Archive | March 2013

Spring Training Preview: Peoria

Five days from now I will be back in the place where I got Ken Caminiti, Trevor Hoffman and Randy Johnson to sign a baseball when I was 11 (also Chris Bosio), and where I saw Troy Tulowitzki hit a laser beam home run onto the berm two years ago that I am still trying to get my mind around. Peoria Sports Complex, my preview is my tribute.

Peoria

Stadium B- / Backfields A+ Peoria was the first of the new model of shared complexes when it opened in 1994. The collection of backfields all in one place was a revelation when my family first visited that year. Because it is a little older than many of the other complexes, the stadium is no longer anything special, but there is a very fan friendly angle to the whole place. In the rightfield corner, there is a walkway between the berm and the rightfield stands, where the players come in before the game and leave during and after it. As they walk to the locker rooms, kids push cards and baseballs through the fence and get to spend a second with their heros.

The backfields are also the most accessible in the Cactus League. You can sit between fields or behind outfield fences catching balls during batting practice, but you can also press your nose against the batting cages and watch coaches help hitters tinker with their stances, strides and swings.

We’ll be lucky enough to watch the Padres from this vantage point before a Monday game against the Cubs. And since I am a Padres fan, I am interested in too many players to ask you to sit through, so I am just going to talk about few.

Padres

Carlos Belen – 3B, 6’2″, 17 – The Padres finally started making a reasonable push in the Dominican, spending a lot more money there in recent years. Belen got $1MM for a hit tool that is far ahead of players his age with power to go along with it. 2013 will be his first season of state-side ball and it will be a treat to get to take a sneak peak before his talents are officially unveiled in Rookie or low-A.

Euri Minaya RF, 6’4″/200, 17 – Minaya is huge and he has power potential to match, but unlike Belen, the swing and approach are very raw. He also features a strong throwing arm. The 2013 season will be is first as well.

Jonathan Galvez – 2B/SS, 6’2″/175, 22 – Galvez looks good every time I see him. I’m still trying to figure out why scouts don’t seem to like him. He plays left-field in addition to second base, profiling as a 15HR-20SB type with 25 2Bs. That’s a little light-hitting for your prototypical corner outfielder, but nice for a second baseman. His BB% and K% are average and the hard contact he has made in the minors has helped him consistently post BABIPs in the .350-.360 range. I think he’s flying under the radar by being left out of organizational top 20s.

Cory Spangenberg – 2B, 6’/185, 22 – A very advanced hit tool (albeit with very little home run power) carried Spangenberg to high A last season. Although he was limited by concussion issues during the regular season, he kept at it and lit up the AFL. He should see AA at some point in 2013.

Austin Hedges – C, 6’1″/190, 20 – Fangraphs’ Marc Hulet ranked Hedges ahead of Jedd Gyorko in his recent top 15 for the organization. This is to say, Hulet is totally disregarding the fact that Hedges is nowhere near the Major Leagues, and has put together exactly one slightly above average season (offensively), while Gyorko is on the doorstep, having pounded 60 homers over the last two seasons. While it is evident Hedges has the potential to be elite defensively, I happen to find Hulet’s valuation somewhere between negligent and downright stupid. I have regarded the growing enthusiasm over him with extreme skepticism, but I won’t stop myself from buying in if I glimpse something special in person.

Yeison Asencio – OF, 6’1″/175, 23 – The Padres protected Asencio in the rule 5 draft because he has spent the last two seasons making lots of contact, totaling 15 HR and 15 SB in about 600PA over that span. He was limited last season, due to Visa issues after it turned out he was not a 21 year old named Yoan Alcantara. The downside on Asencio is that he is far too aggressive. He walked in just 4.2% of his PAs last year, but even that was an improvement of his rate of 1.8% in 2011 (8% is average). Ideally, this is the kind of guy you see in game action, to see if he is making strides in his approach.

This concludes the Spring Training Preview series. For installments one and two click the respective linkage: Mesa: Cubs, Salt River Fields: Diamondbacks. Stay tuned for reports and podcast episodes from Spring Training in the days to come and for the love of shit, start watching more baseball!

[RA ROWE]

Spring Training Preview: Salt River

Stop two on the upcoming visit to the Valley of the Sun, will be Salt River Fields. The Sunday match-up will feature split-squads from both the Dodgers and the Diamondbacks. This means prospects in game action and lots of them!

Hot Cactus League Action (albeit in Glendale). Photo - RA Rowe

Hot Cactus League Action (albeit in Glendale). Photo – RA Rowe

Salt River Fields

Stadium: A / Backfields: B. The facility the D-Backs and the Rockies share is one of the nicest in the Cactus League. It’s well designed, features perhaps the greatest variety of food offered at any Spring Training park and has some pretty fan friendly backfields. The place is terrific, but my first visit was ruined when I came down with the flu. Even still I enjoyed it and am really looking forward to experiencing it at full strength. Unfortunately most of the depth of the Arizona system is in pitching, and the backfields aren’t a great place to watch pitching prospects, since bullpens are generally more secluded from public view.

Diamondbacks

As for the pitching depth I mentioned, hopefully we get lucky and see Tyler Skaggs, or Archie Bradley throw a bullpen, but here are some hitters to watch for.

Adam Eaton – CF, 24, 5’8″/184
The Diamondbacks traded Chris Young to give Eaton the everyday job. His peaks won’t be as explosive as Young’s, but he won’t have the big, depressing valleys either. The kid can run very well, plays a good centerfield, and his arm is jaw dropping, both accurate and powerful. He’s not somebody you are necessarily floored by during BP, I’m more interested in seeing Eaton in game action.

Matt Davidson – 3B, 21, 6’2″/224
Davidson could eventually (perhaps as soon as the second half, depending on overall roster health) supplant Martin Prado at third base, moving the veteran to the outfield. Davidson has 20-25 home run power, and gets on base, but needs to do a better job limiting strikeouts. His defense is not his strong suit, but he could stick at third long term if he improves. He should be fun to watch around the batting cage.

Chris Owings – SS, 20, 5’10″/180
Not the largest of bodies, Owings has big tools. He happens to be a somewhat deficient baseball player though. He almost never walks (just 24 times in 149 games last year) and can be erratic on defense. It will be interesting to get a sense of this great athlete’s movements and perhaps see what it is that isn’t working for him.

Stryker Trahan – C, 18. 6’1″/215
A big, strong 18 year old with a plus hit tool and plus power is going to be taking batting practice and maybe playing in a B game on the practice fields? I’m setting my alarm now.

Dodgers

People are all frothy about Dodgers’ offseason moves, and their new ownership, which is really great for a franchise that needs its greatness restored. But I am more interested in what the Dodgers used to be all about: player development. There hasn’t been a ton of movement on this front yet, but change is on the way for the Dodgers. When it comes, these will be two of first guys to arrive at the Ravine:

Yasiel Puig – RF, 22, 6’3″/215
The big Cuban runs well, has a refined approach, a great arm and huge power. Basically another Cespedes type, to go along with Jorge Soler of the Cubs. He dominated in a short stint last season, playing intelligent baseball and putting his tools on display. He’s currently stamping out a disappointing winter with a great spring. The odds of him appearing in the split-squad game on the road are pretty decent and that’s good, because I want to see as much of this kid as I can.

Joc Pederson – OF, 20, 6’1″/185
Not as toolsy as Puig, Pederson is an excellent baseball player, giving him a high floor. He should be an above average runner for a corner outfielder, with about an average stick. He seems to do a little of everything, walking, limiting swings and misses, and showing good pop to all fields. I am hoping to see Pederson in the game with the split-squad coming over from Glendale, but this late in spring, I am not terribly optimistic.

Next time: Cubs v Padres in Peoria.

[RA Rowe]

Spring Training Preview: Mesa

Few things get me whipped up into a stiffer meringue than the beginning of baseball season. And since Florida is basically a strip of thigh hair that has been licked by a Komodo dragon and tossed into a mosquito spawning pool, I prefer the Cactus League. I go every year, and I suggest you make a ritual of it as well. I am seeing four games spread between three different sites this season. The first of which is a Cubs home game against the Royals on Saturday.

Mesa

My first year attending a game at Hohokam Stadium will be the last the Cubs will spend there. It should be an interesting atmosphere at the Saturday afternoon game, as the Cubs draw well every season, regularly setting spring attendance records. I’m excited to see the Royals’ Major League squad, but the Cubs offer more excitement from the farm system than most clubs. Here are some prospects I’m hoping to catch a glimpse of on the backfields, down the road from the stadium, at Fitch Park.

Jorge Soler – 6’3″/225, OF – The 20 year old Cuban is a physical specimen with tons of power, above average speed, and a cannon arm. Everything about him is explosive. He came off a two year layoff (due to post-defection hurdles) to torment “A” ball in 2012. He could debut with Chicago after the All-Star break if all goes well. Think Yoenis Cespedes for a rough template.

Javier Baez – 6’/180 – A 20 year old shortstop who apparently possesses almost unnatural bat speed, garnering Gary Sheffield comps. Probably at AA this season. He may end up like an Adrian Beltre, a shortstop quality defender at third base, with a lot of pop.

Albert Almora – 6’2″/180 – At 18, Almora has already gotten a lot of attention for being advanced in terms of his maturity and baseball instincts. He hit well in 145 PAs in Rookie and Low-A stints after getting drafted last season, and is an elite defender and baserunner. He should grow into 15-20 homers, but is more of a doubles man. I really like watching guys who can play the game well, and for this he piqued my interest in pre-draft footage last season. I am following him closely.

Dan Vogelbach – 6’/250 – “Big fat dude” pretty much sums up his physical appearance, but boy can he spank the pill. He was on about a 40 home run pace, en route to a wRC+ of 189 in low-A ball (168 PAs) last season. He’ll be 18 all season and should finish at either high-A or AA, depending on results. On defense, it’s first base only for this behemoth. He is already big, and already has below average range. Those problems aren’t likely to get better unless he can make a drastic change with his body. I just want to see him take BP.

Matt Szczur – 6’1″/195 – Szczur (think Caesar), is very fast (51 SBs last season), and can really go get ’em in the outfield. At 24, he still isn’t much of an offensive player (below average at AA 2012), but it’s always fun to watch someone who can really track the ball and run it down.

Junior Lake – 6’2″/215 – Prospect guys love big tools and Lake has them. As for me, guys like that are fun to watch on the backfields, but I tend to get irritated by underdeveloped baseball skills and a brutish approach at the plate, both of which the 23 year old shortstop wields to counter his natural abilities. He is capable on his raw talent alone, but if he can learn to play the game better, he may become a star. Think Alexei Ramirez for comparison. He could hit the Majors in 2013 depending on how third base pans out for the Cubs.

Next time we’ll talk a little Dodgers, but mostly Diamondbacks and Salt River Fields.

[RA ROWE]

College Prospecting: CSUF v. Texas A&M

I haven’t watched a lot of college baseball. I don’t have a ton of access to it, as I imagine is the case with most people who don’t have cable. Most of my NCAA viewing has come at a handful of games at Goodwin Field in Fullerton, when I was a student there between 2004 and 2009. But with Fullerton the fertile ground of Major League talent it has been, I’ve had the opportunity to see a lot of good ballplayers in a formative stage.

I once saw now Toronto Blue Jays starter Ricky Romero chew up some poor school for eight innings before current Cleveland Indians reliever Vinnie Pestano took over to finish the deed. That same season (2005) I saw Stanford’s John Mayberry Jr. (now with the Phillies) pound what must have been a 450 foot home run into the parking lot over a 50 foot high screen behind the left field fence. 2005 was a good season. Mets infielder Justin Turner, and Giants first baseman Brett Pill were also on that year’s Fullerton squad. In 2008 I watched a few games and remember being very impressed with then freshman infielder Christian Colon. He is now close to breaking into the big leagues with the Royals.

My point is that I tend to remember the players that make it at the next level. Of course, highly rated Giants prospect Gary Brown was also on the 2008 team and I don’t remember him at all. Here are some notes on several memorable players (and the game in general) from my Saturday night trip to the old Alma Mater.

The Titans taking infield. Photo - Vivian Lopez

The Titans taking infield. Photo – Vivian Lopez

Titans v. Aggies

The Titans have the number 10 ranked club and took on Texas A&M, recently ousted from the top 30. We (my fiancée and I) grabbed two seats off the catchers right shoulder just in time to watch both teams take infield. It really is a treat to watch this. The Major Leaguers have stopped in favor of letting little leaguers or dogs or the staff of the La Puente DMV wander around the warning track, like lost mental patients.

It was a tight ballgame, with neither team barreling the ball well or stringing hits together. CSUF came out on top 2-0, in large part to errors and flukey hits. CSUF centerfielder Michael Lorenzen had a base hit, then stole second, and advanced to third when the throw hit him and went into left center. He then scored on a sac fly. The other Titans’ second run came off a bloop single, followed by two bunt base-hits (meant to be sacrifices), and a hit batsmen.

The amount of bunting that went on was downright stupid. A&M had their three hitter bunt with two men on and none out in the 6th, this nonsense went on even after he had two strikes on him. Of course this strategy failed to produce a run. Gee I wonder why? Then Fullerton one-up’d this stupididy with two men on and nobody out by having their cleanup hitter, Chad Wallach put one down. Taking the bat out of your best hitter’s hands with men on and nobody out is stupid no matter what the score is. Major League managers have learned this, but shockingly, it appears the approach has not trickled down to college, where it is even easier to hit. Enough about the coaches, let’s talk players.

CSUF Titans

Justin Garza – Freshman, RHP, 5’11″/160

Garza is a sort of typical, small bodied right-hander with good velocity, who plays well as a starter in college, but is viewed as a reliever by pro scouts. He was the starter for the Titans on Saturday and pitched well, continuing what has been a dominant season so far. He used a medium effort delivery to throw a decent straight change, and a crisp, tailing fastball that he located very well. The breaking ball was behind the other offerings, really unremarkable. It didn’t seem to have much depth or lateral movement, and the break was more baring than sharp. I didn’t see anybody swing and miss on it. There were a handful of well hit balls that Garza was lucky didn’t go for hits. His command carried him.

7IP, 6Ks, 1BB, 4H, 0R.

Matt Chapman – Sophomore, 3B, 6’1″/195

A big 6’1″, he moves well and has a strong arm from third. He played the position very well, making three tough plays. And with the exception of a strikeout in the first, he had three good at bats. He singled for Fullerton’s first hit of the game in the 4th, then was pegged with the bases loaded in the 6th, and finished by coaxing a walk in the 8th. I would like to see him get ahold of one, as he looks very strong. His cool demeanor, stature, selective at bats, and quality defense reminded me of Chase Headley. I’m looking forward to seeing more of him, and I don’t think I’m the only one.

Michael Lorenzen – Junior, OF/CL, 6’3″/200

A tall, athletic, broad shouldered player. Things look easy for him. He runs well, is a good outfielder and has a rocket arm. He didn’t look especially impressive at the plate Saturday, though he apparently can be. It was clear his approach was to hit the ball in. He fell behind in the count watching pitches on the outer half, and swung at a few off the plate inside. His lone single came on a hard hit grounder that struck the opposing pitcher. Lorenzen is special on the mound however, and we got to see him close this one out.

As soon as the eighth inning ended, four or five scouts scurried over and sat down behind us with notepads and guns. They had come just to see him pitch. According to one of them he was sitting 94 with the heater. His breaker was by far the best of the game, with a big, sharp break. He threw only two, but located both of them well to generate one swing and miss, and one first pitch strike. He also had excellent command of the fastball, going right after hitters. The most impressive thing was the ease with which he delivered the ball to the plate; almost casually. He will almost certainly be a pitcher at the next level, and judging by the behavior of the scouts, I am not pioneering anything with that statement.

Texas A&M “Aggies”

Daniel Mengden – Sophomore, RHP/C, 6’1″/210

To me, Mengden looked a couple inches smaller than his listed height, but he is certainly a big deal to this A&M team, pitching and hitting cleanup for the Aggies. On the mound, the results were superb. As mentioned above, Fullerton could not have scored off of him without the aid of some seriously whacky shit. Another smallish righty, Mengden had terrific control and only one of his pitches was hit hard by the opposition. He appeared to be sitting low nineties with a tailing heater and had (at least during this game) command and control of the change as well as the curve. The curve did not impress, but was better than Garza's, and located with better frequency. It was not a swing-and-miss pitch for him, but produced grounders effectively.

While he didn't have MLB written on him, Mengden was a bulldog. After the Lorenzen chopper up the middle nailed him in the bicep of his pitching arm, he hung in. After Fullerton's pathetic, bunt and HBP fueled rally, he escaped a no outs, bases loaded situation with two huge strikeouts and a routine fly to center. He did not walk a single batter. Also: sweet mustache alert.

Mikey Reynolds – Senior, SS, 5’10″/170

Both the range and arm are good for college, but average in pro ball. He did make a spectacular play however, going to the edge of his range on what appeared to be a sure base hit up the middle, before spinning and firing a perfect strike to first for the out. Scraping .500 with his OBP coming in, it was easy to see why. He has good speed, played each at bat maturely and made solid contact to go 3-4 with three base hits and two steals. It may sound strange, but there is nothing special about Reynolds besides his ability to play baseball. What I mean is that he appears to be an extremely good baseball player, but is without impressive tools. His style of play was best embodied by an extremely aggressive turn he made around first base on a routine base hit, something you have to appreciate. He may find his way into the minor leagues, but without pop and slickness afield, nothing more.

Mitchell Nau – Sophomore, C, 5’10″/195

Nau looks like he could crush a plate of carne asada fries in his sleep. He is a stout man; from another era really. We took to calling him “Red Bean” because of his build and the Aggies’ dark red jerseys. And while there is almost no way he will be a factor in professional baseball, he had a good game. He was the only hitter on either team who consistently squared the ball up. He had only one hit, but hit two long flies to the opposite field, that were caught by outfielders in dead sprints at the edge of their respective ranges. He runs pretty well for his body type as well, but during infield I noticed the backup catcher’s arm looked much stronger than his.

Saturday's starting lineup. Photo - RA Rowe

Saturday’s starting lineup. Photo – RA Rowe

Looking forward to more.

[RA ROWE]

Update: Comeback, Podcast

I would like to apologize, as there has been about a two week hiatus here at National West. Mainly this is due to the fact that there is finally baseball to watch again, and until somebody is paying me write this shit, I am a fan first. I would like to thank Kirk Gibson for getting me back on the grid.

But don’t despair, or even wonder… there will be a flurry of activity to come. The season is, of course, going to begin, but before that there is more Spring Training action to attend to.

I will be attending four Cactus League games in mid-March, with my friend Jeff joining me to christen the audio component of National West, which I have titled National West Dispatch.

Our first episode will be delivered in around a week. We’ll preview some stuff we’re excited about for the coming season and offer some background on each of us. We will hope to give you, our very privileged audience, a flavor of what is to come.

There will then be an episode or two from Spring Training. These episodes will try to reflect the dynamic of baseball during Spring Training, which is equal parts dicking around and focusing on getting ready for a long season of baseball. We’ll recount episodes from our trip, analyze prospects and review the facilities we visit.

Stay tuned. This is going to be fun.

[RA ROWE]

More Like Jerk Gibson

It is not unusual for Kirk Gibson to appear to be on a moon-scraping dose of Oxycontin, his empty words plopping out of his mouth as if he is the subject of a mind control experiment. And throw out the fact that he is obsessed with the mystic realm of Clubhouse Chemistry. Today he acted especially stupid.

The Lead In

On Monday afternoon, two games were about to begin simultaneously. In Surprise, The Rangers were set to take on the Padres. At Salt River Fields, the Diamondbacks were about to host the Reds. Dusty Baker, the manager of the visiting club was hoping to play Shin Soo Choo at DH, as the newly acquired outfielder has been limited due to a quad issue. But Kirk Gibson’s starting pitcher, Brandon McCarthy, is coming over from the AL, and Gibson wanted him to get some reps at the dish.

During Spring Training, the home team’s manager decides whether the game will be played under National or American League rules. Baker apparently requested several times to be allowed the DH, but Gibson denied him each time.

The Confrontation

Baker, irritated, filled out his lineup card as if Gibson had granted him the DH. The men met with the umpires at home plate and Gibson saw that Baker had disregarded his belligerence, and became furious. The two had a heated exchange and as you’ll soon see, Gibson was in the wrong.

How Reasonable Men Act

Across town the Padres and Rangers began play without incident. The Rangers, at home, naturally decided to play the game under American League rules. But the Padres’ Bud Black, whose preference it was to preserve the National League game for his club, just put his pitcher in the lineup. By doing so, Black surrendered the DH, as every American League manager is allowed to do, every game, even in the regular season, even in the middle of the game.

So, rather than being a childish bully, Kirk Gibson could have stated to the umpires that the game was being played under American League rules. Then, with Dusty Baker’s DH intact, Gibson could have dissolved his own by penciling his pitcher into the nine hole. There are two explanations for why he did not. Either he doesn’t know that he is able to do that, which makes him an Ass… or he knew and just wouldn’t, which makes him an Asshole.

It Gets Weirder

The kicker here is that earlier in Spring Training the Diamondbacks had to ask to use the Athletics’ practice fields due to slush having covered their own, a result of the previous day’s melted snow. The A’s granted them use of their facilities for the afternoon, but Oakland GM Billy Beane requested to his counterpart with the Diamondbacks, Kevin Towers, that his club be able to use the DH in a later Cactus League meeting between the two teams. Gibson had no complaints, as he had already granted Bob Melvin the ability to do so.

We’re Left Wondering

Either Gibson is so competitive that he is unwilling to grant another National League club even the most trivial of favors, or he just hates Dusty Baker. I guess there is a third possible explanation, which is that Gibson was either too much or not enough medicated when he made one decision or the other.

The lesson here is simple. Nice guys, like Ron Washington and Bud Black, make life easy for themselves and for others. But by being a dick, you make everyone’s life shittier, including your own, like Kirk Gibson. Have a fun year, Snakes.

[RA ROWE]

%d bloggers like this: