DUNEDIN, Florida – For a guy with an uncertain future and a history of self doubt, Colby Rasmus has arrived for his third spring training with the Blue Jays a relaxed and confident ballplayer.
He eagerly relives the thrill of the Iron Bowl football victory in November, in which his beloved Auburn Tigers defeated the two-time defending NCAA champion Alabama Crimson Tide on a last second missed field goal returned for a touchdown. In the next breath, he laments Auburn's loss to Florida State in the BCS title game.
“Too many mistakes,” he said.
Rasmus isn't a fan of American Idol. He watches only when his wife, Megan, has it on TV and admits to only passing interest in the success on the show of Dexter Roberts, a singer who's made it into this season's final 13 contestants and who, through friends, performed at Rasmus' New Year's Eve bash.
“I don't really know him. I only met him once,” he said.
When it gets down to the business of baseball, Rasmus will attempt to control only what he can – his performance on the field. Signed for this year at $7-million, Rasmus will become a free agent for the first time in his career if he and the Blue Jays don't reach a contract extension before the end of the season.
He's not bothered that general manager Alex Anthopoulos hasn't approached him about a long-term deal, preferring instead to wait and, as Anthopooulos put it in December, “gather more information.”
“I'm given a chance to play again another year,” said Rasmus. “They didn't see fit to hold me for a long time and I have had some ups and downs and I get that. I'm not really worried about it. I've been given a chance to play another year so I'm going to go out and play and let it all hang out and leave it all out there on the field.”
Rasmus enjoyed a bounce back season in 2013. Limited to 118 games thanks to oblique and facial injuries, he authored a .276/.338/.501 slash line. His OPS of .840 looked more like the number in his 2010 breakout season in St. Louis (.859) than in either 2011 (.688) or 2012 (.689.) Despite missing 44 games, Rasmus hit 22 home runs, one off his career high. Prorate that number over a full season and he hits 30-plus home runs for the first time.
At 27, Rasmus is entering his prime years. He's maturing with time.
“I guess everybody always said it comes with age or whatever,” said Rasmus. “I mean now that I've got some time under my belt it definitely is easier. Looking back on how it was when I was younger I understand I had hard times with the older guys. I get it. But now, to be where I'm at, I'm just happy to be here and I look at it like that.”
His manager sees all-star potential in Rasmus.
“Last year was a big year for him,” said John Gibbons. “I think as the season went on he got much better. A lot of strikeouts early but he made some adjustments and when he puts the ball in play consistently, the ball goes a long way. He's got a chance to be one of the premier power hitters in the league. He can do a lot of things.”
Rasmus had a strong relationship with former hitting coach Chad Mottola. The two formed a quick bond, Mottola helping Rasmus with his mental approach to hitting. Now, as Rasmus gets to know his third hitting coach in as many seasons, he's willing to be patient as he adjusts to Kevin Seitzer.
“I'm not putting a rush on it,” said Rasmus. “We've got a lot of time here in spring. I just try to get my thoughts together on what I think would help me and help him to make it a good flow and a good mix of what I'm trying to do and what I need him to look for in me.”
Seitzer knows Rasmus is a pull hitter who loves his fastballs – Rasmus believes he's evolved from being a dead pull hitter to someone willing to use all fields – and he's not coming in to overhaul the centerfielder's swing.
“Hitters have to be able to make adjustments from week to week, game to game, pitcher to pitcher, depending on the stuff they're going to attack with,” said Seitzer. “He's been around a long time and he's a smart hitter and he's very talented. You can't teach hand speed and he's got a lot of that. We'll see how the process unfolds.
“You've got to be able to get in their head quick and find out how they tick and where their insecurities are, their points of concern in their swing with their mindset and all of that,” said Seitzer. “I get to know them pretty quick.”
CECIL AND DELABAR ADJUST
Brett Cecil and Steve Delabar were two important pieces of the Blue Jays' stellar bullpen last season. Both missed time due to injury and while heavy workload would seem to be the obvious reason why, Delabar identified a different reason: He made a mechanical change to his delivery before the All-Star break, which led to shoulder inflammation and a month on the disabled list in August.
“It caused me to put some stress in unneeded areas,” said Delabar.
Delabar changed the positioning of his feet in an effort to be, as he describes it, more directional rather than rotational toward home plate. He was falling away on his pitches down and away to right-handed batters, likening the problem to a hitter with a persistently open stance who can't get to outside pitches.
“I thought it would get me straight on line,” said Delabar. “It felt good to do it so I started playing catch with it, messing around with it and I got in a game and did it and I was like, ‘Hey, it feels pretty good.' I just kept doing it, kept going with it and I didn't realize it was putting stress on my shoulder.”
When Delabar returned from injury on September 2, he continued with his new delivery and with such little time left in the season, he didn't experience any more significant trouble.
The plan is to use the adjusted delivery this season.
Cecil appeared in 60 games in his first season as a full-time reliever. Not a lock to make the club out of spring training, Cecil took the ball whenever he was asked and was eager to put in extra work to prove he belonged. He was shut down on September 13 with elbow pain after only three appearances that month.
With his role in the bullpen now firmly established, Cecil will focus on better monitoring his own workload this season.
“Casey (Janssen) and Darren (Oliver) have been in this situation a lot longer than I have and they were telling me in April, you know, save your bullets. You may not feel like you need a day but if you pitch one day then use your better judgment,” said Cecil. “I told them in August, you guys were right, man. I was starting to feel like I was breaking down a little bit … That's why you never stopped learning.”
Cecil will better communicate with the training staff if he's not feeling 100 percent, but wants something in return – that the training staff doesn't raise any unnecessary red flags if he describes only simple soreness.
He's already adjusting. Cecil was given a 25-pitch cap for his bullpen session on Friday. He chose to throw only 20 pitches.