Palacios an early standout at Blue Jays camp

Outfielder's skill set improved immensely at alternate training site in '20

March 6th, 2021

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The lost Minor League season in 2020 threw a wrench into prospect development, but Blue Jays outfielder used it as a springboard and represents what the future of that will look like.

The early star of Spring Training after going 3-for-3 with a double, triple and home run on Friday, Palacios spent most of 2020 at the club's alternate training site. When you ask members of the Blue Jays' organization who made the most of the lost season, over and over again it's Palacios' name that comes up.

"The [alternate training] site was one of the best things that could have happened to my career. It was a risk-free environment," Palacios explained Saturday. "There weren't any hard numbers, there were no league leaders, there was no batting average, there was no worrying about getting caught stealing or making an error. It was just free and development-based."

If Palacios wanted to work on stealing bases, for example, he didn't have to wait, he just did it.

In a Minor League season, Palacios might only get a handful of opportunities over a week of game action. He'd need to reach base, have second base open in front of him, have the right count to run in and have the right pitcher on the mound. That doesn't come up often, and with games every night and bus rides in between, there's not always time to recreate these scenarios in warmups.

At the alternate training site, though, Palacios could attempt 20 steals in an hour if he wanted to. If he gets thrown out? Who cares? It hasn't hurt his team and there he goes again, trotting back to first base to try again. This took the fear of failure out of the equation and created a dense, saturated environment for development. This is what GMs and farm directors envision happening at their complexes under the new Minor League structure, particularly with their youngest prospects.

Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo is rarely one to single out players from a larger group in camp, but Palacios hasn't left him much of a choice lately.

"He's been playing great in the outfield and swinging the bat good," Montoyo said. "That's what Spring Training is all about. You show what you can do and you get a chance to show the team, 'Hey, hold on. I'm here.' That's what he's doing."

Palacios profiles as a corner outfielder, and while his bat is making the most noise early in camp, he's also had a handful of memorable plays in the field already. He credits that to time he spent with Devon White at the alternate training site.

White won seven American League Gold Glove Awards and has three World Series rings, so that's not a bad place to start. Blue Jays fans know White for his incredible defense in center, where everything looked smooth and he rarely needed to leave his feet to make even the most difficult plays. The two started by talking about Palacios' mindset on each and every play, and it went from there.

"After opening up a few things that I didn't even know existed in the outfield, I started focusing on those things, and that helped tremendously," Palacios said. "With Devo there watching every day, we would talk about being smooth, under control, making solid breaks and making your team feel safe when they watch you running towards the ball."

Palacios also comes from baseball bloodlines, which seems to be the standard on the Blue Jays' roster. His brother, Richie, was a third-round pick of Cleveland back in 2018 while his uncle, Rey, played parts of three seasons with the Royals from 1988-90. Montoyo played winter ball with Rey Palacios at one point, and third-base coach Luis Rivera knows him, too.

Rey Palacios is now a firefighter, and on Friday, the younger Palacios met Rivera at third base when he tripled.

"Once I rounded second and came into third, Luis told me in Spanish, 'Hey, you're a better hitter than your uncle,'" Palacios said. "I said, 'Yeah, I hope so, because I'm not trying to be a firefighter like my uncle.' This is my goal, this is my dream and he's taught me a great bunch. I'm not trying to be a firefighter right now at least. I'd like to play a little bit of baseball."