Important, Young CFs to Watch this Spring
Three of the most important young players to watch this spring are center fielders, who are vital to each of their teams’ seasons.
–The first is Jackie Bradley, Jr., replacing Jacoby Ellsbury in Boston; the Red Sox have signed Grady Sizemore, but John Farrell says Bradley is his everyday center fielder and sees exceptional defense with a big arm, doubles power and extraordinary energy. Bradley killed it last spring, then when the season opened struggled. He hit .097 in Boston, struggled with the ball in on him and finished the year in Pawtucket. The Sox think he’ll be a high on base percentage guy in the 9th spot leading into the top of the order. All the while monitoring Sizemore’s depth and versatility.
–The second is roadrunner Billy Hamilton in Cincinnati. He has to replace Shin-Soo Choo’s .423 on base and 143 OPS+, and there are some doubts about him being ready to hit. Hamilton’s triple-A on base was only .308. He was released in Puerto Rico. So he will be a spring project. A key project, because the National League Central is deep enough so unless you are the model organization known as the Cardinals, there are no free pass cards to October.
–Then there’s Adam Eaton. Last March, the Diamondbacks touted Adam Eaton as the rookie of the year, off his .456 on base in triple-A. He hurt his elbow, he fell from grace and got traded this winter to the White Sox. For a team whose team on base was a paltry .302, Eaton can be an important figure on what may be a big turnaround story in the American League Central. Few general managers have had better winters than Rick Hahn.
Danny Espinosa will only be 27 in April. He’s hit 21 and 17 homers in Washington and played the middle infield. But coming off a season that was slowed by shoulder surgery and ruined by being hit by a pitch and not finding out for months that his wrist was broken, he finds himself the third man with Ian Desmond and Anthony Rendon at short and second. So Matt Williams will have to figure out how to use all three, or when the Nationals have a need, there may be a lot of teams like the Yankees, Blue Jays and Mets who come June may be knocking on Mike Rizzo’s door. He could be a central figure on mlbtradetrumors.com.
Masahiro Tanaka’s transition to the Majors
Joe Girardi and Larry Rothschild are making plans for the transition Masahiro Tanaka will have to make, which will be complicated by the inordinate media entourage from Japan and the New York base.
They want to ease Tanaka into preparation for pitching in a five man rotation, which won’t be easy since he’s started three games in two years on four days rest and only ten on less than six. They will see when he needs an extra day, needs to skip a turn for a sixth starter, and so forth; the Dodgers were always very careful to give Hiroki Kuroda as much time as possible.
Girardi and Rothschild want Tanaka to concentrate on his fastball command, which is necessary to set up the split he told Rothschild he learned just two years ago. When Tanaka gets up to the 93-96 velocity, he tends to get up and out of the strike zone, and his fastball is most effective in the 89-91 range, so he’ll have to get used to the constant attention paid to velocity on scoreboards and all our Brooks Baseball apps.
Matt Garza and the Brewers
As Ryan Braun tries to make amends to virtually everyone in the state of Wisconsin, the signing of Matt Garza was a loud statement that the Brewers believe they are players in the NL Central. Garza, Kyle Lohse, Yovani Gallardo, Wily Peralta, Marco Estrada, Tyler Thornburg—and a bullpen improved with the addition of Will Smith, who in Kansas City had a 43-7 strikeout-walk ratio in 33 1/3 innings and fanned 27 of the 51 lefthanded batters he faced.
Carlos Gomez had a breakout star season. Jean Segura is a blossoming young shortstop. One opposing GM calls Jonathan Lucroy “the best catcher in the league that isn’t Yadier Molina.” Khris Davis put up a .949 OPS. Braun is a huge factor in the middle of that lineup.
There were concerns about Garza’s medicals, concerns the Brewers studied and were comfortable with accepting. OK, he hasn’t made 200 innings since 2010, OK, when the Cubs and Rangers originally made their deal last summer, highly touted second base prospect Rougned Odor was taken out of the trade when the Rangers studied the medicals. OK, throwing to bases can be an adventure, which the Oakland Athletics exploited.
But Garza has always welcomed challenges, he has always wanted to go pitch on important stages. Owner Mark Attanasio wants his Brewers back on one of those stages.