* In the finale of his six-part series, Bob Elliott conducts a Q&A with Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos in a discussion ranging from the disappointment of not making the playoffs to the large crop of talented youngsters on the team. .... 2014 Canadians in the Minors … Canadians in College 2015 Canadian draft list Letters of Intent
By Bob Elliott
Alex Anthopoulos was asked about the Blue Jays surprises of the 2014 season.
He spoke about right-hander Kendall Graveman, who started the season at class-A Lansing.
He talked about outfielder Dalton Pompey, who began 2014 at class-A Dunedin.
OK, he was told -- when he finally took a breath -- now that we have satisfied our Baseball America readers ... and then he spoke of Marcus Stroman.
Less than an hour later, Pompey looked like a prime-time player worthy of any and all praise.
“Dalton had an OPS in the mid .700s (.752) last year at Lansing,” Anthopoulos said. “I wouldn’t have said he had the chance to be in the big leagues at the end of this year. I did not see him coming this fast.
“Not that we didn’t like him, but the strides he has made this year ... he has exploded.”
And while it is September, Pompey, 21, exploded again Friday as he ...
- Made a diving, carpet-burning catch on the left field line on Baltimore Orioles’ Alejandro De Aza in the top of the second. - Tripled to right-centre on a 90 MPH fastball from O’s 13-game winner Chris Tillman, the Game 1 starter in the American League division series which opens Thursday at Camden Yards. - Doubled to right on a Tillman changeup, knocking in a run and later scoring from second on a grounder in the third. - Tripled to right centre on a 92 MPH Tillman fastball driving in a run the fifth. - And struck out swinging on a slider from lefty Andrew Miller in the seventh.
Jays scout Jamie Lehman drafted and signed Pompey as a 16th rounder from the Oakville Royals in 2010. Pompey is Lehman’s first major leaguer.
“As nice as it was to see him hit a home run off Felix Hernandez, it was impressive to watch him lay off a (Hernandez) breaking ball at his foot or a nasty slider,” Anthopoulos said. “And he took pitches from Masahiro Tanaka. I don’t look at his average as long as he’s having good at-bats, he’ll be fine. The results will come.”
The results came ... hours later ...
Now that we have examined what went wrong with the Jays this season, the three key decision days, examined the Jays top triumvirate, looked at upcoming question marks and the Jays free agents, plus those with options, we conclude with a Q & A with Anthopoulos.
Q: Has has the manager done a good job?
Anthopoulos: “The in-game managing of John Gibbons is outstanding. I don’t read the newspapers or listen to talk radio. People around me tell me things or I could be in a coffee shop and hear things.
“The only time all season I heard people complain about John Gibbons was when he sent in a pinch runner (Pompey) for Ryan Goins when we were at Fenway Park with the scored tied in the ninth.
“We didn’t score and in the bottom of the 10th, Steve Tolleson, a solid defender, took over, made an error, we lost and everyone said Goins would have made the play.
“If the biggest uproar that you can cause is pinch running for Ryan Goins in the first week of September, well I think you’ve done a pretty good job managing. Watching him manage, there is never anything glaring, you never say, “I can’t believe he did that?” A good manager is like a good third base coach or a good ump. A bad third base coach sticks out like a sore thumb. A good one you don’t notice.”
Q: What makes him a good manager?
A: “One of his strengths is that when he sees something that needs to be addressed he deals with it right away, if he sees someone not playing the game the right way.
“Sometimes the cameras see it. Most of the time he pulls a guy into the office and does it privately. No one knows about that. He does not let things slide.”
Q: How much consideration should Jose Bautista receive in the MVP voting?
A: “I’m biased. But when you break it down, he’s one of two players with an on-base percentage over .400. Everyone talks about Mike Trout and how the Anaheim Angels won. I understand voters favour players on contending teams. Well, we were in first place for I don’t know how long (61 days) and were eliminated with five games remaining. We contended.
“He’s third in OPS behind Victor Martinez, a first baseman-DH and Jose Abreu, a first baseman. Jose played right field, centre and first. And he was willing to play third. He came to me before the trade deadline and said if we could add an outfielder who would help, he’d gladly move to third.
“It’s not eye wash. He cares.”
Q: What is your biggest question heading into next season?
A: “Starting outfield. We knew entering the season that 2/3 of our outfield (left fielder Melky Cabrera and centre fielder Colby Rasmus) would be free agents at the end of the year. We know we have some options (John Mayberry, Kevin Pillar and Anthony Gose).”
Q: How confident are you of re-signing Cabrera?
A: “I don’t think you can ever be confident with a free agent unless you have crossed all the ‘t’s’ and dotted all the ‘I’s’, but he has expressed that he wants to come back. The feeling is mutual.
“When guys get to free agency, you never know. If you don’t have starting points -- the club wanting you back and the player wanting to return -- you have no chance. I’m confident that we want him and we’re his first choice. We’ll see how it unfolds.”
Q: Will Pompey receive consideration for an outfield spot next season?
A: “At every level, we challenged him (from Dunedin to New Hampshire to Buffalo). We talked about it before promoting him. We needed to feel confident. He has great at bats, he knows the strike zone, and his plate discipline is outstanding. Can he tighten some aspects of his game? Absolutely.”
Q: What do you expect from Brett Lawrie next season?
A: “What do I hope for or what do I expect? I hope for him to be healthy. He’s been injured on some freak accidents: sliding into second, diving for a ball in an exhibition game before the WBC, getting hit in the pinky against the Reds. Some is bad luck.
“The oblique strains, the rib cage injuries. Does he need to do more or less with the weights? We don’t have an answer right now, but we’re studying it.”
Q: Was Dioner Navarro starting 101 of the first 160 games -- the most since 2009 -- beyond your expectations?
A: “No, we had a lot of confidence in him. We looked at Jose Molina starting 80 games for Tampa Bay in 2012 when Jose was 37. Dioner is very motivated and only 30. We did a lot of homework on him. We liked his bat, he’s a motivated guy.”
Q: The biggest surprise (in addition to Pompey)?
A: “Graveman was not on our radar at all. (Area scout) Brian Johnston and (scouting director) Brian Parker deserve credit. We should have taken him earlier (an eighth rounder in 2013, a senior sign from Mississippi State, $5,000 bonus.) Player development deserves credit for getting him here so quickly (10 starts last year at Lansing, this year four at Lansing, 16 at Dunedin, one at New Hampshire and six at Buffalo. “Dane Johnson (pitching co-ordinator), Rick Langford (roving instructor), Vince Horsman, Darold Knowles and Jim Czajkowski (pitching coaches) -- did a wonderful job with Daniel Norris too. The change I saw between him as a high schooler in Johnson City, Tenn. and this year at New Hampshire was amazing.”
Q: Now that we’ve satisfied our Baseball America readers, who was the biggest surprise excluding September call ups?
A: “Stroman. It’s impressive how well he’s thrown at the big-league level. Did I expect him to contribute? Yes. We felt after seeing him in the Arizona Fall League he could have a Sonny Gray impact. They’re both very athletic, did very well the year before at double-A, had plus breaking balls and they weren’t real big.”
Q: You joined the Blue Jays in 2004. Have you ever had this much young talent this close to making an impact?
A: “When it came time for us to decide who we wanted to call up, we asked the question: “who will help win the most? We didn’t have to put Norris, Graveman on Pompey on the roster, but we thought they could help. We bypassed guys on our 40.”
Q: How amazing is Mark Buehrle? He said on the radio after you were eliminated “now people will show their true colours” and he pitches 8 1/3 scoreless.
A: “People don’t give him the respect he deserves. You throw 202 innings and have a 3.39 ERA, you’ve had a few good starts. Look at David Price. He pitched 241 innings, has a 3.36 ERA and he won one more game than Buehrle. I’m not saying Buehrle is Price, but Buehrle has been real good for a long time.”
Q: Where is this season going to rank?
A: “I don't really rank seasons. Every year your goal is to win as many games as possible.
“We had so many injuries last year we brought everyone back. Liam Hendriks had three spot starts when we wanted to back up our starters a day. Norris made a spot start. So we only used nine starters counting those two. Dustin McGowan started in the rotation because JA Happ had a back problem in the spring. For the most part, our starters were healthy.
“An area we expected to be strong was the bullpen. A lot of the guys had off/down years. We thought we were going to be outstanding. “We were eliminated with five games remaining. Had we had a solid last trip (4-3, rather than 1-6), this final home stand could have been pretty important.”
The Alex Anthopoulos era Year, W-L, Pct., Finish, GB, Manager 2014, 83-78, .516, 3rd, 12, John Gibbons 2013, 74-88, .457, 5th, 23, John Gibbons 2012, 73-89, .451, 4th, 22, John Farrell 2011, 81-81, .500, 4th, 16, John Farrell 2010, 85-77, .525, 4th, 11, Cito Gaston