March 12th, 2016
Every spring I usually spend about ten days in Florida. I choose a different general location each year. It can range from Ft. Myers to Tampa to Orlando or to the Palm Beach area. This year I chose to spend my time in Orlando.
Yesterday may well have been my last visit to Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex. Champion Stadium has been the long time home of the Atlanta Braves. Now, it is very evident to most people that the Braves may leave Disney and join the Astros, Nationals, Mets, Cardinals and Marlins in the Palm Beach area.
The Wide World of Sports Complex was one of the first Spring Training venues that was built outside the mold of a small, quaint, laid back facility. It had the look of a miniature big league stadium with all the amenities and frills that have since become much more common place for Spring Training. Kind of like big league park “lite.”
But frankly, the complex is a bit tired. It’s slip is showing. It has slipped in the original look of a fresh new kid on the block. It’s still a great place to watch a game. But it just doesn’t have the crisp and clean feel of the newer parks. Man, I really am spoiled.
Frankly, some of the older parks in Florida like those of the Orioles and Pirates have maintained the fantastic feel of yesterday with modern, upbeat touches of today.
I really do love watching a game from Sarasota (Orioles) or Bradenton (Pirates).
In a recent blog I spoke about my affection for the soon to be empty Astros park in Kissimmee. I’ll really miss that place. The Tigers at Lakeland will be all alone in the Orlando area. To me, that’s a real shame.
I got to see the Phillies yesterday before I left Orlando to return here to the Valley of the Sun. The Phillies are an interesting bunch.
My day started with a great conversation with John McLaren, my manager when I was a scout with the Mariners. Mac is now a coach for the Phillies. He’s really excited about the future of the club. He especially spoke glowingly of third baseman Maikel Franco. He was effusive in his praise for Franco and he feels the team will slowly build upon their foundation and continue to add pieces with the draft and more trades.
I got to renew my acquaintance with Peter Bourjos, a guy I have watched since my Mariners days and his time playing Minor League ball in California. Peter was just one big smile when I asked how he likes being with the Phillies. He’s probably their starting center fielder and will get his first real chance for sustained at-bats over an entire season. I know how great a defensive outfielder he is. I know how fast he is. If given the chance, he’ll steal plenty of bases. What I don’t know, and what I don’t think anyone other than Peter knows is how good a hitter he can be if he gets 400 or 500 plate appearances in a given year. I know he can use the barrel of the bat well. I know the singles will become doubles with his speed and any hesitancy on the part of the defender. I don’t know if he can lay off bad breaking balls and be patient at the plate. I’m really rooting for him. He could be a real sleeper.
I got my first look at Cesar Hernandez play second base. He got a couple of hits. stole a base and played very well on defense in the brief time I was watching. I think he, like Bourjos, could be a sleeper this year. Hernandez can really run. If manager Pete Mackanin turns Bourjos and Hernandez loose, like he did yesterday, these guys will steal and score. Keep your eye on Hernandez-a little known but increasingly important cog in the future of the Phillies.
Ryan Howard has been ill. He played yesterday and smoked the ball off very ineffective
Braves starter Kyle Kendrick. Kendrick got pounded. And I do mean pounded.
I think Howard has something left in his tank and he has something left to prove. Yes, he wants to earn that salary and help mentor the younger Phillies players.
One of the positions of depth with the Phillies is their catching. They have Carlos Ruiz, Cameron Rupp and Jorge Alfaro on the 40-man roster. This will likely be the last year in Philadelphia for Ruiz. His money, and that of Ryan Howard will come off the books after this season, giving the team lots of freedom for action in their rebuild.
Alfaro is a very interesting guy. He has a rifle for an arm, a solid bat and good overall catching mechanics. He has been a bit immature in his development with Texas, but this is a new team and a new day for him. I think he’ll take over the catching duties by next year. Andrew Knapp is a top prospect catcher who could give Alfaro some real competition. But the Phillies are pretty well set behind the plate.
I’ll address more about the Phillies when I do my season preview of the National League at the end of Spring Training. For now, however, I label them “improved” and “promising.”
Today I am in Peoria, Arizona to see the San Diego Padres and the Cleveland Indians. You can read about both teams in my blog tomorrow.
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That’s it. I’m done. For now.