Notes from a rental car, Seasons 52 Edamame and my daily dose of Jackie Greene on the iPhone:
–When the White Sox arrived at their facility in Glendale, Arizona, to get to the clubhouse each player had to walk a red carpet, lined by red velvet ropes. Hey, who knew Adam Dunn would be an Oscar-winning actor?
Dunn, as you probably knew, invested and acted in Oscar-winning Dallas Buyers Club, his role was Neddie Jay. He did not get a statue, and he is having his Oscar Swag Bag sent to his home. Dunn Wednesday pointed to his equipment bag and said, “I don’t know all the stuff that’s in there (valued at $85,000), but it’s this big. Incredible.”
Smart to not have it sent to the clubhouse. Dunn got a package Wednesday and teammates gathered around to see what it contained.
–People love the Hollywood-Baseball thing. Scouts have flocked to Viera to watch Nationals’ phenom Lucas Giolito, their number one pick two years ago who dropped in the draft because of Tommy John Surgery. But there’s also the fascination with Giolito’s grandfather, Warren Frost, who played Andy Griffith’s sidekick Billy in Matlock.
–And everyone in the Rangers camp was blown away by Russell Wilson, who is simply one of the most remarkable persons one can meet. His defensive skills at second base in infield drills were eye-opening; he had no qualms calling off Prince Fielder on popups. He absolutely loves baseball, as I was privileged to learn in private, and his father Harrison was a Dartmouth teammate of Jim Beattie and a football teammate of Reggie Williams, a wide receiver whose quarterback was Jimmie Lee Solomon.
–Wilson has a twin. His name is Micah Johnson, a 25-year old second baseman from the University of Indiana who has come back from multiple elbow injuries, stole 84 bases on three minor league teams last year and challenges Billy Hamilton as the fastest player in the game. Difference: Johnson has a .373 career on base percentage in the minors, and there is debate on whether or not he’s the fastest player in the game.
“I love baseball, and I love the work it entails,” says Johnson. This off-season, following another surgery after the Arizona Fall League, Johnson studied Mozart, classical piano and art to rest his mind.
Speed? Their minor league staff recall a play no one has ever seen: with a runner on first, he fielded a ground ball, the runner stopped, so Johnson ran and tagged him, and when he couldn’t get the ball out of his glove sprinted towards the foul line and tagged out the runner short of the bag, a true unassisted double play. “You may never see that again,” said White Sox scout/instructor Brian Little.
–General Manager Rick Hahn may have had the best under-the-radar off-season of anyone in his position. The biggest move? 255 pound, 27 year old Cuban slugger Jose Abreu. Some scouts were worried about Abreu’s ability to hit good fastballs middle in, but Robin Ventura says, “how many sluggers hit good fastballs in? And he makes adjustments. He’s very smart.” To this I add watching his raw power: he doesn’t get to hit off much velocity in Cuba, so that’s part of his cultural conversion.
–Acquiring Matt Davidson fills a huge void at third base, but Adam Eaton may turn out to be one of the best acquisitions of the off-season. The White Sox need a leadoff hitter, and Eaton was a .450+ guy in the minors, with chip. Hockey guy, disturber, “something we needed,” says Hahn. Eaton is an Ohio kid who loves hockey, plays it, is a friend of the Coyotes’ Shane Doan, was proud to be given a Blackhawks jersey, and loves to stir it up. I told him I thought the two greatest uniforms in the history of sports were the Blackhawks and Canadiens uniforms. He agreed. Think of Brad Marchand hitting leadoff.
–Several teams looking for a third baseman are watching Houston’s Matt Dominguez. “The Yankees could be a player here,” says one scout.
–Jeff Samardzija is 29, he wants to win, doesn’t know how long the Cubs rebuilding process will take and thus is unlikely to sign an extension. Which means he is a huge July trading piece if you’re the Diamondbacks, Rangers, Yankees, et al.
–When White Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham married Brittany Fletcher in this off-season, his former hitting coach Greg Walker was one of his ushers, and, of course, his in-laws are Angie and Scott Fletcher. Scott Fletcher was George W. Bush’s favorite player, and named is spaniel “Spot Fetcher.” The Bushes were invited to the wedding and couldn’t attend, but Beckham keeps being asked about their wedding gift. “We’ll see,” he says. “A trip on Air Force One would be pretty cool.”
–Scouts, managers and coaches talk about the rare player “with no anxiety.” This spring, the name that is always mentioned is Xander Bogaerts, in the succession of Evan Longoria, Chase Utley, Joe Mauer. Don Mattingly puts rookie Joc Pederson in there. Cliff Lee is the best pitching example.
The Rays would add Wil Myers to Longoria. He is so nonplussed his nickname is “Ricky Bobby” from the great Will Ferrell character in Talladega Nights.
Wil Ricky Bobby…