March 4th, 2016

Spring Training-What I’ve Seen So Far

The wonderful sounds of spring baseball are back in both Arizona and Florida. The parks are open, the fans are excited and baseball is in the air. Walk around each concourse and the wonderful whiff of barbecue or grilled burgers and hot dogs permeates the air. Kettle Korn booths and noodle stands can be found for those who have waited through the long cold winter for their favorite spring food items.

Baseball is back in Arizona and Florida. I spent game one of the spring watching the Indians and Reds play at their mutual home field in Goodyear, Arizona. Here’s some of what I saw:

Josh Tomlin took the mound for the Tribe in his quest to nail down the team’s fifth starter role. I admit I do not look at results during the spring. I am more interested in mechanics, health, heart and attitude. I like to see if players return to their craft in good shape and are raring to go.

In his start, Tomlin didn’t have the command I am used to seeing from him. He usually throws strikes and issues few bases on balls. In this initial start, he had trouble locating his pitches where he wanted. Getting too much of the plate at times, Tomlin was hit fairly hard. But without a doubt, there were some pitches that had his usual good movement on the ball. I still like Tomlin to be a solid, reliable and consistent fifth starter. But he’ll have competition to win the role from guys like T J House and Cody Anderson.

My greatest “take away” from the game regarding the Indians was their woeful lack of depth in the outfield. With the shoulder injury to Michael Brantley and the suspension of Abraham Almonte, the Tribe is left with meh in the outfield. Rajai Davis will see lots of time in left and maybe even in center. I frankly feel he is more of a platoon player, hitting against left-handed pitching. I have concerns his lower body won’t survive a heavy day-to-day workload. His hamstrings will get a workout if he is used regularly.

Lonnie Chisenhall should staff right field against right-handed pitching. I think he still scuffles against lefties and can’t be counted upon for much production if he hits against southpaws. But he’s a darn good defensive outfielder. His range is solid and his arm is superb. I saw hit hit the cutoff man twice in the team’s good fundamental execution in nailing two runners at the plate. It was Chisenahall to shortstop to catcher and Chisenhall to second baseman to catcher. But I also saw him ground out to the second baseman on three consecutive at-bats. His bat seemed to drag and he didn’t get good wood on the ball in any of the three at-bats. Collin Cowgill will likely play right field against lefties. Again, I think Cowgill’s defense is solid but his bat is suspect.

Center field? That should be a spot for Will Venable to help out. The new arrival is a good defender and improved somewhat over the years with San Diego. But still, he isn’t going to set the world on fire by any means. Rookie Tyler Naquin, another good defender with little home run power could stick when camp breaks. James Ramsey can also play center field. I’d like to see what the former Cardinals outfielder could do if given sustained playing time. To date, I haven’t heard much buzz about him.

Brantley’s return should likely bring energy and offense to the team. I hope they don’t rush him. I hope he is healthy when he returns. But the shoulder is crucial in swing mechanics. Almonte? I saw some signs last year that I liked. Lots of hustle and good energy. Nice defense and a promising bat. But it’s tough to hit when you’re suspended. The Indians outfield? Call it mediocre, at best. They need to find someone to bolster to offensive side of the game to give their solid starting pitching some offensive run support. Now. If not sooner.

The Reds? Wow, do they have the outfielders. Not all are Major League ready, but the future in the outfield is very bright. They still have veterans Jay Bruce and Billy Hamilton (well, almost a veteran compared to some others.) The rest of the group is comprised of former Dodgers prospect Scott Schebler, Rule 5 import from the New York Yankees Jake Cave, out of options right-handed hitting Yorman Rodriguez, as well as prospects Adam Duvall and left-handed hitting Kyle Waldrop

For me, the guy to watch is prospect Jesse Winker. A non-roster invitee to Spring Training, Winker will open some eyes in Reds camp. He is a very solid gap hitter with some home run pop in his bat. The Reds may not wait too long to set him loose and give him a chance to play with Hamilton and Schebler in the outfield of the future. Jay Bruce may make a fine trade chip if the club can find a taker. Cleveland, you say? One slight problem. The Indians are on Bruce’s “no trade” list. I can’t see the Tribe paying him any extra money to pry themselves off that list. But Bruce may be a spare part among a galaxy of potential outfield stars as Cincinnati moves along in their rebuilding efforts. And he would really help with offense in the Indians outfield. I’d like to see them find a way to make that happen.

Further down the Reds prospect chain is Phillip Ervin, an outfielder I got to see and appreciate during this past Arizona Fall League. Ervin is a spring invitee along with Winker. He may be fourth outfield type guy in center field if Hamilton sticks.
Ervin can play.

So what I saw in one game was a wealth of outfield veterans and prospects with the Reds and an evident unmet need in the outfield for Cleveland. It just makes so much sense to me for these to clubs to put their heads together and meet each other’s needs. I think the Tribe has a spare infielder in the system to help the Reds as well as some organizational pitching depth that could respond to the Reds needs. Maybe the Indians don’t have to give up a Trevor Bauer or Danny Salazar to get offensive outfield help. Maybe they have to part with a Cody Anderson, or a T J House to fill a glaring need. Eventually, to get a solid Major League ready outfielder, a pitcher will have to be sacrificed. Or, can the Indians afford to wait for the final development of Clint Frazier or Bradley Zimmer to fill that need? By then it may be too late. And I don’t think Tyler Naquin has the offensive pop they need Now. If not sooner.

Bottom line: Brantley and Almonte may be out of the lineup too long for the team to recover from a potential shaky start in April. The Reds can offer some outfield help now-when it is most needed.

But yes, there will be a price to pay.

Thanks for watching BERNIE’S BASEBALL WORLD on video at YouTube or at Prosportsbroadcasting.com. And thanks for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff.

Tomorrow: Some thoughts about the Braves and Tigers.

That’s it. I’m Done. For now.