Morneau one of 149 Canadians headed to spring training

A season shortened to 69 games played thanks to continued concussion like symptoms saw Justin Morneau play his worst baseball since 2003 last season.

“I was trying to get back to full 100% feeling like myself the first week instead of just taking it slowly and trying to be ready for the start of the season,” said Morneau, a former American League MVP who spoke with earlier this week.

“Where I was at and how every day was going to be, you know. I think I kinda have a better idea of how I feel and what I need to do every day to try to prepare.”

With Morneau coming into spring training ready and capable of playing steadily and no longer feeling the concussion symptoms that have been a detriment to him over the last two seasons, the expectations for him to return to top form for the Twins is high.

“Take it one day at a time. That’s really what I’m doing,” said Morneau.

“As I build confidence every day and everything’s going good, hopefully that stuff will be in the past by the time the season starts.”

Morneau is not the only Canadian with high expectations coming out of spring camp.

_ Milwaukee Brewers closer John Axford had the best season of his short MLB career last year, tying for the NL lead in saves. Axford returns to his closer’s role with Milwaukee, looking for continued success and a multi-year contract with the “Brew Crew.”

_ Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto followed his 2010 NL MVP season with a strong 2011, hitting .309 and leading the NL in walks and on-base percentage. Votto is slotted in as the Reds’ everyday first baseman and top offensive threat in Dusty Baker’s line-up.

_ Toronto Blue Jays Brett Lawrie took the baseball world by storm providing the Blue Jays with electricity and excitement by putting up monster numbers in a small 43 game sample showing. Jays fans are excited for a full season of Lawrie as Toronto’s third baseman.

There are some Canadians that may have been forgotten about in the hoopla of Axford, Votto and Lawrie’s advances who are destined for success coming out of spring camp.

_ Chicago Cubs’ starter Ryan Dempster, a former 17 game winner, is in the last year of a four year deal he signed with Chicago in 2008. His earned run average has increased every season since he signed the deal and he turns 35 in May; nonetheless, the hurler from B.C is still good for 200+ innings and could provide the Cubbies with a double digit win total and an ERA around 4.00 behind ace Matt Garza.

_ New York Mets’ Jason Bay, who has put up awful offensive numbers with the Mets since signing a long term contract, seems to be healthy and should benefit from the fences being shortened at his home ball park Citi Field, a move specifically made to improve the club’s offense.

“I still feel like I have a lot of good baseball left,” said Bay in an interview with Sports Illustrated. ”I’ve struggled and I’ve definitely admitted that, but I also feel like you go through things like this and that’s how you learn.”

_ Lefty Erik Bedard showed flashes of his old self with the Seattle Mariners and Boston Red Sox last season, but still only managed to pitch 129 1/3 innings. The Pittsburgh Pirates picked up the former 15 game winner on a one-year deal. If he remains healthy the lefty should be able to earn a rotation spot with the Bucs out of spring training. Moving to the NL should benefit the native of Navan, Ont. and he should be able to provide them with an ERA around his career mark of 3.70 throughout the year, a figure below the team’s ERA of 4.04 from last season.

_ Lefty Jeff Francis, who signed a minor league deal with the Cincinnati Reds, could be the best pitching bargain of the off-season. Francis had a terrible record with the Royals last season and allowed a ton of hits, but he kept his walk total down and started 31 games. He will be pitching at a hitter friendly park in Cincinnati, but he looks healthy and could possible be ready to return to his form of 2007.

“It’s been three years since the surgery,” said Francis in an interview with earlier this week. ”I think I’ve done the things I can do to make sure I am strong and can last the whole year. I showed that I could last year. I have put it past me. My shoulder feels good. I feel like I can be successful and get people out.”

Published by: Canadian Baseball Network

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