Blue Jays infield prospect Jason Leblebijian charges for a ball during spring-training practice in Dunedin, Fla.

Jays’ prospect Leblebijian finds upside of Down Under baseball

Australian trip a success both on and off field

DUNEDIN, Fla. – Blue Jays prospect Jason Leblebijian can not only cover all infield spots, he can also cover the distance from Chicago to Australia with ease.

The 24-year-old was part of a Blue Jays’ contingent that played in Australia over the winter break and Leblebijian earned team MVP honours for the Canberra Cavalry as they finished in third place. The Arlington Heights, Ill., native attributes his successful stint to the habits he got into the season before.

Last year was my first opportunity to play everyday and that’s when you really start learning about yourself as a player. For me it was knowing my mechanics of my swing and what I wanted to be at, and especially defensively. I haven’t played shortstop that much and I played everyday there, which was awesome,” he said.

“Going in there, having a plan of what I wanted to commit to in my swing and defensively, it kept it real simple for me. Then once the game started, it was just about competing and was separating my work from the game and it really paid off in the long run.”

It was a rough start entering the country.

We got in around noon, after 18 hours of flight time. We immediately got off the plane and we had practice in two hours. So all of us were kind of panicking to get everything in order at first, but once we got to the field and met all the guys, everything was smooth sailing from there.”

It helped that he had a familiar face with him to start the season.

“(My fiancé) came the first month with me, so it was cool to go down together and experience everything for the first time together.”

That included taking in the culture of a country most North American ballplayers don’t get to visit during their careers.

Just going there and playing all these major cities, you may only go there one time,” he said. “It’s worth spending the extra money for the hotel an extra night and experiencing the city. For me, Melbourne was my favourite. It was great to go and walk around the city there and experience the whole thing.”

Baseball is rising in popularity in Australia, and Leblebijian was able to take seven years of instructing experience back in Chicago and help nurture its growth.

A guy on our team, Jeremy Barnes, played a huge part in the little-league program. Talking with him, me, (David) Harris and a couple other guys were able to come and do lessons with the younger guys and from what I understand, it was fairly new to be able to do that for those kids. (They are) getting there and playing at an early age, you can definitely see some passion growing in them to continue playing.”