What Do We Know So Far

I’m not of the school that believes the first week of May is still “too early” to make some conclusions about players and teams. I think we have a good enough sample size to guide us for the remainder of the big league baseball season. Here are some of my thoughts so far:

The main difference I see so far in Bryce Harper is much improved patience at the plate. He is recognizing pitches very well and has concluded that a walk is as good as a hitter and better than striking out. I liked everything about Harper when I first saw him play in the 2010 Arizona Fall League. He’s an amazing athlete, and at the age of 22 the baseball sky is his limit. I love watching him play.

Those that follow me regularly know that I preach patience with young players. I always say it take two to three Major League seasons to learn how to play among the greatest players in the world. However, Kris Bryant has shown an ability that defies his rookie status. He lays off “pitcher’s pitches” and is willing to accept a walk. He isn’t always looking to hit the ball over the wall-he is well aware the home runs will come. But his plate discipline is remarkable.

We are seeing an entirely new crop of fantastic starting pitchers emerge before our eyes. Consider the future of Matt Harvey. He is pitching as though he never missed a start. But remember, this young man is returning from Tommy John surgery and blowing away hitters. And I really do like the Astros Dallas Keuchel. He’s a ground ball machine. And no, I’m not surprised at the great start for the Yankees Michael Pineda, even though he’s coming off shoulder issues. 16 strikeouts in seven innings. Yikes.

Conversely, I can’t help be concerned about Corey Kluber and Chris Sale. I’m just sayin’. In Kluber’s case, I think he really misses catcher Yan Gomes, out with an injury for a little while longer.

Are there any doubters remaining regarding the value and ability of Nelson Cruz? I do think he’ll go through a cold streak, but man…when he hits em, they’re gone. Even in Seattle.

I’ll say it again-some American League club (like Cleveland) needs to trade for Wilin Rosario. He’s warming the bench in Colorado because of poor footwork as a catcher and as a first baseman. But as a designated hitter? The role is made for him.

I’m a huge—and I mean huge Stephen Vogt fan. The Athletics have a gem. His bat and ability to call a good game allowed the club to shed both Derek Norris and John Jaso. Jaso is a long way from returning from the disabled list.

There is a lengthy list of teams that have laid an egg so far. They include the White Sox, the Indians, the Brewers, the Mariners, the Orioles, the Red Sox, the Marlins, the Blue Jays and to some extent the Nationals. Each has played worse than expected. But for every egg cracked, an omelet has been created. Enter the Astros, the Twins, the Yankees and the Rays. I can’t put the Mets in that category, as I expected them to be good. Same for the Cardinals, Tigers and the Dodgers.

In March I had grave concerns about the Red Sox pitching. I have even greater concerns now. And I never bought the Indians as a contender because of their pitching-pitching that everyone thought would be so great. The back end of the rotation was a concern and remains so. It will be very difficult for the White Sox and Indians to dig themselves out of the holes they created while losing so many games within their division.

I don’t get it. The Blue Jays were really, really excited about the rookies they broke camp with in April. Then, in less than a month they jettisoned a couple to the Minor Leagues. Talk about a quick hook.

Think success isn’t fleeting? Exhibit No. 1. Allen Craig. The same Allen Craig who was a hero in St. Louis is now playing in Triple-A.

I’m a huge Eddie Rosario fan and I hope the Twins give him a chance to play. Not just a game a week, but a spot in their lineup. The man can flat out hit.

How about the start for the Rockies D J LeMahieu. One of the guys I loved coming out of Spring Training.

When do the Astros promote Carlos Correa? With the team playing well and looking at the playoffs as a real possibility and with shortstop Jed Lowrie hurt, is he a viable option. Yes.

When do the Indians promote Francisco Lindor? With the team in the dumper and the shortstop not hitting and carrying six errors on his current resume, is he a viable option. Even though he isn’t hitting at Columbus, my answer is…yes, without a doubt.

But we probably won’t see either of them until June at the earliest.

I find it almost amusing the Diamondbacks are realizing they need a catcher. And to solve their offensive problems at the catching positions they have signed…wait for it… Jarrod Saltalamacchia to a Minor League contract. Something tells me he’ll be wearing a big league uniform by June at the latest. Talk me off the ledge here, friends. What am I not seeing in this picture?

I’ll be writing Part Two of What We Know So Far in the near future.

Thanks for reading my work on MLBPipeline.com and for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff. Much appreciated.

That’s it. I’m Done.

My Early Observations

Hats off to the Tigers. They completely destroyed both the Twins and the Indians. They looked like they could beat any team, any day. When Miguel Cabrera is going good he can center the ball to the middle of the field. That’s what I saw with a couple of his base hits. And then he totally smoked home runs to left. While I really enjoy watching Cabrera and his buddies totally torment pitchers, my greatest take away from the Tigers success so far has been the stellar pitching of Shane Greene. He’s thrown everything but the kitchen sink at hitters-throwing strike one and getting ahead in counts. I love watching this guy pitch. He gets it. Yes, he may have a bump in the road because he’s human, but man, he’s been outstanding.

How much has Nelson Cruz meant to the Mariners so far? The man can flat out hit. When he hits a rocket shot there isn’t a park that can hold it. No matter how far away the fences.

I don’t think Fernando Rodney is in jeopardy of losing his closer’s job. Not yet at least. He did break bats and all the hits weren’t solid. I see hope he stays in the role as the Mariners closer.

Why did the Rockies bring back 42-year old LaTroy Hawkins? I wish I knew. Maybe he lost his job so quickly because the Rockies are off to such a great start and they want to preserve every win. Whatever the reason, the job now belongs to Adam Ottavino, a very good arm. But…will he keep the job? Rafael Betancourt waits in the wings.
By the way, Hawkins is one of the finest gentlemen in the game. I hope all goes well for him. He deserves only the best.

Will the Yankees lose patience with the slow offensive start of Didi Gregorius? I sure hope not.

We should never be surprised at what Adrian Gonzalez can do with a bat. He’s that good a hitter. Great eye-hand coordination. Outstanding pitch recognition. And quick hands through the ball. He’s a master at his craft.

I tried to get D J LeMahieu in every league in which I play fantasy baseball. I couldn’t pull it off. I’ve told you before I like every thing about the guy. Now he’s getting some due publicity for his fast start.

I hope things continue for the guys on my Guys I Like This Year list. Most are off to great starts. I just hope I don’t jinx them.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it over and over…The Indians simply have to get another right-handed bat. They are still totally vulnerable to left-handed pitching.

How about the duo of Matt Harvey and Jake deGrom? Make that a trio when you add veteran Bartolo Colon to the mix. Watch out for the Mets.

Poker may change when guys like Kris Bryant and White Sox pitcher Carlos Rodon make their big league arrivals. And how about the Twins Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano? There are so many great prospects waiting to make an impact. Some will come sooner than we may think.

I can’t help feeling badly about the total collapse of the Rangers pitching fortunes. Yu Darvish and Derek Holland. Not to mention Matt Harrison and Martin Perez. Yikes!

I love to watch the energy of the Kansas City Royals. Every game they put on a clinic about playing the game with gusto and guts. And every day I appreciate Lorenzo Cain more and more. I was on his band wagon early, but now I’m the drum major out ahead of the trumpet section. He’s that good.

I had my concerns about the Astros strikeout total in my pre-season pennant blog. I don’t know if they’ll ever make the necessary adjustments to make more contact. Yes there will be games when they blast the ball out of the park. But the strikeouts will kill lots of rallies.

How important is Chris Heston to the Giants? He stepped up when Matt Cain and (at the time) Jake Peavy were injured. Now I think he may be a more permanent member of the Giants rotation. No great overpowering pitches. Just a deep repertoire with command and control.

Yes-I’m really surprised at the start of the Atlanta Braves. But it’s a long season.

Miguel Castro was a Spring Training Blue Jays invitee. He wasn’t on the 40-man. Either was Roberto Osuna. Or Devon Travis. At the age of….20 Castro is the team’s closer. At least for now. I have shoes older than him. Those guys are all such great stories.

I’m still very concerned about the Indians pitching in the 4 and 5 slots. And I hope Carlos Carrasco can rebound from the terrible line drive to the jaw against the White Sox. He and Corey Kluber along with Trevor Bauer form a good trio. But then????

Jhoulys Chacin signed with the Indians. My contact with the Rockies told me he had lost two to three miles per hour off his fastball. Anything left in the tank?

Last I looked, Carlos Quentin is still out there looking for a job.

Mookie Betts is fantastic. Another of the great young stars we are getting to watch. He can do it all.

OK-that’s it for now. I’m done.

And thank you for reading my work on MLBPipeline.com and for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff.

Nibbles Before The Main Course

Tonight. It’s here. This is like New Year’s Day. The long wait is over. The fantastic winter offseason is behind us. Spring Training was a time for several rookies to win jobs (see the Blue Jays for example) and for us to get bad news about more arm and elbow injuries. But we move forward now. Baseball has center stage. It all starts tonight.

I still have some crumbs on the table before the real main course. Follow me on twitter @BerniePleskoff this entire season for analysis and commentary.

I applaud the Diamondbacks for several very difficult decisions they made. I agree with each. First-they have sent Yasmany Tomas to the Minor Leagues for more seasoning. Expecting him to transition to a new country and a new position was asking a great deal. Giving him time to sort things out should help. And putting Nick Ahmed at short with Chris Owings at second makes all the sense in the world. I mentioned that several days ago as a possibility on my twitter account. And finally, inserting Archie Bradley in the rotation is a very sound move. I think he’s ready. He may be inconsistent-but most pitchers are.

The Dbacks also gave Trevor Cahill new life with the Braves. He could thrive there.
Now the Dbacks need to find a home for Aaron Hill. I suggest talking to the Angels or even the Nationals.

The Cubs Javier Baez is another player that should benefit by being sent down. He has to learn how to hit a cutter, a slider, a curve ball, a changeup and anything and everything that isn’t a fastball. I do not look for a quick return to the big league club for Baez. The team needs for him to get it right. Develop pitch recognition and plate discipline. I think that will take until deep into the second half, if then.

I think Carlos Rodon will be the key to the White Sox season. He adds needed length to their rotation. He’s that good. Look for him at a Cellular Field near you soon.

Why hasn’t anyone traded for the Blue Jays Dioner Navarro or the Cubs Wellington Castillo. And wouldn’t Wilin Rosario look good as the Indians designated hitter? The team really needs another right-handed bat. Or how about Carlos Quentin?

The Brewers are going to score a ton of runs. The pitching staff will yield a ton of runs. I watched three Brewers spring games last week and I was amazed at how loud those bats are. Especially Jonathan Lucroy and Ryan Braun.

We talk about great defensive shortstops a great deal. Perhaps the best is still the Braves Andrelton Simmons. The guy that doesn’t get enough love is the Marlins Adeiny Hechavarria. I love to watch him play. Just like I love watching Didi Gregorius and Nick Ahmed. We have some amazing defensive shortstops in baseball now.

I loved watching the Athletics ambidextrous Patrick Venditte pitch. I’m sorry he didn’t make the final cut. Imagine bringing a guy in from the bullpen that can throw from either hand. He’s a situational lefty/righty who can really pitch.

The Angels need a second baseman. Really, really need a second baseman.

There are some fantastic outfields in baseball. The Marlins (Yelich, Ozuna and Stanton) are fantastic. But Pittsburgh’s trio of Marte, McCutchen and Polanco are right up there. I’m looking for each of those three, including Polanco to have fantastic years.

The Cardinals Marco Gonzales will start the season in the Minors. But he could be in the rotation for lots and lots of clubs. I think we’ll see him before too long.

Speaking of rotations-I think the Astros will need Mark Appel by mid-season at the latest.

In case you missed, that’ll be Mike Pelfrey taking the rotation spot of Ervin Santana for say…. roughly 80 games.

Word from Lakeland is that Joe Nathan looked very good at the end of spring. That said, I’m asking my stock broker to buy shares for me in Joakim Soria.

Who’s the real Trevor Bauer? I’m just asking. I think the Indians will, too.

Why don’t the Royals get more love? This was a very good team last year. And they are another year advanced in their maturity. I like the progress made by Eric Hosmer. And I’m a huge Lorezo Cain fan. So what is it? It’s the rotation. But the rotation is on a par with other Central clubs. Or is it? So why did I pick them 4th? Maybe the rotation isn’t quite on par with Detroit, Chicago and Kansas City after all. But isn’t that what we said last year? They are under loved. They can play the game.

Tyson Ross will no longer be a secret after this season.

I’m beginning to allow a bit of doubt to creep into my mind about the Nationals. Injuries mean Michael Taylor, Yunel Escobar, Tyler Moore (no, not Mary Tyler Moore) and Danny Espinosa are in their starting lineup instead of Denard Span, Anthony Rendon, Jayson Werth and even Nate McLouth. And…wait for it…Dan Uggla is on the bench. Talk me off the ledge here. What if they really, really scuffle until they get their regulars back. It’s an issue for me. They could lose ground quickly to teams like the Mets and Marlins. It’s a real concern.

OK-that’s enough nibbles for now.

Thanks for reading me work at MLBPipeline.com and following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff.

That’s it. I’m done.

How I See The American League

It takes a great deal of skill mixed in with some good luck to win a division title. The competition in both leagues is stiff. Today I take a look at the American League and share my thoughts about the pennant races. Of course, one serious injury to a key player or a bad performance or two could certainly alter the playing field.

Last year’s record is in (). My prediction for this year follows immediately.

AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
Seattle Mariners (87-75) 90-72 Those that have followed me for a while know that I have been very bullish on the Mariners and Marlins for a few years now-saying that their times will soon be coming. I’ve liked what both teams have been building. I think the Mariners time has come. The additions of Nelson Cruz and Seth Smith help lengthen their lineup and provide the firepower that has been missing. I really like what I’ve seen of Taijuan Walker during Spring Training. I think the team is hungry, balanced and poised to win the west. But it won’t be easy.

Los Angeles Angels-(98-64) 89-73 I’m not saying the loss of Howie Kendrick will amount to a 9 game swing in their record, but the loss of Howie Kendrick will loom large IMO. They have a huge hole at second base. I’m also a bit skeptical of their rotation-and the lack of starting pitching depth. I like the bullpen. And of course I like Mike Trout and Albert Pujols. But I think the rotation and the bench may result in the losses piling up against the Mariners in head to head contests. And that’s how I think the division will be won by Seattle. I look for C J Cron and Kole Calhoun to shine. But it’s the pitching woes that concern me as well as games against Seattle.

Oakland Athletics-(88-74) 83-79 The injury bug bites again. And it’s Coco Crisp once again. He’s a guy they can’t afford to lose. But they have. Already shallow in the outfield, the loss of Crisp leaves a huge hole to fill. I like the pitching, but I think they are playing with an offensive water pistol as opposed to the cannons of the Mariners and Angels. They lost too much over the winter and even their pitching depth can’t help them overtake the clubs ahead of them.

Texas Rangers-(67-95) 78-84 Pitching, pitching, pitching. It just isn’t there. The loss of Yu Darvish is huge. There are just too many questions in the rotation. And in the pen. But. I really think Prince Fielder will rebound to have a very respectable year. The same goes for Shin-Soo Choo. So offensively, they will be a better club. They still have Adrian Beltre as well-albeit he’s another year older. I just don’t see the firepower being able to trump lousy pitching.

Houston Astros-(70-92) 73-89 Color me among the few that do not like the moves the Astros have made of late. Losing players like J. D. Martinez, Jarred Cosart and Mike Foltynewicz made me scratch my head at the time of each transaction. Yes, the bullpen is better with Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek, but I still see lots and lots of strikeouts (with men in scoring position) by the offense. And a mediocre rotation. And yes, the team will hit tons of home runs. That should be exciting. I just don’t see enough wins to overtake any other club in the division.

AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL (this division can be won by any of four teams IMO)
Detroit Tigers-(90-72) 87-75 The addition of Yoenis Cespedes is important because he adds another potent (albeit inconsistent) bat to a lineup that already includes J D Martines, Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. They can be lethal. Losing Max Scherzer and having injury issues with Justin Verlander are reasons to believe the team may not be as strong as in the past. Can Anthony Gose hit during the regular season or will we see a platoon with Rajai Davis? There are some outs to be found in the lineup-and opposing pitchers will have to count on those to succeed. The Tigers are still strong. The bullpen is an issue for me. Especially at the back end. But they win.

Cleveland Indians- (85-77) 85-77 The potential of the starting rotation is excellent. Corey Kluber may regress a bit, but he’s still an awesome presence. I look for Carlos Carrasco to have learned well from watching Kluber. Breakout time for him. Beyond that, I have questions about Bauer, House and McAllister. They can be very good or very inconsistent. I have to admit though, I really like T J House. The offense? Here’s where I have some problems. Jason Kipnis? Will he come back? Michael Bourn? Will his hamstrings hold up? Lonnie Chisenhall? Can he hit for a full season? For me, Michael Brantley is an incredible five tool player. The best they have. They may contend, but they need much more offensive, defensive and hitting consistency.

Chicago White Sox-(73-89) 84-78 This is the most improved team in the division, if not the entire American League. Adding David Robertson as their closer is a huge step. Adam LaRoche adds another big bat to lengthen the lineup. Adam Eaton is underrated as a terrific table center and outstanding defensive center fielder. But here’s my issue-beyond Chris Sale, Jeff Samardzija and the very underrated Jose Quintana I think they are very vulnerable. If the division beats up on their No. 4 and No. 5 starters, it could have very negative consequences. Both the Tigers and Indians have longer and deeper rotations. It’s the only reason I don’t have them No. 1.

Kansas City Royals-(89-73) 84-78 This was a difficult call for me. Why the five game differential from last year? I think the loss of James Shields is huge. Not the Shields of the postseason. The Shields of the regular season. He was stable and relatively consistent. I have the same issues with the length and depth of the Royals rotation as I have with the White Sox. I think their pitching has been weakened and it will cost them games against division opponents. I do like the offense. Especially Lorenzo Cain. I look for a big comeback from Kendrys Morales. But I can’t get past the rotation. The bullpen, however, is among the best in baseball. They’ll have to be because they will be called on early and often. But the pen will respond to the task.

Minnesota Twins-(70-92) 75-87 The offense on this team is very underrated. I think they’ll score plenty of runs. That won’t be a problem. Pitching, however, will be. Both in the back end of the rotation and the bullpen. Can Phil Hughes repeat his fantastic season? I’m a bit skeptical. How much will Ervin Santana help? A lot. But which Ricky Nolasco will show up? I’m not at all a believer in the pitching. But the bats will play. And the Twins will put a hurt on at least one contender at the end of the season.

AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST (this is my toughest division of any to predict)
Baltimore Orioles (96-66) 90-72 Yes, they lost Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. But they get Manny Machado back and Chris Davis for all but the first game of the season. Eventually, we’ll see Matt Wieters, I hope. But they still have the very reliable and dangerous Adam Jones. Steve Pearce remains an unknown to most. But he can hit. And I like the pitching. Especially Chris Tillman. I think they are deep enough in the rotation to hold off a charge by the Red Sox. But this is a very close call.

Boston Red Sox (71-91) 89-73 Do they have enough to make up all the ground from last to first? Hanley and Panda certainly help. But the real stud is Mookie Betts. I liked him when I saw him playing second base in the Fall League two years ago.
The team is an offensive juggernaut. The issues? Who is the real Clay Buchholz? Who is the real Justin Masterson? Can Wade Miley keep the ball inside the park? Will Koji Uehara return from his hamstring woes? Too many pitching issues for me to jump on board. But the offense just may beat the opposition into submission. It’s that good.

Toronto Blue Jays (83-79) 88-74 Six rookies have made the opening day roster. Yes, it’s a gamble. But it also means energy and excitement. Fans are going to love new second baseman Devon Travis. And of course, they added Josh Donaldson to go along with Bautista and Encarnacion. That’s some true power in the middle of the lineup. I like the pitching better than I like the Red Sox pitching. But I like the experience and depth of the Red Sox offense just a bit better. The Blue Jays will contend all season.

New York Yankees (84-78) 84-78 Wait until next year. I think the Yankees will have a field day with the free agent pitching coming on the market over the winter. Guys like David Price and Johnny Cueto. I think they bide their time this year and do the best they can with a chronologically advanced group of veterans. By next year we’ll likely see Gary Sanchez behind the plate and perhaps Greg Bird at first and Aaron Judge in the outfield. I look for a fantastic year from Michael Pineda but hiccups and heartaches from the rotation. C C will be so so. And will Masahiro Tanaka’s arm last the season. Lots of rotation issues. They’ll hit, but the starting pitching is suspect.

Tampa Bay Rays-(77-85) 75-87 We are seeing the transformation of a franchise in a short one or two year span. I really like the young pitchers on the staff. They have some depth and pitching can help win some games. I think the offense remains suspect. Steven Souza may struggle a bit at first, but I like his upside a great deal. Isn’t it time for Desmond Jennings to step up? I don’t see them being able to beat the other teams in the division with any consistency. The future looks brighter than the present.

I hope you will follow me on twitter @BerniePleskoff. And thank you for reading my prospect profiles at MLBPipeline.com. I wish you all a great baseball season. May your team bring you great joy and excitement. And don’t be upset with me if I had harsh words for your club. I just try to write what I see.

That’s it. I’m done.

How I See The National League

Pitching rules. Strikeouts are up. Team home run totals and batting averages are down. Defensive shifts matter. Bullpens are much, much better. The game has changed. And having said that, it seems many of the divisional races will be among the most exciting ever.

I begin my predictions with the National League. I did very well last year predicting the finishes in both leagues. I am not as confident this time around. Injuries are rampant and I think there are more to come. But here we go. Last year’s records are in ( ). My predicted record for this year follow last year’s.

NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
Los Angeles Dodgers (94-68) 90-72. I have some major concerns about the Dodgers pitching staff. Where has all the depth gone? Ryu is hurt and I think he’ll be out a while. I’m not sure the No. 4 and No. 5 starters (McCarthy, Anderson) are going to last the season. But I love Howie Kendrick and Jimmy Rollins up the middle. They both look fantastic this spring. Rollins has a new lease on life playing for a winner. I think Dodgers fans will like Joc Pederson in center. But I see some regression because of a mediocre bullpen and lack of starting depth. But they still win the west.

San Diego Padres- (77-85) 85-77 I agree that the outfield offense could be very exciting and that it will make a huge difference in the team’s ability to score runs. But what I like most about the Padres is the pitching. Shields, Ross, Cashner, Kennedy and Morrow is a pretty solid rotation. I think the bullpen could use another lefty. I really like Kevin Quackenbush. I look for Will Middlebrooks to have a much improved year at the plate. They could exceed my expectations. Solid club with an open window.

San Francisco Giants-(88-74) 81-81 I realize the Giants are among the best at regrouping after encountering hiccups. But they have too many holes for my tastes. Things will improve a bit when Hunter Pence gets back, but I wouldn’t count on him being the same for a while after his return. The pitching staff is…chronologically advanced. No Pablo. Little outfield and pitching depth. Not this year for them.

Colorado Rockies-(66-96) 72-90 Do you realize the Rockies were 21-60 on the road last year? Yikes. So much for not being able to pitch in Coors. They weren’t able to pitch in Coors or anywhere else. I still like the offense. Rosario is no longer a catcher. And his playing time is diminished. He belongs in the AL as a DH. If Tulo and Cargo can stay healthy, they can win at least 6 more games. Maybe more. Tulo/Cargo are the keys.

Arizona Diamondbacks- (64-98) 65-97 I like the improvement of Josh Collmenter. He’s a quality pitcher. The rotation after him, ???. They have issues behind the plate, too. And they have issues with what to do with Yasmany Tomas. I think Mark Trumbo and Paul Goldschmidt will be a dynamic duo. I just can’t get past the rotation and the bullpen as concerns that will haunt the club the entire season.

NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
St. Louis Cardinals (90-72) 89-73 Still the team to beat in the Central IMO. I see them plodding along all season and then making a late move to win the division. They have solid, if not deep starting pitching. They beat teams with sound fundamentals. They play good, timely baseball. Kolten Wong continues to impress. Enough to win.

Pittsburgh Pirates (88-74) 88-74 I like the energy of this club. They have one of, if not the best outfields in baseball. The pitching is solid, if not deep-similar to St. Louis. I think they’ll lose the division by one slim game, but make the Wild Card. I look for a huge season from Starling Marte. The bullpen will save the bacon for this club.

Milwaukee Brewers (82=80) 82-80 Before they crashed and burned in the last month of the season, this was an outstanding club. Ryan Braun is healthy once again. Khris Davis is a true offensive sleeper, Jonathan Lucroy is a double’s machine (if his hamstrings hold up) Carlos Gomez is among the best in the game, Jean Segura rebounds after an unfortunate tragedy in his family, Adam Lind adds pop at first base, Aramis Ramirez says goodbye with some thunder…but they can’t pitch. And that’s the only reason I have them in 3rd place. The rotation and the pen scare me.

Chicago Cubs (73-89) 81-81 Not quite yet. But think of Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler in the same lineup. It’s exciting and impressive. I’m a huge, huge Soler fan. But they won’t be able to do it by themselves yet. The pitching is improved. The team is improved. But I think they need this year to blend together as a team. They have new pitchers, new position players and a new manager. It takes time. Next year I’ll be writing something totally different. But they’re on their way. I like this club. A lot.

Cincinnati Reds (76-86) 75-87 Depth, or lack of it is the issue for me. If any of their position players or pitchers get hurt or scuffle, I just don’t see guys waiting in the wings to take their place. The rotation is a concern. They should score runs, but they’ll be playing from behind a great deal. Votto, Phillips and Bruce have to rebound.

NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
Washington Nationals (96-66) 93-69 I’m not as bullish on the Nationals as I was at the beginning of Spring Training. The loss of Anthony Rendon for any amount of time hurts. Ditto for Denard Span. But man, can this team pitch. Every day the opposition will have to face a top quality starter from among Scherzer, Strasburg, Zimmerman, Gonzalez and Fister. And unlike most other teams, they have another stud waiting in the wings in Tanner Roark. This will be a tough team to score against. But the offense has to produce as well-stay healthy and produce. They can and they will.

New York Mets (79-83) 83-79 Slowly but surely, this club is coming together with pitching and hitting. Lucas Duda remains underrated as a power hitter. Juan Legares is a magician in center field. Michael Cuddyer lengthens the lineup and gives the pitcher another power bat to deal with. And the pitching is exciting with the return of Matt Harvey. He and Jacob deGrom are a formidable duo. It drops off from there. They’ll miss Zack Wheeler big time.

Miami Marlins (77-85) 81-81 They’re on their way. I love the balance on this club and the young players like Stanton and Yelich will form a tremendous nucleus for the future. If they had Jose Fernandez all year I’d pick them to threaten the Nationals and for sure, the Mets. But Fernandez will come back mid-season and add life to the rotation. Like the Cubs, this is a team that will get better and better. Just not quite enough this year.

Atlanta Braves (79-83) 70-92 I have no idea how they’ll score runs. They are building for the future and the pitching they’ve acquired will help them improve in years to come. By the time they are in their new park the pitching will be mature and ready to go. But the offense needs help. Freddie Freeman may not see many pitches to hit. My fear is that he’ll swing at lousy pitches in frustration. Not a good club this year.

Philadelphia Phillies (73-89) 68-94 I hope for their sake they haven’t waiting too long to trade Cole Hammels. Or Chase Utley. Or Ryan Howard. I don’t think Grady Sizemore, Jeff Francoeur, Jordan Danks or Aaron Harang are the answers to their problems. Actually, they could lose 100 games.

Next: The American League.

Thanks for reading my player profiles on MLBPipeline.com and for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff.

That’s it. I’m done.

Guys I Like For 2015

Every year I try to share a list of guys I really like for the coming season. I hope to include guys that haven’t quite become stars-maybe guys with one or two years in the big leagues. In the past I’ve included Christian Yelich, Sal Perez, Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt, Anthony Rendon, Wilin Rosario, Michael Wacha, and others because i really believed in their upside after watching them in either the Arizona Fall League or Spring Training. This year I’m including a few guys with more service time, but still under the radar a bit. Oh, and I’ve missed, too. For example, I was really high on Nate Schierholtz and he never really busted out. He’s a fine player, but not the impact guy I projected.

Here they are. In no particular order.

Kris Davis-Milwaukee Brewers. Yes, I mentioned him last year and he came through for me and for you. And for the Brewers. But he’s still way too far under the radar. This guy has power and an ability to drive in runs. I look for an increase in his batting average, even more home runs and more RBIs.

Carlos Carrasco-Cleveland Indians. No, I don’t think he’ll have a Corey Kluber break out. But he’s watched how Kluber does it. His time in the pen taught him how to throw strikes and not try to throw 100 mph every pitch. I think there will be more ups than downs and a fine season for Carrasco.
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Jorge Soler-Chicago Cubs. While all the attention has gone to Kris Bryant (with good reason) Soler is the guy I think may be the talk of the town at some point. He has tremendous power and is a very good athlete. He’s still under the radar but I love to watch him hit. Look for a true breakout this year.

Carlos Rodon-Chicago White Sox. No surprise here. When I watch him pitch I marvel at his command and poise for his age. Some say he reminds them of Steve Carlton. He may not break with the club, but he’ll be pitching in Chicago and pitching well. This year. By the way-he isn’t even on the 40-man roster yet.

Devin Mesoraco-Cincinnati Reds- A repeater on my list from last year. But he still doesn’t get the love. His swing is perfect for his home park. Power and good contact make this guy an All Star candidate. He only had 384 at-bats last year for the parent club. He’s ready to bust out.

D J LeMahieu-Colorado Rockies-He’s the guy on the club nobody talks about. I like everything he does. His numbers in all categories should increase this year with the confidence of being “the” guy at second base.

Kole Calhoun-Los Angeles Angels- Right field should belong to him. He can smoke line drives and when he gets in a groove he makes things happen. I like everything about his offense and I think there is more power to come beyond 17 homers last year.

Will Middlebrooks-San Diego Padres. I never thought I’d write that I think Middlebrooks could become a consistent offensive force. After seeing him in Spring Training, I believe. I also think the third base job is his to keep in San Diego with a good lineup around him. Hope I’m right.

Taijuan Walker-Seattle Mariners. He has had the spring the club has been waiting for. He’s throwing strikes, getting ahead of hitters and using a complete repertoire. He now has confidence-the most important ingredient for success.

Ryan Rua-Texas Rangers- I think he has a chance to at least platoon in left field for Texas. They guy can hit with some power and drive in runs. It’s a great ball park for him and he can make a difference for the club hitting from the right side of the plate.

Mookie Betts-Red Sox. What an athlete. If he doesn’t win a starting job in Boston something is woefully wrong. Line drives, power, good speed, the total package from a guy still under the radar. Outstanding upside.

J D Martinez-Detroit Tigers-The one (of many in my opinion) that got away from the Astros. Big time power in a great lineup. More experience. Some tweaks in his approach and he’s off and running. Love it.

Eddie Rosario-Minnesota Twins- I don’t know if the Twins will give him a chance this year. But if they do, he won’t disappoint. Outstanding line drive hitter with great balance and eye-hand coordination at the plate. Can play LF well.

Alex Colome-Tampa Bay Rays-Once he’s healthy and back in pitching shape after beginning the season in the Minor Leagues, I believe Colome will find his way to Tampa. He’s got very good stuff and can get hitters out. Just a matter of when during the season. I also like his teammate Nate Karns.

Of course there are other young guys I like, but those above seem a bit more special to me. Will they all succeed? Probably not. But as a scout, I see things in each of them that speak to upside and impact.

Thanks for reading my work at MLBPipeline.com and for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff.

We’re only a week away from playing games that count. Stick with me during the season and we’ll talk some ball.

That’s it. I’m out.

At The Halfway Point

I write this as we’re about midway through Spring Training. Only a couple more weeks and the games begin to count. Here are some more of my observations from the games and players I’ve seen so far.

I have a hunch that the Reds offense is going to really come to life this year. I like what I have seen and heard from Jay Bruce. I look for big numbers from him as he has decided to play his game and not worry about what pundits have to say. I also look for a healthy Brandon Phillips to exceed expectations. Again, if these guys are healthy the team will score runs in bunches. And of course, it’s very possible Joey Votto will make it through the entire year in one piece. The problem I see is pitching. The rotation still seems thin to me and I don’t quite know how they cover injury or poor performance.
But I like the offense a great deal.

Micah Johnson has looked like a starting second baseman for the White Sox. He’s a non-roster invitee but he’s played very well so far. He can bunt well and smoke some line drives. If he’s on the club, he’ll steal some bases.

I admit I was surprised the Rockies released Jhoulys Chacin.

Bad blood continues between the Diamondbacks and Dodgers. Both teams better be careful because at the rate their going, somebody will get hurt and lose playing time. It’s really getting ugly with players being hit by pitches.

Tuffy Gosewisch has won the starting catching job for the Dbacks. And Nick Ahmed is in the mix at shortstop. If that happens, Chris Owings moves to second base and Aaron Hill goes to the bench or to third base. What about Yasmany Tomas? He went three for three with a homer on Monday. He was playing third base. I think the Dbacks jury is still out on him. I know mine is.

Speedsters Terrance Gore and Reymond Fuentes have both been sent out by the Royals. That means the primary designated runners remain to be Jarrod Dyson and Lorenzo Cain. I was a bit surprised Fuentes isn’t on the club.

Jason Kipnis’ back problems may be a concern as the year progresses. Is this an isolated incident? Will the issue linger? He has some at-bats to make up in the closing weeks of spring. My bell is ringing about Kipnis. I’m not on the band wagon yet.

Zach McAllister is throwing more off-speed stuff to go along with his very good fastball. If he continues to gain confidence in those pitches he will enhance his chances of making the rotation. Teams have been sitting on the fastball and now they have more to think about. it’s a long season-I think McAllister will start for the Tribe at some point.
It may even happen right out of the gate. I really like T. J. House as well. But I have some concerns about the inconsistency and over-thinking of Trevor Bauer and the inconsistency of Danny Salazar. Upside? Yes. But when? Maybe this year. But I’m not running to Vegas just yet.

More and more teams are throwing high fastballs to Mike Trout. But I’ve seen him make adjustments to that pitch. He isn’t as quick to swing and when he does, he doesn’t try to do to much with that high heat. He’s every bit as great as his press clippings. I’m more convinced every time I see him.

The issue with the barking shoulder of Dodgers Hyun-jin Ryu is serious. If he misses any amount of time, the health of Brandon McCarthy and and Brett Anderson become even more crucial. And both have had their health hiccups in the past. Where do the Dodgers turn for pitching depth? And who closes for them with Kenley Jansen hurt? It was going to be…wait for it….Brandon League. But he’s hurt too. The Dodgers coasting to a West Division Championship is not a slam dunk.

Already thin in the outfield, the Giants Angel Pagan is suffering back issues once again. He’s a real catalyst for the club and any time he misses will put more stress on an already difficult situation. Brandon Belt may play some in left field and Buster Posey may play more at first base. Pagan is crucial given the losses of Sandoval and the injury to Pence.

I still think Ryan Rua will win the left field job in Texas. He has a solid bat, can play average defense and adds a nice right-handed bat to the lineup. I have no inside information, but I think Rua is the guy. Or at least one of the guys. I think he makes the final cut and is on the roster.

Nick Martinez and Nick Tepesch will fight it out for the last spot in the Rangers rotation.
The winner? I have no idea.

Rule 5 addition Mark Canha is an interesting option for the Athletics. He can play first, the outfield and even some third base. And he has some pop in his bat, something the team really needs.

I have some concerns about some of the news from Florida. Specifically, the health of Red Sox closer Koji Uehara. A bad hamstring has been keeping him out of games. That scares me. And the club isn’t deep in back end of the bullpen guys.

I like the Twins a lot more than some people. Why? Because of their offense. No, I don’t like the overall pitching depth and quality, but I sure like the offense with guys like Vargas, Plouffe, Dozier, Mauer and Hunter. And during the year we’ll probably see Byron Buxton and maybe Miguel Sano. A guy I really, really like is Eddie Rosario. I would not bet against him seeing big league action this year.

Next week I will do two blogs on my division predictions. I got pretty lucky last year with team won-loss records and standings predictions. I hope I can do it again. I’ll do two blogs-one AL and one NL.

This coming week I’ll be featuring three Rule 5 players on my scouting profiles for MLBPipeline.com. They include Mark Canha, Taylor Featherston and David Rollins. I don’t know when they’ll post, but I’ll go into some depth on each of the three.

As always, thanks for reading my work and for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff.

That’s it. I’m done.

Early Spring Training Thoughts

We’ve completed two weeks of Spring Training and I thought I would share some early observations and thoughts regarding what I’ve seen so far in Arizona. I won’t be going to Florida this year as had been originally planned.

The Diamondbacks are in the midst of evaluating the fruits of their off season labor. They have experienced a set back with the injury to Rule 5 catcher Oscar Hernandez. A solid defensive catcher, Hernandez was making strides with his offense before being hurt. The good news is that non-roster catcher Peter O’Brien continues to raise eyebrows with his offensive game. And his defense is improving. It would not surprise me in the least if we didn’t see O’Brien on the big league roster at some early point in the season.

Remember the name Aaron Blair. Of all the Dbacks pitchers I have seen, Blair impresses me the most. He has a solid repertoire, grit on the mound and he can throw strikes. Repeating his delivery is a factor setting him apart for me.

While I like Rubby De La Rosa’s stuff, his command and control still are major issues. To find success, he simply has to reduce his walk rate and throw strikes. It’s a huge challenge.

Can Yasmany Tomas play third base? It’s a huge question that must be resolved by the Dbacks staff. Can he react at the hot corner naturally and without going through a thought process after the ball is hit. His actions have to be more automatic. The club has another half month to figure it out. They can live with mediocre defense if the ball jumps off his bat. We’ll see. It’s too early to reach conclusions.

Royals pitcher Christian Binford has already been reassigned to Minor League camp. The right-handeder wowed me with his ability to consistently throw strikes. I mean this righty is a strike machine. He has everything I look for in a pitcher. Most importantly, he trusts his stuff and throws strike one and gets ahead in the count.

I’ve never seen a switch-pitcher. Athletics reliever Patrick Venditte can throw both right and left-handed. A rule is in place requiring him to declare which arm he is using before the at-bat. Venditte’s ability can be very useful in saving a bullpen.  The guy can pitch and it’s really fun to watch.  His glove is specially made, allowing him to pitch with either hand.  Amazing.  I don’t know if he’ll stick, but he can be an option during the season.

Marcus Semien has shown some real pop in his bat. Yes, the air is thin in Arizona and the ball flies. But he has shown power. He has shown the ball comes off his bat quickly and with force. I like what I’ve seen so far.

The White Sox are a nicely balanced club with hitting, speed and pitching. The back end of the rotation isn’t the strongest, but in Sale, Samardzija and Quintana the first three guys in the rotation are very solid. I think Quintana is a very underrated pitcher. And getting David Robertson to close games is huge.

So far this spring, the Indians Danny Salazar has really scuffled. That despite his early arrival in Goodyear to work himself into good pitching shape. I’m not as convinced the Indians rotation is as sound as is being advertised. But I do like T.J. House as their fourth starter behind Kluber, Carrasco and Bauer. It’s that fifth spot that gives me some concern. Can’t have enough pitching.

Once he learns to recognize pitches more quickly and avoids swinging at pitches he can’t drive, I think the Angels C J Cron will become a very, very good Major League hitter. He has outstanding power and a nice stroke. He should get lots of at-bats with the Josh Hamilton situation. I’m a big believer in Cron’s upside.

I can only imagine the damage Howie Kendrick will do in the middle of the Dodgers lineup. He looks terrific so far. But what has surprised me the most is the energy and focus of Jimmy Rollins. I think he can almost taste success and a possible ring and it is reflected in his offense and defense so far. He looks sooooo good.

With the injury to Chris Taylor, the Mariners shortstop will likely be Brad Miller. Both are excellent options for a club that looks very good to me. Yes, Jesus Montero has lost a ton of weight, but I still see him being beaten by high velocity fastballs up in the zone. That’s a hole that can be exploited. I don’t know what his future will be with the club. But if he hits-they can use him at first base and at designated hitter.

What to do with Kris Bryant? He now has six spring home runs as I write this. If I’m in the front office of the Cubs, I promote him in mid-April at the point where the team will be guaranteed another year of service time. I think it’s crucial. A year more of Bryant is worth waiting a half a month. I think it’s a no brainer. But come mid-April (I think around April 17)-up he comes.

Cameron Maybin, Will Venable, Carlos Quentin and even Rymer Liriano and Abraham Almonte are all outfielders on the Padres 40-man roster and each is behind Matt Kemp, Wil Myers and Justin Upton. With the injury to catcher Tim Federowicz, maybe the club will move an outfielder for a catcher such as Dioner Navarro of the Blue Jays. As a matter of fact, even the Dbacks could use Navarro. So could lots of teams. While I think the Padres are greatly improved, the NL West will be aiming for them.

In my next installment I’ll reflect a bit on the Rockies, Reds, Brewers, Giants and Rangers. Plus anything new I discover.

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

That’s it. I’m done.

Spring has sprung-Early Observations

OK-I’m down off the ledge. I can function once again as a normal human being. Baseball is back. Reports from training camps are flowing daily and everyone looks healthy and happy. There are no problems. Every team is in first place.

I’d like to share some early observations:

We have seen a change of style between commissioner Manfred and former commissioner Selig. Mr. Selig did an amazing job building the financial as well as the internal peace and harmony of the sport. He was ahead of the curve in many areas. Other issues have taken longer to resolve. Mr. Manfred has shared his personal feelings more publicly. It is clear that he has thought long and hard about the issues and challenges to be faced. I don’t think there will ever be a dull moment in the Park Avenue aspect of the sport.

the “pace of game” initiatives being implemented make sense. Fans really want the game to flow. It isn’t as much how long the game lasts, it’s more about the pace and flow of the action. Or inaction. Two culprits keep popping in my head as I consider pace of game. First and foremost are the countless pitching changes being made. We live in an age of specialization. Get the right guy on the mound to face a particular hitter at the right time. Not a batter later. Not a batter too soon. Takes time. The second greatest culprit is throwing over to first base to keep the runner close. Fans hate it. It’s boring. But it’s strategic. In most cases, it’s important. In some cases it’s silly. Takes time. The integrity of the game would be harmed if either pitching change rules or “keeping runners close” regulations were changed. They are here to stay.

C C Sabathia came to camp some 30 pounds heavier than last year. He is convinced the extra weight will keep him stronger. My biggest concern is the progress he can make on his cutter. If he can get that pitch figured out properly and if his foot lands properly on the mound without pain, Sabathia may return to anchor the staff. I see him as a pivotal guy for the Yankees franchise.

The early pictures I saw of Pablo Sandoval gave me great pause. He looks like he’s still carrying around far too much weight for his frame. I’ve been fooled before. He has excellent range for his size. But when does that weight start impacting his knees, his core and his bat speed? I’m just askin’.

Drew Smiley raised some concerns publicly about the disparity between amateur signing bonuses based upon international players outside the United States, Canadian and Puerto Rican First Year Player Draft system. Clearly, an international draft is something that must be addressed. It could even include two systems-the current Draft and another for international players other than Americans, Canadians and Puerto Ricans. The money is getting scary. It’s an issue that will find a solution. The number of teams willing to pay taxes for exceeding international spending limits is minimal-causing an imbalance.

In case you missed it, B J Upton is now Melvin Upton. It is something he has wanted to do.

Yoan Moncada is now with the Red Sox. Here’s what I don’t get. Where were the Yankees? The Red Sox are loaded with position players and may have added Moncada simply because he’s a great player and eventually, he’ll earn his own position. The Yankees, however, needed Moncada in their middle infield. If there was ever a signing that had “Yankees” written all over it, I thought it was Moncada. So the Red Sox won twice. They got Moncada and the Yankees didn’t. But at a hefty price. Don’t the Red Sox still need a true No. 1 starter, or is that just me? Cole Hamels? Cliff Lee?

The Diamondbacks have earned a new mega television deal. Some of their recent moves may have been predicated on the future TV contract. They made two huge international signings by inking Yasmany Tomas and Yoan Lopez, both from Cuba.
I think we will see great things from both of these prospects. Lopez may well force himself into the rotation discussion this spring.

Hanley Ramirez is giving every indication that he is thrilled to be playing left field for the Red Sox. If he’s healthy and happy, watch out.

Jurickson Profar is out for the year following shoulder surgery. It’s such a shame that we haven’t really gotten to see what this young man can do. Injuries have really hurt his career.

It appears that Prince Fielder is totally recovered and ready to go for the Rangers. A healthy Fielder can really add length to the lineup and ruffle some pitchers.

I have heard all the talk about how the Cubs may (and even should) break camp with Kris Bryant as their starting third baseman. I disagree. I think he will benefit from a couple months at Triple-A and the club will benefit by not starting his clock too soon. This is a super talent. I’d rather have him around as long as I could and promote him when he’s totally ready as opposed to squeezing a couple more months at the beginning of his big league career. The team has Tommy La Stella and Mike Olt who are both capable of holding down the fort until Bryant arrives later in the season.

How patient will the Cubs be with Javier Baez? He’s only 22. He has amazing bat speed. But he has to recognize pitches quicker and lay off the sliders and curve balls that tie him up. At some point, even the Cubs may find the strikeouts tough to live with. He’s such a great talent, but he has to show progress.

There is risk involved in the Phillies holding on to Hamels and Lee until the July trade deadline. If that’s their plan, what happens if either gets hurt between now and then? Or what happens if either are totally ineffective. And even today, I have heard that Chase Utley has opened the door to being traded. I’m certain the Phillies know what they want for each of their veterans, but the risk/reward tilts to them now for sure. I’m not as certain about five months from now.

Thank you for following my “On The Cusp” series at MLBPipeline.com.

That’s it. I’m done. I’ll be sharing my observations on Spring Training as we move along.

Pizza or pasta-I love em both

I know there are lots of forms of entertainment. To be truthful, there are movies I’ve seen that I didn’t like. Same goes for television shows, concerts and stage plays. But believe me, I have never seen a Spring Training game I didn’t like.

There is something very, very special about Spring Training. First and foremost, you’re there. Your friends probably aren’t. They may be back home shivering and shoveling if you live in a frigid winter state. Or, they may be at….work. Yikes!

Spring Training is renewal. Renaissance. It’s a time when even a 100 loss team has a chance. Hope. Vigor. Vitality. Players have that certain “skip” in their step, if you will. Everyone says they’re healthy. Everyone says “it’s the best offseason I’ve ever had. Got all my work done. Spent time with my family. Went hunting. Went fishing. Just chilled.” Renewal. Fresh. A new start. Everyone’s chipper. And when he played, Chipper was even more chipper.

In some parts of Arizona and Florida the scent of orange blossoms can still be discovered. You may have to drive a bit, but they can be found. Not as prolific as the past, but orange blossoms nonetheless. In both states it smells like spring. And spring smells good.

But man, these two Spring Training experiences are way different. I love pizza and I love pasta. Don’t ask me to choose. I love Arizona and I love Florida for Spring Training. Don’t ask me to choose. They are unique and special. Different in many ways and the same in some. It’s baseball.

FLORIDA

There is a charm about Florida camps that one does not find any longer in Arizona. Parks that are the homes to clubs like Detroit and Baltimore, Houston and Pittsburgh. Toronto and the New York Mets. And more. They have character. Some are in residential neighborhoods. Some are so quaint it seems like the fan is returning to 1950 and 1960. Updated, yes. But only the paint and some of the important amenities have been refurbished. The memories, the charm and the nostalgia can’t be painted over. I hope Florida doesn’t lose that. But some clubs will be moving to newer, more updated parks in the future. Some of the older and more nostalgic parks will remain.

The drive from one park to another goes on forever in Florida. Lots of traffic. Lots of cops out giving tickets. Some toll roads. Road construction. Everything we hate about driving with little of the good stuff. But at the end of the road…bliss. The ballpark. Get off the freeway to catch a Marlins or Cardinals game and you’re greeted with a small sign on a pole that says something like…”Ball Game Today.”
You bet. A game every day in March. Love it.

And Florida has Steak N Shake. Love me some Steak N Shake.

The humidity is greater than Arizona and the pitchers like that. The ball gets more movement.

Bus rides for players are longer and it isn’t unusual for major core components of a club to skip long road trips. But that happens in Arizona to some extent as well. Just don’t be upset if your favorite player isn’t at the park that day. It happens. But overall, it isn’t worth being upset. Nothing should upset you.

ARIZONA

Facilities in Arizona are all on the new side. Very modern. Very “state of the art.” But beautiful. Not as intimate as Florida. A different type of charm. A different experience totally. Many are upscale and really big.

Players seem more distant from the fans. I know that I’ve been told that fans have to work much harder to get autographs in Arizona. But it can be done. Some parks are easier than others.

But what an experience. Everything works. Hot water in the faucet at most parks. Not a given in Florida. Great, great food at the concession stands, similar to Florida.

The air is drier in Arizona and the breaking balls don’t break as much. Players really have to work to break a sweat.

Arizona has Portillo’s for hot dogs, beef sandwiches and milk shakes. I love me some Portillo’s.

Parks are close enough to see a day game and a night game on the same day without driving more than 30 miles. I do it with regularity.

Rental cars are very expensive in Arizona.

I want you to do me a favor. At some point in your life, make it a priority to visit a Spring Training site. Catch a few games. Buy the T shirts and the hats. Wear them proudly back home. Show off a little. Don’t boast. Just wear the goods. Breathe in the Spring Training scent of Karen’s ice cream truck. Or the kettle corn at Maryvale, home of the Brewers. Get some noodles at Peoria, home of the Padres and Mariners. You’ll be hooked.

Pizza or pasta? Florida or Arizona? Both great. Both have something for each of us. There is no such thing as a bad Spring Training game. Time stops. For those three hours we are in paradise. Lost with the crack of the bat and the smell of the mustard. Brown mustard at Goodyear, home of the Indians and Reds.

We might buy a baseball from a Phillies fan in Clearwater. One he says he caught at the game and is now selling for a buck or two. We might stroll through the new and renovated boardwalk at the Pirates camp in Bradenton. It’s fantastic. Or, we may pick up the free Lakeland newspaper they give us at Tigertown. What a place.

As the spring progresses, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on the nuances and atmosphere of each place I visit in both Florida and Arizona. I’ll be your eyes and ears until you can get there yourself. But promise me you’ll set a goal of attending at least one Spring Training game in the future. You’ll be convinced you are very much alive.

My “On The Cusp” series continues on MLBPipeline.com. Look for your favorite team on the site or in my archives. And thanks for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff. Much appreciated.

That’s it. I’m done.

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