The second week of our Spring Training Coverage begins and we renamed this “Blog” – “From The Scout’s Seat” (subject to change but we’ll roll with this for now).
Traveled across the valley for one of the longest drives you have for Spring Training in Arizona – approximately 35 minutes on the way in at noon. Compared to Spring Training in Florida where you routinely can have drives in the 3-4 hour range, this is quite nice.
Seeing these two teams for the first time this Spring I noticed I have familiarity with a little over half the roster and most of the Major League guys who I haven’t seen live, I have at least seen on TV at some point. Both starting pitchers were solid and impressive in different ways, even though they didn’t have their best stuff.
The White Sox started Reynaldo Lopez, a one-time top pitching prospect acquired from the Nationals a few years ago in the Adam Eaton trade. What jumped out at me was the FB velocity (sat 95 for the first few innings and worked in the 92-96 range overall) and quality movement of his FB (albeit inconsistent). He had heavy sink at times and showed the ability to get a nice tight rotation with “hop at the top” when he was ahead in the count. Lopez also flashed two above average secondary pitches: A slider with late and true, 2-plane break in the 83-85 range and very solid change-up that showed quality movement at times and was able to get RHH and LHH to swing and miss on it when he sold it. Early in the game he threw all his pitches with the same arm speed giving him some deception and only made one mistake to power hitting Jarrett Parker, leaving a FB out over the plate that Parker backspinned into the opposite field for a dinger. Lopez showed enough stuff that he is at least a solid, league average starter right now, his command, however, was inconsistent and he definitely wasn’t precise to spots, not wild, but not always in the zone and not economical with his pitches. There’s upside for him to be an above average starter as he’s still just 25 years of age but with 4 command of all his pitches and an inconsistent release point, he’s only a mid-rotation guy for me right now. I would compare him to a right-handed version of Francisco Liriano. Plus stuff with inconsistent command.
Countering Lopez was 31-year old RHP Trevor Cahill. Like a true veteran he showed the ability to mix and match, AND locate an assortment of average pitches. Nothing blows you away but he knows how to pitch and puts the ball where he wants to. His FB was in the 90-93 range (a 2-seam 90-91 with tailing action and sometimes heavier sink and a 4-seam that was 92-93 with a little cut at the end). Overall his FB played slightly better than average with better than average movement and command and he worked around it with his solid 3/4 spike Curve (79-80 mph) that has a big shape at times and a solid change-up (81-83 mph) that he commands to both sides of the plate and uses it vs. RHH and LHH. His delivery is balanced and repeatable and his almost over-the-top slot is unique enough to give him some deception as well.
After the starting pitchers left the game, a slew of relievers with good FB’s but working generally much slower kind of slowed the game to a halt. At one point I began to notice the pitch clock in RF next to the scoreboard but I don’t think the umpires or the players paid much attention to it. Often a pitcher would come set with about 3-4 seconds remaining on the clock and then hold the ball another 4-5 seconds before delivering, all while the clock would be shut off as soon as they would come set. Plus, a batter can step out of the box and ask for time or the catcher can put his hands up and reset the clock as well. The clock was definitely ineffective.
Two Angels relievers caught my attention, each new to the organization – RHP Luis Garcia and RHP Hansel Robles. Garcia who I have seen before with the Phillies organization featured a FB 93-97 and a late breaking average quality slider 84-86. His command was below average and his stuff was a bit all over the place but there’s enough there to get outs in the big leagues. He was relieved by Robles who threw from a lower 3/4 slot with a 96-97 FB that seemed to explode at the plate. His angle was definitely tough on RHH but LHH seemed to see him a bit better. He featured a secondary pitch – a hard slider, cutter type that kept moving away from RHH at 88-89 MPH but seemed to lack depth. Meanwhile, the White Sox brought in some quality big league relievers – first RHP Alex Colome, former All-Star closer for Tampa Bay and he showed average command of a 95-96 FB and late power slider/cutter that was 90-92 and definitely a well above average offering (somewhere between a 6-7 grade for sure). After Colome, Nate Jones came in, and he’s funky and different. I’ve seen him get near triple digits before but today he was only 95 but still effective with his unique delivery.
Offensively, the most interesting non-Major Leaguer I saw was top rated Angels prospect Jo Adell. I had never seen him before and I came away impressed. He has a lean and athletic frame (that will probably continue to fill-out) and he has a really nice, handsy swing with bat speed and contact ability. He showed advanced plate discipline for his age and worked the counts well, not getting too big, especially with 2-strikes, and making pitchers get him out with quality pitches instead of expanding the zone and chasing. He’s the type of player you definitely notice at the plate with his approach and swing. He kind of reminded me of a young Gary Sheffield. Maybe not quite the same bat speed but there’s a lot to like there. The Angles also started former Giants prospect Jarrett Parker who thus far hasn’t really produced in his big league time but he did today. He looked confident with his swing and let the ball travel. He smashed an opposite field homer, drew a walk and hit a 1B, keeping his hands back on a change-up. He’s 30 years old now and definitely well past prospect status as a non-roster invite but there’s a chance for him to make a team and I could see a 2nd division club rolling with him as a platoon bat and him becoming a productive hitter in the bigs if he has more days like today.
The White Sox rolled with a couple of regulars, some AAA and non-roster invites and former Detroit Tigers starting catcher James McCann, who I’ve always been a fan of. McCann was non-tendered by the Tigers this past winter and I thought the White Sox were shrewd to pick him up, since finding solid starting big league catchers who can hit a little bit, is still, and always will be a tall order. McCann looked solid behind the dish and you know he provides veteran leadership with a good idea how to handle a staff since he worked with a number of Cy Young winners while with the Tigers (Verlander, Porcello, Price, Scherzer, and former ERA leader Anibal Sanchez). McCann struggled last year hitting, but today he swang the bat okay, blooping a 1B into RF and staying back on an outside FB in his 2nd plate appearance and backspinning a ball to the opposite field warning track. I think this was a solid pick-up for the Sox who will be competing for what might be a wide-open Central Division. McCann will provide leadership, solid defense and if he can regain his confidence at the plate – he can be good for a .230 – .240 average and 15 HR, which is hard to come by from the catching position.
My last take-away: The one thing that really stands out to me at these Spring Training games is the noticeable difference between the guys with big league time or big league tools and the players that are either overmatched by a lack of tools or have yet to become confident in their abilities. From the approach at the plate or the command on the mound, you can just SEE how a big leaguer or a future big leaguer carries themselves compared to the others. Most fans come to these games and really wouldn’t notice that much of a difference on the field. In fact, some of the guys who tend to be overmatched or lacking in skills or experience can have productive AB’s or outings on the bump from time to time and look like they do belong. However, when you really focus and zero in on how they walk up to the plate, how they breathe in between pitches, how they react after swinging and missing or how they approach a ball in the field – you CAN see the difference. You just have to watch the game.