It's not a long walk from shortstop to second base, but that adjustment for Marcus Semien will be key to the Blue Jays' success in 2021.
Plagued by fundamental errors at times in 2020, the Blue Jays feel they've developed into a stronger defensive team this season not just by adding talent in Semien and outfielder George Springer, but by developing their own young core. One of those core pieces, Bo Bichette, will be Semien's new double-play partner.
The Blue Jays needed an answer at third base just as much as second when they signed Semien, but sticking the 30-year-old former shortstop at second keeps him up the middle. Still, this will be a spring of adapting.
"The angle off the bat, from a righty, there's a lot more balls that slice away from you," Semien explained Monday from the club's Spring Training complex in Dunedin, Fla. "The double-play turn and double-play feed are the biggest thing for me that I will work on every day. It felt pretty natural today. I've been working on that in the offseason and now we're able to get on the field every day and do it."
A steady, consistent glove at second base should be more than enough for the Blue Jays, especially if Semien's bat can get back to its 2019 form, when he hit .285 with 33 home runs and an .892 OPS while appearing in all 162 games. In 2020, though, Semien got off to a slow start.
"I just didn't feel as strong and that's fine, but your body needs to adjust once you get into live at-bats," Semien said. "It's a tough, tough game to play if you're not at your strongest, and I got to a point where I didn't hit much BP on the field, I tried to manage it every day so I could be ready for seven o'clock. I felt like I was proud of the way I managed it even though the numbers didn't necessarily look great."
In Oakland, Semien was often used as the leadoff hitter, which doesn't seem likely in Toronto, as both Springer and Cavan Biggio are high-OBP options. With Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Teoscar Hernández, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and others in the lineup, Semien could even end up in the bottom third some nights.
"I hit all over the lineup in Oakland and I think that I had my best year hitting leadoff, and that was an adjustment in itself," Semien said. "It's just something that I got comfortable with, hitting in the first inning. Anywhere I hit in the lineup I'll be able to get used to and help the ballclub win games.
Pearson building off 2020
It's an annual tradition that No. 1 prospect Nate Pearson earns rave reviews in camp. After a long winter away from baseball, there's something particularly exciting about seeing a big, strong right-hander uncorking 100-mph heat again. This spring, though, manager Charlie Montoyo is optimistic, because Pearson is coming off a true learning experience at the Major League level.
"The best thing that happened to him was that he struggled a little bit, and then he came back and he was lights-out," Montoyo said. "You don't want any guy to struggle, but that was good for him, because he knows what he needs to do to pitch in the big leagues. He knows that you don't pitch behind in the count, you can get hit, it doesn't matter how hard you throw."
Pearson is expected to open the season in the rotation, but keep an eye on how his workload is managed throughout the year. The Blue Jays saw how rare a weapon he can be in the postseason with his two perfect innings against the Rays in 2020, so they'll need something in the tank come October.
Montoyo a fan of winter ball
Several Blue Jays played winter ball this past offseason, including Guerrero. This isn't as common as it once was, when established veterans would play through the offseason, but Montoyo is fully in favor of his players taking that opportunity.
"Go ahead, that can never be bad," Montoyo said. "You can always get better and work on different stuff, and it was good for Vladdy to play winter ball. He did a nice job down there. He got to play third base and get some reps down there and he helped his team make it to the playoffs. It was good to see that he did that."
Big plans for Biggio
Biggio is the most versatile player on the Blue Jays' roster, and even though it looks like third base will be his primary home in 2021, he shouldn't start sending his mail there just yet.
"I want him to get as many reps as he can at third base, but he also knows that he's going to play in different spots," Montoyo said. "The reason why is just because of the lineup and the people that we have on the team right now."
Much of this will depend on opposing pitchers or maximizing a day's lineup, but Biggio's flexibility gives Montoyo those options. If it's not Biggio at third, you could see Guerrero used there sparingly or Joe Panik, who's in camp as a non-roster invitee but expected to crack the roster. Gurriel has taken some grounders at third base, too.
Payamps claimed by Red Sox
Right-hander Joel Payamps, who the Blue Jays claimed off waivers from the Red Sox a couple of weeks ago, is going back to Boston. The Red Sox claimed Payamps off outright waivers from the Blue Jays on Monday.
The Blue Jays' 40-man roster now sits at 39, giving them some flexibility that could be used for another Major League addition or later in camp for a non-roster invitee.