Saturday, March 10, 2012

Voracious meat eaters unite

     Travis Snider and Eric Thames have lockers on opposite sides of the clubhouse in Dunedin. There's a middle row of lockers dividing the sluggers that might as well represent Blue Jays Nation. There is Camp Snider (209 votes on our poll) and Camp Thames (117 votes). Lunch Box Hero backers are feeling pretty good right now, following another homer today by the voracious meat eater. "I like Eric Thames, I really do, but I hope Travis wins the LF job," tweeted @rallycap_andy. I admire how both outfielders are handling this day-to-day race. Thames on the job hunt: "When it's time to play, it's all business. There are no hard feeling whether he wins or I win. We both know that, hey, it's the business side of what we do," he said.
     When I asked him about his swing and seemingly patient approach right now, he said, "Swing-wise, I feel great. I'm just trying to get my eyes to adjust. There have been pitches I thought were a foot off the plate, but they were right on the black. Right now, I'm just looking to get more at-bats to let my eyes adjust and start picking up spins and getting more comfortable."

Kevin Littlefield/Staff
Thames also complimented Snider, saying, "He's a great clubhouse guy and a great teammmate."
Who you got?
Kevin Littlefield/Staff

Travis Snider takes the lead! With another blast today against the Pirates, that's three homers in as many games for Lunch Box Hero, including bombs against lefties Cesar Cabral and Zach Duke. "#StayHot," Snider hash-tagged yesterday. And he did!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Breaking down Snider's swing

A tantalizing Travis Snider homered against the Pirates on Wednesday and threw out another base runner, his third assist of the spring. A day earlier, however, he struck out three times against the Phillies and left my sun-tanning Blue Jays friends (hey, there, nice to finally meet you) shaking their heads in Dunedin, Fla. After the game, I talked with Snider about his evolving swing and the ongoing quest to find his timing -- and the battle with Eric Thames.  It's early, I know, and spring training is all about regaining your rhythm at the plate. There's another hitting coach in the picture, too. Snider is focusing on quieting his hands, seeing the ball deeper into the strike zone and "not pulling off" breaking pitches. We chatted for 10 minutes on the topic. Before turning on my voice recorder, I asked him why his swing has a tendency to be late to contact.

"You said it, the timing. In the past, I've had a lot move movement," he said. "I've started simplifying things with my hands and my 'gather' or 'load.' There are different ways to describe it, but it's all about making sure I'm on time to recognize the pitch, make the proper adjustment if necessary and hit the baseball." ... We talked about today's swing compared, to say, 2009:

"I started off mechanically great (in 2009) and fell off and got into some bad habits. Ever since then, it's been a matter of trying to figure out what's going to work for the long term instead of trying to find a Band-Aid to fix it," he said. "The biggest difference, I'd say, is where I start my hands and simplifying the movement and not having so much room to travel with my hands and getting into slot ... I'm working on waiting back on off-speed (pitches) without completely pulling off the baseball." ... Here's a look at one swing sequence against the Phillies:

Kevin Littlefield/Staff

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Blue Jays and Phillies in Dunedin

Here at spring training with the Blue Jays, all eyes are on Sergio Santos, whose fastball and slider are enough to close out games, and now he's refining a changeup. I just love that photo! Today we're at the Jays-Phillies game in Dunedin, watching Ricky Romero throw two scoreless and catching up with Brett Lawrie in pregame. Jose Bautista's setup, load and timing of swing is a thing of beauty. What is Robinzon Diaz doing right now? 
Kevin Littlefield/Staff photographer

Monday, March 5, 2012

Noah Syndergaard throwing "downhill bullets"

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Spent the day at Blue Jays minor-league camp, catching with old friends and getting a chance to watch Noah Syndergaard throw some lightning bolts. The big Texan is every bit of 6-foot-5 and stands tall, maximizing downward trajectory. While standing behind catcher Santiago Nessy, I got a sense of what it might feel like trying to hit Syndergaard. The term "throwing downhill" comes to mind as his fastball vapor-trails from a 3/4 arm slot (maybe a bit higher) and into the glove. If this kid starts commanding his changeup, it's over. Noah, still only 19 years old, says the changeup is currently his second-best pitch. Interview here ... Sal Fasano: "He's the best pure thrower we have, hitting 97, 98. Mechanics are getting better and better. He has a chance to be something special," Sal Fasano said. "The key is having a workable delivery that he can repeat over and over again." My guess is the Blue Jays will assign Syndergaard to Single-A Dunedin, and if he dominates, they'll give him a taste of Double-A in July. Who is heading north to New Hampshire? It's still too early to say, but catcher A.J. Jimenez is currently penciled in as the Fisher Cats catcher. Middle infielder Ryan Goins is likely headed to New Hampshire, along with power-hitting outfielder Brad Glenn ... Alan Farina threw his first bullpen (20 pitches) since Tommy John surgery and was encouraged. Farina begins the year on the 60-day DL and hopes to be throwing at 100 percent by July. 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Random Brad Emaus update

Forgive me if Brad Emaus seemed a bit out of place on a practice field at Red Sox spring training, in the afternoon, grinding it out while big leaguers were done for the day -- already fishing or golfing. After all, Emaus was the opening day shortstop for the Mets last season. Didn't quite work out, though. Today he's looking for a minor-league infield job with the Sox ... "Brad's a good offensive player," Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said. "For whatever reason, he's was running out of opportunity. We got him into camp, and we'll get a chance to know him better this spring. We're hopeful he can help us, more likely, at the minor-league level to start. He's a guy that's always hit. We'll see if that translates to Boston."

Red Sox minor leaguer Brad Emaus takes infield in Fort Myers, Fla. Kevin Littlefield/Staff photographer
More on Emaus and ex-Blue Jays Jesse Carlson in my baseball column for the New Hampshire Union Leader. Cherington on Carlson: "He had one really good year in Toronto (in 2008). He's mostly a matchup-lefty. Low arm angle and good slider. He gives lefties fits when he's going well."

Blue Jays and Pirates Notes

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Bling in Bradenton! That was the pregame theme as members of the 2011 Fisher Cats got their first look at the Eastern League championship ring before today's game against the Pirates. Fisher Cats team photographer Kevin Littlefield, who was given a ring for all his hard work through the years, showed it off following batting practice ... "It was awesome. I can't even describe it with words, when you see the symbol of all the hard work," said Travis d'Arnaud, who played against his older brother, Pirates infielder Chase.
Travis Snider drove in three runs, and catcher Jeff Mathis made a "web gem" (John Farrell's words) in the fifth inning, pouncing on a well-placed bunt by Alex Presley ... Anthony Gose put on a display of speed and athleticism, scoring from second base on a squib grounder to the right side during Toronto's 8-5 win. Hard to fathom, I know. Gose said he just kept going on the Snider chopper, and, luckily for him, Pirates were caught sleeping ... I asked Gose after the game, "Were trying to show off your speed or what?" He replied, "Gotta do something!"