March 2016

A Spring Training Look at the Chicago Cubs

Sloan Park is the new beautiful training facility of the Chicago Cubs. It is another shiny star in the Valley of the Sun galaxy of Spring Training parks.

Yesterday there was another sellout crowd of Arizona Diamondbacks and Cubs fans filling the stands at Sloan Park on a beautiful Thursday afternoon. The crowd was dressed in their St. Patrick’s Day green shirts as they enjoyed the perfect environment of an 80 plus degree day in the Arizona desert.

I might add that the Dbacks players were also dressed in green, as they wore green jerseys, green hats and their new dark grey pants for the occasion. I was really happy the media dining room served corned beef and cabbage. It was a great, great day.

On the field the Cubs were relentless. They pummeled Archie Bradley for five runs in the first inning and another run before his premature departure. The Cubs pounded four triples in the game-or maybe that’ just when I stopped counting. That’s really unique. We can go days without seeing a triple, and then the club smoked four in one game.

If you were a pitcher, how would you like to face Dexter Fowler, Jason Heyward, Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Jorge Soler and Addison Russell in that order? Yikes! And of course, there are days when you will add Ben Zobrist to the list as the second baseman or outfielder. Or Javier Baez as a second baseman or outfielder.
Miguel Montero will be inserted in the lineup with Schwarber moving to left field.
And that’s the key with the Cubs. They have so much depth they can play Schwarber in left or behind the plate. They can play Soler as they wish. They can insert Zobrist at second or in the outfield. They can use Montero or David Ross behind the plate. They can spot the improving Baez in center or in the infield. The permutations seem to be endless. “Oh, this guy’s pitching today-well, let’s roll out lineup No. 22.” That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but they are deep, deep, deep. Everywhere., experienced

Are there any issues with this club? IMO the starting pitching could use one more seasoned arm. Just in the event of injury or failure. Having a “big three” of Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester and John Lackey provides a fantastic foundation and it probably is enough to thwart any lengthy losing streak. Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks at the back end are more than serviceable. They can pitch. But is there enough experienced organizational depth at the No. 6,7, and 8 starting pitchers? Every team needs that pitching depth.

The back-end of the bullpen is anchored by Hector Rondon as the closer and Pedro Strop as the primary set-up man. Maybe it’s enough. Maybe they will look to bolster the pen at the trade deadline. The bullpen jury remains out for me.

Yesterday I saw the Cubs pound the ball. They can deploy power and speed up and down the lineup. The return of Fowler was really important. He sets the tone with a good eye at the plate and ability to get on base. And I think we’ll see more power from newly acquired Jason Heyward than he’s shown in the past. As well as his outstanding defense in the outfield. But having Fowler and Heyward on base for the likes of Rizzo, Bryant, Schwarber and their other buddies is downright scary.

Rizzo and Paul Goldschmidt of the Dbacks have much in common. First, they are lethal offensive players. They can break up a game with one loud swing of the bat. They both will steal some bases. And both play tremendous defense at first base. They drive in runs and save runs. And they are both right in the center of their team’s offensive action. Each fan base is crazy about their own first baseman. Rightly so.

Addison Russell is a very, very smooth and reliable shortstop with range and a strong arm. He makes every play in his area code. And I think he’ll improve upon his .242 Cubs batting average of 2015. I see better plate discipline, a better knowledge of the strike zone and an improved overall approach at the plate. Frankly, any real offense from Russell will be gravy. He’ll save lots of runs and games with his defense.

javier Baez and Jorge Soler could be real sleepers. Both have the ability to knock the ball out of the park or drive in runs with loud line drives to the gaps. Both have been eager and aggressive at the plate. Both have shown a propensity to swing and miss. Soler struck out 121 times in a Cubs uniform. Baez 125. But. But they are both improving. They will make better contact this year, making quicker and more reasoned decisions at the plate. They have both grown and improved. So extend the line to Fowler, Heyward, Rizzo, Bryant, Soler, Baez, Schwarber and the rest of the cast. We’re talking a lethal compilation of offensive studs here. This lineup, along with those of teams like Houston, Toronto and Detroit just to name three will give every pitcher they face advanced heartburn. But of those teams I’ve mentioned, I think the Cubs are the scariest at the plate.

Yes, I’m bullish on the Cubs. But I think it is best if the fans just enjoy the season and refrain from ordering their World Series airline tickets and hotel accommodations just yet. There is a season to be played and very strong National League teams gunning for the Cubs.

But make no mistake. The Cubs are a very balanced, very solid and very, very good baseball team that has been built with a purpose and a plan over time. Is this the year?

I’ll have more on the Cubs in my season preview series of blogs.

Thank you for following me @BerniePleskoff.

A new BERNIE’S BASEBALL WORLD on video is out today at YouTube and at ProSportsBroadcasting.com

That’s it. I’m done. For now.

 

St. Patrick’s Day Edition- Cleveland Indians

I took a couple days to enjoy the beautiful scenery of Sedona, Arizona. If you haven’t been to the “red rock” country you are missing one of the most beautiful and serene areas of the country. Some folks say Sedona is one of the most beautiful places in the world. If you haven’t gone, picture 360 degrees of red rock mountains with different shapes and size rocks and mountains every place you look. Of course there is a rock shaped liked Snoopy, one like a coffee pot and on and on. A chart of rock formations with their names is available. It’s a breathtaking location. Disagreements, arguments, hostility and the like are left at the door when people visit Sedona. It’s that peaceful and beautiful.

I’m back now, and I’ll be watching the Arizona Diamondbacks face the Chicago Cubs at Sloan Park in Mesa, spring home of the Cubs. I’ll have a blog about the Cubs tomorrow.

Before I left for the brief trip up north I saw the Indians play the Rangers. I have already shared some thoughts on the Texas club. Here are some brief lines at this point of the quickly moving spring about Cleveland.

In a previous blog I indicated the Indians were facing a lack of run scoring output due to limited offensive players in the outfield. Today, they signed Marlon Byrd to a Minor League contract. I think he’ll be on the big league club, sharing time with Lonnie Chisenhall in right field. I see him hitting against the left-handed pitchers that give Chisenhall fits. He may see time in left before Michael Brantley returns. Byrd is especially solid against left-handed pitching and he could give the Tribe the huge offensive boost they need. But Brantley is making tremendous progress and is planning to play in games this weekend.

I have been totally impressed with the swing of Yan Gomes. He continues to hit the ball on the screws and he looks totally healthy after his early season stint on the disabled list last year. If he stays healthy, he’ll be a real factor in the lineup.

I feel a big issue for the Tribe will be their left-handed relievers. So far, I have not been impressed with any among Ross Detwiler, Tom Gorzellany, Joe Thatcher or Giovanny Soto, the only one of the group on the 40-man roster. Can Kyle Crockett win a job? How about T J House out of the pen? I think either of those may be better options than the four I mentioned initially. The Indians really do have to have a lefty or two in the pen. It will be essential in the American League Central if they hope to go anywhere in the standings.

I saw Jose Ramirez play center field. He had trouble with the high sky and bright sun here in Arizona. While it won’t be quite as difficult playing center in Major League parks, I do think Ramirez can be a viable center field option as the Indians move along on the season schedule. He has a solid bat and some speed. What about Tyler Naquin in center? I sure wish they could afford to give him more Minor League development time. For me, that would be ideal. But the position remains weak-even with the return of Michael Brantley and the signing of Marlon Byrd. I would think the Indians want to minimize the throws being made by Brantley-and that means left field only. Can Byrd play center? Well, I don’t know about that. Collin Cowgill? Maybe late in the game as a defensive replacement. His offense is very limited. Rajai Davis? I don’t think he’s a good enough outfielder to play center. Left, yes. Center? Uh,… no. James Ramsey? Will he hit? Joey Butler? Not in center. And so…that brings me back to Naquin. At least in my opinion that leaves Naquin until Abraham Almonte returns from his suspension after 80 games.

Because the Indians don’t have a true center fielder, I think Naquin has to stick.
And then Brantley holds down left with Byrd and Chisenhall in right. Davis becomes a swing outfielder, even playing some center. Where does that leave Joey Butler? They have a lot of outfielders-just no true center fielder. Even if Jose Ramirez gets some playing time there. I just don’t think he is a starting center fielder.

I think I mentioned before that I would have liked to have seen Jason Kipnis play center, as he did when I saw him at Arizona State University. But that’s not happening. No chance. So-lots of names, lots of players, no true picture emerging yet.

I’ll have much more on the Indians later in the spring. Much more on Francisco Lindor and Mike Napoli-two offensive players who I think will make a huge difference in the lineup.

Thank you for following me @BerniePleskoff on twitter.

That’s it. I’m done. For now.

 

Spring Training 2016- The Texas Rangers

Yesterday I returned to Goodyear Ballpark to watch the Indians take on the Texas Rangers.

As I walked into the press box I could smell hamburgers cooking. The same thing happened the day before at Peoria. It really is very tough to work with the fabulous scent of hamburgers in the air. I think scent is a better word than odor or smell. So, lets use scent. I love hamburgers. In Phoenix we’re very fortunate to have In and Out Burger in several Spring Training locations. Occasionally, I’ll slip in and order the best double burger in the world. With extra pickles.

So anyway, for the past two days I have tried to concentrate with the scent of hamburgers in the air. Of course, it led me to the media dining room where I was convinced I’d see hamburgers, fries, etc. waiting to be consumed. Wrong. Yesterday it was baked ziti with zucchini as a side dish. Zucchini? Are you kidding me? I ate the baked ziti and pretended it was a hamburger. Oh well, now do you see what I have to go through? By the way-I wasn’t even tempted to eat the cookies. They didn’t look home made. I’m partial to home made cookies.

OK-so I got to see what I would guess might be close to the starting lineup of both the Rangers and the Indians. As usual though, a couple spots were taken by non-starters.

A J Griffin started for the Rangers. We have to remember that he is trying to return from serious surgery and is trying to get his arm and mechanics back in shape. He is a Spring Training invitee to camp. It really didn’t go that badly. He did, however, throw a ton of off-speed pitches. They are less deceptive when they don’t follow a high velocity fastball or a big breaking ball. Indians catcher Yan Gomes (who looks fantastic, I might add. His swing is back, I might add.) took a hanging off-speed pitch deep to left field for a home run. Gomes put a charge in the pitch that was way up in the zone and had very little velocity. Griffin has to continue to make progress to be ready to help the club if needed sometime down the road. Not now, I don’t think.

I got a very good look at highly prized rookie outfielder Nomar Mazara. He just screams “athlete.” He has a perfectly proportioned 6-foot-3, 215 pound frame. I didn’t see much offense from him, but I am certain his good bat speed and fine mechanics will translate to success-including power- for the left-handed hitter. His eye-hand coordination was very obvious. I did, however, see a good right fielder with fine range and natural ability to chase down balls with his long legs. I think we’ll be seeing lots of Mazara, possibly as soon as some time this season.

Prince Fielder got a couple hits in the game and still showed the ability to take the ball to center and left center. He does, however, look like he may have gained a pound or two over the winter. Fielder will be dangerous if he stays healthy, which he did last year. And if Joey Gallo makes the club, he and Fielder will be an awesome duo to place around the outstanding Adrian Beltre. By the way, Gallo did not play in the game. But the day before he hit a home run out of Tempe Diablo stadium and into the parking lot. Just another day at the office for Gallo.  Yikes!
Ian Desmond played left field with Elvis Andrus at shortstop. I saw no issues with Desmond in the outfield. He’ll add another potent bat to the lineup, but he has to make better contact than I saw in the game. His pitch recognition looked a little late. Several swings and misses and a called third strike.

Robinson Chirinos will probably get most of the catching assignments. In this game, Chirinos didn’t produce much at the plate. But both his hitting and catching mechanics are very solid. I think he can produce double digit home runs. His swing is such that he can get some loft on the ball. Catcher Bobby Wilson is a non-roster invitee to camp. He served as the DH and got a couple of hits.

I still keep thinking the Rangers will turn to Jurickson Profar as their center fielder. When I saw him in the Arizona Fall League it looked like the offensive part of his game had returned. However, I did not see him throw with that repaired shoulder. I don’t know if he has thrown in camp. But Delino DeShields is the center fielder right now. He can run, cover some ground in the outfield and steal bases. So, the Rangers may be satisfied enough to leave that center field situation alone. Ryan Rua is on the 40-man roster as well as Justin Ruggiano. The outfield should consist of Shin-Soo Choo, possibly Josh Hamilton when he returns to health after the season begins and DeShields. And Mazara certainly may sneak in and take one of those roles. But of all the outfielders I’ve listed here, I think Lewis Brinson (along with Mazara) may be the bright stars of the future. Brinson is a lanky center field type with great range and a very solid bat. I saw him in the Fall League and he really impressed with his no-nonsense approach to both hitting and fielding. He has speed, power, a terrific frame and a great feel for the game. Brinson in center and Mazara in left or right along with Choo would be very formidable-as soon as some time this year. Keep your eyes on Brinson and Mazara. I think they will be a dynamic duo to pair for the future along with the booming bat of Joey Gallo.
From a prospect standpoint, the Rangers have that trio of solid young players and more just waiting in the wings. I do think the outfield of the future begins with Brinson and Mazara and it’s mix and match for the third person.

The problem with the Rangers could boil down to pitching. Who starts and how good they will be are the questions in my mind about the club. They could get Yu Darvish back by mid-season. That will certainly help. Cole Hamels is outstanding. So Darvish and Hamels will form a very solid one-two punch. From there? Derek Holland, Colby Lewis, Martin Perez and Nick Martinez don’t overwhelm me. Will Chi-Chi Gonzalez turn the corner and become a reliable starter? I have no idea. I do know that Darvish and Hamels are solid, Holland can be very good at times and then, meh! The Rangers go as far as their pitching takes them.

Tomorrow I discuss the Cleveland Indians.

Thank you for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff.

That’s it. I’m done. For now.

 

Spring Training Tour-Seattle Mariners

Forgive me for a bit of nostalgia. Whenever I see the Seattle Mariners play a Spring Training game in Peoria it reminds me of my scouting experience with Seattle. I was very fortunate to work with two terrific scouts who helped me a great deal. Both have passed away, but both will be forever in my thoughts.

Bill Kearns was my mentor with the Mariners. He began with the club in 1976 and passed away at the age of 94-when he was still scouting. Even after I had departed the Mariners scouting staff, Bill always called to see how I was doing and to share his stories with me. I have never met a more gentle soul, a more positive person or an individual with a better baseball mind. Bill could recognize talent and never failed to articulate his opinion in our weekly team conference calls. I never met a person with a bad word to say about Bill. I often reflect upon how Bill would evaluate a player I am writing about. I ask myself, “what would Bill think?”

Frank Maddox left us far, far too soon at the age of 49. Frank was very quiet and kept his opinions to himself in the media dining room or in the environment of other pro scouts. I was so fortunate to privately learn his evaluation of players as his colleague and friend. Like Bill Kearns, Frank always kept in touch with me to be sure I was still inn the business of evaluating baseball players. We rarely had opposite opinions on players because we looked for the same qualities.

When I watch today’s Mariners club I know pretty much what Frank and Bill would be saying. They would be optimistic but realistic. They were Mariners first and foremost, sharing a love for their club and the game they represented. But they were honest and truthful in their evaluations-and that’s the only way to evaluate players.

I saw Nate Karns start for the Mariners. Obtained in a trade from Tampa Bay, Karns has they type of stuff and the mound demeanor to have a positive impact on the pitching staff. I have always been concerned about fly balls leaving the park against him, but Seattle will be a good park for his pitching style. He may not be fooling many hitters, but he has enough stuff to keep his team in the game and give his team a chance to win- hopefully going at least three times through the batting order. He will need help from the bullpen, but the 6-foot-3, 225 pound Karns can pitch. I think his ERA will hover under 4.0. as he yields less hits than innings pitched. He’s a nice addition to the club. He needs a sustained chance in the rotation, good health and some offensive support. And the offense he receives in Seattle should be far more than his past with Tampa Bay. As a result, I think his win total will increase as well. I like his addition to the club. Now he just has to win a role in the rotation. Nothing is ever certain, but I see that happening. At least I hope so.

Norichika Aoki is another new addition to the club. He gives the Mariners a leadoff hitter with a chance to get on base, steal some bases and score some runs. He has surprising pop in his bat, making the gaps in his home park a great landing place for his line drive darts. He doesn’t get cheated at the plate. Mariners fans may see a hint of Ichiro in Aoki, and that’s a good thing. A left-handed hitter, he can slap the ball on the ground, bunt hit liners and loopers and hustle to first base. He’ll be an outstanding table setter for the big bats of Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager.

Franklin Gutierrez didn’t play in the game yesterday. But I want to mention him here because I think he can have an influence on the offensive side of the Mariners season. He’s got a loud and dangerous bat-especailly against left-handed pitching, where he will see most of his at-bats. Gutierrez has not had good health in the past few seasons. He has battled injury after injury and has to be handled carefully. Given his perfect platoon role, Gutierrez will put some good offensive numbers on the board IMO

Jesus Montero is still a puzzle. Like Wil Myers. Each of those guys have so much talent and neither has lived up to their press clippings and neither has realized their potential. I wrote about Myers this past week. I said he must learn to control his swing and his plate discipline. The same can be said for Montero. I believe the skill exists. It just hasn’t translated yet against big league pitching. He doesn’t look either confident or comfortable at the plate. He is trying way too hard instead of letting his natural ability overcome his desire to blast a 500 foot home run every at-bat.

The Mariners gave up Michael Pineda for Montero. As of now, it looks like a steal for the Yankees, even with Pineda’s arm and shoulder issues. Like I said about Myers, Now is the time for Montero to step up. I’m not sure it will happen with any consistency. Spurts? Perhaps. Consistent day to day loud contact, my jury is still out.

I close this blog today with a thank you to my friends Bill Kearns and Frankie Maddox. I remember you both with great fondness and with extreme gratitude. I hope I am a better scout today because I was around you and I got to work and learn from you both.

Tomorrow I’ll discuss what I see from the Texas Rangers today as they play Cleveland at Goodyear.

Thank you for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff.

That’s it. I’m done. For now.

My Spring Training Look at the San Diego Padres

The City of Peoria and Peoria Stadium got quite a work out on March 12th. There was an afternoon game here that started at 2:30 PM between the Padres and the Indians. Then, the Mariners, who share the complex with San Diego played the Dodgers in a night game. So there was very little transition time between games for the great staff.
Now, I am back in the same press box seat in Peoria today to see the Cincinnati Reds face the Mariners.

If you haven’t been to Peoria for a spring game, you’re missing a treat. There are great restaurants and watering holes within walking distance of the park. It really is a nice environment that has been created on the near west side of the Valley.

I got my first spring look at the Padres. For me, it continues to be a club in search of an identity. Bring in high priced players. Move some of those players for prospects. Move some prospects and try different ones,, and on and on. It’s like the game where you spin around a baseball bat and try to walk a straight line when the spinning ends. I think the Padres know where they want to be, they just have to stop spinning around.

Andrew Cashner started against Cleveland. I wish I knew who the real Cashner is on the mound. There are times he looks totally dominant. Everything is working. Then he quickly loses his release point and the ball sails on him. And he gets hit. Yesterday he was the good Cashner-lots of swings and misses. Few, if any hard hit balls. I do think the Padres want to move him for prospects. Maybe a scout or two in the stands yesterday saw what I saw. He can pitch when he concentrates and repeats his delivery.

I got to see Rule 5 selection Jabari Blash. Some say he will stick on the roster. While I did see some power in his frame, he looked lost on a couple of quick strikeouts at the hands of the Indians Danny Salazar. He came to the game hitting only .125. I think he has a long hill to climb if he wants to stick with the Padres. He has one homer and one RBI so far this spring. It isn’t disastrous, but it will have to get better IMO.

Wil Myers continues to amaze me. Those who have followed me for years know that I have never been a big fan of Myers approach at the plate. Here, years after I first saw him in with both the Royals and the Rays my opinion has not changed. I have grave concerns about his plate discipline, pitch recognition and his overall swing mechanics. I really think this is the year Myers has to show progress to become a dependable every day player in either the outfield or first base. He simply has to be better than a .250 hitter and smoke more than single digit home runs. Maybe that’s asking too much.

A player I am very bullish on is Travis Jankowski. I know, who? Jankowski plays a very solid center field, runs extremely well and is a real team player. He has leadership qualities and a good feel for the game. I saw him bunt twice successfully yesterday. That’s a lost art, but he can execute the play very well. I think there will be a way Jankowski finds his way to the Padres lineup before the season is over. He’s just that kind of player. He makes things happen.

A better defensive catcher than I had originally thought, Derek Norris adds a very interesting and potentially loud bat to the Padres lineup. The Padres are very solid behind the plate with Norris, Christian Bethancourt and Austin Hedges. It’s a position of strength for the club. Norris can hit. And he should continue to hit the gaps in San Diego. He had 33 doubles last year.

Speaking of Travis Jankowski, I do think his chances of playing time increase the more I watch Melvin Upton, Jr. at the plate. What happened to the guy with quick hands, great wrists and some power in his swing? He hasn’t shown up in a long time. His swing is aggressive and long and the results are very definitely meh. That’s how Jankowski gets playing time.

Alexi Amarista looks smaller than his listed 5-foot-6. I saw him standing near the 6-foot-5 Jabari Blash. Yikes!

The Indians drafted Drew Pomeranz, shipped him to Colorado for Ubaldo Jimenez and Pomeranz has drifted around ever since. Do you start him”? Is he a reliever? Long man? Short man? Closer? This may be the year we get some definition on Pomeranz. He looked solid yesterday on the mound. But he has to regain his rhythm and his confidence to finally fulfill his potential as a reliable left-handed pitcher, regardless of his role.

Today I get my first look at Seattle and my second look at the Reds. I’ll share my thoughts in this space tomorrow. I hope you follow all of the spring blogs I write at BERNIE’S BASEBALL WORLD. And thanks for that.

And by the way, thanks for following me @BerniePleskoff on twitter.

That’s it. I’m done. For now.

 

Spring Training-Florida (Phillies notes)

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.

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

That’s it. I’m done. For now.

 

My Florida Spring Training Tour-Braves and Astros

So as I walked into the gate at Astros Spring Training, the fantastic odor of barbecue permeated the air. The old looking big black grill looks like that machine that trails in the back of a roof repair truck we get stuck behind on the highway. Only this big black machine has a fantastic odor. Just another one of the great scents of Spring Training.

The Astros move next year to their new home in the Palm Beach area. So yesterday was my last visit to the Kissimmee based park forever. I have great memories from my time as an Astro scout.

Yesterday I watched the new edition of baseball’s future. The two teams; Houston and Atlanta are building their clubs with very good trades and smart selections in the First Year Player draft. Both will net great results over time.

Yesterday was my first look at highly regarded prospect shortstop Ozzie Albies. The Braves played him at his natural shortstop position with another highly regarded rookie, Dansby Swanson taking over at second base in mid-game. One of the two will be the shortstop of the future. The other will probably play second.

I saw Albies speed. He costs himself a step or two with a slow start out of the batter’s box. He stops to look at the ball and that costs him a tad in his overall time from home to first. Albies made a bad play in the field because he didn’t move naturally. His feet got tangled. I would like to see him move without thinking first. I can see the agility. I can see the athletic ability. The quickness is real. Now, it’s a matter of executing his skills. It’s a matter of just being himself and learning in his development program. In short, I saw a raw rookie in need of instruction, playing time and patience.

Mallex Smith, like Albies, has tremendous speed. He’s a natural outfielder with some pop in his bat. I didn’t however, see patience at the plate. He was up there to hack, and hack he did. He has to recognize pitches quicker and lay off the bad breaking balls. I do see some very real left-handed pop. Again, he needs a bit more time to refine his skill set. But he isn’t that far off from being in a place where he can get some big league at-bats and help the club with his solid all-around tools.

Swanson clearly does not look like a finished product. Even though he has a college career at Vanderbilt to build upon, he looks a bit overwhelmed by big league pitching.
He has smooth moves in the field, but I think it is his bat that will help get him to Atlanta.

I also saw Adonis Garcia, a good looking hitter use the barrel of the bat to hit the gaps. I like what I saw from Garcia in this brief one game look.

The Astros just continue to impress me. They just keep rolling out hitter after hitter and quality player after quality player. Their problem will be narrowing the group of very good players to those that they wish to have break camp with them. Does A J Reed stick on the roster? I don’t think so. I think Jon Singleton is such a huge force at the plate that he can break up a game with one swing. That allows Reed more development time and a slower clock.

Dallas Keuchel is a master at inducing ground balls with late sink on the ball. I do like watching him pitch. Yesterday was the second time I’ve seen him in person. I noticed that he takes the ball out of his glove at the top of his delivery. A hitter can take advantage of that exposed look at the ball. Over time, that slight glitch in his delivery may aid some hitters. Generally speaking, pitchers are taught to hide the ball. Keuchel is more comfortable keeping the ball outside his glove before releasing it from his hand. He’s a really, really good ace for their staff.

I saw George Springer get picked off first base when he started to steal second on the first move of the pitcher. The pitcher’s first move was to first base. Springer was laundry on the line being hung out to dry. But man, can he slug. The ball just jumps off Springer’s bat. It gets out in a hurry.

Think of a lineup with Jose Altuve, George Springer and Carlos Correa as the one-two-three guys any pitcher has to face. Then they get to see Evan Gattis (when healthy), Colby Rasmus, Carlos Gomez, Jon Singleton and on and on. Try to navigate through that lumber yard. Yikes!

No game for me today and no blog tomorrow. Tomorrow I get my first and only look at the upstarting Philadelphia Phillies. Then, later in the day I fly home to Phoenix.

Thanks for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff.

That’s it. I’m done. For now.

 

Today: Tigers Part 2 and Tampa Bay Rays

Yesterday I spent the day in Lakeland watching the Tigers and the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Tigers sent what looked to be close to their everyday lineup against the Rays and starter Erasmo Ramirez. The Rays? Well, they traveled to Lakeland with a very thin group of regular players. But, it gave me another chance to see younger players on their way to figuring things out at the big league level.

First, the Tigers. Wynton Bernard has a chance to help the Tigers in center field as long as Cameron Maybin is sidelined. I’m not convinced he’ll break with the club in April, but he has a chance. It’s pretty clear Anthony Gose will get those at-bats. However, Bernard could come off the bench to pinch-hit or pinch-run. And run he can. He stole 43 bases at Double-A Erie last year. But he still has things to learn about stealing bases and refining his overall technique as a runner. He doesn’t look his listed 6-foot-2, 200 pound size. So keep your eye on the progress (or lack thereof) Bernard makes in the remainder of the month. If nothing else, he will be a good organizational outfielder to have on hand if speed or another outfielder is needed down the road.

Shane Greene took the mound again for his second outing of the spring. Looking to add depth to their rotation, the Tigers may well settle on using Greene in the bullpen as a long man for the time being. If he can locate his pitches, he’s fine. When his sinkers don’t sink and he’s up in the zone he gets hammered. That happened again in his latest outing. There were some very loud balls off the bat from Rays hitters. He didn’t look as sharp as his first outing–one that started well and finished on the iffy side.

I remain convinced Justin Upton is among the most prominent feast or famine players in the game. When he’s hot, he’s very hot. When he’s cold, he’s very cold. And he’s been cold here in Florida. Taking over in left field, Upton is still not an accomplished outfielder. I saw him make one error and misplay another chance, but an error was not given. At the plate, he is being beaten badly once again on the right side of the plate. Sliders away still seem to trouble him. But pitchers will pay a price if they get the ball inside or get too much of the plate. He hammers mistake pitches. I do see him driving in lots of runs in a lineup that has Miguel Cabrera, J D Martinez, Victor Martinez, and Ian Kinsler hitting near him. Being with Detroit now, Upton fell into a great situation for RBIs and runs scored. But he may also leave a number of runners on the bases with undisciplined hacks at pitcher’s pitches.

The Tigers are set behind the plate with three catchers. Either Bryan Holaday or Jarrod Saltalamacchia will back up James McCann. I can’t see all three on the opening day roster. Holaday is having an incredible spring. He’s making great contact at the plate, hitting the ball out of the park and driving in runs. Salty may be the odd man out.

On the Rays side of things, I still can’t help but be impressed with the scrappy play of Nick Franklin. Franklin can play both second and short with sure hands, good footwork and a gritty approach to playing baseball. Just as he did when he was one of my favorite players back then in the Arizona Fall League, Franklin puts a good pass on the ball and hits line drives. A switch-hitter, he uses the entire field and has some pop in his bat. Especially from the left side of the plate. And he has a great attitude.

The Rays have a collection of middle infielders that include Logan Forsythe, Ryan Brett, Tim Beckham, and Brad Miller. They all can’t stick with the club. I would think Forsythe and Miller would be the second base-shortstop combination. The either Beckham, Franklin or Brett would become the utility infielder. We’ll see how that plays out. Daniel Robertson, a non-roster invitee to Spring Training may be a really good offensive player waiting in the wings as a solid shortstop.

The Rays don’t have much pop in their overall lineup. Of course Evan Longoria remains an offensive threat as a solid hitting third baseman. Corey Dickerson will help the offense as a new outfielder with a good hitting tool. Yesterday I was more impressed with the swing mechanics and overall look of Desmond Jennings than I have been in a long time. Maybe he’s just finally healthy. I think he can have a nice year for the Rays.
The team needs some offense from Steven Souza, Jr. He really was a bit of a disappointment in his rookie season. He finished the year with a batting average of .225 with only 40 RBIs. He did, however, hit 18 homers and stole 12 bases. I think there is more in his tank.

Kevin Kiermaier is just a terrific defender in the outfield. He hit a very solid .283 with ten homers and 18 stolen bases. He’s still under the radar as a player, but I think he will build on that good year. He just doesn’t get much buzz.

Taylor Motter is a right handed hitting outfielder with some power. I saw him put a charge in a ball yesterday. There could be lots of swing and miss in him, but he’s an interesting guy to watch.

I’m still not sold on the big league attributes of Mikie Mahtook, but the Rays have some time and money invested in him. I’m sure they’ll give him every chance to prove his high draft choice value.

I’m looking for lefty Blake Snell to steal a slot in the rotation before the season gets too old. He’s the real deal and is another in the line of quality pitchers developed by the organization.

Tomorrow: more on the Braves and Astros.

Thank you for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff.

That’s it. I’m done. For now.

 

Spring Training Daily Blog-Marlins and Nationals

This is the last year the Nationals will be playing their Spring Training games at Space Coast Stadium in Viera. They will be joining the group that includes the Mets, Cardinals, Marlins and their new home partner the Astros at their new complex in West Palm Beach. It will give that part of the state five teams to play on a consistent basis.

The drive from Orlando to Viera was certainly uneventful. The only thing that slows it down is the three toll booths that interrupt the flow of the ride. Advantage Arizona. No toll booths in the Valley of the Sun.

The stadium itself is as I had remembered. Small and quaint. I think fans like the intimacy of the older parks along with the traditions that accompany the small size.
But the seasoned parks are becoming extinct. And for me-that’s a shame. I like the charm of facilities built in the 60’s. Some of them don’t have working elevators or hot water. But it’s all good.

I was fortunate to see the Marlins 6 foot-2, 242 pound right-handed ace, Jose Fernandez make the start. He is a huge presence on the mound. Just the way he carries himself before he even throws a pitch is enough to shake the knees and rattle the bones of the opposition. He’s a wide bodied specimen of a well-tooled machine.

Fernandez is pitching nice and loose. The ball is leaving his hand extremely well and there appear to be no signs of wear and tear from his surgery. He looks healthy and fit. His fastball and all his pitches have zip. The part I liked best? He kept the ball down and showed the ability to make the right pitch at the right time. He only struck out one hitter, but I don’t think that was the intent of the outing. I think he wanted to get in his work, throw pain free and build his arm strength. Missions accomplished.

Christian Yelich has long been one of my favorite players to watch. He is a lanky left-handed hitter with an excellent eye at the plate. There is a bit more swing and miss in him than I originally projected, but as he did yesterday, he comes through in the clutch with men on base. His two run single was a typical Yelich hit. Up the middle and sharply hit. Yelich doesn’t have the strongest throwing arm, but he’s an adequate outfielder, and a better hitter than defender. He, Marcell Ozuna and Giancarlo Stanton should form a fine trio in the outfield.

Stanton did not make the road trip due to soreness in his knee. It’s the same knee that was repaired in the past. I don’t think the Marlins are overly concerned. But I admit my caution light is on.

Ichiro beat out a ground ball by running 4.14 home to first. I’ve seen him at 3.7 in his career, but a tad over 4 is really good. He’s still slapping the ball and getting rewarded with his speed.

While I thought his bat was slow when he was with the Dbacks, I think Martin Prado’s bat may have even slowed a tad more. He had some trouble making a clean pass through the ball, swinging late and not really squaring up pitches. But maybe it’s still early and he’ll find his stroke as the spring continues.

I saw Joe Ross pitch for the Nationals. I also got to see Tanner Roark. Ross started and pitched fairly well. He has a good arm, but he doesn’t miss many bats. His pitches looked fairly straight to me. He and Roark will likely complete the rotations spots behind Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez for sure. For now. Lucas Giolito waits in the wings as the likely call to the bigs by midseason. Bronson Arroyo looms as well. So there are some pitchers hanging in camp that may challenge either Ross or Roark at some point down the road.

I have always been concerned about the health and physical condition of Anthony Rendon. He really, really looked good in the game I saw. He took the ball to the opposite field with a flick of the bat. His strength and bat control still exist. I look for a big, healthy year from Rendon.

My biggest concern about the Nationals is their defense, and most specifically up the middle. I saw Daniel Murphy and Danny Espinosa stumble on plays. To maximize that good pitching, the defense has to be stellar. I wonder if we won’t see rookie Trea Turner get his share of time at shortstop?

Ben Revere and Trea Turner could really provide some wicked speed at the top of the order should Dusty Baker choose to play them together and allow them to run. If they can get on base for Bryce Harper, Rendon, and Jayson Werth, all will be well. But it remains to be seen if Turner will play and where he will hit in the lineup.

I just don’t think this edition of the Nationals is as formidable as those in the past two years that didn’t meet our expectations. I think those teams had a better collection of athletes, but maybe this group executes better.

Tomorrow: Tigers Part 2 and the Tampa Bay Rays.

Thanks for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff and for reading my Spring Training blogs.

That’s it. I’m done. For now.

 

ON THE ROAD AT SPRING TRAINING-#Blue Jays and more #Astros

Before I discuss some items about the Blue Jays and Astros, I have to share this experience I had on the drive back to my hotel from Kissimmee.

So I’m listening to the radio and suddenly a voice comes on and says..,”We interrupt this program because the satellite receiving station is in line with the sun. This happens twice a year.” Yikes-I felt like I was stuck on Mars with Matt Damon. I have never experienced that before.

OK-so now I can talk about the Blue Jays and Astros. I just had to share that little technical phenomenon.

The Blue Jays traveled with few, if any, regular players. That’s alright with me because I like to see prospects. I do, however, think fans buy tickets to watch bigger name players than yesterday’s Blue Jays travel roster.

Marcus Stroman started for the Blue Jays. He really is actually only 5-8 even though he’s listed at 5-9 in some publications. Either way, he isn’t today’s prototypical big body pitcher. But don’t let the size fool you. Stroman can pitch. He has a complete arsenal and when he keeps the ball down in the zone he is very tough to hit. I saw very little solid barrel of the bat contact off him. He did yield a home run to Colby Rasmus. But he struck out three and induced three ground ball outs in his two innings of work. He threw strikes and showed the confidence of a veteran.

Stroman will have to anchor a pitching staff that may be suspect. They have some quality starters, but the depth is not as great as a contending team may desire.  Their pitching is a bit thin as well due to indues to Aaron Loup and Bo Schultz, both slated to work out of the pen.

Ambidextrous Pat Venditte is a candidate for a bullpen job. I love watching him switch his glove from one hand to the other and face hitters pitching from either hand. He must declare which hand he will be using prior to the at-bat. He is most effective against same-side hitters. There is a buzz in the stands when fans who haven’t seen him figure out he is pitching with both hands. No doubt about it, he is really fun to watch. Naturally a right-handed pitcher, Venditte learned to switch-pitch from his dad. He has a slow, wipe out slider while pitching left-handed to left-handed hitters.

Venditte uses a pie shaped glove that has six fingers.

Domonic Brown, once a highly touted prospect with the Phillies, was the designated hitter in the game. He smoked a triple that was misplayed in the outfield, but it had some true backspin. I still think he tries to pull everything way too much and his long and aggressive swing is still evident. The power exists. Can he ever make the necessary adjustments? If so-he can play. If not, he’ll be a 4A type guy.

I don’t see Dalton Pompey making the club. If he can’t start in center field he needs to get development time every day in the Minor Leagues. The talent is there, but he needs to see pitches every single day for the entire season.

If Venditte and Ben Rowen both pitch out of the Blue Jays bullpen they will form an interesting mid-innings duo. Venditte will pitch with both hands and Rowen will pitch with his knuckles almost touching the ground. The submariner can fool hitters when they get only one look at that delivery. It really is tough to pick up the pitch.

I spoke about the Astros in my last blog. There are some crumbs remaining that I want to discuss.

As a scout, I wish Carlos Gomez would tame his swing a bit. He is really aggressive to the point of being violent at the plate. His swings and misses bring lots of fresh air on a warm day in Florida. I think a shorter, quicker path to the ball would serve him so much better. He would increase his contact rate and still generate enough power to hit the ball to the gaps or over the wall.

Another free swinger, but not quite as violent, Jonathan Singleton has to be taken seriously as a game-changing, damaging, impact power hitter. I saw the power once again. It will be difficult to live with his strikeouts, true, but he can end a game right now. With power in such demand in the game, he has to play-especially against right-handed pitchers. Just slip him in the lineup, let him swing and see what happens.

Physically, Singleton reminds me of a slightly leaner Price Fielder. Right down to the beard, Singleton has the size, the shape and all the moves of Fielder with less consistent contact.

I’m always amazed at the power generated by Luis Valbuena. A feast or famine type hitter, he showed the power in his bat again yesterday. I think he’ll get lots of playing time at third base and elsewhere due to his versatility. In yesterday’s game, he played shortstop. I’ve also seen him play second base.

Scott Feldman started the game. He can give the club plenty of innings when he’s as healthy and strong as he looked yesterday. I like Feldman because he keeps his team in the game with solid command and a good repertoire. The club has solid starters with Keuchel, McHugh, McCullers, Feldman, Fister, Fiers, and even Dan Straily if needed. That’s a pretty solid and deep group of available arms.

I’ll probably see the Astros one more time before I leave Florida. I just like watching their young guys play baseball.

Tomorrow: Washington and Miami

Thank you for following me @BerniePleskoff and for reading my blog. I’ll be highlighting every team I see this spring on this site.

That’s it. I’m done. For now.