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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As is often the case (especially in Florida) when teams travel any distance for a road Spring Training game, the lineup is often a bit short on star power. That isn’t always the case, but it happens. The Mets did meet the minimum of “regular” players that made the trip from Port St. Lucie to Kissimmee to take on the Astros. However, the names that one would expect to be the focal point of the 2016 charge for the World Championship were not on hand.
Dom Smith did make the trip. I had seen his impressive line drive bat in this past Arizona Fall League. He’s a non-roster player and doesn’t have an invite to Spring Training according to the media handbook. But there he was, in the lineup playing first base. In his first at-bat he smoked a line drive that he thought had cleared the 330 foot wall in right field. Uh, not so fast. Not so fast is correct. Smith jogged to first base. He should have been standing on second with a long double. It shows that a player must run hard until he’s in the dugout. Smith went to school on that one. I hope. He also had another hit and showed that his bat will eventually play against quality pitching.
And, he’s a pretty good first baseman with good hands and quick, agile feet. So keep Dom Smith on your radar.
Eric Campbell had a couple hits and looked the part of a quality spare part player. He has some pop in his 6-3 frame and along with a player like Matt Reynolds, he could fill-in nicely if either is needed. I still remain concerned that David Wright will have difficulty playing a full season with his back issues. If he does play, he will be hard pressed to hit like the David Wright in his earlier years. That’s why the Mets have to find some depth. They have Ruben Tejada and Wilmer Flores on the roster as well behind veteran players like Wright, Asdrubal Cabrera and Neil Walker.
Right-hander Robert Gsellman started for New York. He isn’t anywhere near the class of Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, or Steven Matz. But if an emergency starter is needed, he might help. He’ll bring a big 6-4, 200 pound body with the required long hair of a prototypical Mets starter. For now, he’s an emergency pitcher.
Quite simply put, the Astros have an amazingly deep roster. When a team can load up on top draft choices based upon losses from previous ineptitude, the drafts better be superb. Well, through the draft and from trading veteran players not in their plans, general manager Jeff Luhnow and his staff have done a fine job stockpiling very talented players at virtually every position. I never thought I’d say that. But I did. And I believe it. I like the results metric analysis have provided in terms of building the Astros organization.
I saw Collin McHugh start the game. He very quietly and without much fanfare won 19 games last year. In all the fantasy talk, I rarely hear his name mentioned. His wins were not a fluke. He threw 203 2/3 innings, walking 53 and striking out 171. He’s just a good, solid starter with a plan, self confidence and a big arsenal that includes four to five quality pitches. I didn’t see anyone other than Dom Smith make solid contact off McHugh in his two innings of work.
I’ve always backed off George Springer due to the high strikeout rate. But man, when he makes contact it’s for real. Those chronologically advanced will remember Dick Allen. Dick Allen dented the baseball when it hit his bat (not really, I’m just trying to make a point here.) Springer hits the ball very, very hard. And very, very far. And he runs very, very fast. Although I did see him get picked off first when he went on the pitcher’s first move. It was a mistake. He was a dead duck.
The sleeper Astro for me is Andrew Aplin. Who? The left-handed hitter may not get much of a chance in an organization dripping with potential stars, but Aplin can play the game. He’s an outstanding defender, has excellent speed and makes solid contact at the plate. For me, he’s the ideal 4th or 5th outfielder. A left-handed hitter, he isn’t big and strong and won’t hit home runs, but he plays hard, plays the game properly and can inflict line drive damage. I also like Preston Tucker, another left-handed hitting outfielder with a similar frame as Aplin.
A new player to me is Tyler White. I have never seen the big corner infielder before. He has a powerful swing and is the type of hitter that can help an organization if they need a jolt of RBI long balls. Of course, I want to see more. But my first impression was very positive. White is primarily a DH type hitter-and there is always a place for a guy that can hit.
Tomorrow I will discuss more of the star power of the Astros. They have two of the finest all-around players in the game in Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa. I just hope every baseball fan gets to see those two guys play in person. They really are special. Especially Correa.
Tomorrow-more Astros and my look at the Toronto Blue Jays, who barely made the requirement to send regular players. But I’ll write about Marcus Stroman, Pat Venditte, and up and coming players like Anthony Alford and Rowdy Tellez. Watch this space.
Thanks for reading my Spring Training blogs. And thanks for following me @BerniePleskoff.
That’s it. I’m done. For now.
I continue my Spring Training Tour today with my observations of the Braves and Tigers.
While in Florida I may see a team only once. I have to make some scouting decisions based upon batting practice and perhaps one or two trips to the plate or an inning on the mound. But that’s the life of a scout. I’m not complaining.
Champion Stadium is a scaled down edition of a big league park with all the frills packed in a smaller package. On the grounds of Walt Disney World, the park is showing some wear from when I first saw games there, but it’s a fine fan friendly Braves venue.
Highly touted prospect Sean Newcomb got the start for Atlanta. It was very evident that he was nervous throughout his outing. He couldn’t command his pitches and got hit a bit. When he fell behind in counts he had to come in with his mid-90’s fastball. However, it was easy to see that the huge lefty will have an impact on the Braves rotation in the future. It’s good that he can take the mound in Spring Training and gain some valuable experience against quality big league hitters.
Freddie Freeman drove a fastball to deep right field off Tigers lefty Daniel Norris. It was a “no doubt about it” home run with an easy pass, getting loft on the ball. He certainly didn’t show any signs of wear and tear on his wrist. Freeman has a very natural approach at the plate and he won’t get himself out. A savvy hitter, he can take the ball where it’s thrown-even against lefties. He’s legit. No doubt about it.
Ender Inciarte came to the Braves in the deal that yielded Shelby Miller for Arizona.
IMO Inciarte is an under the radar player with multiple obvious tools that include an ability to hit for average, some power, a good arm, good speed and good defense. He’s the total package. The Dbacks will miss his top of the order spark. Atlanta is a good home for him. He got on base in the game with a solid base hit and showed the type of player I have always seen. Keep your eye on Inciarte as he grows as a player.
A name to watch with Atlanta is Mallex Smith. The diminutive Smith (5′-9 ) can fly.
The Braves are loaded with prospects they acquired in trades. I really, really like the direction they are taking as they head to their new stadium in the future.
I was so glad Miguel Cabrera made the trip to Kissimmee for the Tigers. I wanted to see for myself if he looked healthy and in good physical condition. Wow! Cabrera looks terrific. I can’t state strongly enough what a force he again appears to be. Every swing is meaningful. Every swing is lethal. I think he’ll do serious damage with Upton and J D Martinez surrounding him. Miggy is…Miggy once again.
And what about VMart? If his knees hold, VMart is viable once again. He looked very good to me. He was patient at the plate, put the bat on the ball and generated some loft. What a factor he will be in that terrific Tigers lineup. Based upon what I’ve seen, I think we can count on big things from him. As long as the knees hold.
My greatest surprise was the ease with which Shane Greene handled hitters. He was hurt last year. The Tigers thought they were getting the solid Greene that faced them when he was with the Yankees. He started the season well and then went south quickly. In this game I saw movement on the ball, confidence in his stuff and true rhythm. I think he ends up in the pen and works his way to the rotation to spell an injured or ineffective starter along the way.
Daniel Norris started for Detroit. Other than the bomb he yielded to Freddie Freeman I think he looked fine. Tall and slender at 6-2, 195 pounds, Norris can offer the club innings as a starter, but he has to keep the ball out of the center of the plate and repeat his good delivery to last in games.
I have not made any final conclusions about prospect outfielder Steven Moya. He’s tall and thin at 6-6, 229 pounds. When he makes contact the ball flies. Making contact is the issue. He gets fooled easily by breaking balls and lefties give the left-handed hitter fits. He needs more time to develop his raw skills. The true power exists. The bat speed and quick wrists help. Pitch recognition, patience and self-confidence are all on the agenda for his 2016 Minor League development season.
Tomorrow: Astros and Cardinals.
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I hope you’ll watch the video edition of BERNIE’S BASEBALL WORLD with host Bob Eres. You can find it at YouTube and at Prosportsbroadcasting.com.
That’s it. I’m done. For now.
The wonderful sounds of spring baseball are back in both Arizona and Florida. The parks are open, the fans are excited and baseball is in the air. Walk around each concourse and the wonderful whiff of barbecue or grilled burgers and hot dogs permeates the air. Kettle Korn booths and noodle stands can be found for those who have waited through the long cold winter for their favorite spring food items.
Baseball is back in Arizona and Florida. I spent game one of the spring watching the Indians and Reds play at their mutual home field in Goodyear, Arizona. Here’s some of what I saw:
Josh Tomlin took the mound for the Tribe in his quest to nail down the team’s fifth starter role. I admit I do not look at results during the spring. I am more interested in mechanics, health, heart and attitude. I like to see if players return to their craft in good shape and are raring to go.
In his start, Tomlin didn’t have the command I am used to seeing from him. He usually throws strikes and issues few bases on balls. In this initial start, he had trouble locating his pitches where he wanted. Getting too much of the plate at times, Tomlin was hit fairly hard. But without a doubt, there were some pitches that had his usual good movement on the ball. I still like Tomlin to be a solid, reliable and consistent fifth starter. But he’ll have competition to win the role from guys like T J House and Cody Anderson.
My greatest “take away” from the game regarding the Indians was their woeful lack of depth in the outfield. With the shoulder injury to Michael Brantley and the suspension of Abraham Almonte, the Tribe is left with meh in the outfield. Rajai Davis will see lots of time in left and maybe even in center. I frankly feel he is more of a platoon player, hitting against left-handed pitching. I have concerns his lower body won’t survive a heavy day-to-day workload. His hamstrings will get a workout if he is used regularly.
Lonnie Chisenhall should staff right field against right-handed pitching. I think he still scuffles against lefties and can’t be counted upon for much production if he hits against southpaws. But he’s a darn good defensive outfielder. His range is solid and his arm is superb. I saw hit hit the cutoff man twice in the team’s good fundamental execution in nailing two runners at the plate. It was Chisenahall to shortstop to catcher and Chisenhall to second baseman to catcher. But I also saw him ground out to the second baseman on three consecutive at-bats. His bat seemed to drag and he didn’t get good wood on the ball in any of the three at-bats. Collin Cowgill will likely play right field against lefties. Again, I think Cowgill’s defense is solid but his bat is suspect.
Center field? That should be a spot for Will Venable to help out. The new arrival is a good defender and improved somewhat over the years with San Diego. But still, he isn’t going to set the world on fire by any means. Rookie Tyler Naquin, another good defender with little home run power could stick when camp breaks. James Ramsey can also play center field. I’d like to see what the former Cardinals outfielder could do if given sustained playing time. To date, I haven’t heard much buzz about him.
Brantley’s return should likely bring energy and offense to the team. I hope they don’t rush him. I hope he is healthy when he returns. But the shoulder is crucial in swing mechanics. Almonte? I saw some signs last year that I liked. Lots of hustle and good energy. Nice defense and a promising bat. But it’s tough to hit when you’re suspended. The Indians outfield? Call it mediocre, at best. They need to find someone to bolster to offensive side of the game to give their solid starting pitching some offensive run support. Now. If not sooner.
The Reds? Wow, do they have the outfielders. Not all are Major League ready, but the future in the outfield is very bright. They still have veterans Jay Bruce and Billy Hamilton (well, almost a veteran compared to some others.) The rest of the group is comprised of former Dodgers prospect Scott Schebler, Rule 5 import from the New York Yankees Jake Cave, out of options right-handed hitting Yorman Rodriguez, as well as prospects Adam Duvall and left-handed hitting Kyle Waldrop
For me, the guy to watch is prospect Jesse Winker. A non-roster invitee to Spring Training, Winker will open some eyes in Reds camp. He is a very solid gap hitter with some home run pop in his bat. The Reds may not wait too long to set him loose and give him a chance to play with Hamilton and Schebler in the outfield of the future. Jay Bruce may make a fine trade chip if the club can find a taker. Cleveland, you say? One slight problem. The Indians are on Bruce’s “no trade” list. I can’t see the Tribe paying him any extra money to pry themselves off that list. But Bruce may be a spare part among a galaxy of potential outfield stars as Cincinnati moves along in their rebuilding efforts. And he would really help with offense in the Indians outfield. I’d like to see them find a way to make that happen.
Further down the Reds prospect chain is Phillip Ervin, an outfielder I got to see and appreciate during this past Arizona Fall League. Ervin is a spring invitee along with Winker. He may be fourth outfield type guy in center field if Hamilton sticks.
Ervin can play.
So what I saw in one game was a wealth of outfield veterans and prospects with the Reds and an evident unmet need in the outfield for Cleveland. It just makes so much sense to me for these to clubs to put their heads together and meet each other’s needs. I think the Tribe has a spare infielder in the system to help the Reds as well as some organizational pitching depth that could respond to the Reds needs. Maybe the Indians don’t have to give up a Trevor Bauer or Danny Salazar to get offensive outfield help. Maybe they have to part with a Cody Anderson, or a T J House to fill a glaring need. Eventually, to get a solid Major League ready outfielder, a pitcher will have to be sacrificed. Or, can the Indians afford to wait for the final development of Clint Frazier or Bradley Zimmer to fill that need? By then it may be too late. And I don’t think Tyler Naquin has the offensive pop they need Now. If not sooner.
Bottom line: Brantley and Almonte may be out of the lineup too long for the team to recover from a potential shaky start in April. The Reds can offer some outfield help now-when it is most needed.
But yes, there will be a price to pay.
Thanks for watching BERNIE’S BASEBALL WORLD on video at YouTube or at Prosportsbroadcasting.com. And thanks for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff.
Tomorrow: Some thoughts about the Braves and Tigers.
That’s it. I’m Done. For now.