Pompey out to make a good impression on Blue Jays

Pompey out to make a good impression on Blue Jays

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Outfielder Dalton Pompey has the ability and athleticism. Everybody agrees with that. He's had opportunities, too. Two years ago he was the Blue Jays' Opening Day center fielder.

He's also a native of Mississauga, Ont., so both the front office and fans have a reason to root for him.

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All he needs now is the kind of consistent success that would cement him into the team's plans for years to come. But he's still just 24 years old. And he's expected to be in the starting lineup when the Blue Jays open their Grapefruit League schedule against the Braves at Champion Stadium at 1:05 p.m. ET on Saturday.

"I just want to see him have a good spring," manager John Gibbons said. "We think he's part of the future, left field or whatever, in this organization. He got there quick two years ago and he made the team the following year. Then he struggled and it's been a battle for him. But, really, he's going through what most young guys do.

"We gave him an opportunity so quickly and he had a tough time with it. We think he's going to have a great career, but he just needs to go out there and play and don't worry about anything else. Because he's got a ton of talent. He's really got everything he needs to be really, really good."

Pompey will only have a few days to make an impression before leaving camp to join Team Canada for the World Baseball Classic. Which isn't necessarily a drawback, by the way. Just four years ago, Michael Saunders was a 26-year-old Canadian with the Mariners who was still trying to establish himself. Then he hit .727 in the WBC with a 2.042 slugging percentage. The Blue Jays traded for him and last season he made the American League All-Star team.

Earlier this spring, Pompey told reporters he agreed with the premise that the Classic experience could work to his advantage.

"One hundred percent," he said. "Just the competition that we're playing against -- Colombia, the Dominican [Republic] and the U.S. They're going to have all their best players playing. I think it's kind of a confidence boost for me to go out there and compete with those guys and realize I'm on the same field as them.

"I can do all the same things as them and I can do it just as well as them. I think it's going to be good not only for myself [and] Baseball Canada but also the Blue Jays, because I feel like I can really contribute this year."

He'll get the chance to start making his case Saturday.

Up next: Right-hander Casey Lawrence, in his eighth season in the organization, gets the start against the Braves on Saturday at 1:05 p.m. ET. The 29-year-old is trying to make it to the big leagues for the first time. "The thing that turned him around, he picked up some velocity. Which is kind of unusual," Gibbons said. "But he's a pitcher. He can pick the plate apart pretty good. He's got a great feel. He's one of those survivors in the game. If he gets an opportunity, there's no telling what he could do. He could be one of those feel-good stories."

Paul Hagen is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.