02/14/11 10:00 AM EST
New skipper Farrell plans to go on the offensive
By Gregor Chisholm / MLB.com
The first-year manager is determined to add another element to the Blue Jays' powerful offense. Last season, Toronto ranked first in the Major Leagues in homers, with 257, but finished just ninth in total runs scored.
The club enjoyed a lot of success when the ball was flying out of the park, but when the Blue Jays struggled to generate power, the offense often became stagnant.
That's something Farrell hopes to change this season.
"This is still a team that has the ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark," said Farrell, who spent the past four years as Boston's pitching coach, earlier this month. "We're going to play to that strength, but in preparing against this team, it was one that seemed to be very one-dimensional and a little predictable.
Farrell officially began his first year in a Blue Jays uniform on Monday, when pitchers and catchers reported for workouts at the Bobby Mattick Training Center in Dunedin, Fla.
Farrell knows that his pitching staff may lack experience, but it's one of the deepest in the league and is expected to sort itself out over time. Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow and Brett Cecil will anchor the rotation, and such youngsters as top prospect Kyle Drabek, Jesse Litsch and Marc Rzepczynski will be added to the mix.
In the bullpen, new acquisitions Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch and Octavio Dotel provide a veteran influence at the back end.
The offense, though, remains a bit of a question mark as the Blue Jays try to overcome the loss of clubhouse leader Vernon Wells, veteran catcher John Buck and first baseman Lyle Overbay.
Farrell believes that the wild cards to this season can be found in returning infielders Adam Lind and Aaron Hill. Two years ago, each won a Silver Slugger Award for his performance on offense, but last season both suffered through a disappointing campaign. The pair combined to hit just .222 with 49 home runs and 140 RBIs.
The 48-year-old Farrell says that his team will need both to return to their previous form if the club is going to improve its offensive output.
"The two biggest keys this season is the bounceback of Hill and Lind," he said. "We don't want Lind to think that he has to become somebody that he's not. We just want him to return to the performance that he has shown in the past. We feel like he is primed for a bounceback year.
"Hill has been very focused. He has been down in Florida for quite a bit of time just preparing for the upcoming season. The ability is there, nothing has slipped in terms of his tools or his talents, so there's no reason he shouldn't be able to have the type of season we're all expecting."
Farrell's arrival at camp meant the end of his nearly four-month wait to take over the reins from Cito Gaston, who retired at the end of the 2010 campaign.
While waiting for camp to officially open, Farrell spent the offseason familiarizing himself with the organization. He placed calls to everyone on the 40-man roster and used trips to Toronto and to the Minor League complex to get to know some of his players.
He realizes that it's a more inexperienced squad than the one that won 85 games in 2010, but he doesn't think that's necessarily a bad thing. It just means his No. 1 responsibility will be ensuring that the young core comes together as a group.
"Our biggest challenge is formulating the identity of this team, [an identity] we'll need to go throughout the season," he said. "No matter what team you're on, or associated with, there's an identity that evolves.
"We'd like for that to start in Spring Training. It'll continue on for the first 25, 40 games of the regular season, but that's who we'll become as a team as we take the field every night -- how we prepare, how we go about executing the game and, ultimately, how we win."
That task should be a little bit easier for Farrell because he had the luxury of watching the Blue Jays play in person 18 times last season. During that time he couldn't help but take notice of the wave of change that seemed to be sweeping through the Toronto organization.
He saw a general manager in Alex Anthopoulos who was generating lots of talk around the Major Leagues with his creative approach to building the organization through scouting and player development. He saw a team that was ripe with young pitching prospects and an offense that was, though at times flawed, one that possessed the type of power that was the dream of any organization.
That was enough to convince him that Toronto would be the perfect place for his first managerial job.
"You could see and feel the momentum that was taking place and the confidence that was growing across the field," he said. "It was validated even further with phone calls to the players. ... There was the genuine caring they had for one another and the belief they had in one each other.
"The chemistry and the closeness that was developed in that group was very apparent, and guys spoke very genuinely about it. That's what has to take place to work as a unit to achieve a common goal, and that's what we want to achieve here."
Now Farrell's tough work begins. He has to decide who hits where in the lineup and how he can work with hitting coach Dwayne Murphy to improve his team's approach at the plate. It will be a tough challenge for the former Major League pitcher but one he looks forward to tackling.
"The two areas that are going to be in a state of flux for us is who is going to hit in the leadoff spot for us and who's going to provide protection for Jose Bautista," Farrell said. "Those are the two areas, initially, that are questions that are going to have to be answered in Spring Training.
"But one thing is certainly clear. This is a team that is moving in the right direction."