Spring training from Arizona was different this year. Our first two weeks were cold and damp. We had measurable snow in all parts of the Valley of the Sun as well as rain and wind. Finally, as February turned to March the weather warmed, the sun returned and the fans started to arrive.
One of my constant complaints about the spring is the manner in which managers treat their early spring lineups. I understand they wish to work veterans back into baseball, but to populate a lineup with mostly minor league players is not fair to fans who pay major league prices for tickets. I wouldn’t mind if the prospects used were highly regarded, but some are very, very far down the baseball food chain. Maybe they should have lower prices for games until March 1.
The spring began with the use of the pitch clock for the first few games. Major League Baseball quickly pulled the plug on the clock, stating that in essence, the time hasn’t yet come to use the pitch clock. Maybe by 2020. I think that’s a shame, because having the clock did speed up the game. It worked in the Arizona Fall League and I think it can work in all of baseball.
In my first spring training report below, I will offer observations from spring training games in Phoenix. My next report will include observations from Florida.
As a scout for the Astros and Mariners it wasn’t always possible to see a player extensively. Sometimes I would only see one inning for a pitcher or one or two at-bats for a hitter. Regardless, reports had to be submitted based upon what I saw in limited opportunities.
In spring training, scouts are usually assigned to several clubs. They follow those clubs spring schedules and compile reports that are usually composed of multiple “looks.” Scouts go to the back fields to watch games and player workouts. They often attend both minor league and major league games.
Extensive scout observations in spring training are similar to those in the Arizona Fall League. Scouts are offered the opportunity to see a position player or pitcher in various situations.
Often times a club will have the club’s scouts gather at the team’s spring training facility to observe the team’s entire roster and watch the entire rotation at least once. The visit usually occurs when the starting rotation is intact and starting on a regular basis. Watching one’s own team for several days gives the scout a basis for comparison. “Here is what we have. Now what do we need? What are we looking for?” The scout can then ask himself/herself “Is this player better than who we have at that position?” And yes, I have met female scouts. I don’t know if there are any currently working for clubs. I had two women in my scout school class, and they were very good.
From my scout’s eye-here is what I have observed so far in Arizona spring training games and workouts.
Yusnei Kikuchi-LHP. I was able to see Japanese left-hander Yusnei Kikuchi throw three innings against the Kansas City Royals. He yielded two runs, both earned on two hits. He faced 12 batters, striking out three. Kikuchi pitched exclusively from the stretch. He has the hesitation midway during his delivery that we have seen from Japanese pitchers. It really is deceptive, as he literally stops his delivery at the mid-point. Kikuchi threw a fairly straight fastball at 92-93 miles per hour. He also used a curve and a cutter. Neither were very crisp or sharp, and they could have easily been hit, as they were elevated in the strike zone. Kikuchi didn’t pay a price for hanging his breaking balls, as the damage against him came from fastballs. I found him to be a credible middle of the rotation starter with good pitching mechanics and a solid mound presence. It will take him time to adjust to stateside baseball. In essence, I think he will eat innings, but I found him no better than an average grade 50 rotation starter. Kikuchi is 6-0 even and is listed at 194 pounds. He isn’t very big and he isn’t overpowering, but once he settles in, I think his breaking balls will play.
Domingo Santana-OF-Santana has now played for the Phillies, the Astros, the Brewers, the Astros again, the Brewers again and now the Mariners. He hasn’t really established himself as an everyday major league outfielder. A right-handed hitter, Santana has some pop in his bat that can’t be ignored. He has started strongly this spring with home runs and RBI being a major part of his offense so far. He’s now 26 and coming close to being in his prime. A big guy at 6-5, 220 pounds, maybe Seattle is the place he finds his swing. I view Santana as the regular left fielder for the Mariners in an outfield with Mitch Haniger in right and Mallex Smith in center. I believe the best is yet to come for Santana, and I am seeing it this spring. He is a better than average player for me, or a grade 55.
Mitch Haniger-OF- Haniger is a sweet-swinging outfielder that just keeps getting better. When he gets in a groove, the ball jumps off his bat. He has everything a team wants in an everyday player. Haniger has a good hit tool with power. He plays very solid defense and he has a strong arm. Haniger has consistently improved from stops with the Brewers, the Diamondbacks and now the Mariners. He is 28, but he never really got a chance to play everyday and show what he can do. I’m very bullish on Haniger as a table setter as well as a guy to knock in runs. Whatever his role, he will succeed. I have graded Haniger a 55 or a better than average major league outfielder with a consistent bat. If he continues on the playing time path we are now seeing, he will continue to improve. Everyday play for Haniger has not always been available to him. It is now.
Ryon Healy-1B-Healy is now buried behind newcomer Edwin Encarnacion at first base for Seattle. The Mariners are still trying to trade EE, but so far, they haven’t found a taker for his contract. If they trade Encarnacion, Healy will get far more opportunities at first base. Perhaps then the club would keep Dan Vogelbach as a left-handed option at the position. Healy has some power and he could handle first base adequately if there is no Encarnacion. Designated hitting duties probably belong to Jay Bruce, so watch the Mariners trading situation closely. If EE is gone, Healy’s at-bats will increase and he will become a much more viable player.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS
Cam Gallagher-C- With the pending operation for catcher Sal Perez, the entire lineup of the Royals will face a negative impact. They have few RBI bats as it is, but losing Perez was major. It impacts the run scoring ability of speedsters Whit Merrifield, Adalberto Mondesi and Billy Hamilton in my opinion. Unless the Royals pick up a free agent catcher such as Martin Maldonado or make a trade, Cam Gallagher appears to be the everyday catcher. The right-hander is big, strong and fairly wide at 6-3, 230 pounds. He looks like a catcher. Even though he hit .265 at Triple-A Omaha last year, he likely won’t hit much, and the drop-off from Perez will be dramatic. I found him to have rather slow feet behind the plate and frankly, he really is no more than a sound back up catcher, a grade 45 at best. It is very possible Meibrys Viloria, a left-handed hitter and also a rookie, will give him a challenge for the No. 1 catching role.
Brad Keller-RHP- Keller was a total surprise to me, as he threw nice and easy and repeated a clean delivery with ease. He threw 96 miles per hour and even a bit higher with his fastball. He also mixed in a solid slider and what appeared to be a changeup when I saw him pitch. Keller is very big and very strong at 6-5, 230 pounds. He can be dominant. At the age of 23, I think Keller has a bright future, but he is pitching on a weak hitting baseball club. He pitched well for the Royals last year, and I think he will eat innings and go deep in games. I think he’s a strong as a grade 55, a much better than average pitcher with good command and control.
Billy Hamilton-OF-The Royals signed free agent Billy Hamilton after the Reds made the decision to move on from the speedy outfielder. The problem with Cincinnati was his failure to get on base. When he did reach first base, he could steal bases with blazing speed. He still has to stop seeking home runs and try to put the ball on the ground more to use his speed. Infield hits and bunts count as much as line drives. Hamilton has to be smarter in Kansas City with his approach at the plate. What I saw this spring was better contact. I have hope that he can improve, even at the age of 28. It is very clear that what could be a long single for the average runner could be an easy double for Hamilton. He will challenge outfielders to throw him out. The Royals have Adalberto Mondesi, Whit Merrifield and Hamilton all poised to steal. But each has to get on base to get that done. But in Hamilton’s case, he can’t be hitting .234 and hope to steal 50 bases. High strikeouts are still an issue. He doesn’t have much power, but his speed really plays. He is an outstanding defender in center field.
Adalberto Mondesi-SS-One of their three jackrabbit type players scheduled to steal bases with the Royals, Mondesi is having a very good spring. He has some pop in his bat, and his hit tool is improving. Unlike Hamilton, I believe Mondesi will, in fact, steal bases. Mondesi is only 23, so his best days are well ahead of him. I see a much bigger and more confident Mondesi than I have seen in the past. I believe maturity alone will make him a better player, and I very much like what I have seen. However, for all three of their potential base stealing wizards, someone will have to drive them in if they wish to score runs in bunches. I view him as a grade 55 player, above average but not a star.
Whit Merrifield-2B/OF- Of the three speedsters in the Royals lineup, Merrifield is the one with the best contact. He puts the ball in play and has a chance to steal or score much more often than either Hamilton or Mondesi. It is Merrifield that I think can do the most damage among them. He’s having a nice spring, and that was evident when I saw him play. He’s always “in the game” and he’s a type of player that is a pest. He does things well, and in most fantasy leagues, Merrifield offers dual eligibility as both an outfielder and second baseman. I think he’s a guy that can steal at least 30 bases in the coming season, but he will also have his share of home runs and extra base hits on his way to a solid batting average.
Nick Senzel-CF-The presence of Eugenio Suarez at third base and Scooter Gennett at second base has forced the Reds to find a new position for Nick Senzel, easily their best prospect player. I saw Senzel play center field. He still had some judgement issues regarding the flight path of the ball, but he was clearly adequate. He also came in on a ball very well that he read properly, making a catch behind second base. I believe deeply hit balls will give him more problems. On offense, he hit two doubles and barreled the ball with force and torque. He is on fire at the plate so far this spring, and pitchers are seeing the power I have seen in his development. At 23, the right-handed hitter most likely will be kept in the minors leagues just long enough so the Reds get another year of service from him. For now, however, I think they would be foolish to keep Senzel down in Triple-A even one day longer than necessary. I think he’s going to be an impact, grade 65 hitter-which means he’ll see lots of All-Star games. I do realize the Reds are being patient with him, and perhaps that patience will pay dividends. But this is an impact hitter, to be sure.
Philip Ervin-OF-Ervin is in the mix for an outfield role with the Reds. I have long said they have an abundance of quality outfielders and perhaps a package including an outfielder would be enough for Cleveland to dispatch a starting pitcher to Cincinnati. Ervin is among Jesse Winker, Matt Kemp, Scott Schebler, Yasiel Puig and the aforementioned Nick Senzel for playing time in the Reds outfield. Ervin is a right-handed, 26 year-old hitter with major league playing time. He’s hitting well this spring, and he has definite home run pop. I think he’s beginning to come into his own. A former 1st round pick, Ervin is a real sleeper in my estimation. I almost think he has been the forgotten man for the Reds. He’s the type of guy that might put up some very nice offensive numbers if given every day at-bats. I do think he’s an average major league quality, grade 50 player. But, he may not even make the Reds roster due to the organizational position depth.
Jose Peraza-SS-Peraza has hung around long enough to have earned a regular role with Cincinnati. At one point, Peraza and Billy Hamilton were seen as a very dangerous duo, capable of stealing bases and scoring runs. He has consistently been between 21-23 stolen bases a season in his three regular seasons with the Reds. He also gets caught stealing quite a bit. I have already seen him steal a couple bases this spring without being caught. He looks much more determined, and with Hamilton gone, perhaps he will run even more. I look to Peraza to get his share of extra base hits with his good speed and gap power. He’s a main threat now to steal and score runs without trying to equal Hamilton. I think that fact alone improves his game. I see him as an average, grade 50 player.
Jesse Winker-OF-Winker is among the many that provide the Reds with one of the deepest and best hitting outfields in baseball. Winker is a very solid, contact hitting, high batting average player. He doesn’t hit the ball out of the park, but he takes pitches where they are thrown, using the entire field and beating any outfield or infield that shifts their defense to play him. Winker is a left-handed hitter, so if the Reds choose to platoon him, he will see the large part of the platoon as the team’s left fielder. It will likely be Matt Kemp hitting from the right side of that tandem. Winker doesn’t have much speed, but the pop in his bat is increasing and improving. Winker is an average player, a grade 50 in my evaluations, but he has a chance to exceed that grade with playing time and plate appearances that exceed my expectations.
Ketel Marte-2B/CF- Ketel Marte is transitioning from his normal infield position of second base to center field. Wilmer Flores, who the Dbacks signed as a free agent is scheduled to take over at second base for Arizona. Marte is moving into his new role in a measured manner, first having played second base early in spring and then moving to center field. From what I have seen of Marte, he appears to be a natural in his new role. I saw him make a fine running catch, going from dead center to left center on the run to make a catch. He followed the ball off the bat and took a good route. Marte is a solid hitter, and he’s hitting well this spring, even with a new position on his mind. I am mindful of Rhys Hoskins of the Phillies moving to left field from first base last year. The move hurt his offense and he is back in the infield at first base this season. And he really scuffled on defense in left field. I don’t think that will happen to the athletic Marte, but that position change comes to mind for me. I do feel Marte is a good, grade 50 everyday player.
Steven Souza Jr.-RF- Souza Jr. came over from Tampa Bay last season. He was hurt a great deal of the time and hit only .220 with five homers and 29 RBI in a mere 272 plate appearances. Now 29, Souza Jr. still has to prove himself to the Diamondbacks and their fans. The right-handed hitting right fielder is not having a good spring at the plate regarding batting average , but he has hit two homers and a double as of this writing. I frankly am not sure there is much of an offensive skill beyond a mediocre hit tool with meh power. I’m just not convinced Souza Jr. will ever get the type of player they thought they were trading for in 2018. I see him no better than a grade 50 player, if that.
Christian Walker-1B-I am very bullish on the right-handed hitting Walker. He is scheduled to platoon with the left-handed hitting Jake Lamb at first base for Arizona. I think Walker deserves a chance to hit against all pitching, as I think his power and his hit tool will prove to be very major league worthy. In his career, Walker has always played behind someone in his quest for substantial playing time and at-bats. Last year with the Dbacks he played behind All Star Paul Goldschmidt. Walker is soon to be 28 and into his prime years. He is having a fantastic spring at the plate, driving in runs and hitting the ball with authority. He has plenty of power, and frankly, might be a better first baseman than Lamb, who is moving across the diamond from third base. I feel Walker remains under the radar, but he is clearly a grade 50 type player. I wouldn’t doubt he could play everyday for Arizona.
Robbie Ray-LHP-Color me concerned. I am concerned that Robbie Ray has great stuff but that he still has not harnessed his command and control. Simply put, with his good stuff, he still walks too many hitters. Ray has a career walk record of 4.0 walks per nine innings. Last year with Arizona, Ray walked an average of 5.1 hitters per nine. He also had a great strikeout rate, striking out 12 hitters per nine innings. Unfortunately, the high walk rate is continuing this spring. Maybe he’s still working into shape. His ERA is fine and he’s a good pitcher. If he ever throws strikes more consistently he should be the winner the Dbacks had projected following an outstanding 2017 season. I have to say my jury remains out on Robbie Ray’s ability to reduce his walk rate. It baffles me that he looks good against one or two batters and then boom…I look away and he’s given up a couple runs.
Trevor Bauer-RHP- Bauer threw three innings early this spring while most pitchers were controlled and limited to an inning or two. Even though he is working on a revised changeup, Bauer has had an outstanding spring training. Other than his often prickly relationship with the Indians, Bauer is on a path that may even end up with a Cy Young Award. He’s that good. Last season he was pitching great before being hit with a batted ball and missing starts at the end of the season. Bauer has a tremendous feel for pitching, and his breaking balls compliment his fastball very well. If there is a flaw with Bauer, it comes from not being able to recover from falling behind the hitter. His walks are often at the wrong time to the wrong guy. I have little doubt that Bauer can keep his team in the game and offer the type of starting pitching that makes him coveted in trade talks. However, there are teams that like his pitching but back off due to his quirky training style and personality. His last start wasn’t particularly great, but he does have the ability to bounce back. I grade Bauer a 60, well above average and an All- Star candidate-provided he can continue to improve.
Jake Bauers-1B- The left-handed hitting Bauers came to the Indians in a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays for solid line-drive hitting Yandy Diaz. It remains to be seen if either Bauers or Diaz convert their potential to reality as big league hitters. Bauers showed some improvement in his hitting tool last year, but I have reason for concern about his approach against left-handed pitching. He has scuffled against lefties all spring, and I’ve seen a great number of those at-bats. Bauers is scheduled to play either first base or left field for Cleveland. With the signing of a minor league contract by Hanley Ramirez, it may mean more outfield play for Bauers if Ramirez wins a role with the big club. Right now, however, I have my doubts about Bauers’ hit tool. Time and exposure to quality pitching will reveal more. He is a grade 50 for me, a regular player regardless of position.
Kevin Plawecki-C- The Indians obtained Plawecki from the New York Mets for infielder Sam Haggerty and pitcher Walter Lockett. I had not seen much of Plawecki in the past. However, I am impressed with what I have seen of him so far this spring. I don’t think he’ll overtake Roberto Perez as the Indians catcher to start the season. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if Plawecki becomes their catcher at some point during the year. I really like the contact I have seen him make. A catcher that can put the bat on the ball on offense is getting rare in Major League Baseball. While Perez may be a superior defensive catcher, I’m not crazy about his bat. Not at all.
Shane Bieber-RHP- Bieber joined Trevor Bauer as two of the Tribe’s five starting pitchers to start games in the first couple weeks of spring training. Like Bauer, Bieber has been very sharp. He has been criticized by some for throwing too many strikes. He is working on a way to begin throwing some of his two strike pitches out of the strike zone to get hitters to chase. It may mean fewer strikeouts for him if he should follow that plan. Throwing too many strikes. What a “problem” to have. But in all reality, getting too much of the plate could certainly become an issue. But Bieber is making adjustments and is a very reliable 5th starting pitcher in a rotation that will be called upon to pitch the club to another division title. Last spring, Bieber was held out of big league games as the front office didn’t want him rushed. Now still 23, Bieber continues to improve and he has earned the respect of his fellow pitchers and the manager. He is an average pitcher, a grade 50, with upside remaining to get even better.
SAN DIEGO PADRES
Franmil Reyes-OF- I certainly can’t say that Franmil Reyes will win a role in the Padres outfield, but I can say that he has a huge 6-5, 275 frame. He has plenty of power within that massive body. His swing is pretty long and he does hunt home runs, but there’s a reason the Padres might just promote the 23 year-old as soon as this year. He isn’t hitting that great this spring, but the upside remains. He clearly doesn’t have much speed, but if he learns to be patient at the plate and recognize pitches quicker, he could be an impactful outfielder. The remaining problem for Reyes is the number of outfielders waiting in line for their turn. Wil Myers, Hunter Renfroe, Franchy Cordero, and Manuel Margot will likely all get extended spring looks. A broken wrist will keep Travis Jankowski out of the lineup for three months. With his injury, Reyes could stick with the big club if they keep five outfielders. Reyes is a 45 in my book-a utility player who could help more off the bench than as an everyday player.
Francisco Mejia-C- Francisco Mejia was traded to the Padres from the Cleveland Indians in the deal that brought Brad Hand and Adam Cimber to the Indians bullpen. Mejia has always been a very good hitting catcher. It has been his defense that has been suspect. There have been concerns about all aspects of his ability as a catcher, and those included his enthusiasm playing the game. This spring I have noticed improvement in both energy and defensive execution. He has a good, strong arm and he seems to be moving with a greater sense of purpose as a catcher. But will his overall game be better than that of catcher Austin Hedges? Hedges is a right-handed hitter. Mejia is a switch-hitter, so they could platoon. A grade 55 for me, Mejia has to continue to improve his defense to gain the confidence of his Padres organization.
Austin Hedges- At this point, Hedges may be considered a more complete player than Francisco Mejia. Now 26, Hedges is entering his prime. From what I have seen this spring, Hedges has nothing to fear about Mejia taking his job. Although he hasn’t shown it yet on the biggest stage, Hedges is a good enough hitter with better defense than Mejia. He hasn’t hit well yet in spring training, but I still think he will win the starting job. I couldn’t understand why the club needed Mejia in the first place when they traded for him, but perhaps San Diego will trade one of their two catchers for pitching help. He only hit only .231 for the Padres last season, but I still believe he can hit major league pitching. He was a .273 hitter in his minor league career. The ultimate question to be answered by San Diego relates to what they want in their catcher? Do they want to platoon Mejia and Hedges? In fact, that may be the best approach.
Chris Paddack-RHP- Paddack is only 23, but I think he has a nice, bright future pitching for San Diego. His highest level of pitching right now is Double-A San Antonio, last season. When I saw him, he pitched very well. He was efficient and effective. I saw his first spring outing against the Brewers. He threw 34 pitches, allowing a hit, a walk and an unearned run. He struck out four. It remains to be seen how long it will be before Paddack is pitching at the major league level. To be sure, there are plenty of people advocating for him to break camp in the Padres rotation. I see him as a grade 60 righty with a chance to pitch at or near the top of the club’s rotation. They also have prospect pitchers Mackenzie Gore, Adrian Morejon and others waiting in the wings. While the future of the Padres pitching is superb, they may be content to wait at least well into the late 2019 season to call upon their pitching prospects for innings at the big league level.
Joey Lucchesi-LHP- Joey Lucchesi threw 130 innings for the San Diego Padres last season. He started 26 games. He threw to a 4.08 ERA and 1.29 WHIP. He earned his way into the Padres rotation and stayed there. Now he is being looked upon to be one of their major starters this season. The big lefty has had a nice spring so far. Lucchesi is 6-5, 204 pounds. He throws a fastball at 90 to 91 miles per hour, not really overwhelming. He also has a curveball and changeup. He gets lots of movement on his fastball, with late sink being important to his success. This spring, Lucchesi really hasn’t given up much in the way of runs or hard hits. I look for him to have an even better season than last year.
Nolan Arenado-3B- Arenado will be a fixture in Colorado until 2026. We have no idea how good Arenado will be as the contract progresses. But we do know that he is an outstanding hitter and maybe even a better defender at third base right now. This spring I have seen Arenado work on taking a pitch to the opposite field. Frankly, I had not seen him do that in his career. He is usually a dead pull hitter to left field, peppering line drives, some of which clear the wall by plenty. He isn’t having a great spring at the plate, but I don’t think any of the Rockies brass is too concerned. Now, perhaps Arenado is expanding his offerings at the plate to include the vast real estate available in the Coors Field outfield. He may hit in the two hole in the Rockies lineup, assuring him of plenty of RBI opportunities. There is no question Arenado will barrel the ball with authority as the spring continues and the new year begins.
Tony Wolters-C-Wolters began in the Indians organization as an infielder. He was converted to catcher and now he is on the Rockies roster as their back-up at the important position. Wolters is a good defensive catcher. He is much better than one would have projected at the beginning of his career. He doesn’t have a great hit tool, but pitchers like to throw to Wolters. If he does play, it will be because of his defense and that a decision was made to sacrifice offense to keep him in the game. But there is no question he is a very good handler of pitchers.
Raimel Tapia-OF- Tapia has been around for quite a while, but he has never really had a chance to play on a full-time basis. He is out of options, so the Rockies have to keep him on the major league roster or make a decision regarding his future. I’m not sure his trade value is that great because teams have never seen him have sustained playing time against quality pitching. I do think he’ll make the 25-man roster along with starters Charlie Blackmon, David Dahl and Ian Desmond in the outfield. The last outfielder on the roster could be Noel Cuevas. Tapia’s bid for a job is enhanced by a good spring at the plate. He is driving in runs, but he still hasn’t shown much power.
David Dahl-OF-If Dahl is healthy, and it looks like that is the case, he will be an outstanding asset in the Rockies everyday lineup. I saw him hit two doubles to the gaps already this spring. He looks bigger and stronger than I remember him in the past. He should be playing against any and all pitching, avoiding a platoon role. That will allow him to flourish in hitter-friendly Coors Field. I look for Dahl to have an outstanding year for the Rockies and he is one reason I am ranking them highly in the National League West standings predictions.
Christian Yelich-OF- For those who thought perhaps last year was a real fluke for Yelich, I am here to tell you that I don’t think that is the case. I have witnessed some very, very hard hit balls so far this spring by Yelich. He is used sparingly so far, but he is pounding the ball. And we’re not talking a single here and a single there. He has hit the ball to the gaps and over the wall. And I believe there will be more to come. He looks to be in tremendous condition and he may be one of the guys that will get his payday when his time arrives. Yelich is in a dangerous Brewers lineup which will translate to home runs, RBI, and runs scored. I think he’ll steal some bases as well. Yelich is the real deal without a doubt, and he has found a very secure home in Milwaukee.
Keston Hiura-2B- Hiura is getting more playing time this spring than I had expected. I am seeing him in almost every game I attend, and that’s been quite a few so far. I am still seeing the short, measured swing I saw in the Arizona Fall League, and the results aren’t quite what they were in the past. Not selling out to hit home runs, Hiura has a natural approach at the plate that results in plenty of gap line drives when he makes solid contact. While he isn’t hitting for a high average so far, I think his stroke will be fine. He’s being fooled by major league quality pitching and the strikeouts are a bit high. This taste of major league pitching is good for his development.
Eric Thames-1B/OF-Prior to the emergence of Travis Shaw, Eric Thames had won the first base job for the Brewers. He got off to a terrific start in his first year with the club, but he faded in the second half of the year. Now Thames finds himself a utility player backing up at first base and in the outfield. But he still has power and he can still break open a game with one swing of the bat. I saw him hit one of the longest home runs that I can remember seeing in a spring training park. I don’t know how many at-bats he will get during the season, but manager Craig Counsell is one that likes to use his players, keeping them fresh and ready to contribute. There is no way I would write Thames off as a component of the 2019 Brewers. I think before it is all said and done, he will have some big hits for Milwaukee.
Josh Hader-LHP- There are few arms in the game with as much quickness, strength and velocity than Josh Hader. For the life of me I don’t know why Craig Counsell hasn’t installed him as the one and only closer. But I really shouldn’t argue with success, both Hader and Corey Knebel can be dominant in that role, getting the last out of the game. And I think both will see plenty of 9th inning action once again in a mix-and-match combination dictated by the situation. And both can be great. The Brewers have a fantastic bullpen, one that is among the best in baseball. It would not surprise me if the Brewers used bullpen guys to open games, similar to what Tampa Bay does with success and what the Brewers have also tried in the past. But once it gets to closing time and the lights in the park are ready to be turned off, that’s when Hader and Knebel are at their best. Hader continues to strike guys out in the spring. As of this writing, in the two games and two innings he has pitched, he has struck out every batter. Every one of the six guys he faced. That’s amazing. But that’s Josh Hader.
Ronald Guzman-1B-Watch out for Ronald Guzman. This is a guy who I think is putting it all together. He has the strength and frame to hit a baseball a long, long way, and he’s doing just that this spring. He has been fantastic at the plate so far, and if there was every any doubt this guy could be a home run hitter, he has erased that thought. He has put the barrel of the bat on the ball, he is making good contact and he is driving the ball. I honestly think he can continue to be a force in a lineup that features the strength and power of Joey Gallo. Between them, they will light up plenty of scoreboards. I would project that Guzman will share first base with a player like rookie Patrick Wisdom. However, Guzman will get the large side of the platoon and see plenty of plate appearances.
Joey Gallo-LF-Is this the year Gallo adds a better hit tool, an improving batting average and more contact to his already outstanding power from the left side of the plate? If he learns to hit breaking balls and if he cuts down his swing and is more patient at the plate, Gallo can be a tremendous force in the Rangers lineup. He is so strong that he consistently hits some of the loudest and longest home runs in baseball. It would seem he has a permanent role in left field and he can now concentrate on hitting as opposed to wondering if and when and where he will play. In the past he has played third base, first base and in the outfield. I think that issue is now settled, and Gallo will be in left field and hit in the middle of the Rangers batting order.
Rougned Odor-2B- Odor has been seen by many as a very strong left-handed home run hitting second baseman. Well, that really didn’t materialize last season. Plenty of fantasy team owners have joined Rangers management in wondering when Odor will unleash the power. Maybe this is the year. He clearly has been hitting homers in the Arizona desert and he looks more focused and relaxed at the plate. He’s only 5-11, but he is really, really strong. Last year he hit only 18 homers, down from years of 33 and 30 in the two previous seasons. He is another left-handed bat in a lineup that can punish right-handed pitching. However, will he struggle with lefties on the mound? This could be a big year for Odor as he is in his age 25 season and he’s approaching his prime.
Nomar Mazara-OF- As if having Guzman, Gallo, and Odor in the same lineup as left-handed power hitters, the Rangers also feature outfielder Nomar Mazara, a 23 year old with emerging power. Mazara should see his playing time in right field, a position where his arm strength will be featured. Mazara is having a very good spring, hitting for a good average and making contact at the plate. While I don’t see him having the power of a Guzman, Gallo or Odor, he certainly can take the ball out of any park. The quality that makes Mazara intriguing is his youth and the fact he has already seen major league pitching and he continues to make adjustments. He’s another Rangers slugger looking to pound right-handed pitching.
Here is the second part of my starting pitching rankings. The first part may be viewed in last week’s BERNIES’ BASEBALL WORLD.
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