May 2nd, 2016

Three Teams Visit Phoenix-My Take On Each Club

The Arizona Diamondbacks just completed a home stand that included visits from the Pittsburgh Pirates, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Colorado Rockies.

The home stand provided me with a chance to get a much better feel for each of these clubs a month into the season. Here are my thoughts:

PITTSBURGH PIRATES:

There are a few hidden gems on this team that really don’t get enough attention. At least we don’t hear enough about them on the west coast. I begin with Starling Marte.
Marte can do everything well. He looks bigger than his listed 6-foot-1 185 pounds. There is no denying his first-step quickness and his overall base stealing speed. He stole 30 bases last year and I think he can exceed that. What I like most about Marte is his ability to take a pitch where it is thrown and pound the gaps with loud line drives. This is a guy who smoked 30 doubles along with his 19 home runs. He also had two triples.
A great fantasy option because of his ability to drive the ball, Marte does have his issues. He strikes out with an aggressive approach. But even with that, he is a very solid hitter for the top part of the Pirates lineup.

For me the real sleeper on the team is Gregory Polanco. Like Marte, he is a player we don’t hear enough about. He has a bigger than life 6-foot-5 230 pound frame and swings from the left side of the plate. He has awesome pull power. When he gets those huge legs and strong arms under a ball. fuggetaboudit. He has a big arm and moves swiftly in the outfield for a man his size. Even with that size, Polanco stole 27 bases last year, almost as many as Marte. He also hit 23 homers, three triples and 35 doubles. Polanco hasn’t even scratched the surface of his ability. I think he’ll get better and better and become a huge star. He struck out 121 times last year-but the production was enormous. I love watching this guy hit. He’s scary good. And scary huge.

Of course the Pirates still have the outstanding Andrew McCutchen playing center field. He was scuffling some while playing at Chase Field, as he was chasing sliders outside the strike zone When he left Phoenix, he hit some of his trademark home runs. I don’t think he is the Cutch we have been used to, but he’s still a great player and really fun to watch. He’s the leader they need. He sets a great example and a great tone.

The under the radar guy is Sean Rodriguez. He can hit. What I really like is his ability to play all over the field. He’s not a star, but he’s a good, solid role player. He has had some clutch hits and is in the right place at the right time. He’s a valuable guy.

They can stand to upgrade their starting pitching. I like Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano. I think we’ll see big things from Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow. Once those guys are making regular starts in the Pirates rotation things will be more settled.
Juan Nicasio and Jon Niese don’t appear to be the long-term solutions. Taillon and Glasnow do.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

I have to say upfront this is not the typical Cardinals team I am used to seeing. The decline and difference in this team from the past is a bit shocking. The defense is a major concern. Yes, Jhonny Peralta is hurt and Aledmys Diaz has done a nice job of filling in. But there are issues at second base, first base and in the outfield. Matt Carpenter hits regardless of where he plays. He’s an outstanding player. However, they lose defense with Matt Adams or Brandon Moss at first. Randal Grichuk is not a good center fielder-he’s average in my opinion. I think he fits better in right. He played center in Phoenix. Rookie Jeremy Hazelbaker is average at best on defense. It just doesn’t seem like the same type of Cardinals team as in the past. Those teams never beat themselves.

When it comes to hitting, Steven Piscotty is the cream of the crop. He is a solid hitter for average and his power will emerge. Still young, Piscotty makes terrific contact and is a very solid leadoff or number two hitter in the lineup. He uses a short, measured stroke and doesn’t get cheated at the plate.

Where is the Adam Wainwright of the past? I think injuries and a great number of pitches on his arm have taken a toll. He just isn’t the same. As an opposite to Wainwright, Carlos Martinez is really emerging. He pitched a terrific game against the Diamondbacks. As did Jaime Garcia. I think the Cardinals will have to find another starter or two sooner than later. Yes, when healthy Michael Wacha is fine. I’m not a Mike Leake fan. I think he’s way too inconsistent for my tastes.

Basically, I would say the Cardinals team I saw last week can’t play with the Cubs or even the Pirates in their division. I think they may scuffle all year. Even when Peralta returns. Yes, Grichuk is a nice young power bat. But age is an issue with Matt Holiday’s health and both Matt Adams and Brandon Moss are too “feast or famine” type hitters for me. Their inconsistency can kill a rally or break open a game. That’s why I like Matt Carpenter and Stephen Piscotty so much. They are very good hitters. They hit consistently. They make excellent contact and they both make things happen. But Grichuk, Carpenter and Piscotty aren’t enough this year to keep the boat afloat.

COLORADO ROCKIES

Regular readers of my work know that I love watching the Rockies hit. There are few teams that can pound the ball like the Rocks. Nolan Arenado is All World for me. He is a slugger, a hitter for average, and probably the best third baseman I’ve seen. Yes, even better than Brooks Robinson. And yes, probably better than Manny Machado. I marvel at his reactions. His footwork. His timing. His trowing arm. He’s amazing.

For me D J LeMahieu remains underrated. He, too, can hit. He, too, is a great defender. So with Arenado at third and LeMahieu at second, the Rockies have two terrific defensive infielders. And Trevor Story is playing a much more solid shortstop than most had imagined. He’s very steady. Improving daily.

When Carlos Gonzalez heats up he can carry an offense. But he won’t have to. They have Arenado, Charlie Blackmon and Trevor Story along to put up some outstanding offensive numbers. Gerardo Parra is a stabilizing player in the clubhouse, bringing people together and adding life and joy to a generally happy and highly motivated team.

I was shocked at how well former Indians infielder/catcher and now Rockies catcher Tony Wolters handled the pitching staff. He does a fine job calling the games, blocking balls in the dirt and being the workhorse behind the plate once or twice a week to spell Nick Hundley. I’m not sure Wolters has a big future there because the Rockies have some solid catching talent, but Wolters exceeded my expectations.

The pitching? I really think Chad Bettis can win in any park. He’s got good stuff. Coors may bite him, but he can pitch. We’ll see about Eddie Butler and Jon Gray. They were good as prospects, but now they have to work in Coors for half their games.

The Rockies are exciting and great fun to watch. Man, can they pound the ball.

ABOUT THE DIAMONDBACKS

The way the ball is flying out of Chase Field, I think the Diamondbacks should use the humidor. Just like they do in Colorado. I don’t think it will negatively impact power-hitting Paul Goldschmidt. It may help the Dbacks pitching staff. What’s there to lose?

I was told by people I trust with Arizona that Socrates Brito looks lost at the plate. Even at Triple-A Reno. He has lost his swing. He is once again a work in progress.

Dbacks Peter O’Brien is hitting over .300 and has seven homers at Reno. Why isn’t he playing for Arizona? Where would he play? They already have defensive challenges with Yasmany Tomas in left and Chris Owings learning how to play center. Where would you hide the defensively challenged O’Brien? He probably has to be traded to the American League where he can serve as a designated hitter. The sooner the better.

The Diamondbacks have a revolving door at middle reliever. It isn’t good for the franchise. It isn’t good for the morale of the pitchers who are on the major league/minor league shuttle. It shows instability and yes, panic to some degree.

Finally-knowing A J Pollack was coming off an elbow problem and having traded Ender Inciarte to Atlanta, why in the world weren’t the Diamondbacks prepared in the spring with a backup outfielder? Better yet-why did they trade Inciarte? They had all spring to find help in the outfield. But over a few years they have traded several viable outfielders. They didn’t find options and are now left with Chris Owings learning the position at the big league level. Owings looks out of position. He’s a good athlete. He is learning how to make the correct reads. But he has made some bad reads off the bat. He doesn’t have a strong center field arm. But he is trying hard and making progress. Was Brito the spring answer for center field? Or was it Peralta in center and Brito in right? How bad can Brito be hitting that they are keeping Owings in center field? Brito must look pretty bad.

The Diamondbacks have to right the ship quickly. That means Shelby Miller as well as the inconsistent offense. Miller looked totally worn out in yesterday’s start. He didn’t go five innings and he looked spent. I would be concerned if I’m the Dbacks. I think they are. How do you right that ship? Maybe you send him to the pen for a while to regain his confidence. Can you say Trevor Bauer?

That’s it for me. Thanks for reading my scouting reports at TodaysKnuckleball.com. Much appreciated.

That’s it. I’m done. For now.

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