Blue Jays set for Wednesday workout
Romero, Bautista among key players reporting early
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Blue Jays' 2012 Spring Training will officially get under way on Wednesday, when the club holds its first mandatory workout for pitchers and catchers.
Pitchers and catchers are required to report to Dunedin before the end of the day on Tuesday. They will be joined by the position players on Saturday in the first full-squad workout.
Toronto and Cleveland are the two American League clubs set to put the pitchers and catchers through their first official workout on Wednesday. Texas and Chicago will open on Thursday, while the remaining 10 teams were slated to start on Tuesday or earlier.
"It feels good to see everyone and kind of get that baseball feeling back again," Blue Jays No. 1 starter Ricky Romero said while standing by his locker at the Florida Auto Exchange Stadium.
"With the young core that we have, I'm very happy with it and now we just have to go out there and play the game. We can talk about our youthfulness, how young we are, and how it works to our advantage, but we have to put it all together and play between those white lines. At the end of the year, we'll sit back and see where we're at."
Even though the reporting date wasn't until Tuesday, many players arrived in camp early -- including Romero and slugger Jose Bautista. As of 5:30 p.m. ET Tuesday, the only pitchers that had yet to report included relievers Carlos Villanueva and Francisco Cordero, but both were expected to arrive in time for their physicals later in the day.
The only notable omissions from the position players were Yunel Escobar, Colby Rasmus, Kelly Johnson, Omar Vizquel and Edwin Encarnacion. All five will be in Dunedin later this week and manager John Farrell confirmed that no late arrivals are expected.
This year's Spring Training is expected to have a slightly different tone than the 2011 version. Farrell enters his second season as manager, and while last year the emphasis was on implementing an element of speed, this camp likely will be fine-tuned to address previous shortcomings.
"Last year, we came in with a lot to get off the ground with," Farrell said while going over his top three priorities. "The mindset and the aggressiveness that we establish from the baserunning standpoint, we'll continue to build on that, not just from a sheer straight-away stolen base approach ... but I still think we can go first to third with a little bit more regularity and a little bit more aggressiveness to put pressure on the defense.
"The mindset with our starting rotation [has to change], because to me that is the one area that we have to make the biggest improvement in. We're always preaching and talking about a relentless approach and a relentless at-bat by our lineup, one through nine. I thought at times [last year], we might have gotten a little bit predictable in our swings, that we were susceptible to breaking balls early in the count ... so that's part of the culture as well. Those are the three main areas we continue to address right now."
The main competition will occur in left field, where Eric Thames and Travis Snider are battling for the starting job. Snider began the 2011 season in that role, but a surprise demotion paved the way for Thames to receive a lot of at-bats in his rookie year. Farrell is expected to give both players plenty of opportunities during Grapefruit League action, and a final decision likely won't come until late in camp.
The fifth spot in the starting rotation will also be up for grabs with Dustin McGowan, Kyle Drabek and Aaron Laffey as the three viable candidates. McGowan will be looking to continue his remarkable return from a series of right-shoulder surgeries and Drabek enters as a dark-horse candidate, following a disappointing rookie season.
Toronto's remaining roster spots will largely be filled by returning players. The Blue Jays' lone roster additions from the offseason who have guaranteed jobs are closer Sergio Santos, setup man Francisco Cordero, left-handed reliever Darren Oliver, right-hander Jason Frasor and backup catcher Jeff Mathis.
"Any time you have some continuity and stability you're building on top of some of the foundation that already has been set," Farrell said. "But that's not to take for granted what we did a year is already entrenched because we went through a lot of change. We're going to have a number of new faces, at least when you compare this roster in Spring Training to last year's.
"Some guys are in camp with us for the first time. We [won't] skip any steps and we'll make sure that our process is locked down and that's what Spring Training is for, to not just get their bodies in shape, but to get their minds in shape as well."
Workouts will continue at the Bobby Mattick Training Center in Dunedin until March 2. The following day, the Blue Jays will host the Pirates at Ford Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin for their first game of the Grapefruit League season. Toronto will make its first road trip on March 4 to Bradenton, Fla., to play against Pittsburgh.
Toronto's spring schedule will wrap up in Florida on April 3, after which the club will travel to Cleveland for its season opener on April 5 at 3:05 p.m. ET.