By J.P. Antonacci
Canadian Baseball Network
DUNEDIN, Fla. _ Toronto Blue Jays first base coach Tim Leiper says playing in the upcoming World Baseball Classic can only help Canadian outfielder Dalton Pompey in his quest to become an everyday major league player.
“It’s an exciting time for him,” Leiper said at the Jays spring training home.
“You’re playing high-intensity games against great players in a playoff-type atmosphere, so I think, especially for position players, you can’t duplicate the experience.”
Leiper, who will suit up for his fourth WBC coaching stint, says the tournament’s elevated level of competition will get Pompey firing on all cylinders before the Major League Baseball season begins.
“It’s always nice to play for your country – guys pull for each other, and it just takes baseball to a whole other level,” Leiper said. “This is one of those situations where you get to experience something really special.”
For his part, Pompey – currently competing to be Toronto’s starting left fielder – says he is gearing up for the tournament and is confident he’ll be in game shape by the time Team Canada takes on the Dominican Republic March 9 in Miami.
“I’ve been taking live (batting practice) and stuff now,” said the Mississauga-born outfielder. “The game situation itself, getting get that adrenaline back up, we’ve got six, seven games before WBC, so I’ll be okay.”
Pompey launched his first home run of the spring in Toronto’s 5-4 loss to Detroit on Wednesday, but it’s mainly the 24-year-old’s speed that has earned him big-league playing time. Toronto’s go-to pinch-runner made his major league debut in 2014 running for slugger Edwin Encarnacion, and the speedster stole four bases in five games during the 2015 playoffs.
Being able to swipe a bag when needed is a skill Pompey cultivates.
“I know how fast I am and how consistent I am on the bases,” he said. “The lead is one thing, knowing the situation. But mainly I steal off the pitcher – if they’re tipping something, giving something away.
“We’re taught when we grow up to watch their front foot, watch their back foot. I rarely even look at their feet. I watch different stuff. I watch from the dugout before I even get on.”
Before games, Pompey scrutinizes video of opposing pitchers’ pickoff moves, looking for signs that might betray their intentions on the mound.
“I like to watch guys who are similar quickness to me when they’re on base – a guy like (Melvin) Upton or (Kevin) Pillar – because (pitchers) are going to treat them differently than if (Justin) Smoak’s on first,” Pompey said, referring to Toronto’s slow-footed first baseman.
“Maybe it’s the head tilt, maybe the back shoulder turns, the front shoulder leaks in,” he continued. “There’s an array of different stuff it could be, but all this stuff goes into the preparation before I actually get to first base.”
Over time, Pompey has refined his approach to base stealing. As a young player, he said, “It was all instinct back then, because you could get away with just your talent. But as you get older, guys start throwing better, pitchers are quicker to the plate, they’re more worried about you. That’s where the preparation comes in.”
Leiper said Pompey’s ability and intelligence on the base paths is part of what makes him an attractive option for the Blue Jays.
“We have some speed, but we don’t have a lot, and a lot of times you don’t want to wait around for two hits to get runs,” Leiper said.
“(Pompey) just gives you that threat where he’s really good at it, and he can (steal against) guys that are still quick to the plate. It just opens up so many offensive opportunities for us.”