PHOENIX—We all knew the replay system and the home plate collision rule would be works in progress, and they are. Players everywhere are concerned about blowing out knees in clumsy shifts in attempting to score, although onetime block of granite Mike Scioscia believes “it will all work because the catchers can give the runners a lane to slide and the runners can’t take cheap shots at the catchers. I’m not worried.”
Not so the replay, but then the spring training systems run out of trucks was for practice—or entertainment—purposes only. The Angels’ video coordinator this week actually got very good video of Indians manager Terry Francona falling down coming out of the dugout for an on-field discussion, and replayed it clearly and quickly. No further debate. Video proved the Indians manager took a fall.
The video coordinator is Nick Francona.
Spring training should be a yoga breathing exercise for eighty percent of the players. It’s a time for Kevin Towers to kid John McDonald “your 2013 slash line was .111/.186/.185 and you got rings from the Pirates, Indians and Red Sox. That’s a good season.” Indeed. McDonald stands a good chance to make the Angels opening day roster, which means that his family will be at Fenway Park on April 4 to receive his World Series ring. “Johnny Mac is still a great defensive shortstop and one of the greatest teammates ever,” says Aaron Hill. Remember, McDonald made his debut in 1999; when he played in the Cape Cod League, his third baseman was Mark DeRosa, now an MLB Network analyst, his second base double play partner was Jed Hoyer, general manager.
It’s a time when a legendary scout like Gary Hughes gets to watch his godson, Mariners catcher Mike Zunino, and former University of Texas players remind us that the current Longhorns have Lukas Schiraldi pitching and Kacy Clemens at first. Or Giants infielder Joaquin Arias yelling “I am in charge here,” because Bruce Bochy and teammates think Arias is Barkhad Abdi in “Captain Phillips.”
Or Mariners reliever Danny Farquhar, who has gone from sidearmer to submariner to over-the-top premier reliever, demonstrating the seven different arm angles he’s used in his professional career. He’s got a Chad Bradford, a Dan Quisenberry…Or D’backs pitcher Ryan Rowland-Smith, preparing to fly home to Australia for the Dodger series realizing he is going to pitch for Team Australia against the Dodgers and for the ‘Backs against the Aussies…
Or Mike Trout, ever-modest, asking when contract negotiations became soap operas. “I have nothing to say,” Trout shrugs. “I just go out and play, and never comment on negotiations.” Hey, in Fort Myers, the arrival of Seth and Sam Levinson to discuss Jon Lester’s extension with Ben Cherington set off virtually an hour-by-hour breakdown of negotiations which were essentially landscape parameters, and in Goodyear, Arizona, Justin Masterson’s have been a daily story.
But praise be mlbtraderumors.com. During one game, a general manager let out a “you’re not going to believe this—Oliver Perez got a two year deal.” Third inning, Arizona sun, Oliver Perez. OMG.
It is a time to dream on the stories of comebacks that make everything worth watching: Colby Lewis, Grady Sizemore, Ryan Kalish, Mike Olt, Michael Pineda, Francisco Cordero.
Or, while sometimes hearing the whines of stars complaining about support around them (“a form of therapy,” as one GM refers to such non-stories), there is the game played in idle moments picking the first person plural stars. A wise man named Eddie Kasko once said “beware of people whose I’s are too close together,” hence the spring training poll of star players who only talk in We’s, as in teams: Derek Jeter, Trout, Dustin Pedroia, Chase Utley, Paul Goldschmidt, Evan Longoria, Clayton Kershaw, Ryan Zimmerman, David Wright, Freddie Freeman… “When your best players are your best role models, you have something,” says one executive. “It seems like the Orioles have a bunch of those guys, from Adam Jones to J.J. Hardy.”
And the real “All That You Dream” search for the front of the rotation futures. Here are eight nominees:
Yordano Ventura, Kansas City Royals
An A’s official this week watched Ventura pitch vs. Oakland and said, “he’s the best I’ve seen all spring. 100 to 102. Great changeup. Decent breaking ball. He’s like Pedro (Martinez), short (5-11) but really strong through the chest.” He’s also a vital part of the Royals’ shot at making the playoffs for the first time since 1985. The plan is to get by with veteran pitchers as Ventura, Danny Duffy, Kyle Zimmer and Chris Dwyer develop.
Archie Bradley, Arizona Diamondbacks
OK, Bradley struggled with his command Thursday in his last outing before pitching in Australia and was hit around by the Reds, but if Bronson Arroyo’s back continues to bother him—which he’ll probably say it doesn’t, because he always posts up—and Trevor Cahill struggles, Bradley may open the season in the big league rotation. He was 91-94 Thursday, but has been up to 98 with a big-time curveball and that quarterback presence. Asked what was the biggest crowd he played in front of as a high school football phenom, he answered “22,000.” Kirk Gibson smiled. He played in front of 105,000 in The Big House.
Chris Archer, Tampa Bay Rays
He has already had his feet in the pool, his confidence has skyrocketed and three different scouts have him notched in with Matt Moore behind David Price. When Alex Cobb is Tampa’s other given, this is one really good rotation.
Julio Teheran, Atlanta Braves
He hasn’t been scored upon this spring, and Frank Wren wisely longtermed him, knowing he can be that number one starter they need.
Robert Stephenson, Cincinnati Reds
He was part of the 2011 first round high school pitching class with Bradley, Dylan Bundy and Jose Fernandez, and could be ready by mid-season. “It’s just fun to watch him,” says Bryan Price.
Jonathan Gray and Eddie Butler, Colorado Rockies
Bill Schmidt got these two potential stars in consecutive drafts. Gray has the biggest arm, up to 99 Thursday, but Butler maybe more advanced. “His fastball is unbelievably heavy, running all over the place,” says Walt Weiss, a good thing with what may be the best defensive infield in the National League. Butler’s career minor league totals include a 1.90 ERA, 217.1 IP, 155 H, 65 BB, 198 SO. They’re going to be in The Big Humidor soon.
Allen Webster, Boston Red Sox
The stuff has never been questioned, but the command and self-confidence has led to off-road implosions. Asked which of the Red Sox young pitchers has the highest ceiling and the best chance to impact in the stretch, one Boston official shot back, “Webster. No doubt.”
Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets
This is beginning to look like the Summer of ’69, which for Mets friends was “the best days of our lives.” Up to 99 with heavy, heavy sink. The Jays will long rue their back to the ‘90’s trades before the 2013 season.
Trevor Bauer this spring has shown flashes of why he was the third pick in the country, what remains to be seen is if he maintains his delivery, pounds his 92-98 MPH fastball and listens. Taijuan Walker is there, but for back issues. There are votes for a mid-season Kyle Crick arrival in San Francisco, and in Baltimore there may be a decision on whether Kevin Gausman starts, or relieves, in the O’s run in the AL East. Andrew Heaney is probably going to be in Miami, soon. Ditto Jameson Taillon in Pittsburgh. Bruce Bochy is very intrigued by reliever Derek Law, who had 102 strikeouts in 67 minor league innings…The Angels seem really happy with Tyler Skaggs, who apparently has worked out some of the mechanical problems he encountered last season and is right in the middle of the rotation.
I’ve known Walt Weiss for a long time, and when he says 21-year old, switch-hitting shortstop Rosell Herrera “is going to be a star someday,” I listen. Herrera is 6-3, hit 17 homers in the South Atlantic League at 20. Fascinating.
Favorite description of the perfectly still head in a hitter from David Freese on Matt Adams: ”I’d be in the on-deck circle, could focus on a fan sitting in the opposite stands and when Matt hits, he is so still I could stare at the guy the whole time.”