Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
As winter weather continues to pummel Southern Ontario, it’s nice to start thinking about spring.
Spring training is not too far off, with just over a month until pitchers and catchers report. With that in mind, with how the Jays got off to a slow start, was preparation for the season too relaxed last year? And what might spring training look like this year by comparison?
Last spring was a bit strange. First was a team with so many new faces from offseason moves. Add to that a new, yet familiar, manager in John Gibbons and a new coaching staff. Meanwhile, seven Jays received invites to play in the World Baseball Classic. Jose Bautista had to sit out due to just coming off wrist surgery. Brett Lawrie had to bow out at the last minute due to a rib injury.
Perhaps because of circumstance, the camp last spring was relaxed and less structured than in years past. Gibbons didn’t plan any social events for team bonding. Some reporters were also surprised with how early the workouts finished – usually at around noon.
Alex Anthopoulos didn’t seem to have an issue with the short works:
"…it’s an older team, our young players, other than Brett (Lawrie) who’s 23, are Colby (Rasmus) and J.P. (Arencibia) at 26-27. So we have a bunch, for the most part, of veteran players that know what they need to do to get their work done and when it’s done they get to go home."
Part of the problem may have been that most of the roster was already set. There were no big battles for remaining spots, aside from at the end of the rotation and in the bullpen. As a result, the Jays didn’t feel the need to schedule any extra “B” games.
Was it mere coincidence that the Jays started the regular season so flat? By early May they had a record of 10 wins and 20 losses. They proved good enough to dig themselves out of the hole, but ultimately they could never get back those early losses. Add this to injuries and other woes and you have a losing season.
More than that, they just didn’t look sharp. At second base, Emilio Bonifacio committed four errors in the first eight games of the season. Maicer Izturis didn’t look much better. They couldn’t hit; they couldn’t pitch.
Can it all be blamed on the spring? Of course not. But it does seem to indicate that this spring things may be a bit different.
At the start of the Winter Meetings, Gibbons addressed the slow start last season:
"We’ve got to make sure our focus is, ‘Hey, you know, we didn’t answer the bell last year, but now it’s time to do it.’ Are we going to be ready coming out of Spring Training? We need a good start."
It certainly sounds like Gibbons wants a different approach to get ready for the regular season. It will be interesting to see what he and his staff have planned for the team.
There is no WBC to cause a distraction this year. The roster is anything but set (at least at this point) which means there may need to be as many extra “B” games scheduled as possible. There will be battles, which no doubt means some working for that extra edge.
Overall, the players should want to treat 2014 as an opportunity to start fresh and take a different approach.