Let the Games Begin...Please
With pitchers and catchers reporting to camp (and a third of the position players as of Monday), the Major League Baseball season can't be too far away. Seven weeks to be exact. About the same time between now and then as it was between now and Christmas. It's just a matter of whether you like to open your presents in late December or early April.
The first spring training games will take place on Wednesday, February 25. With the Dodgers relocating to Arizona, there are now 16 teams in the Grapefruit League and 14 in the Cactus League. The American League clubs are split evenly between Florida and Arizona while the National League has nine of its 16 franchises training on the east coast.
Round one of the World Baseball Classic opens in Tokyo on Thursday, March 5. There are four pools consisting of four teams each for a total of 16 participants. Pool A consists of China, Chinese Taipei, Japan, and Korea. Pool B is comprised of Australia, Cuba, Mexico (host), and South Africa. Pool C is made up of Canada (host), Italy, USA, and Venezuela. Pool D includes Dominican Republic, Netherlands, Panama, and Puerto Rico (host). The winners and runners-up will advance to round two with the survivors from Pool A and B squaring off at Petco Park and Pool C and D meeting up at Dolphin Stadium. The semi-finals and finals will take place on March 21-23 at Dodger Stadium. The tournament will be televised by MLB Network (16 games) and ESPN (23 games). The full schedule (with dates, times, and TV network) can be viewed here. (Note: Several players listed on the rosters have opted not to play.)
In the meantime, Baseball America is counting down to the college baseball season. (Hint: It takes place this week.) Aaron Fitt, the site's lead college writer, provides scouting reports on the top 25 teams in the country (complete with projected lineups and 2008 stats).
I'm looking forward to attending the opening series between Long Beach State and USC next weekend. The Trojans will play host on Friday and Sunday while the Dirtbags will host the Saturday game. USC (ranked 24th by Collegiate Baseball) features Grant Green, a preseason first team All-America shortstop who is projected to be a top five overall pick in the MLB draft in June.
Green impressed me when I saw him (and fellow freshman Robert Stock, whose status has slipped since being named Baseball America's Youth Player of the Year in 2005) make his collegiate debut two years ago:
Green, Stock's freshman teammate, reminds me of Tulowitzki, the former Dirtbag who played 25 games for the Colorado Rockies in September. The 6-3, 180-pound shortstop has added about 15 pounds of muscle since being drafted by the San Diego Padres in the 14th round last June. He runs well, as evidenced by his 4.23 speed to first, a time that scouts would rate as a 55 or 60 for a RHB on their 20-80 scale.
After losing 11 players to the draft last year, Long Beach State is in the midst of a rebuilding campaign. Devin Lohman, who was selected in the 42nd round by the Rockies in 2007, will follow Danny Espinosa (WAS, 3rd round, 2008), Troy Tulowitzki, Bobby Crosby, and Chris Gomez (as well as a stint by Evan Longoria during his sophomore season in 2005 when Tulo missed 18 games with a hand injury), as the school's next shortstop. The sophomore hit a home run at cavernous Blair Field and made a couple of defensive gems in an intra-squad scrimmage on Saturday.
I am also hopeful of catching righthander Stephen Strasburg, the No. 1 prospect in the country, at the MLB Urban Invitational in Compton next weekend. San Diego State is scheduled to play Bethune Cookman on Friday and Southern on Saturday. If Strasburg is going, I will be, too.
If you don't know much about Strasburg, the following excerpt from a Baseball America article will whet your appetite:
The Washington Nationals have the first pick in the 2009 draft. Strasburg, a junior righthander at San Diego State, is the odds-on favorite for the first choice. So just how does a pitcher go from obscurity to the top of the draft?
• By hitting 101 mph on a radar gun.
• By outdueling the first pitcher selected in last year's draft.
• By striking out 23 batters in a game.
• By being the first collegiate player selected to the U.S. Olympic team since professionals were put on the roster in 2000.
Strasburg did all that and more last year, making him The Next Big Thing. Everyone, it seems, is now on board.
College baseball this week. Spring training next week. World Baseball Classic next month. Opening Day the following month.
Bring 'em all on. I'm ready.
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Meanwhile, if you're looking for some reading material, be aware that The Hardball Times Season Preview 2009 is now shipping. The book includes projections and commentaries for all 30 teams and over 1,000 players, draft strategies and values, and key rookies for 2009. You can read the first page of an eight-page preview of the Dodgers that I wrote. The other 29 teams are covered by THT's staff writers and many of the best baseball bloggers on the Internet.