DUNEDIN — Bo Bichette strode into the locker room at TD Ballpark on Thursday morning for the first official day of Blue Jays spring training workouts. He gave high-fives and hugs to his teammates and coaches as he settled into his locker right next to Cavan Biggio and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
The locker was stocked with new shoes, cleats, bats and gloves. It’s a locker fit for a major-leaguer, which is much different than this time last year. That’s when Bichette was a hot prospect in the minor leagues trying to make his first big-league roster. He ended up starting the season in Triple-A, and a broken hand in April slowed his progress.
When he was finally called up, Bichette made up for lost time. In 46 games he belted 11 home runs and had a .311 average. He set a Major League Baseball record by getting 10 extra-base hits in his first nine games. He was a candidate for rookie of the year honors.
Bichette has a chance to be the Blue Jays’ shortstop for many years to come. He is one of the faces of the team, along with fellow rookies Biggio and Guerrero Jr. Their photos are on promotional posters and schedules.
While the league is different this spring, Bichette said he is taking the same approach.
“It makes it easier,” Bichette said of having his roster spot all but secured. “I don’t have to waste any extra energy. But I still have to get ready for the season, still have to perform. I still have to act like I’m trying to win a spot, but it will be easier mentally this year.”
Bichette, a former standout at Lakewood High, was drafted in the second round of the 2016 June draft. He is one of two area players with the Blue Jays this spring. Former Bishop McLaughlin pitcher Nate Pearson is a minor-league invitee who has a real chance of making the big-league roster.
But the real excitement for Blue Jays fans this season is watching Bichette, Biggio and Guerrero Jr. play together for an entire season. All three have fathers who played in the majors, but Toronto manager Charlie Montoyo said he impressed by the way the trio carries themselves.
“I don’t think they think they are on the team, that’s the funny thing about it," Montoyo said. “They just want to compete. I think when Bo came up we were like 26-27 (wins) so he made us better going forward (finished season 67-95). I’m excited to see him play here for a second year."
As is the case with every team this time of year, the Blue Jays believe they can compete for the playoffs. Count Bichette as one of the believers.
“We have realistic goals and that is to make the playoffs,” Bichette said. “I’m sure people probably think less than that of us. But I expect us to beat expectations. This team can do special things.”