CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The jury is still out on whether Ryan Goins will become a bona fide Major League hitter, but if there's failure in his future, it won't be due to a lack of work ethic.
Goins put in a countless number of hours during the offseason to fix his mechanics at the plate. While some players were still in vacation mode, Goins was accepting an invitation to work out in Kansas City with new Blue Jays hitting coach Kevin Seitzer.
The work has continued this spring, with Goins taking extra hitting drills whenever possible. At times it seems like Seitzer and his second baseman have been attached at the hip, and while that isn't necessarily a guarantee for success, it's at least a step in the right direction.
"Just trying to go in every day and get on the same page, which we are, and then just try to be consistent," Goins said of his work with Seitzer. "Taking what I'm doing in the cage, and in BP, and apply it into the game. First couple of games, it was pretty good. I've had one bad at-bat, and the other ones I feel like I'm seeing the ball well and I think I'm buying into everything he's telling me."
Goins made his Major League debut last August and got off to a fast start, but it didn't take long for some problems to emerge. There was a tendency to be overly aggressive in the box, and instead of waiting for his pitch, Goins would often go after something even some of the best hitters in the league would have difficulty hitting.
The 26-year-old also had a habit of trying to pull too many pitches. A quick look at his spray chart indicates that the vast majority of the ground balls off Goins' bat went to the right side of the field. That wouldn't be a problem for some players, but with the skill set that Goins possesses, it's pretty clear that he would be best served using all parts of the field.
There were times when he would do that, and those were the moments Goins would have the most success. According to FanGraphs, Goins hit 19 line drives last season -- 12 went to the opposite field and nine of those dropped in for hits. The Blue Jays believe the potential is in there, it's just a matter of Goins being able to find it on a consistent basis.
"Just being able to repeat his hand path is the biggest thing," Seitzer said. "To give yourself a chance when you're a little early or a little late. He was out and around balls that were on the middle-in part of the plate. We started cleaning up his direction, he adjusted big time, it felt good to him, it felt right. It was a little awkward at first, but he has worked hard and I like where he is at."
When Goins debuted last season, he held his hands high and away from his body during the batting stance. Former Blue Jays hitting coach Chad Mottola started the transformation by getting Goins to lower his hands in the season's final couple of weeks.
That work continued this offseason with Seitzer and since then another adjustment has been made. Seitzer had Goins bring his hands closer to his body during the stance. The goal was for Goins to have a faster swing path and also one that was easier to replicate on a consistent basis.
Just like any other mechanical adjustment, it hasn't always been smooth sailing. The work started slow, with swings off a tee and through soft toss before eventually progressing to batting practice. It has since been taken into spring games, and while the swing remains a work in progress, Seitzer has been happy with what he has seen so far.
"When I met with him it was awkward, it was something new, something different," Goins said. "It was something I had to buy into, and just keep doing on a daily basis. After a couple of weeks it started to become second nature and I feel like it's natural now. When I go into a game, I don't feel like I have to do anything different than what I've been doing. I don't have to think about it, I can be free and just play my game."
When the Blue Jays' 2013 season came to an end last September, the consensus was that the club was in the market for a new starting second baseman. General manager Alex Anthopoulos initially had the position on his wish list for the offseason, but weeks and months went by without any moves.
When 2014 rolled around, the Blue Jays began openly talking about being just fine with the status quo. There has never been any doubt about Goins in the field as he possesses the type of game-changing defense Toronto hasn't had at second base since the days of Orlando Hudson. The issue was always the bat.
Goins is a career .273 hitter with a .330 on-base percentage over the course of five seasons in the Minor Leagues. The Blue Jays would be more than happy with those types of numbers, but it's one thing to do it at Double-A and another thing entirely to perform at that level in the big leagues.
That's why there have been plenty of skeptics about Toronto's decision to stick with the status quo. For his part, Seitzer doesn't buy into the criticism and also doesn't want to hear about how the Blue Jays might be fine with someone who has a low average and on-base percentage if there's enough defense to compensate for that.
"Maybe in other people's minds, but as an athlete, as an everyday player, you want to have good at-bats consistently and be able to contribute," Seitzer said. "So I don't think he's wired to hit .250 or .260. I think he's wired to try and hit .300 and be a real solid everyday second baseman at this level.
"That's why I don't like putting ceilings on guys, because you never know what their potential could be. But everything so far has been phenomenal. I couldn't be more happy with where he's at. The conversations we have after at-bats, he's learning right now, but I think he has the discipline and the ability mechanically in order to have a real good chance at being good."