Stories From Camp That I’m Reading, pt. 1
While part of me always wants it to just be the second week of April already so I can go back to doing what it is I do, there’s another part that revels in spring training and the opportunities it brings. For one thing, there’s radio coverage and the rare TV spot which may provide an opportunity to look at a prospect in the late innings, and for another there’s the media saturation of the camp which allows players normally only covered in minor league articles to get talked up by our various Mariners beat writers. Here are a few of those articles that I’ve been reading of late.
• Before I begin, it may help to set up with a few primer articles. I’d point to a Larry Stone article transcribing some of Pedro Grifol’s remarks at a pre-Spring Training luncheon, which recaps a lot of the developments of the previous season (including some praise for Vicente Campos, a RH who may end up in Everett later this year). There are more detailed remarks on guys like Triunfel, Poythress, Wilhelmsen, Ackley, and Pineda, who may be the most written about prospect in camp at this point, though Ackley is quite close behind. Stone also got former Mariner and current Philly Ryan Feierabend to talk about various Mariners prospects he’s worked with in the past year or so. The other major one is an article on the minor league minicamp, courtesy of Kirby Arnold, which talks about some of the off field stuff the Mariners are doing to prepare prospects for the big time. I don’t have a full list of the players participating, but in recent days I’ve found that Nate Tenbrink, George Mieses, Jimmy Gillheeney, Denny Almonte, and Jabari Blash are other names among the ones you might expect.
• To address some of those Pineda articles, there’s one from Greg Johns at MLB.com, which attempts to temper some of the expectations (he throws hard, is big, but given his track record shouldn’t be expected to throw 200+ innings out of the gate) while saying the obvious things (worked hard, fastball is best pitch), and another from the P-I/AP that talks about the role of coaching, in brief. Coaching includes Felix in this case. Another MLB.com reminds us that Pineda is enormous and is probably not the guy you want to have coming at you trying to cover first as you run down the line.
• The big Ackley article out right now is probably the TNT story by Larry LaRue which discusses the relationship between Dustin Ackley and Jack Wilson. We know now that the competition for second/short is supposed to be mainly between Ryan and Wilson, so don’t make too much of the article. The positives we can take away from it is that Ackley is continuing to seek out advice on how to improve and is taking if from one of the best defensive infielders in the league, and that Wilson is going out of his way to talk to various infielders about conditioning, which seems a little funny until you consider that Wilson does know an awful lot about getting injured and doesn’t seem to want the new guys making the same mistakes he did. Other TNT odds and ends include a referesher course on RHP Tom Wilhelmsen, an article on Josh Lueke that covers a lot of the same points that the Johns article did, and brief praise of OF Johermyn Chavez, whom I hope will not hit 3/4ths of his home runs at home this year.
• Kirby Arnold of the Everett Herald did a small feature on Dan Cortes where he talked a bit about pitching in Venezuela over the offseason. While I wasn’t taken with the results (13/21 K/BB in 19.1 innings), Cortes mentions that the M’s sent him there knowing that the crowds would be a little more intense than they would be elsewhere, thus getting him some experience in more high pressure situations. Based off that and other pieces I’ve read recently, the Grifol article being a huge component of that, one might speculate that we’re heading for a reversal of the Bavasi years of player development. It used to be that team records and the like were regarded as secondary to the development of the individual, but now it seems like they’re striving to get to the playoffs each season to prep players for the more intense climate of the big leagues. The bonus of that is that minor league teams love this, so we’re likely to be able to get and maintain better affiliations.
• Shannon Drayer was among the first to write a full piece on Rule 5 pick RHP Jose Flores, who you may remember from the Indians organization or as one of three Jose Floreses already in the system. It covers the major points of previous work (Midwest League, last year), work with current NRIs/vets (“That was him?” from Gimenez, etc), and the freakouts of a Venezuelan pitcher getting to work with Felix Hernandez. He says the right things in that he’s mostly focused on getting outs with the fastball and slider, but prefers the strikeout if he can. It also marks the first time I’ve read that he’s a former infielder, having moved over from third base when he was seventeen. The M’s don’t have the strongest track record with position player converts; we all remember Rafael Soriano, and a lot of people are at least aware of Mauricio Robles right now and knew about Jakubauskas (that was for you, marc) and Putz earlier, but for those four I could probably name a dozen or so that either didn’t work out or remain at the low levels, Taijuan Walker being one that’s going to get a lot of attention this coming season. I’m inclined to believe that it might be easier to relieve as a guy who has only moved to the mound recently, but I don’t have anything concrete on that.
The pick itself remains a bit mysterious to me. It’s been said that Jack was consciously going for a reach pick just to see what happens, but there would seem to be better choices with the #2 pick, and since Lueke, Cortes, and others are around (and Pryor and Snow looking like they could move fast), I hardly think of right-handed reliever as an area of need. They could make room for both him and a NRI or two if they need to, however.
• A tiny blurb, but also on Drayer’s blog, there is mention of southpaw reliever Edward Paredes catching the attention of the coaching staff. He’s easily got the best stuff of our current left-handed relief prospects (if you’re excluding Robles), though it’s a thin crop at the moment. I’m interested in seeing how the competition between him, Castro, Ring, and Nate Robertson goes this spring training, even if the LH reliever is not a role that this front office has yet insisted on.
• As part of the daily rounds, MLB.com has been posting sets of three different mini-stories around camp which take a minute or two to read. Pineda gets some press, as do Flores and Tui, and the only real new ground that’s covered is Halman, who actually acknowledges that strikeouts will be his biggest challenge this season. Admittance is the first step towards recovery, but Halman is hardly alone in his struggle, as Denny Almonte led the Cal League in Ks (by more than thirty, and sixty more than #7 Chavez), Carlos Peguero led the Southern League (also 30+ ahead of runner-up Alex Liddi), and the Clinton Lumberkings had four guys top 100 Ks between Nick Franklin, James Jones, Vinnie Catricala, and Matt Cerione. This isn’t anything that I’m staying awake at night thinking about because a lot of the more egregious offenders weren’t brought in by this front office, but this is something that I’ll be trying to keep an eye on this season.
• Projecting ahead a little, a Keith Law article came out a few days ago on the top 50 draft prospects, which lists Rendon, then surprisingly, UConn OF George Springer, followed by UCLA RH Gerrit Cole, prep OF Bubba Starling, and Vandy RH Sonny Gray. Texas Christian LH Matt Purke doesn’t enter the top five, where previously he had been thought of as right with Cole for #2. Rumblings have been going around that his arm angle is now worrying some. While a lot of these names will still be present on draft day when we pick up the guy who will probably become our #1 prospect, a lot can change in a few months. I’ll try to profile a few probable #2s as I get the time.