Spring Training is here, Baby!!

Jays take first step toward ’07 season
DUNEDIN, Fla. — The next step has arrived. While fans back home in Toronto were digging themselves out of the winter’s worst snowfall, the Blue Jays began reporting to their Spring Training complex in Florida.
With the offseason now officially in the rearview mirror, Toronto is eager to build on the progress it made last season. That quest began on Friday, when the Jays’ pitchers and catchers filed into Dunedin, Fla. — the only spring site the Jays have known in their 31-year history. On Saturday, those players will head to the Bobby Mattick Training Center for the club’s first official workout.
“We like our team,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said on Thursday, when he first arrived at the complex. “We like the way we finished up last year and we think we’re going to get better.”
Once on the mounds, a select group of Toronto pitchers will enter into a competition that will last deep into March to determine the back end of the rotation. Right-handers John Thomson and Tomo Ohka, who both signed with the Jays in January, are the leading candidates for the final two spots, but they’ll have to fend off Shaun Marcum, Josh Towers, Casey Janssen and Dustin McGowan.
The drills for pitchers and catchers will be in full swing by the time Toronto’s position players are required to report on Wednesday. Then, on Thursday, the Blue Jays will hold the first full-squad workout for their revamped roster.
At that time, Gibbons will get a look at all the pieces he’s been provided with for the upcoming year. The Jays reeled in free-agent slugger Frank Thomas, added shortstop Royce Clayton, and picked up a few reserves in outfielder Matt Stairs, infielder Jason Smith and catcher Sal Fasano.
Some of Toronto’s biggest offseason moves actually dealt with players already on the roster. In December, the Jays locked up center fielder Vernon Wells with a seven-year, $126 million deal that begins in 2008. Then in January, Toronto handed first baseman Lyle Overbay a four-year, $24 million extension.
Thomas, Wells and Overbay, along with All-Stars Troy Glaus and Alex Rios, help give Toronto one of the best offenses in the American League. It will be up to Gibbons this spring to find out how exactly that impressive lineup will shape up for Opening Day.
“I think [the fans] like what we’ve done,” Gibbons said. “You see each year we get closer and closer to where we want to be, and it’s time to get over that hump. It won’t be easy, but it’s long overdue.”
The Blue Jays will use Spring Training to help answer some of their remaining questions. Once the season begins, Toronto hopes to make a run at the playoffs. Last year, the Jays placed second in the American League East, marking the first time the club finished higher than third in the division since 1993. It was a step in the right direction, but the Blue Jays want to take the next step.