The Toronto Blue Jays are pulling out all the stops to groom their young players into top MLB athletes.
The Toronto Blue Jays will rely on youth next year. We know this. After releasing Troy Tulowitzki, and absorbing the $38M remaining on his contract, they are paying big money to allow this to happen. 2019 will be a season where the club gives playing time to those youngsters they feel could be part of their next competitive window. Essentially, 2019 will sort out the future core of their team.
This is an organization that is now putting a premium on developming the whole player, rather than just his baseball skills. The current front office continues to emphasize qualities like leadership and ‘being a good teammate’. These are rather difficult tools to quantify, of course. There is no metric for ‘clubhouse presence’. However, the Blue Jays have a rather extensive plan when evaluating players in this regard. However they acquire players, whether it is via trade, free agency of the draft, they do their homework.
Speaking to Jays From the Couch, team President, Mark Shapiro outlines the search thusly: “Basically, how much intent do they put into their development, how much their committed to taking advantage of the resources that are out there. These are all the kinds of things that impact.“
Assuming said player meets the above criteria, the club then sets to work on their development. Shapiro continues, “you have a framework in the way you think about your players, how they handle stress, adversity, duress would be an indicator of what kind of teammate they are, what kind of mindset they have and how that’s going to impact the team’s culture, setting and environment. Development is not a process we do to our players, it’s a process that we partner with our players on.”
It is that partnership that is starting to blossom for the players who are ready to take the next step as the core of the Toronto Blue Jays. The front office and the players are working on developing the human traits necessary to be successful at the big league level. To that end, the club recently tried something rather interesting with a dozen of their up and coming stars.
12 players were taken to Fort Benning on the Georgia/ Alabama border where the US Army Rangers train. The players spent three days learning. “We took 12 players down to Fort Benning last month and dropped them into the army Rangers, which are an elite special force, for three days.” Shapiro says. “Bo Bichette, Billy McKinney, Danny Jansen, Ryan Borucki among many others were down there talking about culture, talking about leadership, talking about what it means to be a good teammate at the same time, going through metacognitive obstacle courses, doing team building exercises to help them navigate their way through obstacles“.
Clearly, the Blue Jays believe that more goes into big league success than performance on the field. Over the last six months, we’ve watched them prioritize (via trades of high profile names) the personal qualities they feel benefit the team culture. “Understanding the urgency of what it means to be a good teammate, what that impact could mean on taking ownership and accountability for what our culture is here.” Shapiro explains. “That’s hard to ask a 21-22 year old to take accountability and ownership for our culture, but I think efforts like that as well as building a coaching staff that can foster and believe in those things and have been part of winning elsewhere all contribute to help us create that environment up here with our players.”
How a professional sports team goes about its business off the field can reveal a lot about its character. If you’ve been paying attention, the Blue Jays are demonstrating what theirs is. Choosing who they promote in September – remember that Dalton Pompey was not brought up after fighting with his AAA manager – and trading away big names that offered different negative baggage represent a conscious effort to what kind of player Toronto wants in their system.
Obviously coaching and training are part of developing your players into the best athletes they can be. To win, you need them to achieve. However, the Blue Jays are adding a layer of development by grooming their young players into athletes that can handle adversity and can contribute to a collective culture of winning. It might be hyperbole to say that this is revolutionary, but the gusto with which the Blue Jays are committing to this is impressive.
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Shaun Doyle is a long time Blue Jays fan and writer! He decided to put those things together and create Jays From the Couch. Shaun is the host of Jays From the Couch Radio, which is highly ranked in iTunes, and he has appeared on TV and radio spots.