* INF Jon Berti, who played mostly second base and third with double-A New Hampshire this season, is also getting some time in the outfield with the Mesa Solar Sox, under manager Mike Mordecai in the Arizona Fall League. He was 40-for-55 stealing bases during Eastern League play.
By Alexis Brudnicki
MESA, Ariz. – Jon Berti is doing his best to take advantage of every opportunity he is given by the Toronto Blue Jays organization.
The 24-year-old Michigan native has played nonstop over the last couple of years with the Blue Jays sending him to the Australian Baseball League last winter to play for the Canberra Cavalry between seasons and then inviting Berti to play in the prestigious Arizona Fall League to follow up his year with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats this off-season, and he is enjoying every chance he is afforded.
“The more you can play, the more experience you get, the better and more quickly you improve, so I’m all for it,” he said. “And I’ve gotten a little break between each place I’ve gone which has helped out … I had thought about [the AFL] but I hadn’t really put too much thought into it until they asked me to come. And obviously I said I would love to.”
It means a lot to Berti that the Blue Jays continue to offer him various spots to play, invest in what he’s doing for them now and could do in the future, and that the club that originally drafted him in the 18th round out of Bowling Green State wants to see more from the middle infielder.
“Of course,” he said. “Whenever there’s an opportunity to continue to play, no matter where it is, it’s a huge benefit for myself to keep improving. It’s really an honour for the organization to ask me to go.”
During his time with the Mesa Solar Sox this fall, Berti is getting some extra work in left field, a position he started playing with the Fisher Cats during the season, along with spending time at third base and in his natural position at second.
“Obviously left field and third base were a little new to me,” Berti said. “But the more I played there, the more experience I got; the more comfortable I felt. Then wherever they want me to play I’m going to play, anywhere they put me…
“The outfield is a little different, you’re just a little further away from the ball and you have a little bit more time to react, but you’re still working on your first-step quickness and taking good routes to the ball.”
While Berti hasn’t had any trouble switching back and forth between the different positions, he did make some adjustments while learning the new position in the outfield and continues to do so.
“During [batting practice] I will take a round at second base, a round at third and a round in left, to keep myself fresh and ready to go,” he said. “Being more versatile is huge because the more positions you can play the more valuable you become to an organization…
“Honestly [the hardest part is] in the middle of the field you’re kind of in on every play. You feel like you’re backing something up or doing this or doing that, so in the outfield sometimes you would go a few innings without a ball coming even close to you but you still have to bear down and stay focused and be ready as if every pitch is coming to you.”
So far, Berti has enjoyed his time in the prospect-laden off-season league in Arizona, playing against high-level competition and working with Blue Jays staffers Mike Mordecai, Mesa’s skipper, and Tim Leiper to continue his progress.
“The coaches have been great,” the infielder-turned-outfielder said. “It’s been good having Mike Mordecai as our manager. I know him pretty well and the coaching staff does a good job of keeping us loose and relaxed. And as far as the competition, everyone here are really, really good players so it’s a lot of fun to compete against them…
“I just want to continue to get better every day; to continue to work on the positions that they have me [playing]. I’m playing left again today so to keep working there and to continue to find some consistency at the plate and have some fun with it.”
Through two weeks with the Solar Sox, Berti is 4-for-16 with one home run, two RBIs, two runs scored and three stolen bases, following a season in which he was named New Hampshire’s R. Howard Webster Award winner as the player of the year. He won the same award in his previous season with the Dunedin Blue Jays.
For the Fisher Cats Berti hit .270/.323/.373 with seven home runs, seven triples, 21 doubles, 69 runs scored, 50 runs driven in, and 40 swiped bags in 136 games. So far through 434 games in the minor leagues Berti has 153 stolen bases.
“It definitely was a fun year for us,” he said of New Hampshire. “We had a lot of good players and a lot of fun times with the guys. It was nice for my first Double-A experience to continue to improve each and every month; each and every day, to try and pick up on little things and improve daily.”
Being named the team’s top player is an incredible honour, but also means that Berti spent all of his time at the Double-A level this year. Though he didn’t receive a call up to Buffalo over the course of his impressive season, Berti doesn’t believe it really matters.
“I was told when I first got drafted by one of our coaches that there are two places,” he said. “You’re either in the big leagues or you’re in the minor leagues. So realistically where you are in the minor leagues it doesn’t really matter all that much.
“You’ve still got to come to work every day, you’ve still got to improve yourself and get better. Then if you keep doing that and it adds up, hopefully you find yourself in the big leagues and that’s where you want to stay.”
– Follow Alexis Brudnicki on Twitter @baseballexis