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Spring Training Look at the Milwaukee Brewers

I love going to Maryvale Baseball Park to watch Brewers Spring Training games.
There is something very “special” about the place. It looks different than the state of the art fabulous parks that are now dotting the landscape in Arizona. Yes, it has some age, but Maryvale Baseball Park is well maintained for the most part and it really is very fan friendly. Every seat has a perfect view of the field. There is an intimacy and “family” type environment throughout.

Maryvale is also the home of the finest kettle popcorn I’ve ever eaten. Big, full bags of kettlecorn always find their way into my car and arrive home as a treat that my wife really loves. The walkway of Maryvale Baseball Park has a war of scents every day. Popcorn vs. Noodles. Most of the time the popcorn wins.

The press box is not the most up to date, but it has plenty of room for all the writers and an annex next door to handle the spillover. But there is one small problem. The press box does not offer any water—bottled or otherwise. Yikes!

The Brewers team I saw in their game against the Kansas City Royals looked like it could be representative of the opening day lineup. Although the Brewers staff still has some decisions to make on outfielders and the relief corps, modt of the positions are settled. There are lots of young, eager and promising players on the roster.

Gone from last year are players like Khris Davis, Adam Lind, Francisco Rodrigues, Jean Segura and Logan Schafer. Those could accumulate to be big, big losses. But for a team that is in the first real phase of rebuilding under new general manager David Stearns, the task is likely exciting for all involved and requires patience. Who doesn’t like to watch young prospect players come of age from a baseball sense?

New Brewers include guys like Chris Carter, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Jonathan Villar, Chase Anderson and Aaron Hill among a host of others.

I was stunned at how fast a Chris Carter line drive left the ball park in left-center field. It got out In a blink of an eye. Carter’s strength was evident as his short, quick swing met the pitch perfectly on the barrel of the bat. The baseball may have been dented as it sailed in the air. It was really amazing. Carter could hit a ton of home runs with that swing. If I were on the mound he would never see a fastball. If he adjusts to off-speed and breaking ball pitches, hats off to him. But until he makes that adjustment consistently, he’ll have to hit my secondary pitches. The man is lethal against fastballs. Carter struck out 151 times in 391 at-bats last year for Houston. And now he takes his .199 batting average to Milwaukee. But the power is undeniable.

Another former Astro is young Domingo Santana. Santana played in only 14 games for Houston last season with another 38 for the Brewers after the trade. It looks like he has won a job as the right fielder for the Crew. There really is lots to like with him.
He should be able to get better and better with the bat as he gains experience against quality major league pitching. I caution that fans and his manager will have to be patient with Santana. While the tools are evident he lacks experience as an every day player against the best pitching in the world.

Ryan Braun’s health remains a concern. From hand issues to now his bad back, Braun has been showing signs of wear and tear of late. I don’t really know how long his baseball shelf life will be. Is there enough left in his bat to make an impact? How many games will he play? I think we are in the midst of a time when Braun wants to prove that he can be a mentor to the young Brewers and that he can still hit. My jury hasn’t returned a verdict yet. While I think he still has “it” I’m not as certain as I was in the off-season. Braun’s nagging issues concern me.

I do like Jonathan Villar a great deal as a potential base stealer. And with Jean Segura now playing in Arizona, it looks to me like Villar may be a place holder until the club is certain that the shortstop of the future is ready. That would be Orlando Arcia-a really fine prospect. But keep your eye on Yadiel Rivera, another young middle-infielder who may hit and play his way onto the club. I can see a future middle-infield of Arcia and Rivera. For now, though, I think Villar gets lots of playing time. I just hope he gets the green light to attempt to steal. I think there are more stolen bases from him than we’ve seen in his past.

While I write about Rivera, Scooter Gennett is having a fantastic offensive spring. He is hitting so well that he can be a real spark at the top of the Brewers order. Gennett plays with energy and is a real gamer. I think the middle-infield of the Brewers will be a true strength for a long time going forward.

Someone will have to take over at third base. Right now, the position seems to belong to Aaron Hill. He will provide some veteran stability, but he won’t be the long-term answer. Maybe one of the guys I’ve already mentioned or a player like Garin Cecchini can catch fire and give the Brewers the third baseman they need long-term. Colin Walsh and Andy Wilkins are also on the 40-man. Somewhere among all those corner infielders will emerge.

The outfield is also loaded with prospects. Keon Broxton, has opened lots of eyes. Someone will will the center field job. Will it be Niewenhuis? Young Keon Broxton? And will former Padres outfielder (now injured) Rymer Liriano find a role with the club?

What happens to the catching position? Will Jonathan Lucroy be traded for even more young major league ready players? If not now, will he make it with the club past the July trading deadline? I don’t have the answer to that. But I do know I like his backup catcher a great deal. Every time I see him play, catcher Martin Maldonado gets a big, meaningful hit. I think their catching situation will be fine. Maybe it’s time to see what Lucroy can fetch in trade. I remind myself that among the young studs the Brewers have collected is Jacob Nottingham, a really, really solid hitting prospect catcher. He’s just not quite ready. But he projects to be a very good long-term replacement for Lucroy when the time does arrive.

Wily Peralta got the start in the game I scouted. He looked really sharp. He wasn’t overpowering, but he got into a great rhythm and did the job. If he can last six innings I think the pen is strong enough to preserve a victory. The pitching staff is young and eager to succeed. But I still don’t know exactly who closes? Is it a committee? Is it Will Smith? Is it Jeremy Jeffress?

So there are questions to be answered in the next week. Outfielders? Relievers? Middle-infielders? Closer? But that is to be expected with a team in transition.

Overall, I think the Brewers will be better than some might expect. There is energy and hope. Talent, power and speed. There are also strikeouts and inexperience. There is also a very young pitching staff without a true ace. But it’ll be fun.

Brewers fans are among the best in baseball. They support their team. They know the game. They have fun. They cheer at the sausage races. And this year, they have to just enjoy watching talented young men improve game to game right in front of their eyes.
Patience and sticking with their team as it matures can be challenging, but also very rewarding as the team and the fans bond together.

Thank you for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff.

That’s it. I’m Done. For now.

 

Spring Training Tour-Kansas City Royals

The Kansas City Royals are among the most popular teams training in Arizona. They are drawing big crowds both at home in Surprise and on the road. Wherever the Royals play the stands are a sea of blue. That’s what happens to winning teams. And the Royals do, indeed win. Their brand of baseball is comprised of solid enough pitching, timely hitting, good fundamental defense and speed that puts pressure on the opposing defense. Lots and lots of speed. The Royals score runs and prevent runs-the two basic components of winning baseball.

Gone from their World Championship team are top notch players like pitcher Johnny Cueto, outfielder Alex Rios and the super versatile Ben Zobrist.

Pitchers Ian Kennedy, Mike Minor and Joakim Soria join the club to help bolster the pitching staff.

Much has to happen for the Royals to return to their lofty position atop the world of baseball. As is always the case, teams always gun for the big guys. And the Royals are now the big guys.

The nucleus of the club is still in place. After being patient for years and waiting for Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas to fulfill their potential, the Royals are now experiencing the type of production those three can provide. And they’ve been doing it now for the past few years. That trio holds a boatload of RBIs and runs scored in their control. With Lorenzo Cain added to that threesome making it four stellar players at the top of the lineup, the Royals remain dangerous once again.

We may not have yet seen the best of Cain. He can do it all. He hits for average, his power continues to increase, he runs well enough to steal bases and he plays outstanding defense in center field. He may even add a few more home runs to increase from the 16 he belted last year. Cain stole 28 bases in 2016. If he has his legs and doesn’t encounter hamstring issues, he could easily top 30.

Paulo Orlando may be a strange name to many. He is targeted to split playing time with the very speedy Jarod Dyson once Dyson returns from injury. That could be as soon as the last week of Spring Training. With spotty playing time last year, Dyson stole 26 bases. That should increase this year. And it should add even more pressure to the opposing pitcher.

Orlando, the right-handed hitting side of the Dyson/Orlando platoon is a good player with an average skill set. Without one glaring tool to anchor his game, Orlando is a steady and reliable outfielder with a bat that should hover around .275. I think both Dyson and Orlando will eventually make way for former first round athlete Bubba Starling, who is improving his contact rate and plate discipline every time I see him. But Starling’s time is in the future, not just yet.

Actually, add Reymond Fuentes to the mix for an outfield position in competition with Dyson and Orlando. Fuentes was drafted by the Red Sox and traded to the Padres. He’s now in the outfield mix with the Royals. A left-handed hitter, Fuentes also brings more speed and a barrel of the bat hitting approach. So he, Orlando and Dyson may all be seeking big league playing time in the outfield. One outfield role remains to be filled as Gordon will patrol left and Cain is a mainstay in center.

Kendrys Morales is getting playing time at first base, as he did in the game I scouted against Cleveland this week. Morales will serve as the primary DH, but he could spell Hosmer at first, opening a spot for Fuentes as the DH.

While there are lots of mix and match opportunities for the Royals, the key to their success will be the play of the defense and their pitching.

Alcedes Escobar is about as sure-handed a shortstop as there is in the game. From the first time I saw him as a raw prospect years ago in the Arizona Fall League, Escobar has always made the routine play with ease and made the difficult play look simple as well. He is just a solid, consistent shortstop with enough pop in his bat to be dangerous as well as having the requisite Royals trademark quality-base stealing type speed.

Omar Infante returns at second base, with the good-hitting and solid fielding Christian Colon waiting in the wings. Colon has always hit. There is no reason that can’t continue if he sticks with the parent club all year. Switch-hitting Raul Mondesi is still very young, but he represents the future in the Royals infield.

The Royals have made it a plan for their starting pitcher to keep the club in the game for six innings and turn everything over to a World Class bullpen. To beat the Royals, a team has to jump on the starter and pile on for inning after inning. If that doesn’t happen, the opposition will be treated to a heavy dose of a bullpen that is anchored at the back end by closer Wade Davis. At this point in time he may be the best in the business. Set-up man Luke Hochevar is another pitcher who found great success pitching in late innings for the Royals.

The beautiful house of cards built by the Kansas City front office may come collapsing down if the starting pitching runs in to repetitive hiccups. Ian Kennedy should really help fill the roll vacated by Johnny Cueto. He can be very good. Especially when he pitches inside. If he stays away from hitters and avoids the inside of the plate he can quickly lose his fastball command. The ball sails on him and he gets lit up.

Rotation partners of Kennedy include the returning Edinson Volquez who is now another year older, righty Yordano Ventura, and others who might include Chris Young, Kris Medlen and more. Kyle Zimmer is a prospect with promise who has had shoulder issues. He may be able to help at some point in the season. Lefties Jason Vargas and Danny Duffy add depth for either the rotation or the pen, depending upon need.

But whatever combination of starters makes the rotation, we aren’t talking New York Mets pitching here. The starters just have to carry the baton to the bullpen for success to be realized. They can do that. Without much doubt.

Thank you for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff.

Tomorrow: Milwaukee Brewers

That’s it. I’m done. For now.

 

Spring Training Look: The Los Angeles Angels

I always enjoy going to Tempe Diablo Stadium in Tempe. The fans are usually decked out in Angels colors and the seats are usually filled to the brim. It’s a crowd that appreciates their ball club and cheers throughout the game.

The stadium is not one of the new, state of the art Phoenix area venues. But it has character and tradition. The media area is always buzzing before the game with scouts, team personnel and media. The media lunch is always good, and reasonably priced. I just like going to Tempe Diablo. They make everyone feel very much at home and comfortable.

Media park in a large lot behind the player lot in right field, walk through a tunnel and take an elevator to the top floor. When I arrived yesterday I couldn’t help reminding myself that Joey Gallo hit a home run into that same lot in right field while playing for the Rangers earlier this spring. What a blast that must have been.

I think the Angels are going to have a tough time keeping their heads above water this year in the American League West. Why? The lack of starting pitching could become very worrisome if Jered Weaver can’t rebound from a 7-12 season with a 4.64 ERA. If the aches and pains of C J Wilson and his reduced and limited repertoire don’t improve it could spell real trouble. They need both Weaver and Wilson to perform well and eat some innings..

I am really, really pulling for lefty Tyler Skaggs. If he returns from his elbow surgery and gives the club the type of innings of which he is capable, it could give the Angels a huge boost. If his elbow remains healthy, Skaggs could be a very big part of the teams future. Still young and very athletic, Skaggs was acquired by Jerry Dipoto twice while Dipoto was the team’s general manager. At 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, Skaggs could have the type of arm that could bolster the pitching staff. He could eventually pair with Garrett Richards to form a solid one-two punch of quality starters.

Lefty Hector Santiago started the game I saw. While he isn’t exactly overpowering, Santiago was among the spring leaders in strikeouts going in to the game. He looked sharp at times as he changed speeds and kept the opposing Oakland Athletics off-balance. While he isn’t an ace, he can eat up some innings and provide some quality starts. But I’ve never found him to be particularly consistent.

I like the back end of the Angels bullpen with Huston Street and Joe Smith. Those two in particular stand out to me as guys that can be counted upon to shut the door and preserve the late inning lead. Former Tigers reliever Al Alburquerque will be counted upon to do his part in the pen. The pen seems solid to me.

Mike Trout remains very, very special. i saw him drive balls deep to the outfield with a very measured swing and superb hitting mechanics. He doesn’t seem to have any holes in his approach. He can hit the high or inside fastball and can cover the plate very well for the outside slider. A true professional hitter, I think Trout will be more dangerous this year than ever-and that’s saying something. In Bryce Harper and Mike Trout we are seeing two young players that can probably rival any two mega stars of the past. And both have their best years ahead.

Albert Pujols is still not playing defense at first base. Being used strictly as a designated hitter, Pujols will soon return to the field and once again earn his reputation as a fine defensive first baseman. I do think the bat speed has slowed, but he still gets plenty of barrel on the ball. I look for home runs, doubles and RBIs but a continued bit of decline in the overall batting average. Pujols can still change a game with one swing of the bat. And he’s on a mission to prove that he is still a very viable and dangerous hitter.

One of my favorite American League hitters is Kole Calhoun. Last season he was one of my pre-season guys that I liked. Calhoun struck out 164 times last year. Way too many. He hit .256 with 26 home runs. I didn’t know he had that much power. He’s only 5-foot-10, but the left-handed hitter has some real pop in his bat and good upper-body strength. I like Calhoun to reduce his strikeouts and make more contact. So, in essence, Calhoun , Trout and Pujols could form a big three to knock in some runs.

C J Cron may feel a bit of heat from J-Man Choi at first base, but I don’t think Choi will be a major threat to Cron’s playing time. Choi has struck out a bunch here in Spring Training and may have some initial difficulty making contact against quality big league hitters. From South Korea, the swith-hitting, 6-foot-1, 230 pound first baseman may not make the final 25-man roster. If he doesn’t he will be a phone call away. It may be best for him to make his adjustments with less pressure and having an opportunity to play every day. But Choi could bring a nice organizational bat the the club.

left-handed hitting Daniel Nava is playing and hitting well and is in the mix to start in left-field. A switch-hitter, Nava has a chance to prove he belongs in the starting lineup of a big league club. He really never got the sustained opportunity he needs to stay sharp when playing for the Red Sox. He has his timing down and is showing that his versatile bat could really help.

There are three catchers on the 400-man roster. They include Carlos Perez, Geovanny Soto and big, 6-foot-4, 235 prospect Jett Bandy. I saw Perez start the game I scouted. He can be a better than meh hitter and will likely get lots of at-bats.

The Angels are not among the highest rated regarding their farm system. Depth, especially starting pitching depth could be an issue. However, with the booming bat of Mike Trout and the power of Pujols, Calhoun and Cron, the Angels should be in most games offensively. They may have to score lots of runs to keep up with the opposition.

Defensively, how can a team get much better than Andrelton Simmons at shortstop? The Angels gave up highly touted lefty pitching prospect Sean Newcomb in the deal with Braves to obtain Simmons, but man, can he play. I saw him make several difficult plays seem ordinary with lighting fast hands and feet, great range and a super arm. He will be a tremendous asset to the Angels pitchers. He and his second base partner, probably Johnny Giavotella will form an outstanding middle-infield combination.

Tomorrow: Kansas City Royals

Thank you for following my on twitter @BerniePleskoff

That’s it. I’m done. For now.

 

Spring Training Roster Construction-Arizona Diamondbacks

I know I have commented earlier on the Arizona Diamondbacks in my daily Spring Training reports. I just wanted to share some additional comments. I think some things have changed as the spring has progressed and it gets closer to determining the 25-man roster.

I think the Dbacks are intrigued with the potential Rickie Weeks, Jr. provides. No longer a second baseman, in case you’ve missed it, Weeks Jr. is playing left field in Dbacks camp. And he’s playing well. He now prefers to be called Weeks, Jr. And that is the name on his uniform.

Weeks, Jr. has always had a very strong upper body and strong forearms. His strength is less obvious watching from the stands or on television. But every time I stand next to him I marvel at his well defined upper body. That strength could pay huge dividends in National League West parks like Chase Field and Coors Field.

In the past, Weeks, Jr. has had issues with his wrists. I think he is healthy and raring to prove to the baseball world that he still has value.

The Dbacks have very viable outfield candidates in David Peralta, A J Pollock, Yasmany Tomas, Socrates Brito and Peter O’Brien. Where does Weeks, Jr. fit? I keep trying to see a viable path to the 25-man roster for him. In this scenario, I think O’Brien gets additional Minor League time and is optioned. So if Weeks, Jr. sticks, the outfield consists of Weeks, Jr., Peralta, Pollock, Tomas and Brito. That’s five. (5)

The infield is another place that is loaded with candidates. Of course Paul Goldschmidt is a fixture at first base. Then the club has Nick Ahmed, Jake Lamb, Chris Owings and Jean Segura to consider. However, Phil Gosselin, who came in a trade with Atlanta is opening plenty of eyes with very good contact hitting and some pop in his live bat. Does he get a roster spot? And what about highly rated prospect Brandon Drury? Can Drury make the team as a platoon partner at third base with the left-handed hitting Lamb? Or does Gosselin take that role in addition to playing some second base? I think Drury becomes the odd man out and gets permanent playing time in the Minor Leagues. So by process of elimination consider Ahmed, Lamb, Owings, Segura, Goldschmidt and Gosselin as the infield that is six deep. (6)

In my scenario, I have 11 players between the outfield and infield.

I’m assuming the club will keep two catchers. (2). The 40-man roster includes starting catcher Wellington Castillo and then Tuffy Gosewish, Chris Hermann, and prospect Oscar Hernandez. I am assuming Hernandez gets a full year of seasoning after his Rule 5 year in which he was hurt and couldn’t get playing time. Then, the last catching position should go to Gosewish or Hermann. But not both if the team wants a 12 man pitching staff.

My total roster is now 13. That leaves 12 pitchers, including a bullpen of seven. Does it work? I think so. At least at the start of the season. It would leave quality players like O’Brien and Drury off the roster initially. Each would benefit from additional seasoning. If they are valued by the front office, eventually, a spot will have to be found for both-either by trade of another player or injury.

The catcher that is the odd man out would remain in the organization as the top Minor League catcher waiting for poor performance or injury.

The Diamondbacks also have outfielder Gabriel Guerrero waiting in the wings. He will be another in the line of prospects that can make an impact along with O’Brien and Drury-each already on the 40-man roster.

Tomorrow: First look at Los Angeles Angels

Thank you for following me @BerniePleskoff.

That’s it. I’m done. For now.

 

My Spring Training Look at the Los Angeles Dodgers

Prior to the start of Spring Training, Major League Baseball sponsors a media day when the managers of each club meet with the media. This year such a session was held in both Florida and Arizona. Commissioner Manfred met with the press at each session.

At the Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix, it appeared to me the most popular manager was new Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts. There was a big crowd around his table and he graciously answered every question.

For some, the hiring of Roberts to manage the Dodgers was a surprise. That may be true, but he has the temperament, the communications skills and the baseball background to help the Dodgers turn the next page. The challenge now is to turn the Dodgers beyond a contenting team into a World Series Champion. That’s a great deal to ask. However, the financial and physical resources are in place for the team to succeed. But that’s what everyone has said for the past few years. Don Mattingly has moved on to manage the Marlins, putting his Los Angeles Dodgers experience in the rear view mirror. Now, it’s Roberts’ team.

My first look of the team came last week when they played their Camelback Ranch complex partner Chicago White Sox before a sellout crowd in Glendale.

Clayton Kershaw started the game. He wasn’t his sharpest, but he showed why he is so exceptional on the mound. He was able to throw his repertoire of breaking balls to compliment his outstanding fastball, fooling hitter after hitter in the process. While there were some hiccups along the way, Kershaw can simply dominate a game. Especially one that matters-not those that are played in the spring. It will continue to be difficult to string hits and walks together to score against him. And that’s the key. Unless a ball leaves the park for a home run, it will take multiple mistakes on his part or good luck for a series of hitters to sustain enough of a rally to put runs on the board.

I’ve seen Kershaw get a bit wild at times, but hitters have a tendency to get impatient and swing at bad pitches. He really is a master craftsman worthy of making the Dodgers contenders if he has a solid supporting cast.

The back end of the pitching equation for the Dodgers begins with closer Kenley Jansen. What Kershaw does in the beginning and middle innings of a game, Jansen does at the end. He’s a dominant closer capable of striking out the three hitters he will face in the 9th inning. He struck out 80 last year in 52 1/3 innings. He walked eight.
Yikes! You want to beat Kershaw and Jansen? Better get to Kershaw very early in the game. And regardless of who has pitched that day for Los Angeles, if the Dodgers head to the ninth with a three run lead…fuggedabowdit. Jansen is really, really good.

The Dodgers are very excited about the athletic ability of outfielder Trayce Thompson, who had just begun to hit when the Dodgers got him from the White Sox. I can see him getting lots of outfield playing time. He’s a good defender with a solid throwing arm, good range in the outfield and a bat that is beginning to wake up. There is some pop in the bat that the Dodgers can certainly use this coming season. I like what I’ve seen so far of Thompson.

Scott Van Slyke is one of those guys every team likes to have hanging around. He is versatile enough to play in the outfield and at first base. A big guy at 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, Van Slyke can come off the bench in the late innings and drill a pitcher’s mistake to the gap. The Dodgers outfield has Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier, Joc Pederson, and Yasiel Puig in addition to Thompson and Van Slyke. So, Van Slyke’s best chance for playing time may well come as he spells Adrian Gonzalez at first base.

Don’t even begin to think that Howie Kendrick can’t hit anymore. He is still the same dangerous gap hitter he has always been. I saw him rip some ropes against the White Sox Chris Sale-no easy task. Kendrick has always been a high average hitter, but he never won the batting title I thought he was sure to secure while he was playing for the Angels in the American League. But, the Dodgers were very wise to bring him back for his second year with their team. He’s the type of hitter that can rake against both right and left-handed pitching. And he can run well enough to stretch a single to a double.
Kendrick’s return makes the Dodgers a much more dangerous team. And the Angels have never been the same since he left. i think it was a huge mistake for the Angels to ever let him leave their club without extending his contract.

The situation with Alex Guererro remains a total puzzle to me. The Dodgers paid handsomely for his services as an international free agent from Cuba. But he has never been given a chance for sustained plate appearances. I really wonder how he would hit if he got more than last year’s 219 at-bats? Is he that much of a clank in the field that he can’t play defense? If that is really the case, he needs to find a new home as a designated hitter in the American League. I’m just sayin. With Kendrick at second, he likely would have to play third. The Guerrero situation, as are a few others with the Dodgers roster is a bit perplexing.

I’m not nuts about the Dodgers starters beyond Kershaw. I think the balance of the NL West changed dramatically when Zack Greinke went to the Diamondbacks. At one time the Dodgers were loaded with solid starting pitching. I feel that has eroded to the point where prospects like Julio Urias and Jose De Leon will be more important than we once may have believed a couple years ago. Can they count on Kenta Maeda, the right-hander from Japan who joined the club this year? How about Hyun-Jin Ryu? Will he hold up after missing a year with injury? Then there is the chronoligically advancing Scott Kazmir. Is there enough left in the tank? Mike Bolsinger? Hello. So the pitching is a great concern to me. And I think it might be giving the Dodgers brass some acid reflux. They have some offense that can score runs, but will the pitching be enough?

Bottom line after watching them this spring–I think new manager Dave Roberts has his hands full. He’ll have to handle the pitching staff well and mix and match seasoned veterans (especially in the outfield with Crawford and Ethier) to move the club to the finish line. Pitching. Pitching. Pitching. We’ll see. Maybe my concerns are unfounded.

Thanks for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff.

Tomorrow: Arizona Diamondbacks

That’s it. I’m done. For now.

 

Spring Training Tour-Chicago White Sox

There was an incredible environment yesterday in Glendale’s Camelback Ranch. The Los Angeles Dodgers Clayton Kershaw was facing the White Sox Chris Sale. The game was the third sellout in a row for the complex which is shared by the White Sox and Dodgers.

The festive atmosphere included people wearing every form of White Sox and Dodgers gear known to man. The scent of great food permeated the park and the concession stands were mobbed. Most importantly, the media dining room featured outstanding roast beef tip and all the trimmings. In my book, Camelback Ranch has some of the best media food in either Florida or Arizona-and I’ve tried them all. They even had some type of chocolate moose for dessert.

The controversy regarding Adam LaRoche’s son being in the clubhouse was still a topic of conversation in the press box. I have spoken about this on radio in both the United States and Canada. I spoke about it on the BERNIE’S BASEBALL WORLD video. But I do have a couple of final thoughts.

First and foremost, I think the entire situation was blown out of proportion. Specific details should never have escaped the clubhouse. To say it is unusual for a child to be in the clubhouse repeatedly is an understatement. Generally, in every instance I know the time for children and family in the clubhouse is very limited. Apparently, that was not the case with the LaRoche situation. Allegedly, the boy was even on the team bus and on the field during drills. I do think there is enough culpability to pass around on this one. It was a bad situation that got out of control and it was difficult to manage.
I do have a feeling some of the newer players to the team may have privately made their feelings known about the constant presence of the young LaRoche. Apparently, management did get complaints from players. I get it.

AS for the White Sox on the field. I saw some things that were interesting. For example, Austin Jackson may well find a home in center field, moving Adam Eaton to left. That would give them two good outfielders with speed to track down anything hit to the left side of the field. But Jackson will have to hit to stick in the everyday lineup. That leaves Melky Cabrera and Avisail Garcia as the third outfielder in most lineups. Either J B Shuck or Jerry Sands could hold down a spot, depending upon their performances. But Eaton to left is interesting.

Todd Frazier has lengthened the lineup and has given Jose Abreu some real protection in the middle of the order. Both should hit their share of home runs in hitter-friendly Cellular One. Frazier may not set the world on fire with his batting average, but he will be dangerous every time he comes to the plate. We have to remember that he’s coming from the National League and there may be some adjustments to make to new pitchers. But his old park and new one are similar in their friendliness to right-handed hitters. He should be a real force on the south side of Chicago.

The catching situation interests me. Dioner Navvaro can hit. But Alex Avila may be better defensively. And with that solid left-handed dominant pitching staff, Avila may well be the prominent starting catcher. That said, Navvaro will make his presence known. Again, especially in that ball park. I look for both to get lots of at-bats to keep them fresh for the long season.
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The White Sox have only 37 men on their roster as I write this. There is plenty of room to add three solid pieces before the end of camp. I look for them to be very busy evaluating waiver wires and looking at players in their own organization or on Minor League contracts that they may be able to promote. Jerry Sands seems like a perfect candidate to make the final 25-man team.

Tyler Saladino is a very slick-fielding shortstop. But I saw a few too many one-handed stabs for my tastes. He has excellent range and a solid arm, but he looks a bit unconventional in his approach to most ground balls. I think he will split some time with Carlos Sanchez or even Leury Garcia during the season. And ultimately, Tim Anderson will take over the position for the next decade or so. Saladino, Sanchez and Garcia buy some time until Anderson is ready. I don’t know though if they can keep both Sanchez and Garcia in the final mix of the 25-man roster.

Brett Lawrie really does stabilize the second base situation. He gives the team a guy in the middle-infield with a respectable bat over a long season. If he stays healthy and gets off to a good start he can help the White Sox improve.

Jose Abreu is a professional hitter. He is patient at the plate, doesn’t get himself out with wild, aggressive swings and takes pitches where they are thrown. It really is rare to see a big, strong power hitter take a pitch to the opposite field as Abreu is able to do. His bat control and quick hands through the ball make him almost immune to lengthy slumps. I think he’s a real offensive threat.

Overall, I think the White Sox look fresh and capable to me. I really do like their top of the rotation trio of Sale, Jose Quintana, and Carlos Rodon. Then, I think manager Robin Ventura may get some heartburn with Mat Latos and John Danks. However, Dioner Navvaro thinks he has spotted Danks tipping his pitches. Since that revelation, Danks has pitched better. And that’s what a veteran catcher can bring to a new organization. Fresh eyes and a new voice for the pitching staff.

Tomorrow: The Los Angeles Dodgers.

Thank you for following me @BerniePleskoff

That’s it. I’m done. For now.

 

Spring Training-My Look At The Oakland Athletics

The Oakland Athletics are an interesting mix of veteran players and some that are younger and less experienced. While it may be a nice mix, I think they’ll struggle to score runs and to keep from yielding runs.

Against the Indians, the A’s sent quite a few of their regular lineup to Goodyear.
Jesse Hahn started the game. Frankly, he looked like he was “pushing” the ball. He actually looked like he was hurt. On some pitches his release point was solid and his extension good. On others, he looked like he didn’t even want to throw the ball. I haven’t seen enough of him to know if the inconsistent mechanics are just who he is. But failing to repeat a clean delivery was costly to him. His shoulder flew open and he got the ball up in the zone more often than not.

Years ago, as I was preparing to be a scout I was always taught how to spot the potential of shoulder, elbow or forearm issues. When Hahn kept flying open and then dropped his shoulder when he pitched, along with changing his arm angle, it looked to me he was looking for comfort-a spot away from pain. I hope I’m wrong. Or, perhaps the discomfort is a harbinger of later issues with his core or rib area. Or maybe that’s just how he pitches. But if I’m writing a scouting report, I have to mention exactly what I saw.

Believe me when I tell you that Billy Burns can flat out fly. He gives 100% effort on every ball he hits. The key to his success will be to keep the ball on the ground and take off running. He can get home to first at the magic 4.0 seconds or under. He also hits some nice, clean line drives that will yield his share of leg doubles. He really is perfect for the top of the Athletic batting order. And he really makes pitchers work. He has the ability to foul off pitch after pitch and lengthen his at-bats. Impressive.

I know that Stephen Vogt will do most of the A’s catching. He was hurt in the second half last year and his numbers declined markedly. However, in the first half he was a monster at the plate, showing power and an ability to drive in runs. But the second catcher on the club, Josh Phegley isn’t too shabby with the bat either. I think the team will give Vogt some time at first base or as a designated hitter to save his body. Enter Phegley. With the playing time I think he’ll get, I feel he can hit double digit home runs. That would be really big for a back-up catcher.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Yonder Alonso, even going back to his younger days with the Reds. Alonso should hit for a very decent average, but he won’t bring much power to the plate. His hitting style reminds me a great deal of the Rays James Loney, when Loney was a bit younger. Alonso may have some opportunities to drive in runs, but he’ll do it with gap doubles as opposed to the three run homer. And that’s fine.

To me, Sam Fuld doesn’t get enough love for the steady and “all out” player he is. A good defender, Fuld can play all three outfield positions with speed, a good read on the ball and a strong enough arm. What I like about him is the speed he can bring if he hits behind Billy Burns, as he did in the game I saw yesterday. Burns and Fuld provided a difficult duo of speed and contact hitting at the top of the A’s order. But the A’s have lots of outfielders including names like Khris Davis, Coco Crisp and Josh Reddick that will find playing time. Andrew Lambo and Jake Smolinski are on the 40-man roster as well.

Reddick, Vogt and Davis could provide some middle of the order power if Burns, Crisp and Fuld get on base the speed/power equation will be fine. But there are still those “ifs”.

I think we’re going to see another nice year from third baseman Danny Valencia. Nobody talks about him, but he very quietly hit .284 in his 47 Oakland games.

So while I don’t think Oakland’s lineup is dangerous from an overwhelming power standpoint, they have guys with adequate power, guys with speed and guys that make contact. The issues I see rest pretty much with the pitching staff. I’ll discuss that at more length when I do my team previews at the end of spring.

Thank you for reading my daily Spring Training blogs.

Tomorrow: The White Sox,

Thank you for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff.

That’s it. I’m done. For now.

 

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.