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Blue Jays set to open camp with new manager; fresh outlook

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The Canadian Press
2/10/2011 2:14:10 PM
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There is a sense of renewal that is inherent to spring training, and that feeling will be particularly strong for the Toronto Blue Jays when pitchers and catchers hold their first official workout on Monday.

While general manager Alex Anthopoulos didn't radically overhaul the roster, several significant changes were made in the off-season. The clubhouse will be a very different place minus departed veterans Vernon Wells, Shaun Marcum and Scott Downs.

Add in that John Farrell is taking over as manager from the retired Cito Gaston after 2 1/2 years of stewardship from the franchise giant, and change will definitely be in the air in Dunedin, Fla.

With plenty of significant questions to answer, and many moving parts, much will be on the line at a camp with more intrigue than others in recent memory.

"There's no doubt," Farrell said in an interview this week. "We need, when we meet for the first time as a full squad on the 18th, to outline expectations not only for spring training, but going forward.

"I think it's important for us to set the tone right from Day 1 on what the expectations are on how we're prepared, and how we're going to eventually compete."

Given a work ethic that rivals that of his GM, Farrell can be counted on to hit the ground running. The 48-year-old from Monmouth Beach, N.J., was hired back in October and has since spent countless hours talking to his players, coaches and front office staff to try and get a handle on the team.

That's given Farrell a sense of the people around him, but much like a couple that moves in together after a long time dating, there's still a period of adjustment once lives become fully intertwined.

Everyone in the Blue Jays clubhouse will need some time to figure out one another, and understand the new realities around them.

"That's totally expected coming into this," said Farrell. "Any time you come into a new setting, there's going to be a relatively steep learning curve, whether it's with the coaches you've assembled or the players that are on that roster and vice-versa.

"They have to understand what my thoughts would be from an offensive and defensive standpoint, just so as they take the field, there's a true understanding of the style of baseball we're going to play."

Much of that will be a product of how the 25-man roster shakes out, and there's lots to resolve on that front.

Beyond Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow and Brett Cecil, the back end of the rotation must be determined, while new roles must be defined in the remade bullpen.

Catching prospect J.P. Arencibia must show he's ready to lead the pitching staff, Adam Lind's transition to first base will be closely monitored, while a new batting order also must be set.

Jose Bautista is tentatively slated to play third base, but the Blue Jays would like to find someone else for the hot corner so the home run champion and his cannon arm can remain in right field.

Outfielder Juan Rivera, part of the return from the stunning trade of Wells to the Angels, is an uncertain fit and there is persistent talk that the Blue Jays may have some interest in speedy free agent outfielder Scott Podsednik. That would give Farrell another option at leadoff, to go with centre-fielder Rajai Davis.

"To a certain extent there are questions at every spring training, but to us, we have to know ourselves first before we can begin to plan to attack our opponents," said Farrell.

Several of the team's top prospects will also be closely watched, with Brett Lawrie, the Canadian infielder obtained from Milwaukee in return for Marcum, right-hander Zach Stewart, and Cuban shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria chief among them.

Lawrie and Hechavarria will both be in their first camp with the Jays.

"We'll have a much better feel for what we have after spring training," said Anthopoulos.

Helping bring some stability to the club will be a returning core of Bautista, Lind, Aaron Hill, Romero and Jason Frasor. Third base coach Brian Butterfield, hitting coach Dwayne Murphy and pitching coach Bruce Walton are also back from last year's staff, joined by newcomers Don Wakamatsu as bench coach, Torey Lovullo as first base coach and Pat Hentgen in the bullpen.

Luis Rivera was promoted from manager of double-A New Hampshire to a coach with the Jays.

The familiar faces are why Anthopoulos feels the club's changes won't be as dramatic as they seem.

"There's a lot of continuity from the players in a lot of respects," he said. "I don't think the adjustment period is going to be nearly as significant as some might think because of the continuity we've had with our staff."

Still, Farrell is intent on getting to know all the players as best he can over the next seven or so weeks.

He's hoping to get a sense of who's at which level, and wants to give them a chance to show him what they can do.

"Our main priority is to get our pitching in shape, the reason spring training is seven weeks long is that," he said. "But every player being brought into camp is being brought in for a reason and it isn't just to become familiar with them. They're here for a specific reason and we'll make sure we will all work to get to know them as players and people.

"Everyone is looking forward to getting it started."

Anthopoulos and Farrell (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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