Gammons Notes: Marlin’s new speed piece, Cardinals, Red Sox, Mets and more

dee gordon

JUPITER, Fla.—Dee Gordon’s first bunt of the spring came in his second at-bat. Perfectly laid down on the ground. Base hit. Just the way Brett Butler has taught him every day.

The idea, according to Butler and Gordon, is to try to get a bunt down every day, if that’s what it takes to be comfortable and drive his learning process. “I’ll do whatever I have to, and work as long and hard as I have to,” says Gordon. That, as anyone who knows him, is no surprise.

The Marlins acquired Gordon in a three-way deal with the Angels and Dodgers, giving up three young players (C Austin Barnes, Inf Kike Hernandez, LHP Andrew Heaney) they expect will end up helping both Los Angeles teams. But Miami wanted the speed piece in front of Christian Yelich and Giancarlo Stanton. They needed a second baseman to fit in what has turned out to be an overhauled infield, with Martin Prado and Mike Morse at the corners and Adeiny Hechavarria at shortstop. “And we did a lot of research on Dee,” says General Manager Dan Jennings. ”We know he’s a great kid with a tremendous work ethic.”

What Butler points out is that Gordon is not a finished product. Until his junior year in high school, he was a basketball player seemingly headed to college as a point guard, and even when he started playing baseball the hoops left him very skinny. Then there was the polish.

From the time Butler began working with Gordon, he altered the way Gordon bunts, softing his hands and trying to get him to make contact as if he were catching the pitch, deeper in the box. “Working at it,” says Butler, “is not a problem.”

Then there was his slide. “What amazed me is that he said that he got caught stealing ten times because he overslid the bag,” says Butler. In a little show-and-tell, Gordon lay down on the ground and demonstrated how his top, stretched leg would be off the ground and ended up getting him tagged out. So the slide directly into the bag has been a daily practice routine.

Doug Melvin has long believed that the speed tools players often develop later, such as in their late 20’s, beginning his examples with Otis Nixon. The Reds cite that with Billy Hamilton in mind.

It isn’t as if Gordon has been some kid found running track at Dwyer High School. He did make the All-star team last year, and his .326 on base percentage wasn’t horrible given the offensive context of 2014. But after a .344 OBP before the All-star Game, it was .300 in the second half. He stole 64 bases, but was thrown out stealing 19 times. He had 31 walks, 107 strikeouts.

“I get it,” says Gordon. “First, I’m not going to be a high walk guy, because pitchers aren’t going to walk me. They’re going to pitch to me, and I have to continually learn to make more consistent contact on strikes. When he went after first pitches 69 times, he batted .379 with a .382 on base percentage. But when counts got to 2-and-2, he had a .194 on base. He got to 3-and-0 16 times all season. Still, he has shown development, as his OBP has gone from .561 to .612 to .704 his three seasons.

Batting in front of a potential batting champion (Yelich) and Stanton, Gordon knows pitchers will be very careful about walking him. “So I need to maintain a consistent game plan and approach,” he says. Now, he led the majors with 20 bunt hits last season. He attempted 47 bunts, second only to Hamilton’s 52. If he makes the improvements with his changed technique bunting and sliding, he can be a significant upgrade at the top of an order that is far deeper than last season.

“Dee can be a big part of what we’re trying to accomplish,” says Jennings. “He knows what he has to work on, he’s tireless in working to get better. It will be fun to watch his progress.”

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–The Cardinals have stuck to the plan of starting Carlos Martinez, not trade for another starter over 30, and in his spring debut Friday he was brilliant. He threw a first inning, two strike changeup, flashed extraordinary gas and a curveball. One Marlins likened the outing to a July masterpiece.

–One of the things Mike Matheny enjoys most is catching bullpens for a different perspective on young pitchers. One this week was Sam Tuivailala, an extremely impressive 22-year-old reliever. Catching him, Matheny felt that if he moved over to the first base side of the rubber he could keep his slider down and away from righthanded hitters and not make mistakes in the middle of the plate.

–Part of the reasoning in the Yoan Moncada deal is that the Red Sox aren’t restricted to any timetable before bringing him to the big leagues, without roster restrictions. To the contrary, by giving Dylan Bundy a major league contract when he signed out of high school, he will be out of options next spring and have to be kept in Baltimore, even though he goes into this season with a grand total of 145 minor league innings.

–Boston is looking not for a front end starter, but depth in case there is injury to one of their five projected starters. There is a good chance knuckleballer Steven Wright makes the staff as a long reliever/swing starter, but they are looking for a veteran to add to that depth to prevent having to rush Matt Barnes, Brian Johnson, Henry Owens or Eduardo Rodriguez, who comprise what they hope is an all-prospect Pawtucket rotation.

Rusney Castillo’s pulled oblique is likely a two week setback, but the medical staff feels it’s a comparatively mild injury. They have been extremely happy with Castillo, but the fact that Castillo has never experienced a full major league season, Hanley Ramirez has missed time over his career, so has Mike Napoli and 39-year-old David Ortiz has, as well, means the Red Sox will hold on to their outfielders as long as they can, plan on DH and first base time, and see where they go. Four different GMs have suggested the team that should make a run at Shane Victorino is Seattle to give them defense and an intrepid makeup on a team that hasn’t been in the post-season since 2001. But the M’s are not often easy trade partners.

–What is interesting about the Mets is their young talent on the horizon. Catcher Kevin Plawecki has the makings of an all-star, Brandon Nimmo keeps maturing physically and is not far from taking his place at Citi Field and Dilson Herrera—acquired for Byrd—looks like a dynamic second baseman. And that’s before thinking about all the pitching, especially Steven Matz.

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One club got the report from San Diego that before he left for the IMG Academy in Bradenton that Brady Aiken was “up to 97” in his throwing program. “The top picks in the draft are going to be very interesting,” says one scouting director. (Virginia LHP) Nathan Kirby is up to 95 and pitching really well, and he’s the most advanced. Arizona has the first pick and could go for the polished college lefthander, although they love Brendan Rodgers (the Orlando power-hitting infield comped to Evan Longoria) and may have a hard time passing on Aiken.” Houston has the second pick, but cannot take Aiken, followed by the Rockies, Rangers and, again, the Astros. Right now San Clemente LHP Kolby Allard and Vanderbilt SS Dansby Swanson are expected to round out the first five picks…One GM says “the player that I still cannot believe got traded is Trea Turner (from San Diego to Washington in the three-way that sent Wil Myers to the Padres). “He’s going to be a good shortstop, he’s got an unorthodox swing but can hit and he’s got top-of-the-line speed. Having Turner and Anthony Rendon on the left side of the infield beginning next season is going to give them longterm stability.”