Spring Training Baseball: Day 2 in the Cactus League

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3/11/08

Quick note: My dinner on Monday was at In-N-Out Burger, and was my first such meal at the legendary establishment. The double-double burger was excellent, and my strawberry milkshake was fabulous. Just so you know.

 

My Spring training continues! Dad and I made the twenty minute drive to HoHokam Park, parking a half mile away to avoid paying for parking (and because we didn’t know any better). Cubs vs. A’s today. The pitching match-up: Greg Smith vs. Carlos Zambrano.

I’ve had some pretty good luck with matchups so far this spring, seeing 3 pretty big name guys….and Greg Smith. And wouldn’t you have it, Greg Smith has outpitched them all.

Greg Smith is a lefty with good poise. He was sent to the A’s as apart of the Haren deal, and according to Rotoworld.com, has 4th or 5th starter potential. He’s not overpowering, but has succeeded in the minors and in the Arizona Fall League (3.54 ERA in double and triple-A last year, and a 2.61 ERA in the AFL). In today’s game, he started against the Cubs ace Z (well the opening day starter; I would argue that Rich Hill is the ace of the Cubs) and responded with 4 innings of shutout ball, giving up only 2 hits and walking one. He also struck out 2. In his four innings he never even got into a jam, or had more than one person on base. Great start for the 24 year old. Judging by his stats in spring training, he’s making a case for the 5th place in the rotation until Chad Gaudin returns from injury. As usual, it looks like the A’s are going to have a bright fucking future (I hate the A’s).

Zambrano also pitched pretty well. People have been gambling that he’s going to get injured or his arm is going to fall off each year, and he keeps surviving. Again, I expect him to finally break down this year, even after his superb second half last year. In today’s start Z went four innings, gave up 4 hits, 1 run (a big fly for Jack Cust) and 2 K’s. Nothing special, but not too shabby, and I think that’s about what we’ll see from Zambrano this season, with or without the injuries that always befall Cubs top pitchers.

Both clubs fielded lineups resembling their projected opening day lineups, with slight tweaks due to injuries and such (Pie is out, a youngster named Sam Fuld was in center for the Cubs; Chavez is out, and Hannahan was at 3B for the A’s).

Anyways, the game was a good one. In the second inning, Jack Cust broke the scoreless tie with a monstrous right center shot that landed nearly 50 feet away from me. If there’s anything Cust can do, it’s hit for power. He might not be drafted in most leagues, but I could see this guy hit 30 homeruns (albeit hit .250-.260), and he’s definitely a guy fantasy owners should ride hot streaks with, and maybe more so, because after all, he had an OPS over .9 last year (what’s better, he was mentioned in the Mitchell Report!).

The A’s still led 1-0 going into the 5th, when Huston Street relieved Smith. Street is the first player I’ve seen that I own on my main fantasy team, and he looked likely to deliver, recording two straight outs. Then, he unraveled, walking one and giving up two hits, including a triple by Sam Fuld. Street gave up 2 runs and the lead. Not a promising outing, but I expect a great year from Street. He had a phenomenal rookie season and took a step back last year with injuries, but still performed when healthy, and the A’s don’t plan on giving the ball to Embree this year unless forced to, so I think Street has a long leash, and won’t need one, and should end the year as a top 10 closer. Let’s hope so, as he’s my #1 closer.

In the top half of the 5th, we all got to see Kerry Wood. It seems like the closers for certain teams, if available for the day’s game, make their appearance relieving the starter. This was the case for the A’s and the White Sox, so if this really is a pattern to look at, then perhaps Lou Pineilla favors Wood as the closer. Wood performed aptly, yielding a harmless single and nothing more in his inning of work. Kerry has lost his star luster from what seems like eons ago, but he still has his stuff and the tattered remains of his arm and shoulder after what seems like every injury you can think of. I think his name, and the fact that Wood didn’t really test the free agent market and signed with the Cubs made him the favorite going into spring training. That said, Pineilla and the media seem to be switching the frontrunner daily. The other contenders are Carlos Marmol and Bobby Howry. The fact that the Cubs have so many able arms for closing is a good sign, but they need to be careful about this situation and make a decision soon. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Carlos Marmol now leads the closer race. He is the most talented, as evidenced by the 96 strikeouts the stud threw in 60 odd innings in his rookie year. He could easily be a top 10 closer if they give him the reins, and he definitely has the most upside of the group. Bob Howry is probably the most consistent and trustworthy of the group, and who I believed to be the one who would start the year as closer, but at this point, nobody really knows for sure. In today’s games, Marmol and Wood were the best, both pitching scoreless innings. Marmol should have struck out the side, but the ump missed a call, and he walked a batter after striking out the first two men in the inning. Then he gave up a single. But then, he really did strike out the side. Inning over. Those kind of innings are what have fantasy owners salivating for this guy to close. Even so, he’s a stud reliever who can help on fantasy teams by lowering the ERA and WHIP of their team, and add substantially to K totals. Howry didn’t fare well. While he did end a jam in the 6th inning, he couldn’t get out of the 7th, and finished with 2/3 IP and two hits and two runs.

After Street gave up the lead to the Cubs, the A’s quickly got back on top against lefty Scott Eyre. Seemingly ageless, Eyre rebounded after a dreadful first half last year to post a 0.81 ERA in the second half (believe it). He might be in for the same pattern this year. He couldn’t get out of the 6th, giving up a 3 run job to Bobby Crosby (2004 Rookie of the Year and professional fuck up). The Cubs would come back and score two more in the bottom of the 8th off Gio Gonzalez, but the A’s would prevail 6-4. The undeserving win went to Huston Street and the loss to Eyre.

Gio Gonzalez picked up the save, pitching 4 innings after coming in for Street after the 5th. Gio was the centerpiece of the Nick Swisher deal with Chicago, and he should play plenty dividends. Rotoworld.com surmises that he has the look of a #2 pitcher someday, and if he harnesses his control, could have ace potential. Despite a hiccup in the 8th when he lost said control, he was very sharp today, going 4 innings, giving up 3 hits and walking 2. He struck out one. I think we’ll be seeing Gio sometime in 2008, and will have a rotation locked down by 2009, by which time the A’s will be division favorites with all their young prospects coming into their own.

Speaking of prospects, Carlos Gonzalez, a lefthanded rightfielder picked up from the D-backs, went 2 for 2 with two singles after coming in for Travis Buck. Speaking of Buck, I view Buck as a fantasy sleeper heading into the year. He struggled with injuries like every other Athletic, but when on the field, he hit .288 and had an OPS of .851, which was comparable to fantasy studs Grady Sizemore, Garret Atkins and Alex Rios. I think he could hit 15-20 homeruns, and at the leadoff spot, get near 100 runs with his well-trained eye.

Ryan Sweeney and Chris Denorfia also made appearances. Sweeney went 2 for 4 and Denorfia struggled to an 0 for 3 day with a strikeout and a double play. Even so, they both have potential, and we will be seeing them this year. Keep an eye on them.

There was also an Eric Patterson sighting for the Cubs, who came in to play second base for an inning, and then took over for Alfonso Soriano in left field. Patterson went 0 for 1. The brother of Corey Patterson has versatility on his side, but hopefully he has a different approach at the plate than his brother, or he’ll never get half the chance Corey did. Speaking of Soriano, he went 2 for 4 with a double, but was also caught stealing. In the two drafts I’ve done so far, Soriano has slipped to 14th and 18th, two places where owners should jump on him. Soriano hit 30+ homeruns last year and just missed a 30/20 season by one steal despite missing over 25 games last year, which is a rarity for him. With a complete season I think we’ll see a 40/30 season at the least from Soriano, which will leave him as a top 5-15 player this year.

Now, before I wrap it up, let’s look at everyone’s and their mom’s favorite catcher sleeper, Geovany Soto. He raked September pitching last year, and is a good prospect. He usually isn’t going much before round 18, so he’s a good risk at that time in the draft. He went 0 for 4 in the game, but had a good approach and put good contact on the ball for the most part. I’m not sure he’ll be a #1 catcher (a top 10), but he’ll probably be up there. But then again, he really reminds me of Ronny Paulino last year, who had a great September in 2006 and was a sleeper for 2007, and disappointed greatly. But I’d much rather gamble on Soto then spend a third round pick on Victor Martinez and Russell Martin.

Last but not least, Kosuke Fukudome. Not only did he have the coolest name to announce on the PA (Foo-Koo-Doh-Maaaay), but he already has a nice Cubs following. Speaking of which, the Cubs really pack Hohokam, and the stated attendance was 11,240 in what is the biggest park in the Cactus League. Back to Fukudome, he went 0 for 3, with a SF and an RBI. He is a left handed hitter, and despite being smaller than Hideki Matsui, really reminded me of him. He has a similar stance and way he holds the bat, and his swing looked remarkably alike. If that leads to Hideki-like results this year, he’s going to be a bargain in many drafts, because the guy has been slipping far in the drafts I’ve seen. He should be a good trade target if he gets off to a slow start (and unless your name is Ichiro, most Japanese players do in their first year).

 

Anyways, that was game 2, a rousing 6-4 A’s win over the Cubbies. Tomorrow…. Pops and I travel to Peoria, Arizona to see my Seattle Mariners play the formidable Milwaukee Brewers.

 Please post any comments and suggestions!

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