DUNEDIN, FL – Ask most people who have ever played baseball and they’ll tell you it’s predominantly a “mental game.”
Toronto Blue Jays prospect Kellen Sweeney knows this reality all too well.
The third baseman, who signed with the team after being selected in the second round of the 2010 draft, has had a tumultuous last three years dealing with injuries, position changes, and inconsistency at the plate, while trying to find his stride in the Blue Jays minor-league system.
“I learned that baseball is a really, really big mental game, I didn’t really know that before,” said Sweeney. “When you’re in high school, you’re just playing, you’re having fun and everything, I mean you have fun out here but now it’s a job, and you have the stress of a job, and the mentality you have to perform.”
The former high school shortstop from Cedar Rapids, Iowa injured his elbow in 2009, undergoing Tommy John surgery. Despite his initial fears of potentially being overlooked in the draft due significant injury, he was still selected with the 69th overall pick.
Sweeney was eager to get his professional career started, forgoing the chance to play for the University of San Diego in favour of signing immediately with the Blue Jays.
“I’ve got it in my contract that if I want to go back to school it’s paid for, but I just felt that getting my career started as soon as possible was gonna be good for me,” he said.
Sweeney finally healthy
After playing well at rookie level ball for the Gulf Coast League Blue Jays shortly after signing in 2010, Sweeney managed to play in only nine games in 2011 due to a fracture in his wrist.
He was finally healthy last year, splitting time between the Blue Jays’ minor-league affiliates Lansing Lugnuts, and the Vancouver Canadians, but he struggled at the plate, hitting .210 with five home runs and 41 RBI in 110 games.
However, Sweeney got progressively better as the year went on, hitting .289 in the last month of the season, and now is ready to build on his improvement, entering this year with a new mentality.
“I’m just taking everything day by day and at bat by at bat. I’d dwell on so many things last year, like if I got out the first time in a game I’d dwell on it, and I’d just be screwed for the rest of the game.”
Sweeney realizes that experience and “mental training,” are the only recipes for success. Despite having a brother who has been through the whole process before (Boston Red Sox outfielder Ryan Sweeney), he knows that this is a journey he must travel on his own.
“He always gives me information, different stuff he went through. But it really is different, when you get into the situation yourself, it’s a whole different thing. He can tell you everything that you want but you have to experience it for yourself basically.”
Now fully healthy, a year wiser, and equipped with a more patient attitude, Sweeney should expect some dramatic improvements for this upcoming season in areas that could see him joining his brother on the major-league stage soon.