So I spent last week in Phoenix, hanging with my mate Steve Gardner after he coordinated the LABR drafts, hitting four games over the week, and seeing the Angels, Athletics, Dodgers, Giants, Reds, Rockies, White Sox, and team Mexico.
That means I saw a lot of players, but clearly with a limited sample size of performance. Still, I will try to convey my observations with a look at the player's spring numbers.
Mike Trout: I saw Trout make a great catch agains the left field fence in Tempe, along with hitting for a single and then getting caught stealing his only time this spring. Right now, he is hitting .368-0-1 over 19 at-bats, so it appears after last year the Angel almost thinks he still has something to prove. Maybe he does. I am not saying I don't like him. I just want to see another .300-25-90-30 season before I determine Trout is the best player on earth. Truth is, he can do that. Other truth is that those numbers would likely be a disappointment to some owners, even though it shouldn't be to anyone. That is a great year, after all.
Tommy Hanson: Ugly. Hanson tossed two innings and was lucky to walk away only allowing a dinger to Jay Bruce (that was crushed). There were three fly outs and one liner of Hanson's six outs, all of which were solidly hit. And, he also allowed three hits. Hanson's offspeed stuff was OK, but his fastball had absolutely nothing. So far, that is Hanson's only spring appearance.
Albert Pujols: I saw Albert's first game, and his timing looked terrible, as he went 0-for-3 and hit into a double play. But, it was his first game. At present he is .167-1-1 over six at-bats, but the one dinger is an OK indictator. Obviously one of the great hitters of the past decade and still in his prime years, I would not expect quite the slow start of 2012. The guy is a pro. More important, he has to give us a reason to doubt, kind of like Mariano Rivera.
Collin Cowgill: OK, Cowgill is in the Grapefruit League, and I have not seen him play personally. But he is hitting .421-1-3 with three swipes over 21 spring at-bats. I saw Cowgill get adjusted in Oakland where he simply fell victim to depth, but since selected by Arizona and then swapped to the Athletics as part of the Jarrod Parker and Ryan Cook for Trevor Cahill and Craig Breslow swap, I have really liked him. I am guessing Cowgill can earn and keep a starting gig and give pretty solid .285-11-70 totals with 20 swipes and 75 runs given a full complement of games. Right now, he would be a bargain.
Nolan Arenado: Crushed a couple of pitches against the Athletics, one making Coco Crisp run to the deepest part of center at Phoenix Muni, then mashing one over the well in right center where no one could get it anyhow. Arenado is having a fine spring, going .400-4-10 over 20 at-bats and making a solid case for the Rockies to simply give him a chance on Opening Day. Don't overspend though, and there's a chance he could be sent down in a throw back league. And, if you can get Arenado and stash him on a reserve list, do it.
Donnie Veal: Now 28 years old, Veal is no more than a potential middle reliever. He could be OK though as a late pick in a deep league simply because he can strike guys out. He whiffed the Giants in order the inning I saw, and has six punchouts over 4.1 innings this spring. But I also remember seeing Veal a few years back at the AFL. Again, we are talking the deepest of formats, but Veal could be a nice little unexpected strikeout source.
Dee Gordon: Gordon was an animal over the four innings I saw, picking the ball cleanly three times at short and getting two hits, one of which was really a deep single that he simply outran to second. Gordon also swiped two bags and scored two runs. My gamble is that Gordon winds up the shortstop for the Bums, with Hanley going back to third.
Andre Ethier: Smashed a homer and walked over a pair of at-bats. It is easy to dismiss Ethier because he is weak versus southpaws (.222-4-29 last year over 221 at-bats), but the aggregate (.284-20-89) is still pretty good. If he can just jack it up by 10-12 hits against lefties, everything changes. He is being undervalued, and that should mean good stuff if you jump on him.
Jeff Keppinger: Keppinger drilled three hits the game I saw, hitting the ball hard and on a line. He is simply one of those guys who learned as he aged and is now a professional player (think of how Mark DeRosa evolved). He is hitting .476-0-0 right now over 21 at-bats. A good gamble lower on the totem pole who could be a bargain.
Tommy Milone: I see a regression from last year, but no question Milone can put the ball in the strike zone with success. He pitched two shutout innings that I saw, allowing just a walk. So far, he is 1-0, 0.00 over a pair of starts and five spring innings, and while I don't pay so much attention to spring numbers, I do to playing time. Milone is getting his starts and is a good fourth or fifth starter in an AL-only format. He's even OK as a fifth or sixth in a mixed format.
Josh Reddick: Reddick crushed a homer and knocked a double over a pair of at-bats. Reddick did struggle in the second half last year and does have a big swing that can be exploited. But, he also seems able to learn, and his 31 homers deserve better than the dismissal he seems to have received. He is hitting .333-1-5 over 15 at-bats and again, it is sometimes good to go where other owners won't.
Ramiro Pena: Pena got a pair of hits, including a homer, for Mexico against the Dodgers and is .350-0-2 over 20 spring at-bats (the game I saw was an exhibition so the stats don't count). He could emerge as a decent MI/CI $1 option in a deep NL-only format.
Jay Bruce: Two at-bats, two homers. Maybe they went 950 feet (Jason Collette suggested this watching on TV, but I was there and think he is right). The guy is a beast. The question is does he go the way of Adam Dunn or not (don't laugh, look up Dunn's early Cincy years). For right now, I would be on him (I did on Dunn those early years, too).
Matt Kemp: Knocked in a pair of runs on a pair of fielder's choice plays and just looked good. I took Ryan Braun in the first round of an NFBC Draft Champions League, but I kept thinking Kemp was the guy I wanted. Not that I am second guessing, but I have good feelings about the Dodger center fielder this coming season.