think so. I think it’s just a matter of time before I can get everything timed right, the arm’s still building up.”

Are you worried at all about losing too much weight?

“I thought about that because I was trying to be at 215-220 coming into camp and I was 214. Then I expressed that I didn’t want to lose too much weight, but if the weight’s going to keep coming off and I still feel good, not getting light headed during workouts or any kind of activity I’m not going to worry about it. I’m not going to be a guy that goes down to 180, then we’d have some problems. I don’t think, I can’t see myself passing out from a workout from 200-to-210 so no I’m not worried about losing too much weight but we’ll just see how I feel.

Was there a point last year when you were just looking forward to having the season end?

“Yeah. It’s weird because I wish it didn’t happen because it was such a bad year but then again I’m really happy that it did happen and happened early, it’s just given me motivation to do what I’ve done. Hopefully it pays off.”

The ERA you posted when you came back after  a demotion to Triple-A was pretty similar to what you posted during your 15-win season. Do you feel like a little bit too much negativity was taken out of your results last season?

“No I don’t think it was as bad as it was made out but I can’t worry about that stuff. My job is to control what I can control and that’s from when I take the first step back in my wind-up to when I release the ball, that’s it. Control everything within there and I knew I threw better once I came back but also there was a lot of the same from before I went down. I had good games and bad games, I knew I lost a couple of low-scoring one-run games but that’s going to happen. You only have one job to do and that’s when you step back to when you release the ball and that’s it. You can’t go up there with a bat in your hand, I certainly can’t, I can’t hit worth a lick. I can’t control that, these hitters are on our team for a reason and it’s a damn good reason. They’re pretty good so I wouldn’t want anybody else up at the plate than the nine we have starting.”

It seemed like in an awful lot of your starts last year there was just a couple of pitches that ended up completely changing your results — ones that ended up being hit for home runs — do you feel that way?

“Yeah, I had a lot of games like that. The one I remember the most was Boston, complete game I gave up two hits and those two hits were a solo homer and a two-run homer and I lost 3-2. I thought I could have thrown a no hitter if I didn’t throw those two pitches and there’s a lot of games like that. That’s really all it comes down to, one pitch, if a guy hits a homer that’s your one pitch, or you’ve got a guy on first and second and you throw a pitch a little bit up and he drives in some runs whereas if you locate the ball down you get the groundball for a double play and you’re out of the inning. I think pretty much, unless you have an awful game, it usually comes down to just one pitch that changes it.”

There was lots of talk in the offseason about the Blue Jays looking to add another front-line starting pitcher. Was there any point that you were like, wait a minute, I can be that guy?

“It didn’t really go through my head. I knew coming into camp and throughout the offseason, if I work hard that hopefully I would be given another chance with that third spot. Certainly I’m not going to be the ace, Ricky’s the ace, he’s an unbelievable human being on and off the field, works his butt off, and he’s just a good guy for people to look up to, older guys and younger guys, it doesn’t matter. That’s just how he goes about his business and that’s how good he is. As far as me being a front-line starter, I didn’t think about that.  To impact the team, of course, I want to help this team win and I’m going to help the younger guys as much as I can and I’m going to do everything I can to make this team better and do everything I can to help the team win when I’m pitching.”

But do you think between yourself, Henderson Alvarez and Dustin McGowan there’s enough pitching to go along with Romero and Morrow?

“Yeah I think so. For sure. I think obviously they’re obviously waiting on Dustin because of all the injuries he’s had, which is understandable, they’re waiting to see if he can bounce back and I’m sure he can. He did a good job last year when he came back and I think a lot of people are going to be surprised with the team as a whole and even our starting rotation. We’ve got Ricky, Morrow, and hopefully I can get back to 2010 form if not better and with Dustin everybody just has to understand the mental stability that guy has. To go through what he’s gone through for three years and finally be able to get back at it, get back on the mound and throw, it takes an unbelievably mentally strong person to be able to go through that and still want to proceed with it. A lot of guys think they have no chance, they’re injury proned, and they don’t see a point in beating themselves up but that’s one person I have to hand it to on the team is Dustin. He’s a trooper.

“Henderson, raw stuff, unbelivable stuff. He doesn’t even know how good he is yet and hopefully this year will be a great year for him and two, three, four years down the road, there’s no telling what he can do.”

Last year’s outfield defense was one of the weak spots for this club. What do you think a full season of Rasmus and Bautista in the outfield will do for the pitchers?

“It’s going to help tremendously. Rasmus is a guy that, he runs like a gazelle, he just glides to the ball, it’s fun to watch him catch even just routine balls and when he has to go after a ball it’s even better. Jose is obviously one of the best arms, if not the best arms in baseball and I feel very comfortable with him throwing guys out and I’ve noticed his ability to track balls has gotten tremendously better.

“In left field, whoever it may be, those guys can track balls with the best of them and they hit for a ton of power. I feel very comfortable with outfield, infield, catcher, bullpen, everything. Like I told a lot of guys here this is the most excited I’ve ever been to start a season.”


Q+A with Blue Jays assistant GM Tony LaCava

During a recent visit to the Blue Jays’ Minor League camp at the Bobby Mattick Training Center I sat down for an interview with assistant GM Tony LaCava. In the coming days, I’ll have some articles on the club’s prospects — starting today with a feature on John Stilson — but in the meantime here’s a sample of some of the things we talked about:

How do you handle the situation at first base in Triple-A Las Vegas with Mike McDade seemingly ready but David Cooper already there?

“They’re both ready for the level. Obviously Coop had a great year there and now Mike has proven that he deserves to go there. So, we have the DH spot as well so we’ll mix and match a little bit and we’ll try to develop both of them defensively but the biggest thing is that they’re going to get the at-bats that they need at that level. So, they’re going to be at the Triple-A level getting those at-bats.”

What types of improvement have you seen during the past year from Travis d’Arnaud?

“With Sal Fasano last year, they worked really hard on that consistency and getting his feet right, his throwing mechanics and I thought he got better as the year progressed to get to the point where I think we have an above-average defensive catcher now. The offense speaks for itself. We projected power and now you’re seeing it manifest in terms of home runs and being able to drive the ball out of the park. He’s a good hitter first, his power is developing.

“He’s always had a good swing. He’s got a real naturalness as a hitter, he knows how to shorten up with two strikes and when he’s ahead in the count he can do some things that allows for a bigger swing than when he’s behind. I think there’s a real naturalness and has good hitting instincts.”

Anthony Gose has gone through a lot of adjustments in the past year. His strikeout rate is still high but have you seen advancement in other areas of his offensive game?

“Last year was a year where we gave him some swing changes and we felt like wanted him to focus on the swing changes, not worry about the strikeouts, not worrying about bunting. We just turned him loose and let him go out there and get as many plate appearances as we could and just worry about hitting and getting his swing down. This year, the approach is to finish him off before he goes onto the big leagues at some point, we need to finish him off and that would be through a two-strike approach. If he puts some of those balls in play that were strikeouts then I think the numbers are really going to show and we’re also going to reintroduce bunting. That’s something he’s always been able to do since he was an amateur but we’re going to bring bunting back and we think that will also help as he gets closer to the big leagues.”

When he came over to you guys he had a reputation as being a slap hitter. How difficult of an adjustment is it for a player to go from that approach to one where he looks to drive the ball before? Because obviously you thought the power was in there…

“We thought he was more than just a slap hitter. We thought that there was some power there and the ability to drive the ball and that’s why we made those swing changes. He worked his butt off to make them stick and hold and now we think he has a repeatable swing that allows him to get the most out of his ability, which at times is some power. I certainly wouldn’t classify him as a power hitter but he does have some power, he has power at times, but he’s definitely more than just a singles hitter. That’s what we’re seeing now.”

On the young starters starting to come up through the system such as Syndergaard, Nicolino, Norris, etc…

“Andrew Tinnish and his staff have done a tremendous job of finding and signing some athletic guys with good arms, with size and makings of good deliveries. They’re progressing through the system now and we’ve got those kids now that are going to be at a full season. We’re excited for all of those guys you mentioned in addition to Sanchez, Cardona, and then of course the kids from last year’s draft. We’re fortunate to have a group of arms that we like and the reality is you can never have enough.”

For the pitchers taken in last year’s draft class, how do you determine which level they will start the season at?

“They’ll tell us. It’s going to be in short season but we’ll watch them here in Spring Training and then the extended (Spring Training) before deciding. That’s the beauty of having the three teams, we have the Gulf Coast, we have the Appalachian League and the Northwest League. We decided to add that team when we consciously made an effort to draft younger players and sign a lot of players from Latin America. We have to sort through them and they’re so young, and they need the levels, they need the touches.  We’ll watch them close and then we’ll decide which level they should go.”

Obviously the inability to sign Tyler Beede was a big topic of conversation last year. But by adding Norris, who dropped in the Draft because he was considered a tough sign, does it almost feel like you still got a first-round pick?

“Our scouts really like Norris, they really liked Beede, it’s hard to say. Norris is a guy that half our guys liked Norris better than Beede. Half our guys liked Beede. We were able to draft both and unfortunately we weren’t able to sign Beede but we’re glad to have the left hander.”

Internal debates about pitching prospects…

“I think everyone has their own list of who they would prefer but at this point in time we have them all so there’s no need to choose one or the other. You’re just trying to develop them to their fullest and I know our development staff treat each player like they’re special and we’re going to develop them to their fullest. We don’t make decisions to who we work harder with our anything like that everybody gets the full attention of the staff.”

Scouting report on Norris…

“He’s a gifted left-hander with a very good arm. He has an above-average fastball and he’ll show you an above-average breaking ball. We think he has the athleticism and we think he has a chance to be a quality Major League starter.”

On Chad Jenkins…

“Jenkins is progressing just like we hoped he would. He’s got that quality sinker, slider’s getting better, he’s working on getting a longer stride and he’s making the most of his opportunity over on the Major League side. He’s opening eyes.”

Don’t forget, you can follow me on Twitter @gregorMLB where I’m posting daily updates from Spring Training.