OBSERVATIONS FROM SPRING TRAINING IN ARIZONA

Dee Gordon

By Bernie Pleskoff

Last week I shared some of my observations from Spring Training games I scouted in Florida.  This week I’ll share some of my thoughts from teams I have seen in Arizona.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX

To my way of thinking, the White Sox have embarked on their total makeover better than most teams.  They have a plan. They are sticking to the plan.

The White Sox have methodically compiled a dangerous future pitching staff. Trading for arms like Michael Kopech (Red Sox) Dylan Cease (Cubs) Dane Dunning (Nationals) Ian Clarkin (Yankees) Lucas Giolito (Nationals) and Reynaldo Lopez (Nationals) have offered the team a roster of capable, quality arms for their future. Each of those pitchers can be used either to fortify the rotation in the future or fetch an unmet need in trade. Their depth of young pitching is admirable and enviable.

The White Sox potential future starters are augmented by their own draft choices that include pitchers like Tyler Danish, Carson Fulmer and Alec Hansen. This list is impressive.

But it isn’t only their young pitching that I saw on display this spring in Glendale.  Players like outfielders Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez provides the team with exciting future offensive weapons.  Both need time to further develop, but both could become stars.

Yoan Moncada has had some major-league plate appearances and is growing as a complete player. He’s always had a terrific line drive barrel bat. Finding his pitches to hit is coming a bit easier.  At age 22, he will continue to develop into an impact hitter and potentially solid defender.  Huge upside remains with Moncada and he was pounding the ball at the end of the spring.

Even though they scored runs in bunches in February and March, as constructed, it would seem the 2018 edition of the White Sox will have to search for run production. In addition, they may find it difficult to keep the opposition from scoring runs in bunches themselves against their mediocre (at best) starting pitching.  Frankly, I feel 36-year-old James Shields will continue his steep decline.  The inconsistent Miguel Gonzalez follows Shields in the rotation.  Then the opposition should get a glimpse of the improving but still not fully developed Lucas Giolito.  I have become a much bigger fan of Giolito after seeing him this spring. He is economical, has a good repertoire, is poised on the mound and is maturing in front of my eyes.

Other than the emerging Moncada, there really aren’t many impact bats in the White Sox lineup. I do think Jose Abreu is still a dangerous hitter. He has indicated he wants to try and steal more bases this year, which I find interesting.

It remains to be seen if Avisail Garcia can repeat his outstanding 2017 season, but I don’t see why he can’t.  At age 26 he is entering the prime of his career.

The White Sox really bolstered their offense with the addition of Wellington Castillo behind the plate. I like his new home park for his type of offense and the fact he will become the everyday catcher on a team that needs his bat.

Frankly, I find the rest of the lineup meh…at best. I am still wondering how the team can go with Adam Engel in center field after his woeful 2017?  If Matt Davidson played every day he might be able to hit 23 home runs.  I hope he does play. When he does make contact good things happen. But he is a liability on defense.

A name to remember: Ryan Cordell.  I saw him several times this spring and I was impressed. I have a hunch he’ll be back after being sent down in late March.  He’s that good.

CINCINNATI REDS

I would love the Reds if teams only had to play offense and didn’t have to pitch.  I am really unimpressed with the Reds pitching. Year after year it’s the same story. They can hit, but they can’t pitch.  This year appears to be no different.

I wrote on Twitter early this spring that I was very impressed with the way Amir Garrett was throwing the ball. He has command of his fastball now and he looks much more confident in his delivery. I think he’s the only potential Reds starter I trust, and that includes Luis Castillo. Garrett appears to have added velocity to a wicked fastball.

I realize the baseball world loves Luis Castillo.  BERNIE’S BASEBALL WORLD is not as fond. In a tough home run park, I think Castillo will yield lots of long balls.

The offense is exciting with Joey Votto still leading the way. He is such a tremendous hitter and overall player. Votto is patient but he is really dangerous.  Now 34, we may see a bit of decline, but it could be gradual.

What to make of Billy Hamilton? Yes, he steals bases. But no, he doesn’t get on base enough to steal as many as he could or should.  How long do the Reds stick with Hamilton if he doesn’t hit?  Good question. I don’t know.  He made some poor decisions in the outfield this spring as well. I’m concerned about Hamilton. Time will tell.

Beyond Joey Votto, I think my favorite player on the Reds to watch play baseball has to be Eugenio Suarez.  He gets on base, has power, can steal bases and plays well at third base. He’s still under the radar and can be an impact hitter.

Jose Peraza was a huge disappointment for many fantasy players last season. He was targeted to be equal or close to equal to Billy Hamilton in stolen bases. But Peraza didn’t get on base enough and he didn’t attempt to steal when he did get on.  To make matters worse for this year, prospect phenom Nick Senzel may take Peraza’s shortstop job away if Peraza falters. For now, however, it looks like Peraza is safe.

Senzel has been sent back to the minors to work on playing both at shortstop and second base.  Eugenio Suaraz has been given a lengthy extension, making it more difficult for Senzel to claim third base as his own in the future.

Jesse Winker has a nice batting average hitting tool. He doesn’t have much power or speed, but Winker can get on base with a nice left-handed bat.

Unless they can fix their pitching, I think the Reds will once again be looking up in the standings from the bottom or close enough to the bottom of the National League Central.

Travis Shaw

Photo Credit: Ryan Morris

MILWAUKEE BREWERS

I love what the Brewers have done to improve their offense with the acquisitions of Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain. But I believe they have hurt their chances of success by not bolstering a mediocre and shallow starting pitching staff.

If ever a team needed to add a starter, it was the Brewers. They would have done well to sign Lance Lynn. They didn’t. The Twins did.  Perhaps Alex Cobb could have helped. But he went to the Orioles.

I was at the game when lefty roster hopeful Wade Miley went down with an injury. A couple innings later, lefty reliever Boone Logan followed him to the trainer’s room. The team just can’t afford to lose potential pitching to injuries.

The Brewers are another one of the teams in baseball with a lethal lineup and little pitching depth.

Beyond Chase Anderson and Zach Davies, I think the Brewers staff of Jhoulys Chacin, Junior Guerra and a recovered Wade Miley (eventually) will be problematic. Those three may yield a tremendous number of opponent home runs in Miller Park. Yes, I know Chacin was good last year.  That was not at Miller Park as his home stadium.  That was in San Diego, a more pitcher-friendly environment.

Prospect Brandon Woodward waits in the wings. I think he will play an important role on the mound at some point this season.

Maybe it will be even sooner than the Brewers had planned.

On offense, beyond Yelich and Cain, the Brewers will trot out the way undervalued Travis Shaw, Ryan Braun and Domingo Santana.  While Braun may take his transition to first base with him to the plate and his offense with him in the field, he is still a good hitter.  Yes, I do think his position change will negatively impact his offense.

I like the fact the bottom of the Brewers batting order is populated by two potential speedsters in Orlando Arcia and Jonathan Villar. Both could be dangerous on the bases.

This is the final season at Maryvale Baseball Park, as it is currently constructed. Next year the Brewers will be in a totally renovated Maryvale park situated on the same physical site. With the exception of the physical real estate, everything will be new about the park.  A massive renovation will begin the day after the team departs the complex this spring.

The Brewers have an exciting club. They should score runs. But they will yield a ton of runs as well. I think it will be tough for them to catch the Cubs and maybe even the Cardinals.

Trevor Bauer

Photo Credit: Jerry Espinoza

CLEVELAND INDIANS

The Indians came to camp with several health-related issues.  Michael Brantley is still recovering from ankle issues. Danny Salazar has arm woes once again.  And to make matters even worse, Carlos Carrasco was hit in the ankle with a ball hit sharply back to the mound.  While it is being reported he is fine, he could be negatively impacted for a while as he lands on his impacted leg.

The team had three key players out of options. Infielders Erik Gonzalez and Giovanny Urshela and pitcher Ryan Merritt spent the spring with a cloud hanging over their heads. Urshela and Merritt have landed on the disabled list. Gonzalez won the utility role for now.

The Indians still have a quality rotation if they all remain healthy. Trevor Bauer has never had sharper control than what I saw. He, ace Corey Kluber, Carrasco and Mike Clevinger form as solid a top-four as any team in baseball.

The offense will fall in line with Jose Ramirez no longer being an under the radar hitter.  Edwin Encarnacion, Brantley, newcomer Yonder Alonso and of course shortstop Francisco Lindor are an awesome group for any pitcher to face.

The Indians may face a tough 2019 as Andrew Miller and Cody Allen, the two back-inning bullpen guys are both in their free agent walk years. That’s why this coming season is so important to the franchise.

From what I have seen, the offense may take a hit with the loss of both Jay Bruce and Carlos Santana. It remains to be seen if this edition of the Indians will be able to score runs in bunches or be more dependent upon every player on their 24-man roster having career years in an effort to keep up with the Houston Astros and surging New York Yankees, the teams that most analysts feel will rain on the Indians parade.

SEATTLE MARINERS

I wish I could be as optimistic about the Mariners pitching as general manager Jerry Dipoto.  It seems Dipoto is ever the optimist, but he likes his pitching staff a bit more than I like his pitching staff.

There is little doubt in my mind that lefty James Paxton can contend for the Cy Young Award if he stays healthy. And that’s the problem.  Paxton rarely makes it through an entire season without health issues. So far this spring, however, Paxton looks terrific.

I wish I could say the same for King Felix. Felix Hernandez looks healthy in Spring Training, but he has logged a tremendous number of innings on that right arm.  Even if healthy, Hernandez isn’t an ace or even a deuce any longer. He’s had an acceptable spring, but Felix is no longer King. I have to question his ability to make anything close to 30 starts.

I’m still plenty bullish on the offense that is led by Nelson Cruz and Robbie Cano. Both are advancing in baseball age and their slips are beginning to show a bit.  Both are still lethal enough to bust open a game with one swing of the bat.

The guy that sets the table is Jean Segura. He can hit, he can run, and he can play defense.  He is now joined by another speedster in Dee Gordon, who is changing positions from second base to center field. He’s such a good athlete, I see no reason he can’t be a terrific success in his new role. Imagine having Segura, Gordon, Cano and Cruz to face at the top of the Mariners batting order.  It really is a tough group to navigate.

Edwin Diaz provides the team with a quality, veteran closer. The bullpen is solid.  The team is solid.

Watch out for Dan Vogelbach to hit some huge home runs. If he gets the chance for regular at-bats against right-handed pitching, Vogelbach can be a huge source of power.

Outfield injuries have been the concern this spring. If they can get guys healthy and if Mitch Haniger hits, as I believe he will, the Mariners may just hang around a while and give the Astros some competition in the AL West.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS

The Athletics are one of my surprise up and coming teams. I really believe that once there pitching matures they will be tough enough to hang in against American League West teams. For now, their pitching remains young with most of their rotation is still feeling their way.  More about that later.

I’m really impressed with corner infielders Matt Chapman and Matt Olson.  They are part of an excellent future core for the club.  If in fact, the hand issue that bothered Chapman early in the spring is settled, he should be able to return to providing a normal well above average performance.  We haven’t seen the best of Chapman yet at the major-league level. There is more coming in the way of offense.

For me, Matt Olson remains well under the radar as a power-hitting impact first baseman. The 24 home runs he hit last year may seem modest in comparison to what I believe he can produce this season. He can be a real force at the plate.

Also under the radar, Khris Davis is an incredibly powerful hitter.  Last year was no exception in his string of big offensive production.  Davis hit 43 homers while driving in 110 runs. I think the bombs will keep on coming.

Stephen Piscotty came over from the Cardinals in trade.  He has always shown he can hit. He had a setback last season, and that’s probably why he was available to Oakland.  If he stays healthy, Piscotty should return to form as a steady, reliable hitter with good plate discipline and a line drive, barrel bat.

I have scouted infielder Franklin Barreto over every phase of his young career. Barreto is a hitter-first infielder with existing gap power that could translate to home run pop over time. I prefer him as a second baseman, a position now occupied by Jed Lowrie, a very good player on both sides of the ball.  Barreto is not as good at shortstop, where he may become the heir apparent to incumbent Marcus Semien at some point in the future. I like Semien as a hitter. I’m not wild about him on defense, as I believe he costs the Athletics runs with wild throws and inconsistent play-even on routine ground balls.

Keep an eye on Daniel Mengden, a right-handed pitcher that split last season between Triple-A and the parent Athletics. I agree with scouts I spoke with that believe in Mengden’s ability to pitch as a rotation starter in Oakland.  He will likely join Kendal Graveman Sean Manaea, Andrew Triggs and Daniel Gossett in the rotation. Mengden likely fits in the middle.

While I see struggles ahead for those starters this season, they may mature quickly and provide some rotation stability going forward.  Jharel Cotton and Paul Blackburn are two additional starters, but both are injured.  Cotton will have Tommy John surgery and Blackburn has a strained forearm and it will be some time until he returns.

TEXAS RANGERS

The Rangers are a team that continues to puzzle me. Like many other clubs in baseball, it appears their pitching could be far less effective than their hitting.  To me, they are a team that really could have used Alex Cobb, Jake Arrieta or Lance Lynn. They failed to get any of them.  And when at one point we thought they were in the hunt for Yu Darvish, they didn’t sign him either.

34-year-old Cole Hamels leads their rotation. I believe his productive days are in the rearview mirror.  He may have some good starts, but there will some really shaky starts as well and I think more inconsistency waits.

Matt Moore, Doug Fister, Mike Minor and Martine Perez round out the rotation. I see the opposition scoring lots of runs. The only right-hander among them is Fister, who I saw get totally bombed in a recent Rangers start.

Joey Gallo

Photo Credit: Ryan Morris

As woeful as I think the pitching might be, I think the offense can be very, very powerful.  We still haven’t seen the best of Joey Gallo. Still only 24, Gallo hits some of the longest home runs in the game. And he may even reduce his excessive strikeout rate.  But Gallo isn’t alone in the lineup.  Watch out for Rougned Odor and Nomar Mazara as two under the radar power hitters. For me, Mazara has a chance to be this year’s edition of Marcell Ozuna who broke out for the Marlins last year and was rewarded by being traded to the Cardinals.

Speed will set up the power in the form of center fielder Delino Deshields and to some extent Elvis Andrus, who in his own right is a very strong offensive player.

So while I think the Rangers will hit, I have issues with the pitchers they will send out every day.  Couple that with a bullpen that lacks a true closer and is still trying to determine roles, I think the Rangers could be in for a long year.

I will have commentary about the Cubs, Diamondbacks, Rockies, Angels, Dodgers, Padres and Giants in my standings predictions next week.

DRIBBLERS

Madison Bumgarner

Photo Credit: Ryan Morris

The broken pinky finger suffered by Madison Bumgarner at the end of the spring is a devastating blow to the San Francisco Giants.  Hit by a comebacker off the bat of Royals Whitt Merrifield, Bumgarner is lost to the clubs for several weeks. We saw last year what happened to the Giants when they lost Bumgarner due to injury.

The extensive weight loss for Kyle Schwarber is more than admirable. It shows his dedication and desire to be the best player possible.  He went about losing weight to improve his agility and overall health.  I’m rooting for him to have a huge season and show that hard work pays off.

I think we are going to see a huge, huge season from Padres outfielder Manuel Margot. He has all the qualities to break out and show the Red Sox they made a mistake trading him to the Padres. Look for a big season from the Padres center fielder.

I find it disturbing that several Shohei Ohtani critics are calling his signing a mistake by the Angels. I disagree. Give him a chance to acclimate stateside.  He has been in the United States less than three months. He was hurt last season. He doesn’t speak or understand the language. His food and total environment is different.  And he has to adjust. It may take time. The qualities are apparent that he can pitch and hit.  It is way, way too soon to call Ohtani’s signing a mistake. Let’s wait a couple years and then have a discussion about his progress. In short, we have to be fair.

Follow me on Twitter @BerniePleskoff

About The Author

Bernie Pleskoff is a former professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Bernie's work has been featured on MLB Pipeline, MLB.com and FanRag Sports, among others. You can follow Bernie Pleskoff on Twitter @BerniePleskoff