LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — There’s the steady, everyday players. Then there’s the hot-shot prospects working their way up through the system.
And then there’s, well, the majority. Guys like left-hander Dana Eveland and utility man Mike McCoy of the Blue Jays. Guys who had their time in the Minor Leagues, got their shot at “The Show” — however short it might’ve been — and are now fringe players.
There are so many players who, year in and year out, come into big-league camp and have to prove they belong on a big-league roster during the small sample size that is Grapefruit League play.
The thing about the Major Leagues is it’s really easy to create a bad label for yourself, and then it’s really hard to shake it.
The situations of McCoy and Eveland (left, courtesy of The Associated Press) are different, but oh so similar.
Eveland was up-and-down during the first three years of his big-league career, until the Athletics granted him 29 starts in 2008.
The 26-year-old did OK with that chance (though a 9-9 record and a 4.34 ERA won’t blow anybody away) but then struggled early in ’09, was sent down and never came back up until rosters expanded in September.
Now, after being put on waivers, he’s out of options and in an uphill battle to nail an Opening Day spot with the Jays. So that means the likely scenario is that he’s put on waivers once again, then has to prove himself all over again to a new team.
You’d think that a man in Eveland’s situation would love coming to a young, rebuilding team like the Blue Jays. But Toronto’s Spring Training camp started off with 38 pitchers — many of them still with that “prospect” label, and many of them lefties just like Eveland.
So, even though Eveland hurled three scoreless frames against the Braves on Saturday and has given up just one run in nine innings all spring, he’s in an uphill battle — and he’ll likely continue to be for the rest of his career.
“I’ve never seen so many lefties,” Eveland said before his outing here at Champion Stadium. “But you can’t say it’s overwhelming. I’ve been there before. Not with all the lefties, but with every team I’ve been in, it’s always been a battle for a spot. I’ve never really been handed a spot on a team. The teams I’ve been on, I’ve earned it, so I’m kind of used to having to work.”
McCoy has been working all his life — from the time he was a 34th-rounder in ’02, to the six years he spent deadlocked in the Cardinals’ system, to when he finally got called up for the Rockies’ playoff run late last season, to now.
McCoy (top, AP) is — like Eveland — has an arduous task ahead of him in Spring Training, considering there are an assortment of guys in competition for the two remaining bench spots.
“I think you have to try and not worry about it, kind of play your game,” McCoy told me after going 2-for-4 against the Braves to bring his spring batting average up to .615.
“You do what you can do and let the cards kind of fall where they may.”
The 28-year-old — who, at 5-foot-9 and 170 pounds was never considered much of a prospect — admits it’s hard not to play the numbers game and think of where he stands in the depth chart. But he also pointed out that, for him, “It’s like that every year, so you get used to it.”
The ability to play multiple positions is a must for a guy like McCoy.
“I think that’s kept me in the game, to be honest with you,” he said. “There’s been years where I scuffled and wasn’t playing, and to get in the lineup, I went and took groundballs at third base and took flyballs in the outfield and just showed them I can play other positions.”
Like Eveland, and so many others, McCoy will probably be moving from city to city, camp to camp, continually trying to prove he can stick on a big league roster.
So, what keeps him going?
“I love the game,” he told me.
“It’d be nice some day, just to go into spring kind of knowing [what his role would be]. But I think it also gives me a little bit of an edge. I work that much harder. I’m not saying I wouldn’t, but you know you have to be ready every Spring Training. I was a 34th-rounder, I’m fighting for my life every year.”
Cheers to guys like Eveland and McCoy. They’re the purest elements of this game.
— Alden Gonzalez