Mailbag: Will Thomas have a big spring?
Beat reporter Jordan Bastian answers Jays fans' questions
Blue Jays designated hitter Frank Thomas is notorious for having slow starts in April and May. What is he doing differently this year in Spring Training to hopefully kick off the regular season with better numbers?
-- Rob S., Sudbury, Ontario
The better question would be, "What isn't Thomas doing differently?" Thomas has been in rare form this spring, running sprints after his workouts, standing in at first base during fielding practice, and even serving as a baserunner during pick-off drills.
Maybe it's just the fact that he's now in his second season with the Blue Jays, but Thomas also seems more vocal within Toronto's clubhouse. It's a big switch from last spring, when he kept relatively quiet and didn't appear in any spring games until a week into March, recovering from a left foot injury.
Last spring, he didn't appear in a Spring Training game until March 9, and finished with only 32 at-bats. Through Sunday, a fully healthy Thomas already had 17 at-bats in Grapefruit League play. He reported to Spring Training early and worked for a week with his longtime hitting coach, Walt Hriniak.
Whether or not Thomas' early efforts will translate into a productive start to the season remains to be seen. Still, it hardly seems fair to say the slugger is "notorious for having slow starts in April and May." For his career, Thomas has hit .288 in April (the only month his average is below .300) and he's a career .304 hitter in May.
Granted, Thomas' recent history does include some poor starts -- most recently last season with the Jays. In 2007, Thomas hit .250 in April and he posted a dismal .193 average in May. In '06, he hit .190 and .260 in April and May, respectively. Prior to that, when healthy, Thomas performed well in the early months. This recent downward trend is definitely why he decided to alter his spring routine.
I'm reviewing the spring records and I'm a little worried about the offensive side of the game. I know, I know, it's early, and it's Spring Training, but the Jays went through something similar last year and look what happened. No one is saying it, but is management concerned? What's the mood like amongst the hitters? Is this new hitting coach working well with the team?
-- Derrick C., Toronto
It's early and it's Spring Training -- that's basically all there is to it. Whether the Jays average nine runs per game or two runs per game, it doesn't matter until Opening Day. Keep in mind that Toronto's regulars are only getting a few at-bats each at this stage of the spring, leaving more plate time for their cast of Minor Leaguers.
The Jays' hitters are taking plenty of extra swings in the batting cages and are spending ample time working with new hitting coach Gary Denbo, who has received only rave reviews from the batters; there's no problem with the mood around Toronto's clubhouse. If anything, this year's team has seemed more loose than the groups from recent seasons.
So far this spring, has there been anyone who might be a surprise addition to the Jays' roster come Opening Day?
-- John G., Ottawa
As of this writing, the one player who really sticks out in that regard is left-handed pitcher John Parrish. Toronto brought Parrish in on a Minor League contract and he's made the most of his spring invite thus far. The Jays have started stretching Parrish out with the thought that he might be able to compete for a long-relief role in the bullpen.
The Jays plan on carrying seven relievers and, as of right now, B.J. Ryan, Casey Janssen, Scott Downs, Brian Tallet, Jason Frasor, Jeremy Accardo, Brandon League, Brian Wolfe, Randy Wells and Parrish, among others, are all in the mix for jobs. That's a few arms too many, so Parrish will have to continue to display good control to move up the depth chart.
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It has been incredibly frustrating to read about Brandon League. Everyone is saying his velocity is up and the movement on his pitches is good, but what is he hitting on the radar gun? It would be nice to hear what the actual velocity is.
-- Lorne R., Geneva, Switzerland
The fact of the matter is that the Jays haven't used radar guns on League's pitches in the early goings of spring. During League's bullpen sessions, it was easy to see that the movement on his pitches had improved and manager John Gibbons indicated that the pitcher's velocity was up. League isn't flinging 100 mph heaters, but it's been estimated that his velocity has been in the mid 90s, topping out around 96 mph.
So far, Buck Coats has been awesome in Spring Training and is really seeing pitches well. Do you think he has a chance to make the roster if he continues to produce like this?
-- Harsh S., Brampton, Ontario
I don't think Coats has a chance of making the roster unless the Blue Jays are hit with a few outfield injuries this spring. Coats has definitely opened some eyes within the organization with his strong showing this month, though. Now, if Toronto does wind up needing an extra outfielder at some point this season, Coats will certainly be a player the club keeps in mind.
What has happened to Davis Romero? He had that extraordinary second half of the 2006 season, but then he fell off the radar. I was wondering if Davis even has a chance to become at least one of the Jays' long relievers?
-- David V., Iqaluit, Nunavut
Entering last spring, Romero was definitely in the running for a bullpen job. That was until he suffered a left shoulder injury that required surgery and promptly ended his season before it began. Romero is healthy and pitching again this spring, but there doesn't appear to be room in Toronto's 'pen. Romero appears set to begin this season in the Minors, but the left-hander will probably be on the Jays' radar in case of an emergency.
Maybe I'm the only one who thinks this way, but leave Casey Janssen as the setup man! I think Janssen has proved that he's better suited for a setup role than to be a starter.
-- Geoff B., Aylesford, Nova Scotia
Geoff, rest assured that you are far from the only fan who would like to see Janssen remain in the bullpen. There are also many within the Blue Jays' organization who share that sentiment as well. From a depth standpoint, though, Toronto is going to keep stretching Janssen out with the intention of putting him in the mix for a rotation job. It'll still be a few more weeks before his role is determined.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.