By Tyler King
Canadian Baseball Network
The whole “love-hate” thing Blue Jays fans have had with Dalton Pompey is over. Or at least it should be.
(And if you’re thinking, “what love-hate thing?” then clearly you weren’t around in 2015 ...)
OK, fine, maybe hate is too strong a word for us congenial Canadians, especially when speaking about one of our own. But no matter what pejorative you chose to use, after the last two seasons Pompey has had in the minors it should now be nothing but love-love-love for the Mississauga, Ont., native.
Of course there is no guarantee that Pompey - who is still only 24-years-old - will break camp with the Blue Jays. In fact, he’s widely considered to be a long shot. But rest assured, if he is indeed sent back down to Buffalo, it will have more to do with circumstance than performance.
Unfortunately for Pompey, a lot people’s memories remain stuck in the past. They keep looping back to the beginning of 2015, when Pompey made the Jays opening day roster but was sent down after just 24 games, having hit .223/.291/.372 and looking quite lost in the outfield (although how quickly we forget that he did have an impressive eight doubles and five stolen bases).
That memory seems to be so painful - after all, nobody wants to see a fellow countryman suffer - that we have practically ignored everything he’s done since ... which, you’ll be happy to hear, is quite a lot.
Since being sent down in 2015, he’s had a whopping 724 minor league at-bats; he’s appeared in 19 major league games (although mostly as a pinch runner); and he’ll likely be the starting centre fielder for Canada at this year’s World Baseball Classic, getting the chance to play alongside MLB veterans such as Justin Morneau and Freddie Freeman.
It therefore seems more reasonable to judge Pompey on his performance over that span, rather than to remain hung up on his (admittedly lackluster) 24-game MLB debut.
To his credit, instead of crumbling under the failed expectations of his big league breakout, Pompey proceeded to make the most of his stint in the minors, hitting a quiet .307 in 96 games split between triple-A Buffalo and double-A New Hampshire.
His OBP skyrocketed to nearly .400, a major-league improvement on the .291 OBP he posted with the Blue Jays.
And it’s that ability to get on base (which at the same time allows him to show off his great speed) that makes the 2017 version of Dalton Pompey so much more promising. He’s not only hitting more, he’s striking out less and taking more walks - leading to even more steals.
In 93 triple-A games last season, Pompey hit .270/.349/.353, with 40 walks and 19 extra-base hits in 337 at-bats. And in his 724 total minor league at-bats since that 2015 demotion, he’s had a strikeout rate of 18.8%, which is miles better than the 26.7% rate he’s posted at the major league level.
So this doesn’t just mean that Pompey is improving ... it means the kid can flat-out play (something many people seem to have forgotten).
Over his seven-year minor league career, Pompey has hit .281/.367/.406 with a .773 OPS and 154 stolen bases.
Most recently, during this 2017 spring training campaign, he’s posted an OBP of .364, reaching base in four of his 11 plate appearances.
In Tuesday’s tune-up game with the WBC team Canada, facing off against his very own Blue Jays, Pompey had two hits, a walk, and reached base on an error. He also added a stolen base (because why not?).
Now do all those numbers and statistics sound like they belong to someone who is a long-shot, or do they belong to someone who deserves a shot?
It might be different if Pompey had of spent two years sulking, or if he was known to poison the locker room with a bad attitude. But that’s unlikely given the way he was talking after the Canada-Blue Jays tune up.
He took offence when a reporter accidentally stated that Canada would be playing in just five games, insinuating that the Canadians would be out of the WBC early. And then when asked about his own performance, again he gave the right answer.
“Today, I didn’t even think about myself once,” Pompey told reports after Canada beat the Blue Jays 7-1 on Tuesday. “I just thought about, What can I do to help the team?”
And if that isn’t the humble confidence that always wins Canadians (and Jays fans) over, then you might as well cut Pompey loose now.
Follow Tyler and #Section108 on Twitter: @TylerJoseph108