Chicago-The Current Center Of The Baseball World

May 5, 2016 was an unusual day in the city of Chicago. On that date, all four first place teams at the time were playing games in the city. The Red Sox were visiting the White Sox on the south side. The Nationals were being hosted by the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
We may not see that again for a while. Especially since the two Chicago teams are rarely home at the same time.

During the month of April and into May so far, the White Sox and Cubs have been resting comfortably atop their respective division’s standings. It really isn’t a coincidence. Both teams have been constructed to compete this year. These are not teams in transition. These are not teams rebuilding. Both the White Sox and Cubs are poised to win this year.

WHITE SOX

The White Sox offer a starting pitcher every game who gives his team a chance to win.
Few pitchers in the game can match the tenacity and the results of left-handed string bean Chris Sale. Standing tall at 6-foot-6 and weighing only 180 pounds, analysts have been waiting for Sale’s arm to fall off. Instead, he offers solid mechanics that lead to strikeouts in bunches and a collection of wins. He’s unbeaten this season at 7-0 with a beyond sparkling ERA of 1.79. His WHIP is a minuscule 0.77. Those are amazing numbers. But then again, he’s an amazing pitcher. A true ace.

The pitcher that still remains under the radar and the pitcher that doesn’t get his share of accolades is lefty Jose Quintana. He isn’t a strikeout artist like Sale. Rather, he brings a repertoire that keeps hitters off balance and changes their eye level from pitch to pitch. So far, Quintana has a 5-1 record, a 1.38 ERA and a WHIP of 0.99.

That’s not too shabby a combination of lefties at the top of the rotation. And the third quality lefty, Carlos Rodon could join them in a discussion of elite starting pitchers in the next year or two. He’s still ironing out some wrinkles. But he has all the stuff to be a star. Keep your eye on Rodon. All the ingredients are there-he just needs to refine the overall recipe.

The real surprise among the starters has to be undefeated Mat Latos. Who knew? While he once was seen as having issues with other teams, Latos seems to have found a home as a 5-0 pitcher so far for the White Sox. If he retains his mastery of American League hitters, Latos could be the real spark that gives the White Sox a long postseason life.

Credit White Sox management with a great call in cutting ties with John Danks early enough in the season to salvage growth and potential for the fifth starter’s role.
Danks departed with a record of 0-4. an ERA of 7.25 and a 1.75 WHIP. Yikes!
Eric Johnson takes the fifth starter job…for now. His first start did not do much to make White Sox fans forget Danks.

The White Sox bullpen may be the glue that holds the team together for the season.
Mat Albers, Nate Jones and David Robertson own ERA’s under 1.0. Lefties Zack Duke and Dan Jennings provide quality service against southpaw hitters. And the credible Zach Putnam adds to the strength of the pen.

The offense? A dash of big time credit has to go to Todd Frazier. No, he isn’t hitting for average. But he provides a tremendous presence in the middle of the lineup. He offers the pitcher a huge power bat to contend with in addition to Jose Abreu. Frazier has smoked eight home runs, the most on the team. He has driven in 21 runs, tied with Abreu for the team lead. Melky Cabrera is contributing. So are Adam Eaton and Brett Lawrie.

Very solid defensive play has helped the pitcher achieve terrific results. Newcomers Lawrie, Jimmy Rollins and Frazier have been very solid in helping to stabilize the infield.
Jose Abreu is sound at first base. The same goes for newcomer Austin Jackson in center. The White Sox defense is not giving the opposition extra outs. They are playing very good, sound and solid defense.

Question: Can the White Sox maintain their pace?

I don’t see a prolonged losing streak with Sale and Quintana at the top of the rotation. They are proven winners. The bullpen has depth from both the left and ride sides. I do not see pitching as a problem. And I do think Rodon will turn the page and be closer to the pitcher he will ultimately become later this season.

I don’t think we’ve scratched the surface on the offensive damage Frazier and Abreu will inflict. When the weather heats up, they can be All Star hitters.
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Issues to Address?

My answer: I think they need more outfield depth. In an ideal world they would have one more loud bat to compliment those in place. I also think they will have to find a reliable fifth starter to go deep in games. Is that Eric Johnson? I don’t really think so.
Will Mat Latos be the Mat Latos of April and May in July, August and September? I don’t think so. But they’ll have enough pitching to survive.

LONG TERM OUTLOOK:

I think the White Sox will hang in the AL Central race until the end. Will they win? It all depends on the rotation behind Sale and Quintana.

CHICAGO CUBS

In my pre-sesaon predictions on this blog I cautioned about Cubs fans not getting too excited about all the media hype surrounding the 2016 edition of the team. I didn’t want to be the guy pulling my friend off a ledge in a Wrigleyville or Uptown apartment.

The Cubs are very, very good. The Cubs are very, very balanced. And you know what frightens me? They haven’t played to their capabilities yet. I mean that.

Let me get this out of the way early. We are beginning to see the damage Javier Baez can do with his bat. He only has two home runs so far. He has only driven in five. That will be a drop in the bucket compared to what he will likely have at the end of the season.

Jorge Soler has been a .181 hitter. He strikes out too much. He may strike out a lot more. But when that big body of his heats up in the summer—boom. The man can be a huge source of power, and that’s putting it mildly. And Matt Szczur can play. He offers some insurance to the club.

Kris Bryant hasn’t unloaded the damage he will be doing when things get totally on track for him. And there’s no Kyle Schwarber in the lineup.

Anthony Rizzo? Watch him hit. Watch him play first base. Watch the way he carries himself. I think he’s among the top, top players in the game right now. And we’ll see even more from him. I think he and Paul Goldschmidt are the gold standard at first base. But teams don’t pitch to Goldschmidt. They don’t have to. Teams do have to pitch to Rizzo with a lineup that begins with Dexter Fowler and then goes to Jason Heyward, and Kris Bryant. And Ben Zobrist follows Rizzo. It’s very solid. Heyward hasn’t found his spark totally as yet, either. Then mix Baez and Soler in there as well. Watch out. This team can hit.

The pitching? Of course it begins with Jake Arrieta. He’s already won six without a loss. He boasts a 1.13 ERA, a WHIP of 0.88 and a no-hitter. There may be more no-hitters.. He also threw one last year. He’s the real deal. The guy that found a new life pitching for the Cubs. The guy Chris Bosio turned into a pitcher. An All Star pitcher. Arrieta sets the pace for the Cubs rotation.

The Cubs ERA is 2.48 as I write this. The best in baseball. The White Sox are second at 2.78. There in a nutshell tells the focal point of both team’s success stories. They can pitch.

Jason Hammel has a 1.65 ERA and hasn’t lost. He’s 4-0. Jon Lester has a record of 3-1 and an ERA of 1.58 with a WHIP of 1.09. Lester won’t have to worry about throwing over to first base if there isn’t anyone there. Kyle Hendricks and John Lackey have provided solid pitching in their 11 starts—-and especially Hendricks. The Cubs starting pitching staff has kept their team in games and have eaten innings. All good.

When the starters turn the game over to the bullpen, the pen has responded. Consider that Trevor Cahill-the same Trevor Cahill that left the Dbacks a broken pitcher with no hope of a future is throwing well for the Cubs. Very well as a matter of fact. He’s been in 11 games and has thrown 12 1/3 innings with less than a 3.00 ERA. Who knew that could happen? I admit it. Not me.

Hector Rodon, Pedro Strop and Justin Grimm have formed a solid back end of the bullpen. Adam Warren may have been a steal coming over from the Yankees. He can be a spot starter if needed and is very credible out of the pen. Lefty Travis Wood has had some very good moments.

Questions to address? Can the Cubs sustain their lead and enter the postseason? My answer? Yes. Especially when Bryant, Baez, Soler, etc. etc. etc. get hot. They have very good defensive play at shortstop with Addison Russell. He is the glue in the infield, along with Rizzo at first. They have good solid hitting, good starting pitching and overall depth.

Issues to address? I think the Cubs need more help in the bullpen. I think they can use a shut down lefty and another solid mid-reliever. They may be able to fetch that help with prospect bats like Dan Vogelbach and/or Albert Almora to offer in trade.

And yes, they have to have another starter on ice just in case.

LONG TERM OUTLOOK:

While I don’t see them continuing the pace they have registered the first month and half, I think the Cubs will win the NL Central. They still may be fighting the Nationals and the Mets for a World Series appearance. But one thing at a time. This Cubs team is good. Very good.

Thanks for reading my scouting reports at TodaysKunckleball.com. And thanks for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff.

That’s It. I’m Done. For Now.

 

Three Teams Visit Phoenix-My Take On Each Club

The Arizona Diamondbacks just completed a home stand that included visits from the Pittsburgh Pirates, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Colorado Rockies.

The home stand provided me with a chance to get a much better feel for each of these clubs a month into the season. Here are my thoughts:

PITTSBURGH PIRATES:

There are a few hidden gems on this team that really don’t get enough attention. At least we don’t hear enough about them on the west coast. I begin with Starling Marte.
Marte can do everything well. He looks bigger than his listed 6-foot-1 185 pounds. There is no denying his first-step quickness and his overall base stealing speed. He stole 30 bases last year and I think he can exceed that. What I like most about Marte is his ability to take a pitch where it is thrown and pound the gaps with loud line drives. This is a guy who smoked 30 doubles along with his 19 home runs. He also had two triples.
A great fantasy option because of his ability to drive the ball, Marte does have his issues. He strikes out with an aggressive approach. But even with that, he is a very solid hitter for the top part of the Pirates lineup.

For me the real sleeper on the team is Gregory Polanco. Like Marte, he is a player we don’t hear enough about. He has a bigger than life 6-foot-5 230 pound frame and swings from the left side of the plate. He has awesome pull power. When he gets those huge legs and strong arms under a ball. fuggetaboudit. He has a big arm and moves swiftly in the outfield for a man his size. Even with that size, Polanco stole 27 bases last year, almost as many as Marte. He also hit 23 homers, three triples and 35 doubles. Polanco hasn’t even scratched the surface of his ability. I think he’ll get better and better and become a huge star. He struck out 121 times last year-but the production was enormous. I love watching this guy hit. He’s scary good. And scary huge.

Of course the Pirates still have the outstanding Andrew McCutchen playing center field. He was scuffling some while playing at Chase Field, as he was chasing sliders outside the strike zone When he left Phoenix, he hit some of his trademark home runs. I don’t think he is the Cutch we have been used to, but he’s still a great player and really fun to watch. He’s the leader they need. He sets a great example and a great tone.

The under the radar guy is Sean Rodriguez. He can hit. What I really like is his ability to play all over the field. He’s not a star, but he’s a good, solid role player. He has had some clutch hits and is in the right place at the right time. He’s a valuable guy.

They can stand to upgrade their starting pitching. I like Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano. I think we’ll see big things from Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow. Once those guys are making regular starts in the Pirates rotation things will be more settled.
Juan Nicasio and Jon Niese don’t appear to be the long-term solutions. Taillon and Glasnow do.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

I have to say upfront this is not the typical Cardinals team I am used to seeing. The decline and difference in this team from the past is a bit shocking. The defense is a major concern. Yes, Jhonny Peralta is hurt and Aledmys Diaz has done a nice job of filling in. But there are issues at second base, first base and in the outfield. Matt Carpenter hits regardless of where he plays. He’s an outstanding player. However, they lose defense with Matt Adams or Brandon Moss at first. Randal Grichuk is not a good center fielder-he’s average in my opinion. I think he fits better in right. He played center in Phoenix. Rookie Jeremy Hazelbaker is average at best on defense. It just doesn’t seem like the same type of Cardinals team as in the past. Those teams never beat themselves.

When it comes to hitting, Steven Piscotty is the cream of the crop. He is a solid hitter for average and his power will emerge. Still young, Piscotty makes terrific contact and is a very solid leadoff or number two hitter in the lineup. He uses a short, measured stroke and doesn’t get cheated at the plate.

Where is the Adam Wainwright of the past? I think injuries and a great number of pitches on his arm have taken a toll. He just isn’t the same. As an opposite to Wainwright, Carlos Martinez is really emerging. He pitched a terrific game against the Diamondbacks. As did Jaime Garcia. I think the Cardinals will have to find another starter or two sooner than later. Yes, when healthy Michael Wacha is fine. I’m not a Mike Leake fan. I think he’s way too inconsistent for my tastes.

Basically, I would say the Cardinals team I saw last week can’t play with the Cubs or even the Pirates in their division. I think they may scuffle all year. Even when Peralta returns. Yes, Grichuk is a nice young power bat. But age is an issue with Matt Holiday’s health and both Matt Adams and Brandon Moss are too “feast or famine” type hitters for me. Their inconsistency can kill a rally or break open a game. That’s why I like Matt Carpenter and Stephen Piscotty so much. They are very good hitters. They hit consistently. They make excellent contact and they both make things happen. But Grichuk, Carpenter and Piscotty aren’t enough this year to keep the boat afloat.

COLORADO ROCKIES

Regular readers of my work know that I love watching the Rockies hit. There are few teams that can pound the ball like the Rocks. Nolan Arenado is All World for me. He is a slugger, a hitter for average, and probably the best third baseman I’ve seen. Yes, even better than Brooks Robinson. And yes, probably better than Manny Machado. I marvel at his reactions. His footwork. His timing. His trowing arm. He’s amazing.

For me D J LeMahieu remains underrated. He, too, can hit. He, too, is a great defender. So with Arenado at third and LeMahieu at second, the Rockies have two terrific defensive infielders. And Trevor Story is playing a much more solid shortstop than most had imagined. He’s very steady. Improving daily.

When Carlos Gonzalez heats up he can carry an offense. But he won’t have to. They have Arenado, Charlie Blackmon and Trevor Story along to put up some outstanding offensive numbers. Gerardo Parra is a stabilizing player in the clubhouse, bringing people together and adding life and joy to a generally happy and highly motivated team.

I was shocked at how well former Indians infielder/catcher and now Rockies catcher Tony Wolters handled the pitching staff. He does a fine job calling the games, blocking balls in the dirt and being the workhorse behind the plate once or twice a week to spell Nick Hundley. I’m not sure Wolters has a big future there because the Rockies have some solid catching talent, but Wolters exceeded my expectations.

The pitching? I really think Chad Bettis can win in any park. He’s got good stuff. Coors may bite him, but he can pitch. We’ll see about Eddie Butler and Jon Gray. They were good as prospects, but now they have to work in Coors for half their games.

The Rockies are exciting and great fun to watch. Man, can they pound the ball.

ABOUT THE DIAMONDBACKS

The way the ball is flying out of Chase Field, I think the Diamondbacks should use the humidor. Just like they do in Colorado. I don’t think it will negatively impact power-hitting Paul Goldschmidt. It may help the Dbacks pitching staff. What’s there to lose?

I was told by people I trust with Arizona that Socrates Brito looks lost at the plate. Even at Triple-A Reno. He has lost his swing. He is once again a work in progress.

Dbacks Peter O’Brien is hitting over .300 and has seven homers at Reno. Why isn’t he playing for Arizona? Where would he play? They already have defensive challenges with Yasmany Tomas in left and Chris Owings learning how to play center. Where would you hide the defensively challenged O’Brien? He probably has to be traded to the American League where he can serve as a designated hitter. The sooner the better.

The Diamondbacks have a revolving door at middle reliever. It isn’t good for the franchise. It isn’t good for the morale of the pitchers who are on the major league/minor league shuttle. It shows instability and yes, panic to some degree.

Finally-knowing A J Pollack was coming off an elbow problem and having traded Ender Inciarte to Atlanta, why in the world weren’t the Diamondbacks prepared in the spring with a backup outfielder? Better yet-why did they trade Inciarte? They had all spring to find help in the outfield. But over a few years they have traded several viable outfielders. They didn’t find options and are now left with Chris Owings learning the position at the big league level. Owings looks out of position. He’s a good athlete. He is learning how to make the correct reads. But he has made some bad reads off the bat. He doesn’t have a strong center field arm. But he is trying hard and making progress. Was Brito the spring answer for center field? Or was it Peralta in center and Brito in right? How bad can Brito be hitting that they are keeping Owings in center field? Brito must look pretty bad.

The Diamondbacks have to right the ship quickly. That means Shelby Miller as well as the inconsistent offense. Miller looked totally worn out in yesterday’s start. He didn’t go five innings and he looked spent. I would be concerned if I’m the Dbacks. I think they are. How do you right that ship? Maybe you send him to the pen for a while to regain his confidence. Can you say Trevor Bauer?

That’s it for me. Thanks for reading my scouting reports at TodaysKnuckleball.com. Much appreciated.

That’s it. I’m done. For now.

Follow me on twitter @BerniePleskoff.

A Matter of Opinion

The season is progressing along well enough for me to be upset about some things (basically my fantasy teams) and to be excited by others. So today I’m sharing the baseball related items that are lingering on my mind.

I don’t think there’s any denying that Corey Kluber has lost velocity on his fastball. He had a breakout season and then…? He was good last season and suffered from a lack of run support. This year he seems to have regressed into a very hittable pitcher. Perhaps he has some arm/shoulder/elbow issues about which we are unaware. Perhaps he has thrown enough innings and wear and tear is taking a toll. Whatever the case, he’s getting way too much of the plate. The ball is jumping off the bats of the opposition. Granted, it’s very early, but I think there has to be some concern about Kluber. I think he’ll rebound and I hope his team scores some runs for him. But I don’t think he’ll be in the Cy conversation at all whatsoever.

I have similar negative feelings about the back end of the Indians bullpen. I think Bryan Shaw began to scuffle last year and it hasn’t changed. Cody Allen scares me every time he enters the game for a save. I do, however, like what Zach McAllister brings to the late innings. And I believe there will be back end of the bullpen place soon enough for Shawn Armstrong. The Indians bullpen arms may just fall off they’re used so much.

I wish Tony Zych was a secret heading in to my drafts. Both DVR and I discussed him on our Short Hops podcast a couple of times during draft season. Zych could become a closer sooner than later. He’s that good. A high velocity arm like his with command and control is perfect for his home park in Seattle. Watch out for Zych.

I just don’t get the Diamondbacks. I just don’t get how they make decisions. They sent out Socrates Brito. He has multiple tools, can play center field, (a position of need), and yet they are sticking with Chris Owings to spell A J Pollock. I do hope that both Brito and Peter O’Brien get traded to American League clubs.

Do you like the Dbacks road uniforms? I’m just asking?

Shelby Miller and Gabe Speier for Dansby Swanson, Aaron Blair and Ender Inciarte. I’m still trying to wrap my brain around that one. What am I missing here? That one will haunt the Dbacks for a long, long time. Even if Shelby Miller makes the All Star team. Which I don’t think he will.

You remember when you were all over Jeremy Hazelbaker in draft season, right? You had to fight off everyone to get him, right? Are you kidding me? Where do the Cardinals keep coming up with guys? And now, he’s more than a guy. No. I didn’t know about him. No, I have never seen him play.

How bad are the Padres? Really, how bad are they? The NL West teams that think they can win the division have to beat up on the Padres every time they play them. I’m stunned at how the franchise has just turned around totally from being optimistic to being meh in the blink of one season.

I think Jose Quintana is still underrated as a quality starter. He keeps his team in most games and can really battle. Chris Sale, Quintana and Carlos Rodon are as formidable a trio of lefties as we will see in the game. And no-I’m not buying Mat Latos. Good for him that he’s thrown a couple of good games. But, he’s not my cup of tea.

What’s up with Matt Harvey? I can only hope he returns to 100% good health and that his mechanics return. But Logan Verrett has been a pleasant surprise. And Noah Syndergaard? I think he wins the NL Cy over Clayton Kershaw.

Young pitchers will tend to be inconsistent. Exhibit A and B= Steven Matz and Carlos Rodon. One great outing and one that kills your fantasy ERA and WHIP. They’ll both be terrific. Don’t panic with them.

I traded Corey Kluber even up for King Felix in an AL only league.

I really love the way the Phillies are piecing things together. Vincent Velasquez, Aaron Nola, Jered Eichoff and the other starters are so great to watch. And how about the future for Maikel Franco? We just don’t talk about him enough. He’ll be a true star for years to come. I love the new Phillies. And I’m really happy for good guys Pete Mackinin, Larry Bowa and John McLaren-fabulous coaches each.

We may actually get to see what Jarrod Dyson can do when he gets some sustained playing time on the large side of the Royals right field platoon. How many bases can he steal? I think he’ll be able to get on base with a nice, short swing and then….off to the races.

Javier Baez could have a huge year for the Cubs. With Kyle Schwarber out, Baez should see lots of at-bats from somewhere in the outfield. If Jorge Soler heats up in the summer and if Baez gets to hit, the Cubs will be able to cover for the lost Schwarber. The biggest downside in my opinion is having to use Miguel Montero more than they had planned behind the plate. Montero, David Ross and Schwarber would have split up the time in any given week. I wonder if the loss of Schwarber hastens the arrival of Willson Contreras?

I would think Collin Cowgill will be the odd outfielder out when Lonnie Chisenhal returns? Or does the Tribe farm out Tyler Naquin because he has options and they want to keep Cowgill’s defense? I’d keep Naquin at the big league level. I think a pitcher will go to make room for Michael Brantley. So an outfielder and a pitcher will get chopped for Chisenhal and Brantley IMO.

I love watching Bryce Harper hit. And play defense. And run. Can he hit 60 homers in a season? I wonder.

Knock knock. Who’s there? Jose Reyes. Jose Reyes who?

I’m glad you were all over Ross Stripling in you fantasy drafts. Are you kidding me? Another miss by…everyone.

I hope you will read my scouting reports at TodaysKnuckleball.com. I will be featuring lots of young first and second year players several times a week. I’ll be adding a scouting grade at the end of the report. I think FanRagsports.com is an outstanding sports site. Packed with good writing, interesting stories and personal opinions. I’m pleased to be a part of the organization.

After almost two weeks of illness, I’ll return to Chase Field this coming weekend. Follow me on twitter @BerniePleskoff for my take on the Dbacks and Pirates.

That’s it. I’m done. For now.

 

And Their Off-We’ve Been Waiting For This

I have just returned from an outstanding weekend in Vancouver, British Columbia. I was the guest of TSN radio’s Bob “the Moj” Marjanovich. Besides being a fantastic radio host, he is an instrumental figure in some of the most competitive and exciting fantasy leagues I’ve seen in a long, long time. I was invited to help Bob in one auction and fill-in for missing participants in two other auctions; one American League only and one National League only. The owners of the teams gave me written instructions on players they wanted for their respective teams. I was fortunate to be able to deliver in most cases. Even though I had to pay $49 to secure Chris Sale. The inflation was amazing. Even catchers went for premium prices. But I landed the guys requested.

Bob and the men who participated were fantastic hosts. We did two of the auctions at the classic Nat Bailey Stadium, originally used in 1951. Our auctions were conducted in the clubhouse area. It was like walking back in time. Bob took me for a stroll out to the field where I could see lights and other components of Nat Bailey Stadium that were imported from Seattle’s Minor League park. On the way to the park, Bob got us in the mood by playing 50-s and 60-s music in the car. That’s right in my wheel house.

Nat Bailey, still in use, is the Short Season Affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays. Their first home game will be June 20 and I expect the park to be all dressed up and ready to go.

Thank you to “the Moj” and all the great guys who made me feel more than welcome in their world of fantasy baseball. It was so great to be in the company of men who shared my true passion and love for baseball as well as the competitive nature of fantasy sports. Moj and his friends took great care of me and for that I am most appreciative.

The first games of any new season always bring cheers and jeers. How about the opening game of his career for the Rockies Trevor Story? Two home runs. Both off Zack Greinke. Are you kidding me? I did a scouting report of Story today for TodaysKnuckleball.com which I expect you can view today or tomorrow. Story had a night to remember, that’s for sure. So did Greinke.

I know it’s only one game, but I cautioned any who would listen or read what I have said about Greinke and Chase Field. Chase is really “Coors light.” It is a very, very tough place to pitch. Last night, as I watched from home, I noticed Greinke kept going away and away, much like Ian Kennedy did when he pitched in Chase. It is imperative to get the ball in on hitters and make them turn on the ball. Greinke will do that. I’m sure he’ll be fine. But it was a rough, rough outing.

And how about Nolan Arenado? I have no more platitudes. I’ve said it all. He is simply a great player. Both on offense and defense.

I’m not worried about Madison Bumgarner’s start. Yet. Wait until the weather warms a bit. But his control and command were missing in action. He still won the game.

King Felix has no luck at all. None. And that loss wasn’t anything new. In many games he has yielded few hits and walks and has taken an “L”. Baseball isn’t always fair. Yesterday, the King yielded one hit…and lost.

It looks to me like Robby Cano is healthy, right? Watch out.

Is there any doubt about the greatness of Mr Kershaw? No runs as in 0. One hit and one walk over seven innings. In the first game of the year. And nine strikeouts. Yikes!

My concern for the season is how the great teams in the NL will pound the rebuilding teams into submission in the NL. The divisions play each other over and over and over and the “haves” are going to kill the “have nots.” I think it’s an issue.

Good point made in the broadcast of one of the games I watched on TV yesterday. Some of these pitching coaches are “chronologically advanced.” It may take them 30 seconds just to get to the mound, let alone have a conversation. I think that new 30 second conversation rule with the pitcher will be tweaked a bit.

I watched the Angels-Cubs game on a national feed and I couldn’t hear the announcers. Even when I turned up the sound. What’s up with that?

The Dbacks play the Cubs for four games here in Phoenix starting Thursday. That’s a shame. The Dbacks need the attendance boost in the hot days of summer, not the nice spring days like now. The Cubs do not return. This is their only visit.

Thank you for reading my work at todaysknuckleball.com and for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff.

That’s it. I’m done. For now.

 

American League Pennant Predictions

Yesterday I posted my predictions for the National League. Here are my thoughts about the American League.

EAST

Toronto Blue Jays: I had to think long and hard about both the east and the central. I like the Blue Jays because I don’t see a breather in their lineup for the opposing pitcher. How would you like to have to navigate through Donaldson, Tulowitzki, Bautista, and Encarnacion? Seriously, that’s some awesome firepower. I think their pitching is weak and they did themselves a disservice by not shoring up the rotation in the offseason. In short, if one of their Big 4 bombers goes down for any length of time it will add undo pressure to the entire team. I have grown to like what Chris Colabello can do with the bat as well. The pitching staff is led by Marcus Stroman, a 5-foot-8 righty with a repertoire and mound presence much bigger than his frame. He should be able to log some serious innings as long as he is healthy. The Blue Jays could roll.

Baltimore Orioles- I like the Orioles for some of the same reasons I like the Blue Jays. They can rake. I think the addition of Pedro Alvarez was brilliant. Yes, he’ll strike out and he won’t play defense. But think of the damage he will inflict along with Chris Davis, Adam Jones, Manny Machado, and Mark Trumbo in the lineup. There will be a serious number of home runs flying out of Camden Yards. The late Earl Weaver would have loved managing those three run homers. The pitching? Meh at best. Chris Tillman has to pitch better than last year. The rest of the rotation would keep me up at night if I were in the Orioles front office. I do like the back end of the bullpen. Between Totonto’s lack of pitching depth and Baltimore’s lack of pitching depth, I like Toronto a bit more. The Orioles could hang in and fight it out.

Boston Red Sox- There are just too many rotation problems on the Red Sox for me to take their resurgence seriously. I really like David Price as the ace. To be truthful, I have some issues with him pitching 16 games in Fenway with the short left field wall. But then the pitching goes downhill with the health issues of Clay Buccholz a real concern and the inconsistency of Rick Porcello a true problem. I think Henry Owens will find his way into the rotation. Some very bright stars in the offensive galaxy of the Red Sox should keep them competitive. Players like Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Travis Shaw and Blake Swihart will lead the team through the future. The Panda situation could be a huge distraction. But I like what Hanley Ramirez can bring with the bat if he’s healthy.

New York Yankees- Even though their farm system is producing prospects like Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez, it is not their time yet. The Yankees will field an increasingly aging lineup and a rotation of injury prone pitchers. It doesn’t add up to a winning combination in my book. While I think Didi Gregorius is a budding star, what type of attitude will Starlin Castro bring to the Bronx? Elsbury, Gardner and Beltran all add another year to their resume’. Healthy Mark Teixeira and Brian McCann should put plenty of home run balls into the right field seats. The pitching? When do Tanaka, Sabathia, and Pineda go on the DL? I do like Severino a bunch. And Chapman.

Tampa Bay Rays- I do like the addition of Corey Dickerson and I think Brad Miller will really help. The Rays can pitch. Archer is the real deal, as are most of the guys in the rotation. And Blake Snell is on the way. This club is the opposite of Toronto and Baltimore. They have the pitching and need the thunder. Pitching wins, right? Not all the time. And not in the AL East. The Rays are on the right track. Now if they can only get out of that stadium things will be looking brighter.

AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL

Cleveland Indians- I haven’t picked the Indians for years. I like what I’ve seen. Why?
I think Mike Napoli, Marlon Byrd and Juan Uribe can inject some much needed offense to this club. Doubles count. They can smack doubles. I think Carlos Santana is driven to improve. The pitching staff is probably not as World Class as advertised, but Kluber and Carrasco are really good. My jury remains out on Danny Salazar. He’s way too inconsistent for my tastes. Trevor Bauer to the bullpen took guts. He really has not progressed. He is pouting about the assignment and his attitude could put a cloud in the clubhouse. The veterans have to nip that in the bud. If the Indians lose the pennant it could be due to the pen. i think the arms are going to fall off the set-up men because they work so much. But the Indians should compete and avoid long slumps.

Kansas City Royals- It will be really, really tough to knock them off their perch. They play the game so well and they run the opposition to death. Their core players including Hosmer, Cain, Gordon, Moustakas, and Perez should lead them to victory. I’m not sure Kendrys Morales can repeat his performance from last year. Right field is a bit of an issue-and one they have really not addressed. The pitching is OK, but certainly not great. There is no true ace IMO. No one guy to stop a losing streak. I don’t think Yordano Ventura is at that stage. Ian Kennedy should help eat innings and get the team to that fabulous bullpen. The pitchers need only go five or six. That helps.

Detroit Tigers- Miguel Cabrera is healthy. His lower half is strong. He’s lethal once again. J D Martinez remains the steal of the century. How the Astros ever let him go two years ago and how he slipped to the Tigers is beyond me. Anyway, if Victor Martinez isn’t hamstrung and if newly acquired Justin Upton is more hot than cold in his usual inconsistent patterns, the Tigers will be awesome at the plate. When I saw Ian Kinsler this spring it was the best he has looked in years. And here it comes—the pitching? Justin Verlander is clearly not washed up. He’s a very good, very solid starter. And then? Yikes! I wish Shane Greene well, even though he killed my fantasy team last year. I wish Anibal Sanchez a healthy season. He can be very good if healthy.

Chicago White Sox- I like 3/5 of the pitching rotation. I really like lefties Chris Sale, Jose Quintana (very underrated IMO) and Carlos Rodon. I really don’t like John Danks and Mat Latos. Like the Indians, they have three solid starters. But the offense still seems inconsistent to me. Jose Abreu is a professional surgeon at the plate-he carves up the defense by hitting to all fields. Newly acquired Todd Frazier should rock The Cell with his loud bat. After that-I’m not convinced. Lots of mediocre hitters with good speed.
But they have to get on base. Who is Avisail Garcia? Who is Melky Cabrera? We’ll see.

Minnesota Twins- They could win this division. That’s how close it is. And that’s how good they are—on offense. What if they had concentrated on pitching in the offseason? They can be really scary. Miguel Sano can be a monster at the plate. And Byron Buxton can really play-if he’s healthy. I like Eddie Rosario a great deal. Trevor Plouffe is very underrated IMO. Brian Dozier as well. Both those guys can rake. And I don’t think Joe Mauer is done by any means. The rotation? I’ll pass.

AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST

Houston Astros- I really can’t state how great I think this team will become. They are a perfectly balanced club between awesome hitting and very, very good pitching. Carlos Correa is among the most exciting five tool players in the game. Add in Carlos Gomez, George Springer (still underrated) Colby Rasmus, Evan Gattis, and the amazing Jose Altuve and this team will score a bunch of runs. I saw Tyler White play several games when I was in Florida. He’s big and strong and can knock the ball out of the park. But there are some swings and misses in his game, just like Jon Singleton and the now departed Chris Carter. And A J Reed waits in the wings. Pitching? Try on a duo of Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh for openers. Then mix in Lance McCullers, Doug Fister, Scott Feldman, Mike Fiers, and more to the equation. I like it. The bullpen got even better with the acquisition of Ken Giles. This is a fun team to watch. They win.

Texas Rangers- Another team that has some nice balance, but they can’t pitch with Houston. Once Yu Darvish returns they have more of a fighting chance. But they are not deep in starters. I don’t know where they would be without Cole Hamels. He’s the real deal and will lead the staff. The outfield will eventually get better when Nomar Mazara and Lewis Brinson take their spots. But they aren’t ready yet. The Rangers have a fence buster in Joey Gallo. Will he play this season? How much? Where?
I do like Odor at 2B. Prince looks even bigger to me this spring. Can he still hit? How about Choo? What will they do with Jurickson Profar? Trade him for pitching?
Adrian Beltre remains the heart and soul of this team IMO. I think the Andrus to LF situation can work. If he hits. But the pitching is the issue. I’ve written that a lot today.

Seattle Mariners- I have to say I don’t think the Felix of now is the Felix of old. I think there is a little slip in his performance. I hope I’m wrong. The pitching is solid. I like Wade Miley in that park. Robbie Cano has something to prove. He was not healthy last year. He is now. We keep waiting for Nelson Cruz to come back to earth. Man, can he blister a fastball. Why not throw him all breaking balls on the outside corner? I don’t know. Ketel Marte will continue to grow as a shortstop and hitter. I am not sold that Leonys Martin can hit big league pitching. Adam Lind is a huge addition for the team. He can change a game with real power. This is a more solid club than last year.

Oakland Athletics- If things break well for Oakland, they could be exciting to watch. If they get the Stephen Vogt of the first half instead of the injured Stephen Vogt of the second half last year that will make a difference. Josh Reddick has to provide some power. I am a believer in Danny Valencia. I don’t think it was a fluke. He can hit.
I also really like the speed of Billy Burns. When he puts the ball on the ground it’s a single. Khris Davis is streaky, but his power is real-very good wrist hitter. The pitching? Not horrible. Sonny Gray stabilizes the rotation. I am concerned about Sean Doolittle’s velocity. All in all, if the team is left in tact and not traded away, they will be spoilers.

Los Angeles Angels- The Angels last in the division? With Trout, Pujols and Calhoun? Yes. Because i don’t see much more. I think the pitching is woeful beyond maybe Garrett Richard and Tyler Skaggs if he returns. My jury is still out on Andrew Heaney. Jered Weaver? C J Wilson is hurt. I’m not a Hector Santiago fan. The bullpen? I just don’t think this team can compete with Houston, Texas and Seattle—and that’s who they will play most of their games against.

Thank you for following my work at TodaysKnuckleball.com. And thanks for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff.

That’s it. I’m Done. For Now.

Now-beginning Sunday—-lets play some baseball. Good luck to you and your team.

National League Predictions

Opinions certainly differ regarding pennant predictions. It happens at this time every year. There really are a number of very good teams in baseball. There are a number of mediocre teams and some at the beginning stages of rebuilding. Or in their third iteration of rebuilding.

Since I am now part of the staff at TodaysKnuckleball.com, I was asked to complete my predictions on a staff spreadsheet. I was surprised at the diversity of opinions. That’s a good thing.

Without further explanation, by division, here are my picks for the National League:

NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST

New York Mets- I’m of the old school I still believe that good pitching beats good hitting. I think the Mets have more than good pitching. I think they have great pitching. They have a staff that should help them avoid a losing streak. Any from among Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, or even Bartolo Colon can stop a losing skid. I am a bit concerned about the long-term health of Harvey, but what a rotation they have compiled. Frankly, the hitting isn’t too shabby either. I like that Yoenis Cespedes has parked his home run bat on their doorstep. Neil Walker is still and underrated second baseman IMO. The Mets to squeak by the Nationals.

Washington Nationals- Few players generate the impact of Bryce Harper. I can’t imagine what Harper will produce when he’s in his chronological prime. And what damage will a healthy Anthony Rendon provide the offense? If he’s healthy all year, watch out. He can really hit the gaps with long, loud doubles. Plenty of them will feet over the fence. Add in a healthy Ryan Zimmerman and the speed of Ben Revere and we can talk about a team that could fight the Mets all season. The only pitcher that may be better than Max Scherzer may be Clayton Kershaw. And I’m really bullish on Stephen Strasburg to have a dynamite year. Add Gio Gonzalez to the mix and the Nationals could be a very well balanced, full-season contender.

Miami Marlins- Healthy once again, Giancarlo Stanton could hit 50 home runs. Do we know yet if Justin Bour can sustain the same type of solid season he had last year? I’m thinking he’ll reduce the strikeouts and increase the home runs by a few. And I have always liked Christian Yelich. This year is no exception. He’ll hit for average. And about having Jose Fernandez leading the pitching staff after he proved himself sound and healthy last year after surgery. The pitching can’t match the Mets or Nationals.

Atlanta Braves- The club is putting everything in place for their move to a new home. They have been collecting pitchers like I used to collect baseball cards when I was a kid. Some of those kids will deliver. Not just yet. I don’t see them competing in the division for a while. I do think Braves fans are going to love Ender Inciarte. He could become a fixture in Atlanta for years. Despite a lack of protection in the lineup, I’m very bullish on Freddie Freeman to have a monster season.

Philadelphia Phillies- Another rebuilding club, I think the Phillies may have waited too long to tear down the old barn. But they finally did. Watch out for young third baseman Maikel Franco. He could be a a true star as soon as this year. Cesar Hernandez is a bit of a sleeper infielder for me. He can hit and run.

NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL

Chicago Cubs- I feel sorry for the Cubs brass and the Cubs fans. It seems everywhere I turn all I hear is Cubs this and Cubs that. Can they meet the hype? I’m not sure. I’ll say it right here, right now. I don’t like the pitching depth. But man, can they rake. I do believe Kris Bryant will reduce his strikeouts. I think Kyle Schwarber is the real deal. And along with Paul Goldschmidt, Anthony Rizzo is an all-world first baseman. Not to mention Jason Heyward adds a tremendous dimension to their defense. Add in a stellar Addison Russell and the stability of newly acquired Ben Zobrist and the offense is awesome. They’re so good Jorge Soler can’t get playing time on a regular basis. And how would you like to have a guy like Javier Baez hanging around when healthy?

Pittsburgh Pirates- What will it take for the Pirates to climb another step? I think they lost quite a few quality players like Neil Walker, Joakim Soria and Pedro Alvarez. They represented some skills that come in handy. Walker will be missed. I do like the bat that John Jaso may be able to offer. Pitching is solid. Few young studs have as much upside as the gritty Gerrit Cole. I do like Cole and Liriano. I also like the bullpen.
Juan Nicasio could be a sleeper for the rotation. I think the Pirates pithing is thin. But when you have an outfield of McCutchen, Marte and Polanco it may be just enough to catapult the club to a great season. Those three may be the best outfield in baseball.

St. Louis Cardinals- Well, this is the first year in my memory that I have the Cardinals slated this low in their division. I think the Cubs and Pirates are better. The Cardinals slip may be showing a bit. Wainwright is another year older. Garcia has had injuries in the past. What about Michael Wacha? Can he stay healthy? I’m suspect about the pitching. I do like Randal Grichuk to break out this year, and Stephen Piscotty is a professional hitter that will get better and better. Matt Carpenter never ceases to amaze. He’s an All Star caliber player. But shortstop? Losing Jhonny Peralta hurts.
Kolten Wong may rise to a new tier of second baseman with a full skill set.

Milwaukee Brewers- In the midst of their rebuilding project, they have some very exciting young players. Many, like Orlando Arcia are still in development. But I do want to see what Domingo Santana, Keon Broxton, Rymer Lirano and Ramon Flores can do with playing time. Yadiel Rivera is fun to watch. They may get a boatload if they can move jonathan Lucroy and/or Ryan Braun, two players with value to a contender.

Cincinnati Reds- I have watched the Reds a great deal this spring. Their outfield of the future could be very good once they promote Jesse Winker. They’ll have guys like Scott Schebler, Winker and Billy Hamilton among others. Jose Peraza should take over second base once Brandon Phillips is gone. With Peraza and Hamilton, the duo could steal 100 or more bases with ease. If they can get on base. The Reds should concentrate on getting their pitching in order for the future. It isn’t there yet.

NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST

San Francisco Giants- Last time I looked this was an even year. You know what that means. They win in even years. The pitching has been bolstered with the additions of Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija to follow Madison Bumgarner in the rotation. That’s a solid threesome to lead them to the division title. Add to that the offense provided by sparkplug Hunter Pence and the top of the order energy of Denard Span and the team looks very solid. The very underrated Brandon Crawford is a superb shortstop. Can Joe Panik’s back hold up? Can Matt Duffy produce again? I like the Giants. I like the bullpen, too. And most importantly, I like the combination of Bruce Bochy as the manager and Dave Righetti as the pitching coach. Both are stellar!

Los Angeles Dodgers- I’m very concerned about the lack of pitching depth unless some of their potential starting pitchers get healthy in a hurry. They will go as far as the pitching beyond Clayton Kershaw carries them. I still like the offense to score lots of runs in that park. Howie Kendrick is still very solid and should be a huge run producer when he returns from injury. I also like Yasiel Puig to prove his critics wrong. Adrian Gonzalez is very, very dangerous at the plate. The bullpen is set at the back end with Kenley Jansen. And finally, they have a true budding star in Corey Seager at shortstop. I am not worried about his knee. Not yet, at least.

Arizona Diamondbacks- I do like Zack Greinke a great deal. I don’t think he can math his Dodgers numbers when pitching half his games at Chase Field. I don’t like the rest of the rotation other than Patrick Corbin. They just don’t have enough pitching. They traded some fantastic players and prospects to get Shelby Miller. I think they’ll miss the players they traded. I do like the outfield with star center fielder A J Pollock as the anchor. But I wonder who gets the playing time between Socrates Brito, Yasmany Tomas, David Peralta and even slugger Peter O’Brien. Who plays in the infield? Is it Nick Ahmed and Jean Segura at short and second? Where does Phil Gosselin fit? How about Chris Owings? Can Jake Lamb hit lefties? Lots of questions. But man, this team has position player depth. I do think Brito will have a tremendous year. If he plays.

Colorado Rockies- Nolan Arenado is fantastic. No doubt about it. He is a tremendous hitter and a tremendous defender. I love watching him play. Arenado/Cargo/LeMahieu/Blackmon/Story and on and on. The team is lethal at the plate and fun to watch. Pitching? Hello, this is Coors Field. Meh.

San Diego Padres- I feel badly for the Padres fans. Why? Because the new front office tore down the club a year ago and it didn’t work. It’s like the paint is peeling off the house already. I do like Matt Kemp to have a solid year. Travis Jankowski is a sleeper for me. But the Padres? Wait until next year.

Thank you for reading my work at TodaysKnuckleball.com and for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff. Your support of my work is much appreciated.

Tomorrow: The American League

That’s it. I’m done. For now.

 

Spring Training Tour-Colorado Rockies

It really is hard to believe that this is the last week of Spring Training. That really is both good and bad news. The good news is the regular season begins soon. The bad news is that the wonderful excitement and atmosphere of Spring Training is coming to an end. It was really great. Both in Florida and here in Arizona. The venues were packed with fans rooting for their favorite teams. The concession stands were packed with fans gobbling up fan favorite food from the start of the games until the last at-bat. Beer, hot dogs, peanuts, Kettle corn, noodles, lemonade, pizza, burgers and on and on and on. I rarely eat at the concession stands, but the new bacon cheeseburger at the Goodyear Park is outstanding. Really good flavor. I’ll miss it.

I watched the Rockies play the Dbacks at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.

This is the time of spring when many more regulars dot the lineups. And that was the case with the Rockies.

Chris Rusin started the game for Colorado. He reminded me of former Rockies pitcher Jeff Francis at the end of Francis’ time with the Rockies. Rusin threw only one pitch at 90 mph in the time I was watching. Most of the time he was in the mid-80’s with a variety of off-speed and breaking balls that didn’t always find the strike zone. That 90 mph pitch was to Paul Goldschmidt. Anyway, Rusin was hit a bit and his command was off. I don’t see him as a viable starter.

I can’t describe how great a hitter Nolan Arenado is. He may not get all the press as some other All Star types, but Arenado has put on a show this spring in Arizona. He hit another homer yesterday to add to his first inning single. The man has such a sweet, measured swing. The ball just flies off his bat. He makes excellent contact and has improved his approach to breaking balls. Arenado is great as a defender as well. It really is his team now that Troy Tulowitzki has departed for Toronto. Yes, Carlos Gonzalez and Arenado form a great one/two punch. Mix in Charlie Blackmon (also underrated) and D J LeMahieu (also underrated) and the Rockies have a superb offensive nucleus, as always.

Keep your eye on Mark Reynolds. What kind of home run total might he have in Coors Field if he gets regular playing time? I think he will likely only hit against lefties, but he can do some serious damage. I’ve seen him hit some amazingly high and long home runs.

Trevor Story is having a monster spring. He is the likely shortstop on opening day. He’ll bring a solid bat, a good glove and a real love of the game each and every day. He has the tools to keep the job and perhaps usher in a trade for the now suspended Jose’ Reyes. What happens with Reyes in his Hawaiian legal issues is the big unknown. But if the Rockies have to play without Reyes or even trade him, the team will be well stocked with Story and Cristhian Adames holding down the job in the future.

The catching corps remains really deep with Nick Hundley, Tom Murphy, Dustin Garneau and former Indians catcher Tony Wolters all on the roster. I think Murphy has some real offensive upside with power.

I think both Blackmon and LeMahieu shocked a bit last year with their ability to hit so well and steal bases. I’m not sure both will equal their break out seasons, but they are reliable and fairly consistent. The team will score runs both at home and on the road. But can they pitch?

How does one pitch in Coors Field? I have figured out there are only two paths to pitching success at Coors IMO. First, a pitcher can overpower the opposition with 95 and above fastballs that are up in the zone. They have to yield swings and misses from the opposition. Strikeouts are crucial. Of course, the other way is to induce plenty of ground balls. The Rockies have had sinker ball pitcher after sinker ball pitcher on their roster. There is no getting around it. Getting movement on fastballs and breaking balls is critical. Anything coming in straight will leave straight. Straight to the huge gaps in the outfield. Straight to the wind tunnel in right center. But balls fly for both teams. Not just against Rockies pitchers. But Rockies pitchers do have to pitch half their games there at Coors. Regardless of the launching pad, it is a great, great place to watch a game. I love going to Coors.

I believe a couple of adjustments are being made to the height of the fence in two areas of the outfield. The higher chain link fences may keep some balls in the park. But that means some of the Rockies hitters will get some impact from the new height as well.

Everything has been tried regarding improving the Rockies pitching woes. Humidor is installed. This pitcher is signed. That pitcher is acquired. At the end of the day-the answer is probably simple. The team has to keep plugging away, pound the ball, score runs and hope the pitching staff can contain the opposition. And the Rockies have to win on the road. There really are no pitching excuses at most of the road parks. Chase Field in Phoenix is one exception in the National League West. The Dbacks pitchers face many of the same concerns as their MLB brethren from Colorado. Chase Field is a hitter’s park. Period. But the altitude isn’t as severe as Coors Field.

I hope the Rockies fans get to enjoy some of the brightest, most exciting offensive players on the planet. Appreciate Arenado, Cargo, LeMahieu, Blackmon, Story, Parra and others for the excitement they bring. The pitchers will do their best to keep the team in the game. But it isn’t easy.

Thanks for reading my new column at TodaysKnuckleball.com (no apestrophe in todays) And thanks for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff.

This is my last team blog from Spring Training. Next up: My pennant predictions.

That’s it. I’m done. For now.

 

My spring look at the San Francisco Giants

There is something about the Giants Spring Training facilities in Scottsdale that makes it stand out from all the rest. It really is special. One of the older parks in the Valley Of The Sun, the home of the Giants is a constant sea of orange and black on game days. Some of the most passionate fans in baseball flock to the downtown Scottsdale area to take in the sights, sounds, scents and the special scene created in the area. Restaurants and watering holes do a fantastic business. Little carts carrying fans can be seen roaming the streets as the different types of food compete for everyone’s attention.
The park itself has every imaginable food and drink stand. A huge section in right field is devoted to fans that pay a premium to sit, eat, drink and watch the game with their friends. It really is a happening.

So while virtually every Spring Training venue in both Florida and Arizona get huge boosts in the month of March, an entire city gets lifted on its shoulders and is the focal point of the lives of thousands and thousands of fans, day in and day out. Even on off days, Giants fans mingle and munch along Scottsdale Boulevard in Old Town Scottsdale.

On the field, the Giants have produced another exciting roster for those diehard fans.
If they stay healthy, the Giants should be right in the center of the National League West pennant race.

Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto have assumed new roles in the rotation behind ace Madison Bumgarner. It gives the Giants a solid top three in their rotation. Their AT&T home park plays large for hitters, giving Samardzija and Cueto a comfort level. In the game I scouted, Jake Peavy was the starter. He had his cutter working well and provided some quality innings against a mixture of White Sox veterans and prospects.
Peavy has to stay healthy with a strong and pain free back, solid arm strength and confidence in his command. He needs to provide at least six solid innings a start and keep his team in the game.

I do think Chris Heston is going to be crucial to the Giants. If Matt Cain or any of the other starters should falter, Heston will be the man. He’ll be important to the club. Maybe sooner than later.

And that brings me to my biggest issue with San Francisco. IMO they don’t have enough pitching depth to weather a rotation storm.

One my favorite Giants prospects is Mac Williamson. He started in left field and had difficulty tracking balls hit into the high, bright Arizona sky. He started the spring hitting very well, but has tailed off. He didn’t make the opening day roster, but Williamson has power enough to break open a close game. I think we’ll see him in San Francisco before the season ends.

I was impressed with Kelby Tomlinson who played third base in this game. He flashed some very quick hands and feet on hard hit ground balls to third. His agility and reaction times were superb in this game. He did scuffle with balls hit in the air due to the high sky, but his range and arm strength are very solid at the hot corner. I think he can hit a bit as well. Will he have the power and batting average required of a third baseman? I really don’t know.

The catching situation is a bit of a concern. Buster Posey was scratched from the game and an official report on his condition may reveal nothing serious. But backup catcher Andrew Susac remains on the shelf. If he can’t go on opening day, Trevor Brown will get the call as the second catcher. He caught the game I watched and certainly served as a good shepherd for his pitcher.

To me, Brandon Crawford is one of the most underrated players in the game. He is an outstanding defender. And he can hit. He also hits with power. Few people outside of San Francisco ever talk about Crawford when shortstops are discussed. For me, he is one of the core players on the club and a very stabilizing infielder. One of his qualities is an ability to hit in the clutch. I really like Crawford. A lot.

My favorite of all the Giants is Hunter Pence. He’s a fan favorite as well. I was with the Astros during the time Pence was with Houston. He has awkward fundamentals, to put it mildly. But man, can he play. Hits well. Fields well. Is a team leader. Gets that impact knock. If he keeps his health this year, Pence could lead the Giants right through the postseason. He’s that good, and a bit underrated as well. Especially in fantasy drafts.

The new catalyst at the top of the order is Denard Span. He should be able to set the table for the bigger bats further down the order. Span has to use his speed and attempt to steal in order for the Giants to realize his value. The team isn’t loaded with power, so the “small ball” run creation model will be important. Along with Joe Panik and Matt Duffy, they provide excellent on-base guys for the thumpers.

I would be remiss if I didn’t share my opinion of why I think the Giants are always contenders. Always in play. I believe they have the best manager in the game in Bruce Bochy. He knows how to handle his players. He knows how to handle pitching. He lets everyone play, using his entire roster and keeping them fresh. He is aided by an outstanding pitching coach in Dave Righetti, one of the best there is. To me, that combination is worth multiple victories every year.

Next blog: Colorado Rockies

Thank you for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff.

And please—introduce yourself to my new column at Todaysknuckleball.com. (there is no apostrophe in todays). I’ll be writing scouting reports for SportsRag.com that appear at Todaysknuckleball. I have a four part series running starting today on scouting. That will be followed by traditional prospect scouting reports. Thanks so much.

That’s it. I’m done. For now.

 

Spring Training Look at the Milwaukee Brewers

I love going to Maryvale Baseball Park to watch Brewers Spring Training games.
There is something very “special” about the place. It looks different than the state of the art fabulous parks that are now dotting the landscape in Arizona. Yes, it has some age, but Maryvale Baseball Park is well maintained for the most part and it really is very fan friendly. Every seat has a perfect view of the field. There is an intimacy and “family” type environment throughout.

Maryvale is also the home of the finest kettle popcorn I’ve ever eaten. Big, full bags of kettlecorn always find their way into my car and arrive home as a treat that my wife really loves. The walkway of Maryvale Baseball Park has a war of scents every day. Popcorn vs. Noodles. Most of the time the popcorn wins.

The press box is not the most up to date, but it has plenty of room for all the writers and an annex next door to handle the spillover. But there is one small problem. The press box does not offer any water—bottled or otherwise. Yikes!

The Brewers team I saw in their game against the Kansas City Royals looked like it could be representative of the opening day lineup. Although the Brewers staff still has some decisions to make on outfielders and the relief corps, modt of the positions are settled. There are lots of young, eager and promising players on the roster.

Gone from last year are players like Khris Davis, Adam Lind, Francisco Rodrigues, Jean Segura and Logan Schafer. Those could accumulate to be big, big losses. But for a team that is in the first real phase of rebuilding under new general manager David Stearns, the task is likely exciting for all involved and requires patience. Who doesn’t like to watch young prospect players come of age from a baseball sense?

New Brewers include guys like Chris Carter, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Jonathan Villar, Chase Anderson and Aaron Hill among a host of others.

I was stunned at how fast a Chris Carter line drive left the ball park in left-center field. It got out In a blink of an eye. Carter’s strength was evident as his short, quick swing met the pitch perfectly on the barrel of the bat. The baseball may have been dented as it sailed in the air. It was really amazing. Carter could hit a ton of home runs with that swing. If I were on the mound he would never see a fastball. If he adjusts to off-speed and breaking ball pitches, hats off to him. But until he makes that adjustment consistently, he’ll have to hit my secondary pitches. The man is lethal against fastballs. Carter struck out 151 times in 391 at-bats last year for Houston. And now he takes his .199 batting average to Milwaukee. But the power is undeniable.

Another former Astro is young Domingo Santana. Santana played in only 14 games for Houston last season with another 38 for the Brewers after the trade. It looks like he has won a job as the right fielder for the Crew. There really is lots to like with him.
He should be able to get better and better with the bat as he gains experience against quality major league pitching. I caution that fans and his manager will have to be patient with Santana. While the tools are evident he lacks experience as an every day player against the best pitching in the world.

Ryan Braun’s health remains a concern. From hand issues to now his bad back, Braun has been showing signs of wear and tear of late. I don’t really know how long his baseball shelf life will be. Is there enough left in his bat to make an impact? How many games will he play? I think we are in the midst of a time when Braun wants to prove that he can be a mentor to the young Brewers and that he can still hit. My jury hasn’t returned a verdict yet. While I think he still has “it” I’m not as certain as I was in the off-season. Braun’s nagging issues concern me.

I do like Jonathan Villar a great deal as a potential base stealer. And with Jean Segura now playing in Arizona, it looks to me like Villar may be a place holder until the club is certain that the shortstop of the future is ready. That would be Orlando Arcia-a really fine prospect. But keep your eye on Yadiel Rivera, another young middle-infielder who may hit and play his way onto the club. I can see a future middle-infield of Arcia and Rivera. For now, though, I think Villar gets lots of playing time. I just hope he gets the green light to attempt to steal. I think there are more stolen bases from him than we’ve seen in his past.

While I write about Rivera, Scooter Gennett is having a fantastic offensive spring. He is hitting so well that he can be a real spark at the top of the Brewers order. Gennett plays with energy and is a real gamer. I think the middle-infield of the Brewers will be a true strength for a long time going forward.

Someone will have to take over at third base. Right now, the position seems to belong to Aaron Hill. He will provide some veteran stability, but he won’t be the long-term answer. Maybe one of the guys I’ve already mentioned or a player like Garin Cecchini can catch fire and give the Brewers the third baseman they need long-term. Colin Walsh and Andy Wilkins are also on the 40-man. Somewhere among all those corner infielders will emerge.

The outfield is also loaded with prospects. Keon Broxton, has opened lots of eyes. Someone will will the center field job. Will it be Niewenhuis? Young Keon Broxton? And will former Padres outfielder (now injured) Rymer Liriano find a role with the club?

What happens to the catching position? Will Jonathan Lucroy be traded for even more young major league ready players? If not now, will he make it with the club past the July trading deadline? I don’t have the answer to that. But I do know I like his backup catcher a great deal. Every time I see him play, catcher Martin Maldonado gets a big, meaningful hit. I think their catching situation will be fine. Maybe it’s time to see what Lucroy can fetch in trade. I remind myself that among the young studs the Brewers have collected is Jacob Nottingham, a really, really solid hitting prospect catcher. He’s just not quite ready. But he projects to be a very good long-term replacement for Lucroy when the time does arrive.

Wily Peralta got the start in the game I scouted. He looked really sharp. He wasn’t overpowering, but he got into a great rhythm and did the job. If he can last six innings I think the pen is strong enough to preserve a victory. The pitching staff is young and eager to succeed. But I still don’t know exactly who closes? Is it a committee? Is it Will Smith? Is it Jeremy Jeffress?

So there are questions to be answered in the next week. Outfielders? Relievers? Middle-infielders? Closer? But that is to be expected with a team in transition.

Overall, I think the Brewers will be better than some might expect. There is energy and hope. Talent, power and speed. There are also strikeouts and inexperience. There is also a very young pitching staff without a true ace. But it’ll be fun.

Brewers fans are among the best in baseball. They support their team. They know the game. They have fun. They cheer at the sausage races. And this year, they have to just enjoy watching talented young men improve game to game right in front of their eyes.
Patience and sticking with their team as it matures can be challenging, but also very rewarding as the team and the fans bond together.

Thank you for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff.

That’s it. I’m Done. For now.

 

Spring Training Tour-Kansas City Royals

The Kansas City Royals are among the most popular teams training in Arizona. They are drawing big crowds both at home in Surprise and on the road. Wherever the Royals play the stands are a sea of blue. That’s what happens to winning teams. And the Royals do, indeed win. Their brand of baseball is comprised of solid enough pitching, timely hitting, good fundamental defense and speed that puts pressure on the opposing defense. Lots and lots of speed. The Royals score runs and prevent runs-the two basic components of winning baseball.

Gone from their World Championship team are top notch players like pitcher Johnny Cueto, outfielder Alex Rios and the super versatile Ben Zobrist.

Pitchers Ian Kennedy, Mike Minor and Joakim Soria join the club to help bolster the pitching staff.

Much has to happen for the Royals to return to their lofty position atop the world of baseball. As is always the case, teams always gun for the big guys. And the Royals are now the big guys.

The nucleus of the club is still in place. After being patient for years and waiting for Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas to fulfill their potential, the Royals are now experiencing the type of production those three can provide. And they’ve been doing it now for the past few years. That trio holds a boatload of RBIs and runs scored in their control. With Lorenzo Cain added to that threesome making it four stellar players at the top of the lineup, the Royals remain dangerous once again.

We may not have yet seen the best of Cain. He can do it all. He hits for average, his power continues to increase, he runs well enough to steal bases and he plays outstanding defense in center field. He may even add a few more home runs to increase from the 16 he belted last year. Cain stole 28 bases in 2016. If he has his legs and doesn’t encounter hamstring issues, he could easily top 30.

Paulo Orlando may be a strange name to many. He is targeted to split playing time with the very speedy Jarod Dyson once Dyson returns from injury. That could be as soon as the last week of Spring Training. With spotty playing time last year, Dyson stole 26 bases. That should increase this year. And it should add even more pressure to the opposing pitcher.

Orlando, the right-handed hitting side of the Dyson/Orlando platoon is a good player with an average skill set. Without one glaring tool to anchor his game, Orlando is a steady and reliable outfielder with a bat that should hover around .275. I think both Dyson and Orlando will eventually make way for former first round athlete Bubba Starling, who is improving his contact rate and plate discipline every time I see him. But Starling’s time is in the future, not just yet.

Actually, add Reymond Fuentes to the mix for an outfield position in competition with Dyson and Orlando. Fuentes was drafted by the Red Sox and traded to the Padres. He’s now in the outfield mix with the Royals. A left-handed hitter, Fuentes also brings more speed and a barrel of the bat hitting approach. So he, Orlando and Dyson may all be seeking big league playing time in the outfield. One outfield role remains to be filled as Gordon will patrol left and Cain is a mainstay in center.

Kendrys Morales is getting playing time at first base, as he did in the game I scouted against Cleveland this week. Morales will serve as the primary DH, but he could spell Hosmer at first, opening a spot for Fuentes as the DH.

While there are lots of mix and match opportunities for the Royals, the key to their success will be the play of the defense and their pitching.

Alcedes Escobar is about as sure-handed a shortstop as there is in the game. From the first time I saw him as a raw prospect years ago in the Arizona Fall League, Escobar has always made the routine play with ease and made the difficult play look simple as well. He is just a solid, consistent shortstop with enough pop in his bat to be dangerous as well as having the requisite Royals trademark quality-base stealing type speed.

Omar Infante returns at second base, with the good-hitting and solid fielding Christian Colon waiting in the wings. Colon has always hit. There is no reason that can’t continue if he sticks with the parent club all year. Switch-hitting Raul Mondesi is still very young, but he represents the future in the Royals infield.

The Royals have made it a plan for their starting pitcher to keep the club in the game for six innings and turn everything over to a World Class bullpen. To beat the Royals, a team has to jump on the starter and pile on for inning after inning. If that doesn’t happen, the opposition will be treated to a heavy dose of a bullpen that is anchored at the back end by closer Wade Davis. At this point in time he may be the best in the business. Set-up man Luke Hochevar is another pitcher who found great success pitching in late innings for the Royals.

The beautiful house of cards built by the Kansas City front office may come collapsing down if the starting pitching runs in to repetitive hiccups. Ian Kennedy should really help fill the roll vacated by Johnny Cueto. He can be very good. Especially when he pitches inside. If he stays away from hitters and avoids the inside of the plate he can quickly lose his fastball command. The ball sails on him and he gets lit up.

Rotation partners of Kennedy include the returning Edinson Volquez who is now another year older, righty Yordano Ventura, and others who might include Chris Young, Kris Medlen and more. Kyle Zimmer is a prospect with promise who has had shoulder issues. He may be able to help at some point in the season. Lefties Jason Vargas and Danny Duffy add depth for either the rotation or the pen, depending upon need.

But whatever combination of starters makes the rotation, we aren’t talking New York Mets pitching here. The starters just have to carry the baton to the bullpen for success to be realized. They can do that. Without much doubt.

Thank you for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff.

Tomorrow: Milwaukee Brewers

That’s it. I’m done. For now.

 

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