Rasmus reclamation a key for Toronto
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Colby Rasmus needed a fresh start. He knew it, the Cardinals knew it and the Blue Jays knew it. Yet Rasmus got that change of scenery last summer, and it didn't have the desired effect. He hit worse in Toronto after his trade to the American League than he ever had as a Cardinal.
Something was amiss with the former top prospect, and it had nothing to do with whether his dad gets along with his manager or whether veteran teammates make him feel welcome. Rasmus, who looked for all the world like a future All-Star throughout his Minor League career and in his first two years in the big leagues, needs to get sorted out if the Jays are going to contend in the brutally tough American League East.
He believes that having Spring Training and a full year with his new team will help. And given the stresses that accompanied him throughout his time with the Cardinals, it makes sense that that would be the case.
"I think [I just need to] go out there and relax and have trust and confidence in myself," Rasmus said. "Don't worry about [questions about facing left-handers] or any of that stuff that doesn't matter that I can't control. Don't worry about if I'm going to be sitting the next day or any of that stuff. Just go out there and play the game. Leave it all out there."
You'd have to think that will help. A hitter who can't get out of his own head is a hitter who's not going to succeed. While relaxing is a necessary step, though, it's not sufficient. Rasmus needs to arrest some disconcerting trends in his performance. That's what he's working on this spring. That's what Spring Training is for.
Rasmus just didn't hit the ball with the same authority after the trade that he had during his time as a Cardinal. His line-drive percentage absolutely plummeted after the trade. According to baseball-reference.com, a line-drive rate that had hovered around 20 percent over his first 2 1/2 seasons dropped to an ugly 10 percent in his first two months in Toronto.
Those liners were replaced by ground balls and popups as he had trouble getting on top of the ball. If you get on top of the ball, you create backspin, and the ball travels farther. If you get under the ball, the opposite happens. Trading liners for other contact is a bad swap for a hitter. Popups and grounders go for outs much more often than line drives do.
"It was weird, because even when I would try to stay on top of the ball, I was still popping the ball up," Rasmus said. "I think it was just because I was pulling off [the ball] so bad. ... I don't really know. I don't have a good answer for that."
He's confident that it's less of an issue this spring, though. Part of the reason for that is a change to his swing mechanics, with a slightly reduced leg kick that may keep him a little more in synch. Asked about Rasmus, Toronto manager John Farrell doesn't talk about the drama. He talks about the swing.
"I think the thing we're most excited to see are the mechanics adjustments that he's made with his lower half are being maintained," Farrell said. "When he hits the ball into right-center field, he can backspin it with the best of the hitters that we'll see. It's good to see him staying with a consistent approach."
And it's approach that has been the other issue for Rasmus. He sometimes struggles to maintain a consistent strike zone. After he came to the American League, he saw a higher percentage of strikes than he'd ever seen before, and he connected on fewer of them than he had in the past. That's not a good combination, and one he needs to address.
Fortunately, it's one he intends to address. Rasmus is fully aware that maintaining a good strike zone is critical to hitting. He doesn't have a problem taking his walks. He needs to find the balance between swinging aggressively like the power hitter he can be while also taking the walks that allow him to use his speed and keep innings going.
If Rasmus even returns to his pre-trade level with the Cardinals in 2011, that's not a bad player. He posted a 110 OPS+ during those 94 games -- marking him as a better-than-league-average hitter, which will definitely play in center field.
If he can get to levels higher than that, as was once forecast for him, the Jays have a gem on their hands.
Matthew Leach is a writer for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.