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.
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.