Sunrise Cactus

Ten Things I learned from my trip to Spring Training


Today is my first day back at work in the fortified compound and I’m just now starting to feel back in the swing of things. It’s a good time, then, to look back at my ten days in the desert and talk about some of the things that stuck out, for better, for worse, for important and for not. So here’s what I learned, in no particular order:

1. Yasiel Puig is a big young (?) man

source: API saw the Dodgers four times. Just a quirk of the schedule, I guess. Cuban import Yasiel Puig played in all of those games. And he generally looked pretty good. He’s a big, big fellow who hit a home run against the Indians a week ago Sunday that may still be flying someplace. Just impressive power and I’m rather high on his chances to make an impact. But something else notable: at the risk of breaking my “don’t make accusations unless you have some proof” rule, I will say that if Puig truly just turned 22 years-old like the Dodgers say he did he’s the most mature 22 year-old I’ve ever seen. Maybe I’m totally wrong — and I’ll admit I’m just speculating off the old eyeball test — but the guy looks like he could have teenage children of his own. Maybe it doesn’t matter. And I’d say a much bigger problem for him and the Dodgers is his tendency to swing at fastballs in his eyes. But I don’t know if I’d be giving this guy seven year contracts.

2. Jurickson Profar looks overmatched

A guy who is more reliably young, the Rangers’ infielder and baseball’s top prospect Jurickson Profar, looked pretty overmatched in the early going. I saw him play twice and his at bats looked … unplanned. When he did have a decent idea of what was coming he didn’t handle it well. And this was against pitchers who were still working on stamina and things and weren’t trying to be too fine. I know spring stats should be ignored, but it’s hard to ignore how ineffective Profar has been so far. To the extent Rangers fans are hoping for him to have a big impact, their hope may be better saved until he’s had a bit more seasoning down on the farm.

3. My heart is going to be broken by Nate Robertson and/or Scott Kazmir, I can just feel it.

I got to witness two potential comeback stories in Arizona: Nate Robertson, who is remaking himself as a sidearmer after so much time away, and Scott Kazmir, who is trying to come back from friggin’ oblivion. Both looked good when I saw them. Robertson was downright inspirational when I talked to him.  But part of me — the very pessimistic part of me that I wish wasn’t there sometimes — keeps saying “everything seems great the first week of March, don’t get your hopes up.”  There are stories about guys on these sorts of comebacks every year. I always want them to work. Sometimes they do. I hope these two do.

4. It’s spring training for fans anticipating home runs, too.

I think every single fly ball I saw in Arizona was met by a host of fans going “whooo!” or making some other noise that suggested they thought it was a home run when, most of the time, it was a mid-range fly ball. People in Arizona are dedicated fans to be sure. But they’re not necessarily as informed and savvy as the folks back home. Well, this guy was, but he was a wonderful exception.

5. The World Baseball Classic is a lot of fun if you’re actually at the games.

source: Getty ImagesI saw two WBC games on Friday: Canada vs. Italy and Mexico vs. USA. The former featured a near empty Chase Field, the latter a nearly full Chase Field with a raucous and crazy crowd. The former was a mercy rule game, with Canada getting its clock cleaned, the latter a closer game for a while at least, but not really a barn burner. Though it wasn’t the best baseball ever and though I have been generally lukewarm about the WBC, the games were better than all of the spring training games by a longshot because there was a greater intensity about them and a clear sense that, yes, the players cared if they won.  That doesn’t mean the WBC is great, but it does suggest that the whole “the games are too early and should be moved to a different part of the year” criticism isn’t necessarily the best one. Good baseball can be played in March. Oh, and if you play your cards right you can get yourself on national television, looking silly, while at one of the game.

6. It’s way more interesting to talk to baseball players about non-baseball things.

I interviewed more players this year than I ever have. And though I’m still a total novice at the clubhouse beat compared to just about every reporter out there, I’ve realized that for the most part I am not all that interested in talking to ballplayers about baseball. OK, that’s an exaggeration. Talking specifically about their craft and their career arcs and things are interesting, but (a) “how ya feeling after today’s start;” (b) “tell us about the pitch from Shlabotnik in the fifth; and (c) “how do you think the ballclub is going to do this year” jive is boring.  I want to hear more about Corey Hart and Batman, thanks. Or ballplayers’ other random interests. Or stuff from the periphery of the game. The on-the-field action almost always speaks so much better for itself than someone involved in it does two hours after the fact.

7. Spring training parks are weird.

This kind of speaks for itself. They all have their own little quirks. Except the music. They all play terrible, terrible pregame music.

8. A lot more adult fans bring gloves to the game than I thought.

I highlighted one leather-toting grownup in Scottsdale and many of you crawled out of the woodwork to tell me that you still bring gloves to games. I had no idea. I feel like this changes our relationship.

9. Diversity in baseball is not merely a black and white issue.

Early in my trip I visited the Giants, who have no U.S.-born black players on their roster. Which is odd. But which is not, contrary to what so many people like to say, indicative of a problem. Baseball may not look like it once did, but it is unquestionably more diverse than ever.

10. Everything is wonderful and everyone is happy and this will remain the case until about April 5th or so.

I guess the biggest takeaway from spring training is that there isn’t really a ton to take away. At least not early. Every team and every player, no matter how bad they were last year, thinks they’re looking good now. Every team and every player expects to remain healthy and for best case scenarios to reign supreme.  I’m sure there is some realism behind closed doors, and I suppose it’s a particular joy of baseball to have optimism return every spring. Renewal. The Song of the Turtle. All that jazz.  But logic and history tell us that half of these teams are gonna be terrible, a lot of these optimistic players will struggle and that no battle plan in recorded history has ever survived much beyond contact with the enemy.

That contact begins on the evening of March 31 for two teams and in the next couple of days after that for everyone else.  The results of that and the changes and adjusts made in response thereto are what’s going to matter. Almost nothing that happened in the Greater Phoenix Arizona area in the first couple of weeks of March will.

Rangers take Game 1 of ALDS against Blue Jays

Texas Rangers's Robinson Chirinos, right, is congratulated by teammate Rougned Odor on his two-run home run against the Toronto Blue Jays in the top of the fifth inning of baseball Game 1 of the American League Division Series in Toronto on Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
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With their ace on the mound in front of an electric home crowd, the Blue Jays seemingly came into Game 1 of the ALDS with the advantage over the Rangers. However, as these things often go during the playoffs, it didn’t work out that way.

Robinson Chirinos and Rougned Odor each homered off David Price as the Rangers beat the Blue Jays 5-3 in Game 1 of the ALDS on Thursday.

Price gave up five runs over seven innings in the loss. The Rangers grabbed an early 2-0 lead in the third inning before Chirinos connected for a two-run homer in the fifth. Odor added a solo blast in the seventh inning for some insurance. Playoff success continues to elude Price. He’s now owns a 4.54 ERA in the postseason and is 0-6 as a starter.

Yovani Gallardo allowed two runs over five innings in the victory. Jose Bautista took Keone Kela deep in the sixth inning to draw the Blue Jays closer, but Jake Diekman followed with two perfect frames before Sam Dyson tossed a scoreless ninth inning for the save.

A big story in this game was injuries to key players. The Rangers lost Adrian Beltre in the third inning due to lower back stiffness. Meanwhile, Josh Donaldson exited for precautionary reasons in the fifth inning after he took a knee to the head on a takeout slide. FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reports that Donaldson passed concussion protocol and is expected to be fine. Jose Bautista also exited the game with mild right hamstring tightness after eight innings, but he’s expected to be OK.

Game 2 will take place Friday afternoon at 12:30 p.m. ET. Cole Hamels will pitch for the Rangers while Marcus Stroman will attempt to keep the Blue Jays from going down 0-2 in the series.

Vin Scully to miss postseason after undergoing medical procedure

Los Angeles Dodgers Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully announces he will return to broadcast his 67th, and last baseball season in 2016, during a news conference in Los Angeles, Saturday, Aug. 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
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The Dodgers announced this afternoon that legendary broadcaster Vin Scully underwent a “recommended medical procedure” this morning and will miss the the postseason. The good news is that he’s said to be “resting comfortably.”

Scully, who turns 88 next month, was expected to do radio broadcasts for the Dodgers the postseason. While he’ll skip the playoffs at the advice of his doctors, the Dodgers said that he’s looking forward to returning for his 67th season in the booth in 2016. Scully said in August that it will be his last.

On behalf of all baseball fans, get well soon, Mr. Scully.

Josh Donaldson leaves Game 1 of ALDS with head injury

Josh Donaldson

Both starting third basemen have left Game 1 of the Rangers-Blue Jays series with injuries.

Adrian Beltre exited with a back injury in the second inning and now Josh Donaldson has left the game an inning after taking a knee to the head while trying to break up a double play.

It’s natural to wonder if Donaldson suffered a concussion on the play, particularly since Justin Morneau, then of the Twins, had his career derailed by a knee to the head on a nearly identical takeout slide in Toronto back in 2010. For now the Blue Jays are saying Donaldson left as a “precaution,” but as a Twins fan that play immediately flashed into my mind.

Donaldson will either win or finish runner-up for AL MVP after hitting .297 with 41 homers and a .939 OPS in 158 games during his first season in Toronto.