TORONTO -- The Blue Jays' newest outfielder, Randal Grichuk, knows he needs to improve his pitch recognition and plate discipline. He's taking some rather unique steps to make sure it happens.
Grichuk purchased a pitching machine at the end of last season and has spent the offseason tracking pitches and taking extended batting practice. The machine has the ability to randomly alternate between balls and strikes, and Grichuk has challenged himself to call out each pitch before it arrived.
With a career on-base percentage below .300, Grichuk is all too aware that his strikeouts need to come down and his walk rate needs to go up. The pitching machine was one possible solution to becoming a more well-rounded hitter. The learning process didn't stop there.
"One of the things that I've been really trying to focus on is training the eyes," Grichuk said. "I took a course on vision training, to work the muscles in the eyes. So many people don't really work out their eyes and there are a lot of muscles in the eyes that are just like a normal muscle in the body. You need to train it, you need to work it out. I've been doing a lot of things to help improve plate discipline for the upcoming season."
Grichuk received a vote of confidence from Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins immediately following the trade with St. Louis. Atkins strongly hinted that Grichuk would be Toronto's right fielder on Opening Day and that the 26-year-old would receive every opportunity to play every day.
The shot at regular playing time is what excited Grichuk most about changing locations. It's not a luxury he was always afforded in the Cardinals organization, because a glut of outfielders made for an intense battle over playing time. There was the constant pressure of needing to perform in order to remain in the lineup, and sometimes in baseball that only makes things worse.
In Toronto, Grichuk is expected to become a focal point of the lineup. He'll likely hit in a run-producing spot of the batting order and will be expected to hit for a lot of power. The opportunity is there. Now it's up to Grichuk to hang onto it.
"In St. Louis, we had a lot of outfielders and it was kind of looking over your shoulder," Grichuk said. "If we play good, we'll be in there. If not, we might not be. That wasn't necessarily just me, it was multiple guys.
"It's a tough game to play and it's even tougher when you're looking over your shoulder or questioning what's going on. The confidence of just being able to go out there and play and say, 'You're going to be the guy' or whatever the case. If I earn it in spring, I think that's a big thing for me on the mental side of being successful."
Grichuk topped 20 home runs during each of the last two seasons, but the Blue Jays believe there is potential for that number to go much higher. According to Statcast™, Grichuk had the second-highest barrel percentage among all National League hitters with at least 200 plate appearances. The only player who squared up more balls was Giancarlo Stanton.
The Blue Jays believe a higher number of at-bats will result in a higher number of home runs. The expectations become even more heightened when ballpark factors are considered. Busch Stadium in St. Louis typically is regarded as pitcher-friendly, while Rogers Centre -- and every other ballpark in the AL East -- favors hitters.
"Busch Stadium, I think technically they say it's a neutral stadium, but everybody who played there over the four seasons that I was there, definitely did not think that," Grichuk said. "We feel like it's a pitcher-friendly ballpark and the ball does not fly. Plenty of times you think you crushed one, you think it should have been a home run, and it's caught at the track.
"I'm thankful to get another opportunity elsewhere and even more so in a hitter-friendly ballpark and a hitter-friendly division."