The birds are landing. The sinewy muscles of professional athletes are being stretched and loosened in preparation. Simultaneously, new spikes are coming out of their boxes and new gloves are being pounded, pulled, rubbed, yanked, and oiled. Daytime highs are stretching into the low-80s as the sun arches high over the sand. It might sound like something else, someplace else, but it's not. It's baseball in Arizona, and it's back.
As part of my due diligence, I've reached out to a few prospects and asked about their goals for the upcoming season. This isn't exactly longform journalism, but I was thinking it might help pass a little time while you're waiting for the muscles, and the oil, and maybe the spikes, if that's your thing. Anyway, here's what they had to say:
Nick Martinez: "I've got a short list of goals I would like to achieve and I'm sure the list will change, grow, or shorten as Spring Training starts and as the season goes on. Last year's goal was to start in A+, give myself a chance to play in AA the same year or start the next year in AA." Obviously Nick was promoted in-season last year to AA and I expect the strike thrower to start there again. He also mentioned "staying healthy and strong and continuing to sharpen his arsenal." He'll be in Arizona on the 21st.
Connor Sadzeck: Q: Any particular pitch you're focusing on this season? A: "My curveball. I want to work on getting it back to where it was. I know it's there, but I had so much success with the 2-seam and the changeup last year, I was reluctant to throw it early if it wasn't working." I asked about the 4-seamer, "I'd say the majority of my fastballs have been fourseamers but have been acting like 2s lately. Ha." I also asked about a potential return of the upper-90s velo, "You know I'm not sure. I think everybody would like to throw harder, but I'm pretty comfortable where I am now. If I start throwing harder, so be it. But the main thing is to keep getting people out." That it is Mr. Sadzeck, that it is. If durability, innings, and outs are hallmarks of the 6'6"-er's calling card, he'll continue to impress. He'll be reporting on the 22nd.
Jerad Eickhoff: "Right now I'm really working on repeating my delivery a little better to allow for more extension toward the plate. Pitch-wise I'm working on the changeup. Looking to take more velo off of it and add some movement as well. I'm heading out on February 16th. Gotta get out of this cold and on a field! I'm getting the itch to get rolling." Following a lovely winter back home in the Midwest, I expect Jerad to be a part of a formidable rotation for Frisco when the season kicks off.
Alec Asher: "I want to improve all of my off speed pitches with better command and consistency." I asked him what makes "feel" pitches so difficult to master? Arm speed, angle, repeating? "Yeah [they're difficult] for sure. But I would say it's more of a repeating thing for me, finding a good release point." Alec will be checking in in Surprise on the 22nd. Another durable righty, I expect to see The Big Cat in Frisco's opening rotation where he'll be putting his 32-inning scoreless streak on the line.
Ryan Rua: Rua doesn't say much. Not curt, by any means, certainly not thick. Bright kid, friendly kid, just doesn't say much. He hears everything though, just doesn't say much, except in 2013, when his bat spoke volumes. "Just to build off last year and be more consistent at the plate and in the field." Power plays at all levels. Hit and you get to keep hitting. Frisco, Round Rock, wherever; I can't wait to see what Ryan has in store for us in 2014.
Luke Jackson: "Pitching wise, just cutting down the walks, being more efficient, going deeper into games." The heat is turned up on LuJax this season. Everybody knows his name. The changeup grew in 2013, the previously-shelved slider made a single-pitch appearance in his final outing, and he all but chewed up AA following his promotion. At this point it would surprise me more if he didn't get the ball on Opening Night for Frisco.
Chad Bell: The Crafty Lefty was a forgotten soldier last season after missing the entire campaign following TJ surgery. "Everything is feeling great. Just looking forward to getting on the field. Should start bullpens soon. I'm already in Arizona and I think game action hopefully a little after extended starts is the goal. Really excited to get back out there. Feeling really strong. Thanks a lot for checking in." I've expressed before, my fascination with the rehab crew. Out there in the desert in a huge facility, capable of housing hundreds of ballplayers, but you're one of a handful of guys most days. Working, sweating, grinding through the seasonal mood swings of the Arizona weather. Like a salty version of The Shining, with indefatigable Keith Comstock in Nicholson's role. I'm pulling for Chad, not just because I know there's room in the big leagues for crafty, composed, left handed starters, but because he's been through the rehab process. See ya soon, Lefty.
So there you have it. A tiny primer, if you will, with a few names you'll be hearing more from over the next 8 months. Hopefully more good news than bad, and the goals and hopes they have, will be fulfilled. Regardless of the outcome, we'll be watching, and it's all starting now.
As always, enjoy baseball! Love Ya!