DUNEDIN, Florida - Kevin Pillar and Ryan Goins made their respective major league debuts nine days apart last August and with just days until spring training play gets underway, the two late-season Toronto Blue Jays call ups find themselves in different situations vis-à-vis the 2014 squad.
Goins is the early favourite to win the starting job at second base. Pillar is an outsider to secure a role off the bench, which becomes an even more difficult spot to win if the number of back up jobs is reduced by one. That happens if the Blue Jays decide to start the season with an eight man bullpen.
Praised last week by general manager Alex Anthopoulos as the best defensive second baseman the club has had since Orlando Hudson and as "gold glove caliber," Goins hopes an offensive adjustment he made in mid-September helps to round out his game.
Goins moved his hands down in his batting stance. Then, during an offseason visit to new hitting coach Kevin Seitzer in Kansas City, Goins went one step further, starting his hands closer to his body.
"I have more time to see the ball," he said. "My timing is a little different than having so much movement, having to get going so much earlier, so now it's a little better to see the ball and hopefully it will lead to better plate discipline, hitting the ball harder and more consistent."
A safe bet to be the nine-hole hitter if he makes the team, Goins is eager to improve upon the .609 OPS he posted in 121 plate appearances over 34 games with the Blue Jays last season. His .679 OPS in 111 Triple-A games last season feeds into the all defense-not much offense narrative but Anthopoulos is more concerned with run prevention this season after watching his infield struggle with injuries and range last year.
"He needs to be able to hold is own (offensively,)" said manager John Gibbons.
Seitzer, during his first scrum with the Toronto media in January, said he saw Goins as a potential .275-.280 hitter. Their Kansas City rendezvous had already happened so Seitzer was speaking as someone who'd watched Goins up close.
"I see myself as a hitter," said Goins. "I think I can put together productive at-bats for a season and help the team win. Whatever they need me to do. If it's situational hitting, hit and runs, bunting guys over. Whatever is called upon me, wherever I'm hitting in the lineup, is what I'm going to go out there and do everyday."
Pillar, who made his debut on August 14 and went 0-17 before getting his first big league hit at Yankee Stadium, struggled to a .206/.250/.333 line over 110 plate appearances. He got away from his strength as an offensive player, an up-the-middle approach, becoming pull happy and unable to lay off down-and-away breaking pitches.
Not one to mope, Pillar went home to Southern California and went to work.
"I went home, took about two weeks off in the offseason and I've been hitting three to four hours everyday just trying to get back," said Pillar. "People say, 'Why don't you just go back to what you did?' Once it's gone it's gone. Like a lot of things in life, once you forget how to do it or how you felt in the box you've got to recreate that feeling."
Pillar insists he isn't exaggerating his three-to-four hours a day hitting routine. His only break wasn't a break. He went to play winter ball in the Dominican Republic and had 66 at-bats, his attempt to get back in his groove.
Lawrie thrilled for Team Canada
Brett Lawrie, the lone Blue Jay who's Canadian born and raised, was happy to lord Canada's Olympic hockey gold medals over his teammates.
After all, Lawrie is badly outnumbered in the clubhouse.
"When you're the underdog you've got to keep quiet because there's too many of them," said Lawrie. "I just waited for my turn and then obviously I got my opportunities."
Lawrie did his best to keep an eye on Sunday's win, working around media responsibilities and warm up Sunday morning at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium.
Kawasaki follow up
One day after predicting Canada would beat Sweden 2-1 in the men's hockey gold medal game, Munenori Kawasaki was pleased with himself.
"I say Canada win," Kawasaki said.
When reminded he didn't pick the correct score, Kawasaki issued a pseudo apology: "My bad. I'm no good."
Kawasaki didn't watch the game.