Woods Richardson turning heads at camp

July 17th, 2020

TORONTO -- doesn’t look, talk or throw a baseball like the only teenager at the Blue Jays’ Summer Camp in Toronto.

The club’s No. 3 prospect, now 19, has already come further than anyone expected by this point after being acquired from the Mets in the Marcus Stroman deal nearly one year ago. The Blue Jays surprised many with an aggressive assignment to Class A Advanced Dunedin at just 18 last season, but Woods Richardson didn’t blink.

This week, he suddenly found himself in a Blue Jays jersey, running out to the mound at Rogers Centre with his walkout music playing. Woods Richardson knows this isn’t a fantasy camp, though, and he’s here for a reason.

“I’ve been sitting there watching Ken Giles, Matt Shoemaker and Hyun-Jin Ryu,” Woods Richardson said. “These guys pitch perfect. They come in and, yes, you want to ask questions, but just to sit back and watch their work and see what they do day to day is pretty surreal.”

Watching these veterans work has emphasized the difference between showing up to the field to get better in general vs. showing up with a specific plan and focus for that day. That mental sharpness, as much as any pitch sequence or curveball grip, is what’s stuck with the right-hander.

When he was first dealt to the Blue Jays, he heard what most folks hear when they’re headed to Toronto. “You have to see this, you have to do that.” Instead, he’s only able to see what’s out his window as the Blue Jays operate under a modified quarantine and cannot leave the stadium or hotel. For Woods Richardson, though, that’s just fine.

“It’s actually been pretty fun. I’m an only child, so being by myself and being in a room sitting around watching TV, that’s fun after practice for me,” he said. “Going to the stadium is an unbelievable feeling, knowing that’s my place of work and that’s the job I go to every day. It’s so beautiful to see the CN Tower over it.”

Every conversation you have about Woods Richardson with coaches or teammates comes back to his maturity. Even as he speaks, the joy in his voice is always balanced by an understanding that he’s here for a reason, both because of the work he’s put in and the people he’s had in his corner along the way.

Woods Richardson has been the kid in every clubhouse, so this isn’t new. His summer coach in Texas was Adam Dunn, who hit 462 home runs over a 14-year MLB career. He’s worked with Mike Sirotka, another Houston native, who pitched six seasons for the White Sox. Yes, the lights are bright here in Toronto, but he doesn’t seem to feel it.

“It’s the way I carry myself,” Woods Richardson said. “My mom has always told me I’ve been mature for my age, and I’ve always carried myself that way. I’ve always been the little big brother. I know I have that chip on my shoulder. Let me show you what this young buck can do.”

Espinal a versatile option
could develop into a rare type of player for the Blue Jays, given his ability to play all over the diamond while still contributing something at the plate. Between Double-A and Triple-A last season, Espinal played second, third, shortstop and even center field. Right now, he's pushing for a roster spot and improving his chances steadily.

“I told them that wherever they want me to play, I’ll play," Espinal said. "I’ll play third, short, second, left, center or right. I feel comfortable playing any position. Wherever they want me just to help the team win a World Series, I’m here for it.”

Camp extras
• Ryu is scheduled to throw six innings on Saturday, meaning he should be close to a full workload on Opening Day, July 24 at Tampa Bay.

• Tanner Roark will throw four innings and be followed by Thomas Hatch (3 innings), Anthony Bass (1), Ken Giles (1) and A.J. Cole (1).

• Shun Yamaguchi is being “built up” to throw multiple innings or even work as a spot starter, though his role isn’t set in stone just yet.

• Montoyo says his players have loved working with guest instructor Dante Bichette, who’s been able to get them to “buy in” when discussing the mental approach to hitting. He’s also been of help to hitting coach Guillermo Martinez, who carries a heavy plate of responsibilities.

• Both Travis Shaw and Joe Panik will get opportunities against left-handed pitching before Montoyo makes any decisions on platooning.