Rounding Third: Now or never for Blue Jays' Rasmus

Mar 9, 2012 - 3:22 PM Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It wasn't supposed to be this hard for Colby Rasmus.

A prep school standout in Alabama, Rasmus was a five-tool player who hit .484 his senior season and smacked 24 home runs, eclipsing Bo Jackson's total for second most all-time in the state by a high school player.

The St. Louis Cardinals then made him their top pick in the 2005 draft and Rasmus quickly made his way through the organization, becoming one of the top prospects in all of baseball.

And it looked for a bit that Rasmus was going to fulfill all of that potential, especially after he blasted 23 home runs and hit .276 in 144 games for the Cards in 2010. But, he struck out 148 times that year - 53 times more than the previous season - and some questioned his work ethic and maturity level, while others felt as if he relied on his father - a lifelong baseball coach - too much.

Then the criticisms really started to come. From the media. From his own teammates. And most notably from manager Tony La Russa, who never seemed to warm up to Rasmus. The once-can't-miss kid was turning into just another prospect who had run amuck under the bright lights of "The Show."

"It's definitely tough to deal with, especially when you feel like you're working hard," Rasmus said. "I definitely worked hard in the gym, I got to where my swing, I just couldn't feel anything. I was trying to do too much and changing things, every day a different swing, which is one thing I want to do now, stick with one thing, get my little routine and stick with it. If it don't work, I go home happy, that's fine, I did it myself and have my own little routine and I stuck with it, instead of listening to everybody giving me advice here and there."

It didn't get any easier on Rasmus last season, as he struggled mightily both in the field and at the plate, where he saw his average dip to .246 before the Cardinals finally had enough and dealt him to the Toronto Blue Jays as part of an 11-player deal.

"The fans were upset with me," Rasmus, "the coaches just banging heads a little bit and I just wasn't comfortable. I couldn't relax and play.

"I already knew I messed up and I already knew I was doing things wrong, but (with) just that added pressure I didn't have no way to filter it out. It just kind of ate me up and it showed in my play."

The trade was a new lease on life for Rasmus, a chance to start over. However, it was more of the same for the Georgia native. Perhaps his confidence was more shot than he thought, or maybe he was just trying too hard, but Rasmus was a huge disappointment after the trade, hitting a mere .173 with three home runs and 13 RBIs in 35 games before a wrist injury cut his season short.

"Yeah, that was definitely bad timing, but those things you can't control," Rasmus said of his wrist injury. "I felt like that my outfield play was all right, but I was definitely struggling with the stick. But I think this year, getting my confidence up, go out there and play the game and not worry about the stuff I can't control."

Then to add a little insult to injury, the Cardinals put forth one of the best runs in recent memory to even make it to the postseason, then, of course, went on to win the World Series in seven memorable games against the Texas Rangers. And if that wasn't enough, three of the players acquired in the Rasmus deal - pitchers Edwin Jackson, Octavo Dotel and Marc Rzepczynski - were all integral parts of the Cards' run.

Rasmus, though, did admit he rooted for the Cards, albeit from a distance since he says he didn't watch.

"I got a lot of friends on that team, a lot of guys I love and respect," Rasmus said. "I have no hard feelings towards anybody, you know? Just didn't watch it. I was doing something else."

With the bitter taste of last season and the Cardinals' championship still in his mouth, Rasmus entered Jays camp at Dunedin, Fla., this year with a whole new attitude.

He's ready to move on. He's ready for another chance. He's only 25.

"I really never felt good in St. Louis," Rasmus said. "I always felt like I wasn't ... I don't know. I was always so much younger than everybody else, and I just felt like I was never really, I guess you could say, a part of the team kind of. I never got comfortable, and Tony wanted it that way. He always said he didn't want me to get comfortable, he wanted me to always stay working hard and doing this and doing that. So I think that was one thing that might have hurt my game a little bit."

Rasmus has stated that his confidence is back, but on the field his game could be helped by a slight adjustment to his batting stance - a lower left kick, rather then the high kick he employed last season, which led to timing problems.

Results so far have been mixed. Through just four Grapefruit League games, Rasmus is only hitting .222, but, of course, nobody is jumping to any conclusions just yet.

Even with the added wild card this season, expectations are not sky high for a Toronto Blue Jays team that last year finished 81-81, 16 games away from American League East champion New York and 10 games behind wild card Tampa Bay.

But there is some optimism.

With a lineup loaded with talent like Jose Bautista and Brett Lawrie, and a pitching staff headed up by All-Star Ricky Romero, most people around baseball think the Jays are coming. How fast they come, though, may hinge on the once- can't-miss kid in center field figuring it all out.

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