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What's in store for Davis Schneider in 2024?

Davis Schneider Toronto Blue Jays Davis Schneider - The Canadian Press

The success of the Toronto Blue Jays offence this season doesn’t hinge on Davis Schneider, but there’s no arguing a continuation of his sensational debut wouldn’t hurt one bit.

Schneider isn’t going to slug .603 for a full season, of course, and his 37-homer pace from last August and September probably isn’t something that should be expected, but the right-handed hitting 25-year-old has a chance to carve out a significant role in a couple of ways this season.

If he continues to hit, he’ll be a lineup fixture in one way or another, whether that’s as the eventual everyday second baseman or, more likely, a super-utility bat that’s deployed in advantageous spots.

Schneider, however, hasn’t been resting on his laurels and his 1.008 OPS from last season.

“I didn’t really change my mindset in the off-season,” said Schneider, who’s already bashed his first home run of the spring through five Grapefruit League appearances.

“I just tried to stick to my plan, still working on things I need to work on offensively and defensively. Nothing has really changed. I don’t think anything should ever change, in my opinion. You should always be working towards something, and you should always feel like an outcast when it comes to competing and you always want to try to claw your way into something. Even if you’re one of the top guys in the league you should always have that feeling of someone’s coming after you.”

If there’s a sketch of a three true outcomes hitter in the dictionary, it might be Schneider’s face.

He’s going to walk a lot, he’s going to hit the ball over the fence, and he’s also likely to continuing striking out at an above average clip. It’s hard to envision that profile changing much as his career progresses.

But it’s also proven to be an interesting package of skills that can help a team win ballgames.

Across 116 at-bats in his debut, Schneider struck out 43 times, while also taking 21 free passes.

Parsing through the numbers from Schneider’s 35 games, the concern is pitchers seemed to catch on after a while, and across his final 55 plate appearances Schneider’s K-rate jumped to 38.2 per cent as he struggled down the stretch.

At one point in September, he went 34 plate appearances without a hit.

Last year, Schneider was very open about where pitchers love to attack him, so the scouting report is far from a secret.

He continued to work on getting to the high fastball up in the zone over the off-season.

“Just being more consistent with my hands and my setup because it’s always going to be a hole of mine up in the zone,” Schneider said. “Obviously, I’ve still got to work on it, but it’s still not a pitch that I’m going to do damage with all the time, so just knowing that going into games and being more mindful of it and try not to swing at it, basically, unless there’s two strikes. There’s always going to be a hole in someone’s swing and mine happens to be up [in the zone]. Mike Trout always talks about, and even when [Ken] Griffey Jr. was playing, they talk about just don’t swing at pitches you can’t handle because the pitcher is going to miss eventually.”

Some sage advice from wily vet Brandon Belt last year kept Schneider from tinkering too much this winter.

“He sat me down I remember in Cincinnati last year, we were in the clubhouse, and he was just like, ‘Your approach works here, your plan works here, don’t change anything even if you’re going bad. Stick with your approach because it does work here. Just trust it and be confident with it,’” Schneider recalled.

Schneider simply is who he is, whether that’s in the batter’s box or in the clubhouse yucking it up.

He returns not only with the moustache and his old second baseman’s mitt in tow, but he’s also got another well-worn glove to use in left field now.

Gifted to him by former outfielder D.J. Daniels, a sixth-round pick from the 2016 draft who was released during the pandemic on May 29, 2020, Schneider clearly isn’t angling for a sponsorship deal anytime soon.

Simple works for him.

“D.J. Daniels, he was in the organization a couple years ago and he gave me it after he got released,” said Schneider, pointing to the used glove on the top shelf of his locker. “I never had an outfield glove, and he was like, ‘Do you want it?’ I said, ‘Sure,’ and I just never got a new one after that. Double hand-me-downs.

“Two old, flat gloves, but I’m sticking with the old one because I like the way it feels, and it works. It closes and doesn’t rip. That’s really all that matters. As long as you catch the ball, that’s all that matters.”

Back to those potential roles.

The two spots Schneider will be catching the ball on defence this season are second base, where he’ll see the majority of his reps, and left field.

Barring a late spring addition — and there are right-handed hitting platoon outfielders still languishing on the free-agent market — Schneider could be in line for left field work when a southpaw is on the mound.

It makes sense considering he murdered left-handed pitching to the tune of a .326/.463/.837 slash line and six homers across just 54 trips to the plate.

That’s in contrast to a still solid but not as gaudy .247/.368/.466 line with two bombs against righties.

Schneider’s favourite position is being in the lineup.

“Utility,” Schneider answered quickly when asked what his ideal position defensively is. “As long as I’m in the lineup. Anywhere I can play, that’s fine by me.”

Defence is never going to be his calling card, but Outs Above Average liked his work at the keystone in last year’s small sample size.

The jury is out on left field, but given the Gold Glove resumes of Kevin Kiermaier and Daulton Varsho, the Jays will obviously be sacrificing defence for offensive punch when that move is made.

This is where a long spring training that can matter little at times actually does have value.

The work Schneider is doing on reading balls off big-league bats in the outfield right now is invaluable.

“I’m not the fastest guy, so my jumps are going to be the biggest thing that’s going to help me get to balls that I can’t really get to when it comes to my speed,” Schneider explained. “Making sure I have the right read and I don’t have the strongest arm — I know that — but making sure of accurate throws and making sure I’m getting to the balls I can get to.”

Not expected to even get to the big leagues as a 28th-round pick, Schneider is as close as it gets to being locked into his first opening day roster spot.

Amazingly, it’s also his first big-league spring training.

“It’s a little different feeling, to be honest,” Schneider said. “Coming from minor-league camp where I’ve been for the past seven years and being here for the first time, it’s just cool to be around these guys this early in the season and get to work with them. I was up for a lot of [Grapefruit League] games last year, backing up and everything, but it’s a totally different feeling being in the camp. But it’s baseball. Like any other day, basically.”