Cactus League Notes
Mastersball veteran Perry Van Hook spends every day in March at spring training camps in the mornings and then sees one or two games each day. His (almost) daily notes will keep you completely up to date on the Rangers, Royals, and Brewers, with game comments on all fifteen major league clubs training in Arizona. 

Lighting UP the Scoreboard PDF Print E-mail
Cactus League Notes
Written by Perry Van Hook   
Tuesday, 18 March 2014 11:55

I was at Surprise Stadium on Monday night to watch the Texas Rangers against the Kansas City Royals along with thousands of fans and quite a few scouts and prominent journalists, and probably many fantasy baseball players. We all got quite a show.

Not with the hitting or the famous Surprise fireworks – the player who lit up the scoreboard was 22-year-old pitcher Yordano Ventura, who limited the vaunted Ranger offense to just four singles and no runs while striking out six in six innings on a tremendous display of fastballs, curve balls and changeups. The Surprise Stadium scoreboard has a small window that shows the mph of all pitches and it was bright red on Monday with Ventura hitting triple digits on many occasions, topping out at 102 blazing miles per hour.

The young Dominican fireballer was told after the game that he had not only made the Royals team this year for opening day, but manager Ned Yost added that he would be the Royals' #3 starter behind James Shield and Jason Vargas.

One of the hitting stars for the Royals was third baseman Mike Moustakas, who continued his outstanding spring with a line drive double off the wall in right center field in the second inning that scored Alex Gordon, and a line drive single to right field in the fourth. Moose would score in both those innings, in the third on a single by Lorenzo Cain, who also had two hits, and in the fourth on a two out single by leadoff hitter Norichika Aoki. The Royals won the game 6-0 and the only thing that salvaged the night for the Rangers was that Matt Harrison made his first start of the spring and felt fine afterwards. Harrison will start the season on the DL but hopes to get back on the mound later in April.

With the Diamondbacks and Dodgers both leaving for Australia on Sunday night, here is a collection of notes about players on both teams as they get set to open the 2014 MLB season on Saturday from down under.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Sadly, you have probably read that Patrick Corbin has UCL damage in his left arm, and while he will get a second opinion from James Andrews, it appears as though Corbin will join the line of hurlers for Tommy John surgery.

That does not necessarily mean that the D-Backs will start the year with heralded prospect Archie Bradley in the rotation, as they do have five starters without him. But, I wouldn’t be surprised if Kirk Gibson and the Arizona management did insert Bradley into the rotation when they return to help energize the club, who does feel a big loss with Corbin out for months if not for the season. Bradley, it should be noted, is with the club on the trip to Australia and will pitch their exhibition game against the Australian team.

D-Backs minor league pitcher Ryan Rowland-Smith, a native Aussie, is also on the trip and will pitch for Australia on Thursday against the Dodgers and turn around and pitch for the Diamondbacks squad on Friday.

One other note about the Diamondbacks has surfaced in several places, although yet to be confirmed by the team, but it appears that Chris Owings will open the season as the team’s shortstop. Both Didi Gregorius and backup middle infielder Cliff Pennington are with the team in Australia but, absent a trade, it is unclear whether Gregorius will be sent to Triple-A Reno to play every day.

Los Angeles Dodgers

The mash unit grows larger in Dodgertown as starting pitcher Josh Beckett remains in Arizona and is now likely to start the season on the disabled list. Carl Crawford did not make the trip down under as his wife is expected to deliver by the end of this week and he will be placed on paternity leave.

Speaking of Crawford, he was forced to leave Tuesday's minor league game early due to a shoulder injury, but as of now, the injury is not considered serious.

Both Chone Figgins and Justin Turner have made the Dodgers' 30-man roster and are in Australia. Turner is likely headed for the Minors once the Dodgers reset their active roster back in the states but Figgins still has a chance to be with the team on their second opening day.

Other Dodger roster moves included veteran pitcher Javy Guerra being designated for assignment while veteran catcher Miguel Olivo was reassigned to minor league camp but is free to leave if he receives a call from another major league team. LHP Onelki Garcia was placed on the 60-day DL after left elbow surgery.

Alex Guerrero is on the squad in Australia and no further word on whether he might open the season in the minor leagues to work on his defensive play at second base. Dee Gordon looks like he will open the year at second base for the Dodgers.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 18 March 2014 20:27
Weekend Notes From Camelback Ranch PDF Print E-mail
Cactus League Notes
Written by Perry Van Hook   
Sunday, 09 March 2014 00:00

I had a doubleheader here on Saturday with the Diamondbacks playing the White Sox in the afternoon contest and the Mariners taking on the Dodgers in the evening game.

In the first matchup, White Sox starter Jose Quintana gave up two hits and then was hit on his left leg by a line drive off the bat of Diamondbacks shortstop hopeful Chris Owings, forcing the hurler out of the game (day-to-day with a shin contusion). All three baserunners scored on a sacrifce fly, followed by a two-run double by Andy Marte (yes, that former prospect).

The Diamondbacks added a run in the fourth inning on a home run to left field by centerfielder A.J. Pollock, now hitting .409 for the spring. Pollock is somewhat under projected but a nice buy low in both mixed and NL formats (well at least as of now).

The White Sox were hitless for the first two innings but put together four straight hits off Brandon McCarthy in the bottom of the third inning, good for two runs. But, the rally was aborted by a strikeout/caught stealing double play with no outs.

The Pale Hose tied the game in the sixth inning on a triple by Avisail Garcia, a walk to Paul Konerko, and then back-to-back singles by Alexei Ramirez and Jordan Danks but ended that rally with another caught stealing with Tyler Flowers in the batter’s box.

The game would stay tied until the top of the ninth inning, when Arizona catcher Tuffy Gosewisch hit a two-run double off Chicago reliever Deunte Heath to win the game.

McCarthy looked very good in the first, second, fourth, and fifth innings, with only two runs, and four of six hits he allowed occurring in the third.

Potential closers J.J. Putz and Nate Jones had rocky innings, although Jones did not give up any runs while Putz, who was tagged for a pair of runs, got a blown save for his efforts.

In the night game, things got off to a strange start in the top of the first inning when the first two Mariners singled off Josh Beckett, who only faced three batters in the inning. Abraham Almonte lined a single to right field and was promptly picked off. Then Kyle Seager followed suit with a single to left field but was doubled off first base when Nick Franklin drilled a ball to right fielder Scott Van Slyke who then fired to first base, catching Seager off-guard.

In the bottom of the first, Dee Gordon was safe on an infield single and then stole second base. Gordon took third on an errant pickoff throw by Beckett and after Carl Crawford walked, scored on a single to center by Van Slyke. Both Crawford and Van Slyke then crossed the plate when Mariner first baseman Jesus Montero errored on a sharp one hopper by Clint Robinson that rolled far into right field.

But, the Mariners quickly tied the game up in the second on a walk to Justin Smoak, a two-run homer to Jesus Montero (his first of two on the night) and a solo shot into the left field bullpen by Stefen Romero. Smoak added a long two-run homer in the third inning.

Dodgers outfield prospect Joc Pederson narrowly missed a big fly to center field in the fourth inning. He got a double after the ball bounced back off the wall, but persevered and lined a two-run homer over the center field wall in the sixth.

* * * * * 

On Friday, the Texas Rangers visited Camelback Ranch to play the Dodgers and L.A. prospect Zach Lee pitched two scoreless innings to start the game, giving up just a pair of hits while striking out one Ranger and getting the win.

Martin Perez pitched well in his second and third innings but gave up two runs in the first inning on a walk and a long home run to dead center by Hanley Ramirez that traveled over 410 feet from home plate.

Former closers Brian Wilson and Chris Perez both threw scoreless innings for the home team while Ranger pitcher Michael Kirkman pitched three hitless innings, giving up just two walks while striking out two Dodgers.

* * * * *

On Thursday, White Sox starter John Danks pitched three scoreless innings, giving up just one hit while walking two. Scott Baker, who started for the Mariners, was not as fortunate, allowing one run on three hits in his three innings. The good news is that Baker didn’t walk any Rangers but the bad news is that he didn’t strike out any either.

Offensively, Adam Eaton continued his hot hitting with three singles in three plate appearances and added a stolen base. Eaton for the spring is hitting .600 with an OBP of .714.

Last Updated on Sunday, 09 March 2014 11:51
First Look at King Felix PDF Print E-mail
Cactus League Notes
Written by Perry Van Hook   
Wednesday, 05 March 2014 15:00

The Mariners visited Camelback Ranch on Tuesday to play the Los Angeles Dodgers and I got my first look at Felix Hernandez, who started for Seattle.

Hernandez, like most pitchers, is still working towards the season, so he didn’t look great giving up two hits and a walk and one wild pitch in his two innings. But he didn’t give up any runs, thanks to a double play in the first inning and two ground ball outs against non-starting Dodgers in the second inning. Not saying he looked bad – it is just a March 4 tune-up.

The Dodgers had a bullpen pitching staff leading off with Brian Wilson, who put a new curl in the beard arsenal as he delivered a surprise knuckleball to start the game with a clean inning with one strikeout. Kenley Jansen pitched a 1-2-3 second with two strikeouts before J.P. Howell gave up three runs, two earned on four hits to take the loss for the home team.

Chris Perez also pitched a 1-2-3 inning with two strikeouts in the fifth inning. Chris Withrow pitched two scoreless innings, going 1-2-3 in the sixth while giving up just two walks in the seventh inning.

The Dodgers managed only five hits against Hernandez, Hector Noesi and five Mariner relievers, including a loud line drive double to left center field by Yasiel Puig leading off the Dodgers first inning and a fly ball poked over the Dodgers bullpen fence in left field by the leadoff hitter in the eighth inning, Dodger minor leaguer and former Mariner fly-chaser Trayvon Robinson.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 05 March 2014 23:18
Greinke Lasts Just Four Pitches PDF Print E-mail
Cactus League Notes
Written by Perry Van Hook   
Thursday, 27 February 2014 19:37

Zack Greinke got Tony Campana to fly out to left on two pitches and was 1-1 to Cliff Pennington when the Dodger trainer ran out to see why Greinke had trouble on the second pitch. A few warmup pitches later and Greinke walked off the hill with Dodger Manager Don Mattingly and the trainer following him.

Several innings later, we were told he left because of a mild right calf strain.

Who knows if the Dodgers #2 starter can weather an 18-hour flight to Australia in three weeks with such a condition?

There wasn’t a lot of excitement in the Dodgers eventual 4-3 victory over the Diamondbacks. The D-Backs did score two in the second on a single, double and a couple of walks off Chris Withrow, who took over for Greinke. And the Dodgers scored a run in the bottom half of the frame on a ground rule double to left, a ground ball single to center and a pop up to the second baseman that was charitably called a hit.

Juan Uribe added a solo home run in the fourth inning on a fly ball to left that was somewhat aided by the gentle, outgoing breeze at Camelback Ranch.

But the wind was definitely taken out of the crowd when Greinke walked off the mound in the first inning.

Last Updated on Friday, 28 February 2014 10:29
Cactus League Notes - March 19 PDF Print E-mail
Cactus League Notes
Written by Perry Van Hook   
Tuesday, 19 March 2013 00:00

A few notes on playing time and roster decisions with just over one week left for most of spring training (most teams leave a few days early for some exhibition games at their home park or with an affiliate or other MLB team).

CHICAGO WHITE SOX – Are still not sure if John Danks will be ready for the first week of play – if Danks starts the season on the DL (which appears likely to me), then either Hector Santiago or Dylan Axelrod would move into the rotation. Santiago, who was being stretched out a little for that eventually, hasn’t pitched poorly but Axelrod has been excellent this spring.

Plans for the infield coming into camp were to have Gordon Beckham back at second base with newcomer Jeff Keppinger at third base. Keppinger of course comes with the fragile tag, but he can hit and play all over the infield, so to me, if Beckham continues to struggle, the options would be to have Keppinger move to 2B and play Conor Gillaspie at 3B or to have Rule V pick Angel Sanchez, who has hit very well this spring, play second while Gillaspie would be the utility infielder. Loser is Brent Morel, who will likely be sent to Triple-A Charlotte to start the season and work on his game.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS – Had a competition for the fifth spot in their rotation between Patrick Corbin, Randall Delgado, and Tyler Skaggs. While Skaggs, a lefty, seemed to have a leg up early in camp and clearly has the most long-term upside, he was really pressing in Cactus League appearances and has been sent to Triple-A Reno to get back into a groove. At this point, the remaining two starts for Corbin and Delgado will likely determine the fifth starter, although Corbin does have more time with the club. Of course, a successful win there by Delgado would help justify the trade with Atlanta, although Kevin Towers, the Diamondbacks' General Manager, doesn’t strike me as a guy who needs that validation. Towers’ other trade acquisition, SS Didi Gregorius, who is still a week away from being able to play in the field because of off-season elbow problems, has been in the lineup and his hitting this spring - .474 batting average on 6-13 with two home runs and five RBI has turned heads and changed attitudes. Still, he is likely to start the year on the DL and be assigned to either Double-A Mobile or Triple-A Reno.

SAN DIEGO PADRES – After Chase Headley’s breakout season, it looked like the chance for Jedd Gyorko, (pronounced jorko) a great hitter in his minor league at-bats, to make the team was to unseat Logan Forsythe or Alexi Amarista for the job at second base. With Headley to miss at least the first two weeks of the season, Gyorko could well start at 3B, giving the Padres time to see how he adjusts, although clearly he is the best option at 2B when Headley returns. RHP Tyson Ross, who always had a big arm when he was pitching in the Oakland organization but could never succeed at the big league level, has been excellent this spring and may well win a spot in the Opening Day rotation. Nice to have a manager who was a very successful MLB pitcher along with good coaches to get a new pitcher straightened out. By the way, Tyson’s younger brother Joe was drafted by the Padres and is one of their very good young minor league prospects (as you no doubt noted in my minor league prospect rankings).

LOS ANGELES DODGERS – With all the money the Los Angeles Dodgers of Los Angeles (as worn on t-shirts by some LALAland fans) spent on their roster, we presume they have a great cadre of doctors to work on their players – and it has already been needed way too much this spring. Matt Kemp has finally started playing in the field and seems like he is starting to round into form. LF Carl Crawford has only batted so far in spring games and has a lot of work to do there to be ready for the start of the season. The surprise of camp has been IF/OF Alfredo Amezaga, who has been excellent at the plate and in the field – mostly in the outfield. Amezaga and many other good backups got Tony Gwynn Jr. assigned to minor league camp already. Zack Greinke is still not ready to get back on the mound despite a platelet injection and now is in doubt for his first start of the regular season, although talk has been that he would be moved back and take the fifth start if he is ready. Jury is still out on Chad Billingsley, although he hasn’t missed a turn this spring and at times has looked good. Still, the decision to rehab the partial tear in his ulnar collateral ligament as opposed to season-ending surgery places some risk on him for fantasy purposes. Ted Lilly, on the other hand, is nowhere close to being ready and will start the season on the DL. Chris Capuano has pitched very poorly and is still vying for the final rotation spot, although Aaron Harang, not great himself, would look like a better option for the Dodgers. The left side of the infield still looks like it will feature Hanley Ramirez at shortstop and Luis Cruz at third base, which makes it likely that Dee Gordon will start 2013 at Triple-A Albuquerque.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 20 March 2013 14:09
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