Doug Davis is the Blue Jays minor league field coordinator. He talked to us last week from Dunedin where he was supervising the Blue Jays instructional league.
BB: Instructional league is winding down, has anyone stood out for you?
DD: I think its the outfielders and a pretty good group of latin shortstops. It's great to have Anthony Alford here, he has stood out since he has been here. He took a week to get back into baseball mode but in the last week he has been playing games and he has done very well. He doesn't look like he hasn't been playing baseball for a while. It's nice to see him play because he is such a good athlete.
BB: Is he going to be able to go to Australia?
DD: Yes, he is leaving at the end of the month.
BB: When I was in Lansing this year I heard that Alford had a good impact on DJ Davis so lets talk about him. Pitch recognition can be tough to develop, do you think he made strides this year and how long can that take to come together?
DD: I think he has made strides, from the first half of the season to the second half he cut down his strikeout numbers. And you are right, to me it starts and ends with pitch recognition. The earlier guys can do that, see the ball out of the hand and recognize spin, the better and I do think he got better at it. He has had a real good instructional league here and I think having Anthony here helps, they are good friends. And it's not just them. Jonathon Davis, he has had a lot of injuries, he has been good down here, David Harris has been good and Derrick Loveless. Roemen Fields too, although he just got here a week and a half ago. Its just a real good group of outfielders, they have all done well. The program here is designed to work on specific things, they are not all doing the same thing. They have all had the opportunity to play games and its nice to see them carry over the things they learned into the games.
BB: Speaking of pitch recognition, we spoke earlier in the year about Josh Almonte who had a good season for Bluefield. He swings at a lot of pitches, is that something you try and change?
DD: We have talked and talked and talked about this down here from a hitting standpoint and in my opinion to try and teach certain things is very difficult to do. I think you design programs, you put players in situations to learn and react but I don't think there is anything that can overcome experience. There is a certain amount of time you have to give these players, some more time than others to accomplish something. And pitch recognition is a huge key but it takes more time for some and less time for others. Part of the program we have setup down here is specifically designed to address that with some of the drills we do. And that takes time and Josh is another one who could improve is pitch recognition, not to keep him from swinging at pitches but to recognize good pitches to hit and lay off the ones he can't hit and to react to the ones he can hit. But that's something all these hitters are trying to do. They are getting a crash course in it down here and some are improving faster than others. Josh was here but he left last Saturday because he picked up a small injury so he headed home.
BB: Some teams use special eye tests for hitters, do the Blue Jays do that?
DD: Yes absolutely, they are all tested by Dr. Harrison and his son who we have had on retainer now for about five years. (BB: Check this link.) They are here for this program, they are here in spring training and they travel during the season and spend time with our guys at the affiliates. I am not fully versed in all they do but it not just eyesight tests, they test for depth perception, hand-eye coordination and things like that.
BB: Speaking of outfielders is Jake Anderson there?
DD: No Jake is not back to playing, he is still rehabbing and has not been here.
BB: Lane Thomas, is he an outfielder or a third baseman?
DD: Lane Thomas has spent the entire instructional league at second base. That's were we think he profiles and that's where he has been playing.
BB: He seems to have the bat to play a lot of places around the field.
DD: No question, for a high school hitter he is way above the curve. He's got good contact skills, good on-base percentage, he does have good pitch recognition and he drives the ball. He is someone who will hit some home runs as he gets older and more experienced. The at does play at any position on the field but when we look at him and break down his actions, second base is where we all think he fits the best.
BB: I know he's probably not there but is Emilio Guerrero now an outfielder or an infielder?
DD: Emilio can do both. We did introduce the outfield during the season but whether he stays there and plays a lot out there I don't know yet. He has been drafted by one of the teams in the Dominican so we think its best that he plays down there but he will continue to play short and third and hopefully get some time in the outfield as well.
BB: Andy Burns had an up and down year, he looked like he was putting it together a few times but he drifted back. What does he need to do now to get back on the bandwagon?
DD: It was Andy's first full year a AA and AA is very difficult for a lot of players. I think the weather is difficult early in the season for players in the Eastern League. I think once we got to the middle of the season he made some adjustments and I think he finished very strong. His numbers in the second half were considerably better than in the first half. Overall his numbers don't look great but the second half was the Andy Burns we know and he is still a young player and I think he will come back ready to take off.
BB: You talked about shortstops at the start, Yeltsin Gudino, does he just need to get stronger?
DD: Yes. He is also very young and he is not a big statured player. He just needs to learn and grow but he is a baseball player, good instincts, he has a real good understanding of how to play the position and his limiting factor right now is strength. We are not forcing him into anything right now, we are just letting him go through the program, spend time in the weight room and learn how to go about that part off the field.
BB: AJ Jimenez, is he going to play winter ball?
DD: Yes, in Puerto Rico.
BB: Is his elbow OK now?
DD: Yes, as far as we know. The last five games of the season he looked real good, he didn't have any setbacks over the last few weeks so hopefully he will play a full winter ball season.
BB: Was Dan Jansen recovered enough to be in instructional league?
DD: No, he had surgery on his knee and all he is doing right now is rehabbing so they left him home to do that.
BB: Lane Thomas got off to a good start this year but the guy drafted a round before him, Matt Morgan, didn't have a good year. I assume he is there in instructs?
DD: Yes he is here and having a very good instructional league. He is swinging the bat well. Some players go straight from high school to pro ball and have a tough time. Matt had a tough summer, physically from the heat, playing catcher and being out there every day. It was a big change from what he was used to during his high school season. We were proud of how he battled through. He got to go home, rest up a little bit and he came here with the intention of showing us what he was capable of and that's what he has done. He has caught well, he throws well and like I said he has swung the bat well. It has changed his outlook a little and I know he is very happy with what he was able to accomplish down here.
BB: You mentioned your shortstops. Next year Franklin Barreto will be looking to move up, Richard Urena will be looking to move up, Dawel Lugo will probably have to move up. Are any of those guys playing second so you can fit them all in?
DD: Urena we have done that in the past for that reason but we are going to try and do everything we can to keep them all at shortstop. How we are going to do that I am not sure yet but they all profile at shortstop so we will do what we can to have them spend most of their time at shortstop.
BB: So even if a guy is ready you might hold him back so he can play short.
DD: Well if a guy is ready we will have to look for a way to move him up. If his bat is ready then that's where he needs to be but we still have some question marks about what to do.
Batters Box thanks Doug Davis for his time. Check back tomorrow for an interview with Dane Johnson, the Blue Jays minor league pitching coordinator.