March 15th, 2015

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.