February 24th, 2015

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.