OBSERVATIONS HEADING TO A NEW SEASON

The 2018 MLB Championship season has begun. It was a little different watching the season open in the middle of a week. There will be more off days for teams during the year. That’s why Spring Training games began at the end of February and the season began before April.

There were a few obvious differences this spring than last. First, I noticed far fewer trips to the mound by catchers, coaches and managers. Teams were becoming used to fewer and more structured mound visits. It did seem to make the games move along in a crisper fashion.

I was disappointed that once again many teams did not adhere to the MLB regulation that requires at least four regular players to travel and be in the visiting roster at spring road games (unless it was a split-squad day). I will not give up bringing attention to this. Fans are entitled to see major league players when they pay major league prices for tickets.

It is becoming ever more apparent that the utility role in baseball is as crucial as any. That player has to be capable of being an infielder and outfielder at the same time. The utility guy can find himself playing anywhere on the field. Why? So teams can deploy an additional arm in the bullpen.

The bullpen has become a focal point for most teams. If a starter lasts six innings it is a bonus. Given pitching metrics and arm injuries, in general, starting pitchers are asked to keep their team in the game for five or six innings. The bullpens take over to finish the game.

I know we have seen a reduction in quality starting pitchers for years. This year it seems starting rotations are even thinner. Starting pitching depth, or lack thereof at the major league level is a serious, serious problem. As I reviewed teams for my pre-season prediction article I found myself writing similar words over and over again. I wondered if the starting pitching holds up? Can they pitch? Do they have enough starters? The issue is serious. The problem is more with elbow and shoulder injuries than anything else. With so many pitching injuries, available pitchers are depleted.

I do not know how to solve the problem other than having pitchers work fewer innings from high school onward.

Pitching injuries and pitcher scarcity makes me wonder if all the home runs can be attributed to the “new” baseball and uppercut swings of hitters or is it pitcher ineffectiveness? Perhaps it really is both.

Speaking of the baseball. I wonder if once the existing supply of baseballs is depleted if MLB will switch back to the way the ball was constructed in the past? That’s just a thought. You know, mix it up a bit and cause some skepticism once again? I’m not saying they would do that, but they might do that.

I don’t think the ridiculous minor league rule that has an extra inning begin with a runner on second base will ever make it to Major League Baseball. The entire thought of it ruins the game for most fans. And if baseball is concerned enough about the development of its players at the minor league level, just end the game in a tie after nine innings.

I also want to see the gates of major league stadiums open for both team’s batting practice. Not opening the gates until after one of the teams has hit is a slap in the face to fans. How much more does it cost to open the gates an hour early? Batting practice is an exciting time. As it currently stands, many clubs shut out their fans during that pre-game ritual.

I didn’t see every team in Spring Training. I did see plenty in both Arizona and Florida. The Red Sox have a hunger about them that stems from their new manager Alex Cora. They were hustling and playing like the spring games mattered. It was very impressive.

Contrary to what I read at the beginning of spring, the Twins Miguel Sano looked in better shape than I had seen him in years. I saw him smoke two monster home runs. Those balls still may not have landed.

The Mariners Daniel Vogelbach had a monster spring. He hit towering home runs and played very well at first base.

I was at the game when Padres pitcher Dinelson Lamet walked off the field due to elbow pain. He is another in a long, long line of very promising young pitchers with injury woes. Add the very exciting A.J. Puk, Oakland prospect starter to that list. He has an incredible future pitching from his 6’-7” frame. I can only hope he and Lamet recover quickly and return to the mound.

What can be said about Greg Bird injuring his ankle once again? Will this young man ever get to play an entire season? I looked upon Bird with great promise this year. He had that nice and inviting right field porch to aim for at Yankee Stadium. Now he has to aim for a complete recovery from ankle surgery. Apparently, his ankle issues involve little bones in the ankle and his condition may be congenital. Does it mean these issues will recur? It is certainly a possibility.

How many home runs will Joey Gallo hit? How about Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge? Have you looked at how huge these guys are?

Will this be the year we see an improved Rougned Odor for the Rangers? I wish I knew.

I can’t say enough about the Philadelphia Phillies. To begin, they have a great focal point player in Rhys Hoskins. I was all over him the first time I saw him. But he isn’t alone. He’ll get plenty of help from Carlos Santana and even Maikel Franco. Franco could be a much-improved hitter. Then add in prospect Scott Kingery to the mix as well as a terrific young pitching staff and you have a recipe for success.

So now we move along in a marathon that takes six months to complete. Some teams will go through the motions. Some are eliminated from contention in the month of April due to lack of depth, lackadaisical play or just poor overall skill and performance.

Other teams will play with their hair on fire. They will fight to get every out on defense. The high-quality teams will crawl and scrape to avoid making outs on offense. And the difference between those really good teams and those teams that have no chance and are going through the motions is as wide and deep as the Grand Canyon.

And yes-I am worried about the return of the “haves” and “have-nots” in Major League Baseball. The contenders and the pretenders are becoming more and more obvious.

I’ve been thinking about how to fix some of the issues I see getting more and more important. I’ll reflect on those in a future edition of BERNIE’S BASEBALL WORLD.

For now, I’m going to hope my favorite team remains competitive and plays good, solid baseball. And I’m going to root for my fantasy team players to perform as I expect.

And speaking of fantasy teams-Giancarlo Stanton hit two homers and Matt Davidson hit three in their opening games. In addition, balls were flying out of parks once again this season. I guess MLB hasn’t changed the ball just yet. Their fantasy franchise owners have to be thrilled with those great starts.

Phillies manager Gabe Kapler removing Aaron Nola after he had thrown only 68 pitches and had the lead for the Phillies kind of made me sick. The bullpen lost the game. Who needs a manager? Why not put the rosters on “auto pilot” and feed in the metrics. Let “autopilot” take it from there.

I like the use of metrics. I just don’t like metrics dictating every move as what happened with the Dodgers in the postseason. Rich Hill and Clayton Kershaw were both pulled way early based upon metric readouts.

There is something very special about a military fly over before a sporting event. The fly over at Chase Field opening day gave me chills.

Have a great season everyone. And remember…there is much more good than bad in this year’s edition of Major League Baseball.

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