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Toronto Blue Jays Yunel Escobar chats with GM Alex Anthopoulos at Jays Spring Training in Dunedin, Fla. on Saturday February 25, 2012. (Frank Gunn/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Toronto Blue Jays Yunel Escobar chats with GM Alex Anthopoulos at Jays Spring Training in Dunedin, Fla. on Saturday February 25, 2012. (Frank Gunn/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Spring Training

Jays' boss Anthopoulos holds court Add to ...

It was a windswept day that greeted the Toronto Blue Jays in their first full-squad workout of major-league baseball’s spring training, great for hitters taking their first cuts outdoors in batting practice.

Perhaps it was in deference to the player who is beginning what will hopefully be his 24th season of major-league competition, but it was the seemingly ageless Omar Vizquel who was the first Blue Jay to step into the batter’s box at the Englebert Athletic Complex.

After a couple of practice bunts, it was on the next batter..

Edwin Encarnacion, looking very fit, was also in the first group to hit.

And with the wind gusting out toward left field, Encarnacion launched several moon shots over the left field fence with alarming regularity. “Look at that,” first baseman Adam Lind was heard to comment on more than one occasion.

The occasion was also marked by the first public showing of Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos at spring training.

The 34-year-old watched the pitchers pitch and then hung around the batting cage, glad-handing with the likes of third baseman Brett Lawrie.

Anthopoulos even went up to shortstop Yunel Escobar and engaged him in conversation, with the GM displaying a bit of a flair in the Spanish language.

A bit earlier, Anthopoulos met with reporters where for almost 30 minutes he discussed the state of the franchise as it heads into the 2012 season.

Here are some of the highlights from that conversation:

The battle for left field between Travis Snider and Eric Thames, what it’s going to come down to?

AA: “For those guys, swings are important, quality at-bats, how hard they’re hitting the ball. I think I said this at the end of camp last year that I remember that J.P. Arencibia’s numbers didn’t look good. He hit .120 or something. I thought he had great at-bats. I thought he hit the ball hard. And I wasn’t worried about him. Whereas some other players may have hit .400 but we had concerns about their swings and how they were getting their hits. You’re just not buying it or at least aren’t sold entirely. That’s going to mean more than anything else. And then how they play in the outfield, from a defensive standpoint. It’s definitely part of what we’re going to use to evaluate the players.

“And, what they’ve done in the past has to factor in, as well. The fact that Eric ended the year as the everyday leftfielder, that’s going to count for something as well, but nobody is going to be handed the job.”

The quality of talent throughout the organization.

AA: “There's no doubt about it, this is probably the best I've felt about the talent we have in the organization top to bottom. I just feel we're really starting to solidify. We did a lot of work drafting and developing and so on, that's going to continue, but at the same time, the big-league roster just continues to get better and better and there's more talent there. I just think the organization is in a great place. From that standpoint, I think we have a very competitive team and I told our players that today, I don't think there's anything wrong with any expectations at all, I think they all believe in themselves and I certainly do as well. This is the best the group has been since I've been the GM.”

A full season with Brett Lawrie at third base.

AA: I’m cautiously optimistic because I just know from experience with young players that they don’t always just hit the ground running and don’t stop. The league will have to adjust to him; he’ll have to adjust back. I think even his last 10 games or so before he got hurt, he started to chase a little bit more and so on, but at the same time he obviously was great. He was great when he came up and played for us – defensively, offensively, everything he brings, great teammate. And I thought the quality of his at-bats were outstanding. That being said, I don’t think it’s fair to take the stats he had last year and try to pro-rate them over 500 at-bats.”

On Dustin McGowan.

AA: “I’m probably as excited about him as I am about any of our starters.”

Brett Cecil, who came into camp having lost 32 pounds following a disappointing 2011 season. Did the GM have to read him the riot act?

AA: “That’s not my style, laying down the law. I called him, beginning of November, and I just told him I thought he was at a crossroads in his career. His ability is such that he should be a part of this rotation, shouldn’t have to think about getting optioned and so on.”

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