Spring Training Thoughts – The Battle for Left Field

It’s Spring! It’s a magical time of year when spring training is underway and that seems to melt away all the grumblings and mumblings over the Blue Jays not making a big splash on the free agent market and signing the likes of Prince Fielder or Yu Darvish. It is also the season of “If/Thens” for MLB fans when assessing their favourite team’s chances at making the playoffs as in:

If Arencibia, Rasmus, Lind all have big seasons, then the Blue Jays could make some noise in 2012

If Brandon Morrow emerges as a true #2 starter and Alvarez, Cecil and McGowan all pitch to their potential then the Blue Jays could have a really strong starting rotation.

If the Blue Jays’ bullpen doesn’t have as many blown saves as in 2011, then the Blue Jays could make the playoffs.

If Pat Tabler thinks a Blue Jay is ‘big’ and ‘strong’ then he’ll say “he just looks like a ballplayer”.
I could attempt a few more but I think you, as the reader, get the picture!

Over the next few days, I’m going to share my thoughts on Spring Training thus far but today I’ll focus on the battle for left field between incumbent Eric Thames and Travis Snider.
With all other positions on the field already spoken for, the competition for the starting left field position has been the main focus of this spring in Dunedin.
First off, I like both of these players. Snider has had the spotlight on him as a ‘can’t miss’ prospect for a long time. He seems to be a hard worker and willing to do whatever it takes to improve and contribute consistently at the big league level. He’s built like a fullback, runs well and has greatly improved his outfield defence since he first debuted in the Majors in 2008. He also seems like a pretty decent human being and seems to have his head screwed on straight. However, as a highly touted prospect, Travis Snider was rushed up to the big leagues early in his career but, to date, has yet to live up to expectations. He’s spent the parts of the past two seasons up with the Blue Jays but never producing consistently and, as a result, has spent the bulk of his time the past two seasons at Triple-A Las Vegas. In the opinion of some fans, the Blue Jays should unload him now. I’m not of that opinion. I thought 2011 was going to be Travis Snider’s coming out party. I couldn’t have been more wrong but I see a player who has all the skills and is just starting to figure out what he needs to do to be an everyday big leaguer.

Eric Thames is a physical specimen. He’s ripped. However, his bulky physique resulted in injury problems through college and in the minors. Eric then integrated Yoga to gain some flexibility and lost some bulk off his frame. After an impressive Spring Training in 2011 that led to an initial stint with the big club in May and then after a brief stint in Vegas, he was recalled for good in mid-June and eventually established himself as the Blue Jays starting left fielder.
Coming into Spring Training, the Blue Jays were quick to explain that left field was Eric Thames job to lose but there would be a competition between him and Snider for the starting left field spot. Now if you’re to look purely at statistics thus far over Spring, Travis Snider has the edge. I’m not going to bore you too much with the numbers themselves but over nine games, Travis has 3 HRs, 12 RBIs, is batting a respectable .296 and has a .345 OBP. Eric hasn’t put up as impressive numbers over his 9 games but is still batting .320 and has an OPS (on-base plus slugging) of .890 (Snider’s is 1.086). However it is still Spring Training and the numbers are basically meaningless. Snider and Thames aren’t always facing MLB calibre pitching and even if they are, those pitchers may be working on certain pitches/mechanics that day and aren’t subjecting hitters to their full arsenal. The batters themselves may also be working on things like pitch selection or driving the ball to the opposite field.

I think the next two weeks of Spring Training games will be more telling as pitchers begin to stretch themselves out more and get deeper into games, rosters start to get pared down to more closely resemble Opening Day rosters. My thinking is that Eric Thames will be the Blue Jays’ opening day left fielder with Snider being sent down to Las Vegas unless Snider vastly outperforms Thames the rest of spring training.
Personally, I think Snider is the better player and is heads and tails a better defender than Thames. I like Thames but he plays a really ugly left field. Having played some ball in my time, I always marvel at how some guys get to the Majors and still can’t track a fly ball. I know I’ve taken some really bad routes to balls in the outfield and occasionally misjudge a ball hit to me but if I had the opportunity to shag flies everyday and had coaches helping me out, along with the physical attributes of an elite athlete (this being the key factor here), I think I could figure out how to play a decent outfield. Please don’t read the last sentence and think that I believe play outfield at a major league level! I know Eric has worked hard in the offseason on his defence so hopefully it has paid off.

If Snider can figure things out at the plate and stay healthy, I believe he will produce in spades. That may require some additional time at Las Vegas (even though he’s hit well in AAA before and then failed to match that success in Toronto) but I think he’s the leftfielder of the future barring him getting traded. Thames will start the year as the starting left fielder and may stay there all season but I think by Opening Day 2013, you’ll see Snider there and perhaps even sooner.

Of course, I could be entirely wrong. Snider could get recalled and sent down a few more times, decide that he’s never going to make it as a player and tell Alex Anthopolous that he thinks he fits better on the business side of baseball. He’ll starts off as a scout but eventually makes his way to GM of the Blue Jays where he finds success applying statistical analysis known as “SABRmetrics” to players changing the way all teams evaluate players. Then someone will write a best-selling book about him and his exploits with the Blue Jays which will then culminate in an Academy Award nominated movie being made based on his story called, “Meats Don’t Clash”.

What Am I Listening To?
Whether I’m at work or at home and I’m writing I generally will listen to music so I thought some people would find it interesting to know what I was listening to when I wrote this post. Today I’m listening to Young The Giant’s debut album. I starting hearing their first single, “My Body” on Ottawa’s alternative rock station Live 88.5 at the beginning of last January or February and liked it but kept missing who the band performing the song was. I finally found out it was Young the Giant. I was just going to download the single but then “Cough Syrup” started getting airplay and I liked that song as well. I have a rule that if I like two songs off the same album prior to me hearing the whole album, I’m going to take the chance and just buy the entire album. I did and haven’t regretted it. It is mellower than I originally anticipated but still excellent. I had the opportunity a few weeks ago to see Young the Giant play live here in Ottawa and it was a great show. I’m sure most of you have heard of this band already but if not, you can check them out at http://www.youngthegiant.com

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s