Hello, hello, hello and welcome all to another addition of Raising Arizona! ‘Tis the season for me and thousands of other fans to race out to the desert hoping to sneak a peak at what portends for our favorite ball club. I know I say it every year, but if you’ve never done this Spring Training thingy, you really oughta make it a point to knock this off your list someday. It’s just the best. Phoenix ain’t a terribly expensive place and compared to many other vacation destinations, it’s a piece of cake to navigate. Of course there’s weird stuff here, like the fact that every main highway seems to run parallel to train tracks and just like any other big city, you can ooopsie daisies yourself into a less reputable neighborhood with a couple of wrong turns. But for the most part, this is a great place. And this place hosts Super Bowls and stuff, so since I feverently avoid the Spring Break crowds, when I get here I never have trouble getting a rental car or a place to lay my head. They’re pros here in the desert. And speaking of pros, I’m here to tell you about yours. Your baby pros to be precise.
Upon arriving Monday morning, I made the executive decision to scoot over to Peoria where the “Low-A/High-A” clubs would be taking on the similarly ranked kids from the Mariners. (Side note: I’m not an expert on the other systems, but I spoke with a few guys who are and seems the consensus is the M’s are what they are at the big league level and there ain’t much if any help coming anytime soon. What I saw today would most certainly corroborate this notion) Now, just because a kid is playing with the “high-A” club or whatever right now in Spring Training does not neccesarily mean that’s where he’s ticketed for this upcoming season. Miguel Aparicio, for example was with the “AA” team Monday. He turned 18 three days ago and hasn’t played stateside yet. Doubtful he’ll begin the season in Frisco. But it’s an approximation and one thing that’s clear, a bulk of Texas’ dudes will begin the season in A-ball.
So without further ado, here’s some observations from Day 1:
Charles Leblanc and Kole Enright played SS and 3B respectively and they looked appropriately placed there. Both are handy and play the game hard. I like them both. Not sure either of them will do a great deal to stand out with the glove, but Leblanc made a really nice play to charge and backhand a chopper hit to his right. Enright plays with passion and if he’s gonna make it, his stick will carry him.
Leody Taveras is whatever. Seriously, you know the name already. He’s a consensus Top-100 prospect in all of baseball and he has swagger I haven’t seen since I first met 17 year-old Nomar Mazara. Not cocky, just confident and carries himself like he’s been there all along. He’s really good and a novice’s eye could watch a game he plays in and conclude, “That guy, in centerfield, with his pants pulled up to his knees— he’s the best one out here.” If you don’t yet have a visual on Leody, here’s a 2 and a half minute strike out:
Anderson Tejada was on my short list. Dude jumped onto the scene last season with some prodigious blasts. OK, so they weren’t necessarily all prodigous, but they were frequent! I’d heard about the glove and I’m in the camp that’s gonna take a wait and see approach to him staying at SS. But even in LF, or at 3B, the bat could play. Heard about the leg kick? Yeah, it’s big. It’s definitely there, and it seems as though he starts it a half hour before the pitcher begins his windup. There’s definitely some raw pop there and he’s most certainly a (fun) kid to watch.
Tyler Ferguson pitched. He throws a lot of pitches and right now he’s best described as a batter-to-batter guy. Meaning, one batter he looks like a world beater, the next...not so much. But the mojo is there, no doubt. He sat 93-96 and looks every bit the part of a MLB middle reliever, or an oversized free safety. Dude is ripped and has shoulders that could support a house. It ain’t the most fluid delivery, to put it mildly, but this is a guy you want to root for, for sure. He’s overcome a great deal to get here and with a little more consistency, he’ll get at least a chance to pitch in the 3-tiered parks.
Centerfielder Kobie Taylor, 1B Andretty Cordero, and OFer Chad Smith, are all names to sock away as well. Kobie has some tools, Andretty has 2, and Chad is much closer in skillset to Andretty than Kobie. Root for them.
25 year-old Flower Mound native Steven Bruce, a onetime OU Sooner, came in and showed a really good hard SL that missed bats. 22 year-old Ismel Lopez looked more than ready to finally pitch stateside with a quick inning in which he K’d the side, all swinging, with a ridiculous dancing cut CH similar to Jose Leclerc’s. His FB is 88-90 and in 3 seasons in the DSL he has 39bb/114k in 111.1ip. The CH is remarkable.
Ti’Quan Forbes continues to be a Surprise monster. He looked great last Spring, then had a less than standout season in Hickory and he looked great again today. He roped a belt-high FB way over the LF fence and continued to wow with a 1st team All-Bus physique. I really hope the third baseman can carry this trend into a breakout season in Kinston.
But all of this obscures my star of the day. It’s only been a matter of hours, but I could see myself falling in love with David Garcia. I could see you doing the same. We can all share our love for David. He’s a baby. I mean, really. He was born in the year 2000. But I think he can catch. He’s quick and has soft hands. He has a mountain of things to improve, but my oh my there’s plenty to dream on. He’s bouncy when he needs to be and calm when he doesn’t. He constantly catches in that open style where his right knee seems to align with the first base line rather than the old school stance of having one knee pointing at the shortstop and the other at second baseman. He’s not very vocal, but most of the kids his age are just returning from their junior year Spring Break. That will come with time. But he most definitely doesn’t look over matched, or out of place. His strong hands and wrists carry over to the plate and I think he’ll have some pop. No idea if he’ll be a good hitter, but I think he’ll be strong and he definitely doesn’t go up there flailing wildly, so I’m hopeful the bat will be good enough. This kid is good, and he is most definitely a dude.
(** note ** No, he doesn’t always airmail his throws to 2B. Only when I’m filming)
As you can see, he’s got the physicality to play the position. I’m not sure if you can get a good look at his face, but it’s an instant reminder that he turned 17 a month ago. Remarkable talent on this kid and we’ve every right to be excited about him. I wouldn’t have thought he’d get a stateside assignment this season, but having seen him play, a spot on the Arizona Rookie League team wouldn’t surprise me anymore. Catchers. God I love them.
Elsewhere in things that only happen in Spring Training, Nellie Cruz careened a golf cart over from the main Mariners complex, fresh from the getting the heave-ho from the WBC by the good ol’ USA. He’s just as lovable as ever and did something I’ve literally never seen an established star do: he just sat in the stands and on the bench, and shot the shit with the A-ball Mariners. He vocally offered encouragement to both the Mariners baby pitchers and hitters for 6 innings. It was remarkably cool. The kids were visibly in awe of him at first, but about 15 minutes later, he was just a teammate sitting amongst them. Albeit a much bigger, grown-up teammate. With three straight 40 homerun seasons. And a nicer car(s).
I saw both Darren Oliver and Jamie Moyer today. I’m 100% certain both could’ve strung together 3 scoreless innings against all the A-ball kids. 100%. Good times. Good times.
OK, then. See you tomorrow!
As Always, Enjoy Baseball! Love Ya!