02/24/12 3:12 PM EST
Rejuvenated Rasmus excited to be in camp
Following recharging offseason, outfielder optimistic about future
By Gregor Chisholm / MLB.com
The 25-year-old seemed to spend most of his 2011 season under a dark cloud. The constant criticisms directed at him by some of his former coaches, teammates and fans had taken their toll, and at times he even seemed like a defeated person.
The constant scowl has since been replaced by a surprisingly upbeat persona this spring, though, as Rasmus spent time joking with teammates and gave his most forthcoming interview with the media since arriving in Toronto last July in a trade with St. Louis.
"Last year I was beat up a little bit mentally," Rasmus said outside the clubhouse at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. "Just couldn't do many things right last year, I felt like my confidence got down, but this offseason I've had some time to get that back and I'm just going to try have fun, smile and just enjoy my teammates and not let the things that I can't control bother me.
"Last year, some times, I might have tried to control some things I couldn't control and worry about things I shouldn't be worrying about. If I would have just focused on the game, see the baseball, hit the baseball, run it down and catch it, it probably would have taken care of itself."
Rasmus' up-and-down tenure in St. Louis has been well documented. He was originally selected with the 28th overall pick in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft and immediately became one of the game's most talked about prospects.
Prior to 2007, Rasmus was ranked the 29th-best prospect by Baseball America and by the following year he was included in the top five. The positive results carried over to the Majors, and in 2010 he managed to hit .276 with 23 homers and 66 RBIs while posting an .859 OPS.
It appeared as though the sky was the limit for the promising center fielder, but things began to change in 2011. He notoriously butted heads with Cardinals manager Tony La Russa and the rest of the St. Louis coaching staff. There were occasional incidents with veteran teammates and cool receptions from the fan base. The constant off-the-field distractions eventually took their toll.
"I was always so much younger than everybody else, and I just felt like I was never really, I guess you could say, a part of the team," Rasmus said. "I never got comfortable, and Tony wanted it that way. He always said he didn't want me to get comfortable, he wanted me to always stay working hard and doing this and doing that.
"So I think that was one thing that might have hurt my game a little bit. I feel like it would be good for me to get comfortable, and know I'm going to be here and know I'm going to be a part of the team, know I'm going to be here 'til the end, instead of worrying about maybe getting sent down and this and that. Just go out there to play the game, have fun, relax."
Rasmus received the fresh start he was looking for in July, when he was traded to the Blue Jays in what became a three-way deal which involved 11 players. The scenery and players were different, but Rasmus indicated it was still a tough transition to make midway through a year.
The lingering ill will towards St. Louis remained close to his chest, and it could be seen in the way he carried himself around the clubhouse. He presented a quiet and often somber demeanour and ended up hitting just .173 with three homers and 13 RBIs in 35 games with the Blue Jays.
Rasmus still answered questions from reporters on Friday afternoon about his time in St. Louis, but the vast majority of the focus was on his new approach and outlook on the game. He returned home to Alabama during the offseason, and the time away seems to have completely changed his outlook on the game.
It's still early and things could change, but Rasmus appears excited and optimistic about his future in a Blue Jays' uniform.
"I just went home and spent some time with my family, which I usually do and got in the weight room, which is a place that I'm comfortable at, trying to put some strength back on," Rasmus said. "But I didn't really talk to many people. I think that might have been my problem to begin with, getting too much advice from too many different sides, my headed started spinning a little bit, I didn't know which way to actually go.
"Instead of just having confidence in myself and sticking with what I know, I kind of listened to other people and might have gotten my head into different places where I felt like I wasn't confident when it came down to it when I needed myself the most."
One person that he did spend time talking to was Dwayne Murphy. Toronto's hitting coach paid a visit to Rasmus' home three weeks ago to monitor his progress in the offseason. Last season, the Blue Jays believed there was a problem with Rasmus' mechanics at the plate.
The third-year outfielder was using a high leg kick during the 2011 campaign, which appeared to cause problems with his timing at the plate. The Blue Jays' coaching staff approached Rasmus about the issue when he was acquired last July, but Rasmus felt it would be more appropriate to make the changes during the offseason and Murphy was looking for an update.
By all accounts, the report was completely positive. Murphy was happy with what he saw, and the lower leg kick that Rasmus is now using could end up paying big dividends this year.
"From a fundamental standpoint, the more controlled leg kick, he was able to handle the ball away from him, handle the ball on the inner part of the plate, he was hitting the ball to all fields," Blue Jays manager John Farrell said. "But the most important thing that stood out was his eagerness and his attitude of being very positive, couldn't wait to get to camp and couldn't wait to get back involved.
"Today was Day 1 that he was on the field, and just the interactions ... he's a good kid. He understands what makes him successful and just hearing the conversation with him, he's eager to get going and he comes in with a very positive outlook."
Friday likely will go down as one of the last days that Rasmus opts to talk about his time in St. Louis. He is expected to receive a ring for the four months he spent with the World Series champions in 2011, but he'd now like to turn the page and shift the focus to his future with the Blue Jays.
Rasmus is surrounded by a young core of players that are all around the same age but still receive veteran leadership from the likes of Jose Bautista, Omar Vizquel and the youthful -- but experienced -- Ricky Romero.
His comfort level is light years ahead of where it was last season, and while that doesn't necessarily always translate to success on the field, it could be the first step to regaining that previous form.
"Everybody's been great, all the players, some young guys who have a lot of life to them, it won't be like St. Louis where I'm just the young little puppy and everybody wants to teach me the tricks and beat me down and tell me that I'm doing things wrong," Rasmus said.
"These guys are cool, Bautista's awesome, always upbeat, don't show anybody up or try to put his ego on top of you. This all about playing the game, having fun, just a bunch of guys trying to win a ballgame."