How Bichette silenced skeptics to lock in the Blue Jays’ shortstop position

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TORONTO – At the end of the 2018 season, the Toronto Blue Jays were struggling with a crucial question moving forward – is Bo Bichette really their shortstop of the future? The electric infielder had just completed a sensational season with the double A New Hampshire Fisher-Cats, posting a .796 OPS in 595 home plate appearances in 131 games, each against an older pitcher, in a league where he was 4.5 years younger than the average player.

It was clear by then that he would be a big leaguer very soon, and a hard-hitting player as well.

Still, the question that had followed him from his high school years in St. Petersburg, Fla., Which continued after the Blue Jays stole him in the second round of the 2016 Draft, which persisted as he was speeding up the minor league. the scale, remained as the moment of truth approached.

Was he really a shortstop?

So after the 20-year-old helped the Fisher Cats win the Eastern League title, director of player development Gil Kim put the question to the top prospect and Chris Barnard, the coach Bichette had been working with. worked since his last year, at a meeting. on the next steps.

“The conversation was, ‘Hey, we want to know if he’s our real shortstop,’” Barnard recalls. “And I remember, Bo said, ‘I’m a shortstop. It is what it is. So we went to work.

During this offseason, Bichette has worked tirelessly to improve his fundamental base and real-time decision making in order to become a better defender. By the time he arrived at spring training last year, the conversations had completely changed, and suddenly the team looked at him as someone who was going to be their shortstop from the future.

And now, when he takes the pitch as the Blue Jays’ daily stop after experiencing his first opening day in the majors, the vision has come true. Consider that game against the Boston Red Sox a few days ago.

“His range,” manager Charlie Montoyo says when asked what he likes most about the Bichette range. “Its range was surprising. This game in Boston is as good as it gets, and that’s what I saw last year.

Any last semblance of doubt about his readiness was lifted after his recall on July 29, when he not only came out scorching on a plate, but also looked more than capable on the pitch.

Within two weeks, transition veteran Freddy Galvis was sidelined, and the job was his.

“We were like, ‘Oh, we’re going to miss Freddy,’ said Montoyo. “But when Bo arrived, we didn’t miss Freddy, and that’s the best compliment I can give the kid.

The roots of that confidence in Bichette go back to the 2018-19 offseason, when Bichette recalls the Blue Jays, “felt like, ‘OK, we need to find out if Bo is our shortstop or not.’ ‘

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At this point, Aledmys Diaz was set to be traded to the Houston Astros and Lourdes Gurriel Jr., was still a shortstop, although there were still more questions about his glove than Bichette’s.

Once he heard that the Blue Jays weren’t sure about himself, “well, I wanted to improve everything,” he says. “I wanted more autonomy, I wanted more speed, I wanted more control over my body. So we worked on my speed, worked side by side, change of direction. The difference was huge. When I got there the following spring, everyone knew I had done something, and I could definitely see it too, just because of the parts I was doing.

Kim remembers the fateful conversation a little differently, without Bichette’s future at the post being put on such harsh terms. He isn’t surprised, however, at how the 22-year-old viewed the discussion.

“Bo takes everything as a challenge,” Kim says. “That’s what makes him so good.”

Yet Bichette’s training models have long intrigued the Blue Jays, from the creative work he would do with his former all-star dad Dante, who was hired as a major league coach during summer camp, to the practices he would do. ‘he does with Barnard. .

The Blue Jays even dispatched high-profile staff to see what Barnard was doing at the St. Petersburg, Fla. Facility that Dante walked in with Bichette and his older brother Dante Jr. four years ago.

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At the time, Bichette was an upside draft prospect, but her training regimen was designed by Dante. While he wanted to lift weights and get stronger, “I didn’t want to do it with my dad,” he says.

Barnard was at first skeptical when the family arrived, even passing the children over to an assistant, although he kept a close eye on their first session at the gym.

“He saw the way we jump and the way we run, and he said, ‘OK, they could actually be really good athletes,’ Bichette recalls. “I think most of the dads come in and they’re kind of BS around the situation and act like the kid is really good. And he didn’t have that. So when he saw us start to move, he thought to himself, “OK, they have potential”. The next time I walked in he was leading us.

Barnard says, “Dante was super humble, he didn’t mention who he was. He didn’t mention who his boys were. He just said, “My boys are really good baseball players. At the time, I was building other aspects of the business but I was still coaching athletes, I had a draft prep guy. But I had a lot of high school dads coming up, “Can you train my son he’s gonna be the next whole world.” And it’s not that I don’t give them time. It’s just when I make a commitment to a player, I want to carry them out for the rest of their career. I completely agree with this person. So next time, I’m like, ‘OK, let’s go somewhere.’ “

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Their original goal was to improve speed at Bichette’s foot, and Barnard essentially rebuilt his stride like that of a track athlete. Thanks to the only cleaner running mechanics – “everything is physical,” the coach says – Bichette’s running improved dramatically, with work in the following years helping her steal 22 goals in her first season. full professional ball and 32 in double A in 2018.

The following offseason, they targeted his defense. Barnard broke the best shortstop movie and devised a variety of exercises that would create both the physical capacity and muscle memory needed to perform a variety of games.

“We did these things where I was going back and forth between a cone, it threw balls at me in the air, I would have to change direction to get it,” says Bichette. “He would do it on the field where I had to get it. We were using these spark balls with the dots at the end and I was just doing a full sprint, he was rolling over me, and I had to follow the direction of the ball.

The objective, initially, was to develop an ability to quickly change direction laterally, in different ranges.

“Later, it was about real agility,” Barnard explains, “which really just adds a reactionary component. Any form of tennis ball exercise, causing him to react to several, simply creating a higher stimulus than he will see on the court. By doing this, he really got him used to trying to react to several different things and processing so much information while moving through those ranges of motion.

The advantages are evident in a piece like Bichette’s in Boston. From this close-up angle, you can see how he stops his swing after lying down and then creates force in the opposite direction of the throw.

“For me, it’s really about athleticism,” he says. “Not everything can be perfect. If you’re trying to be perfect at making a play, it’s not always going to go well. You have to be able to do things that are not comfortable.

This past season the focus was on building strength as they were relatively happy with the situation in terms of speed and agility. Bichette reckons it was her best winter in terms of weightlifting, and during the pandemic’s halt they used a similar diet, including playground Santiago Espinal and outfielder Forrest Wall, both of whom turned out to be sheltered at Bichette’s house.

“Bo was also very engaged in his activities outside of the gym,” Barnard says. “It’s recovery and nutrition, and his commitment has really paid off. When he came back to each workout he was on. It’s a testament to his drive to be awesome in every aspect, to be a five tool guy. This year, what we were really trying to accomplish is lean a little bit more, which I like to call effective. If you’re dragging a few extra pounds of body fat, it’s really not serving you in the field. He came very close to it and he has a lighter body weight. He has more power and strength than what I have seen in him. And he hasn’t even really entered what I like to call his manhood yet.

“It’s just exciting to see him continue.”

All the more for the Blue Jays, who are ultimately a short stop from the present which is also a short stop from the future, too.



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