Mr. Smith Goes to Arizona 2
When we left off yesterday, my father and I were leaving Hi Corbett Field in Tucson. Our trip was half over, with six teams and three stadiums out of the way.
Following the Rockies game that closed yesterday's entry, we made the ten minute venture to the other stadium in Tucson. It did not take long to realize why there are only ten night games scheduled in the Cactus League: it gets pretty cold. With tempertures in the forties after a day of seventy-plus, it felt more like an April game in Wrigley than an exhibition in the desert.
Game Four: Rangers at Diamondbacks- Tucson, Arizona
Of the stadiums we visited, Tucson Electric Park was the most impressive. Given that it is used during the year as a Pacific Coast League stadium, this did not surprise me.
When we first sat in the seats, I noted to my Dad just how similar the park was to Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. Beautiful outfield area, though the highway is just visible in the distance. Concourse above all of the seats, with limited food options. The stadium is also said to have huge problems with the number of beer vendors, as just two were working the whole stadium on this night.
What I found odd about the stadium was that Texas fans seemed to outnumber Diamondback supporters. Still, the stadium was most loud when the announcer introduced Craig Counsell. This was quite annoying to me, and led me on to ramble to my father about America's obsession with the likes of Counsell, Joe McEwing and Willie Bloomquist. I mean, Bloomquist's career was made by a 12-game September callup!
When we returned home that night, two of the first stories I read on-line were of McEwing's release and Bloomquist's new venture into catching. And that marks the official Twilight Zone happening of the trip.
Player NotesThis was not a good sign for the Diamondbacks. Assuming that Javier Vazquez gets the Opening Day start, then the game I saw features their likely lineup on the second day of the season:
1. Craig Counsell
2. Royce Clayton
3. Luis Gonzalez
4. Troy Glaus
5. Shawn Green
6. Jose Cruz Jr.
7. Chad Tracy
8. Koyie Hill
9. Russ Ortiz
After five innings of play, when some of the starters began to get taken out, the score was 9-2 in favor of Texas. This doesn't look so bad -- just another game -- until you realize Rod Barajas was Texas' cleanup hitter for the game. Russ Ortiz is only accountable for three of the runs, but he did look awful in his 3.1 innings of play. He allowed a home run to Ryan Drese, and threw 76 pitches before being removed. Expect the combination of age, leaving Leo Mazzone, and moving to Arizona to make the Russ Ortiz signing look about as good as the Bartolo Colon one did a year ago.
The game's most impressive player, in my mind, was undoubtedly Ian Kinsler. Again, I might be a little partial because I have Kinsler about as high as anyone, but he was great. Facing Ortiz and Edgar Gonzalez, he did not expand his strike zone for neither an offspeed pitch nor a fastball. He also showed quite a bit of pop, with this variety of hits: a double that bounced off the wall in center, a foul ball to the deep RF bleachers, a sacrifice line out to right, and a double down the left field line. He was not tested at second, though the numerous easy plays he made were not a problem. After watching him play, there is no question in my mind that in one year's time, Kinsler will be the Texas second baseman.
If I came into the game high on Kinsler, I was equally as low on Ryan Drese. Before watching him pitch, Drese would have been one of the first people I thought likely to regress in 2005. After watching him, I'm not so sure that he isn't Orel Hershiser's best success yet. He was blowing fastballs past the heart of the Arizona lineup, striking out the side in the second (Glaus, Green, Cruz). Only twice in his four innings of a work did a ball get out of the infield before bouncing. He wore considerably as the game went on, allowing both runs in his final frame. I wondered in my notebook if this was something that happened often, and it looks like the data suppports my hypothesis. In his first 45 pitches last year, batters hit .265 with a .369 slugging and 19 walks in 377 at-bats. Everything after number 45, however, they hit .302/.443 with 39 walks in 440 at-bats. Drese is succeeding as a starter, but if that falls apart down the road, a move to relief might be the best career move. Or to hitting, man he took some good cuts.
- Brandon Lyon came into the game for the seventh and eighth innings, and he looked fantastic. Seeing as though Jose Cruz Jr. and Shane Nance are the only things left from the Curt Schilling trade, it is likely important to management for Lyon to have a good year. In his two innings, Lyon struck out one and forced four ground outs and one infield pop fly. At print, Lyon has allowed one run in seven innings this March, allowing three hits, no walks, and striking out nine.
- Conor Jackson and Carlos Quentin both came into the game in the sixth inning, both making contact on the first pitches they saw. Jackson singled to left, while Quentin lined to right. Both look like goood ballplayers from what little I saw, and Jackson was playing 1B, shedding some light on what we'll be seeing from him in 2006. Again, it is really important that Troy Glaus and Luis Gonzalez stay healthy the next few years.
- Speaking of players that have made careers out of sample sizes, Marshall McDougall's arrival into camps each year could possibly be attributed to one game. In college, McDougall hit six home runs in a game, building a career for himself. I think if he picks up another few positions he could be a good bench player, given his small bit of pop and good plate discipline.
Game Five: Cubs at Athletics- Phoenix, Arizona
If you like minor league baseball, this is the park for you. I didn't know quite what to expect when we ventured to Arizona, whether there would be promotions in between innings, or a more serious, Major League-type environment. While I found the latter to be true, such was not the case at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.
There were races on foot and in go karts. There was a girl trying to throw bean bags in a bucket for gift certificates. There were t-shirt giveaways on a seemingly constant basis. Looking on the field, I expected to see Lorenzo Barcelo, not Greg Maddux.
But from what we were told, Maddux was the main draw that day. Cub fans travel, let me tell you, and they had gone south from Mesa for this game. The stadium was at a full capacity 9,361 for the game, and trying to find brokers outside the gates was impossible. Imagine that, a Cub sell-out.
Player NotesFirst of all, as a Cubs fan, I reserve the right to be overly critical of them. Given this right, I was very underwhelmed by what I saw from my club. Corey Patterson, ya know that guy who Dusty wants to bad leadoff, was off his game. In the first inning he grounded into a double play on the first pitch he saw (shocking), and had two bad-looking strikeouts before getting removed from the game. Derrek Lee also looks like he will continue his streak of poor Aprils, as he struck out in two of his three at-bats. With Sosa gone there is very little margin for error with this offense, and waiting until June for the bats to warm up is not going to cut it. Especially given the pitching injuries.
I realize that after criticizing Barry Zito only to read ESPN sing his praises doesn't do a lot for my credibility, but on the opposite end, Rich Harden looked great in this game. His curve was on, and the main reason for his six strikeouts. He needed only 75 pitches in five innings, even given his struggles in a five-hit third inning. His fastball is pretty hittable, but if he hits his spots to set up the breaking ball, he will succeed. The game featured Greg Maddux and Harden, both of whom look tiny on the mound. Both are listed over six-feet tall, and again, there is no way this is true. This is hardly a negative for Harden, who I think could be great, just an observation.
- Keiichi Yabu followed Harden, and was very impressive in my opinion. His overhand curve is a nice weapon, and he looked intelligent on the mound. He allowed just one unearned run in three innings of work, and while I'm not sure the rotation is a good idea, he should be one good middle reliever.
- Nick Swisher made what many will call the play of the day, a diving catch in left field. The play needed a dive because of Swisher's poor break on the ball, which was awful. I think he will underwhelm A's fans in the outfield, while outdoing predictions at the plate. Oh and by the way, Keith Ginter made another error in this game. Yikes.
- Not a lot of prospect watching, though I can say that Daric Barton replaced Durazo at first late in the game. Barton has huge legs, and while small, looks very muscular. His stance is an open one, and he looks like he could generate some big-time power. No longer will Barton be playing behind the plate, which only goes to further prove his Carlos Delgado similarities.
- The highlight of the game for me was not what was on the field, but watching the row of Jim Hendry, Billy Beane, David Forst and Gary Hughes communicate throughout the game. While I'm sure my partner would have lept into the conversation critiquing each of them, I stayed back and hoped Hendry would nab Octavio Dotel.
Game Six: Cubs at White Sox- Tucson, Arizona
This was our repeat stadium, more because of the competitors than wanting to come back. My Dad is a White Sox fan, and despite trying to raise me as one, lost me at a young age. Both of us regressed to the mean a bit, rooting for both with an emphasis towards one. But when it comes to Cubs v. Sox, it's an all-out war.
While the Cubs and A's game was jam-packed, I was surprised to see a lot of empty seats when the game began at 1:05. Also surprising was the small amount of heckling that took place, far less than what the first inning of the regular season Interleague game would have.
Player NotesI was pleased when this game started to hear Angel Guzman would be pitching for the Cubs. I have serious concerns about all the candidates that have been mentioned to serve as starters while Wood and Prior are hurt, except Guzman. Hopefully a middle ground between using Angel and not abusing him will be found. Anyway, despite not having a strong build at all, Guzman has enormously long legs for a pitcher. His fastball was not the power sinker I had heard, as he both didn't cause grounders nor keep the ball low in the zone. He certainly favors the pitch, throwing seven in his first eight pitches. I was most impressed by Guzman's curve, which he showed control of throughout the game. He looks like the rare talent that can succeed without a great third pitch, as his change was absent for most of the game. Anyway, I hope he stays a Cub, because there is no question he has a future on the mound.
Going from a career rising to one setting, Guzman's opposing starter was no other than Orlando Hernandez. With the rotation struggling this spring, it will come as no good news to White Sox fans to hear El Duque looked pretty bad. His curve was left up in the zone a lot, and when Cub hitters waited for the pitch to reach the plate, they likely smacked it for a hit. I was surprised to see that his fastball was enough; his ability to change speeds and arm angles is enough, I guess. Pitching coach waiting to happen.
We had read reports going into the game about how Carl Everett had shed 30 pounds over the winter in preparation for a big year. Consider it true, as Everett looked as good in uniform as I have seen him in a long time. He also was very in tune at the plate, doubling twice and walking once before being removed after five innings. Given his good condition and U.S. Cellular Field, Everett might not be a bad gamble in the late innings of fantasy drafts this year. I know I'm buying.
- Despite my disgust for the Cubs lineup, I liked what I saw from Jerry Hairston and Aramis Ramirez. There is no reason Hairston and Dubois shouldn't be manning the corners for this team, though Hairston is definitely a work in progress in the outfield. At the plate, however, he is far better a leadoff hitter than Corey Patterson. As for Aramis, he looks ready to play, and crushed doubles in both Cub games we saw. This might be Aramis' best year yet, which would likely cost the Cubs about $15 million or so more than signing him to an extension now would.
- Jon Garland...yuk. He pitched the final four innings after Hernandez, and against some pretty bad hitters, didn't look very good. I'm convinced that he is always going to be a league average pitcher, which makes the Cubs trading him for Matt Karchner an easier pill to swallow. Brandon McCarthy, while maybe not taking Mark Buerhle's spot after all, could replace Garland by summer.
- The White Sox lineup could be dangerous. Tadahito Iguchi looks like a very smart hitter that isn't going to hurt the team at all. Aaron Rowand looks quite good, despite my previous predictions of a discouraging year for him. A.J. Pierzynski and Juan Uribe are going to be quite good at the back end of the lineup. The only "hole" in my mind is going to be Jermaine Dye. Has anyone ever looked like such a star and been so average? It's frustrating just watching him.
Also frustrating was the return to the midwest, and to weather in the mid-forties. While we can crunch numbers and punch our keyboards as much as we would like, baseball is more than the outcome that happens on the field. It is the experience. The hotdogs, the sounds, the atmosphere. And most of all, the company. I was relieved to find out nothing had changed over the winter, and that it is all still so much fun.
Wait 'Til Next Year? Bah, I can hardly wait until next week.