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March 29, 2012

Prospects Will Break Your Heart

Spring Training Diary, Day 30

by Jason Parks

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Day 30, 8:00 AM
Patricia, before arriving at the Spring Training facility each morning, Roommate Jason and I cruise the main drag in Surprise, Arizona looking for hot coffee from below-average gas stations. You might wonder why going out for coffee is a necessity when we have a coffee maker at the house, and why gas station coffee is the preference when a Starbucks is only a half of a mile farther down the road from the complex, but I’d suggest just letting it go. We all make mistakes, and some of us make a habit of making mistakes. This is a prime example of the latter. The thoroughfare in question is called Bell Road, and it’s probably the most dangerous stretch of road in the modern world. Traversing Bell Road multiple times a day shows the devolution of society, with each near automotive accident and each ten-minute trip that inevitably turns into a twenty-minute trip; however, the road itself is merely a victim of the incompetence of design, as the city expanded from a one-horse-town to a growing sprawl of chain restaurants, ubiquitous examples of chain retail consumerism, and all things cookie-cutter America. The sprawl was allowed to sprawl directly off of this main road, which is ill-equipped to support it.

Bell Road was the spine of this dusty little town, which worked fine when the town was dusty and little. But when the Rangers and Royals decided to build a beautiful baseball facility and make the town attractive for at least one month a year, the city reacted to this economic boom with the efficiency of a dial-up connection. This ghost-town that is now all grown up has yet to adjust to the resulting sprawl by allowing drivers to actually reach that sprawl from the main road. U-turns and complicated maneuvering through parking lots are almost always required to reach your consumer sprawl destination of choice, and even when you are lucky enough to locate a consumer sprawl off a stoplight, the consumer sprawl in question is almost always designed so that you can’t enter the parking lot without first negotiating the parking lots of another sprawl, in which you might have to halt your vehicle at one of the numerous stop signs contained within the larger parent sprawl, which are de facto duck crossings for the elderly, and trust me, there are a lot of really slow, elderly people that like to walk across the parking lots of the consumer sprawls, and their pace is somewhere between ice melting on a cold day and Calvin Pickering’s metabolism. 

Patricia, a few years ago, while attempting to circumnavigate a parking lot after leaving a feeding sprawl–which of course didn’t provide an easy path back out onto Bell Road in the direction of my choosing so I had to navigate through a parking lot to reach a stoplight so I could execute a left-turn–I cut a nasty smirk and an irritable (inaudible) tongue at an elderly gentlemen who took a dramatic amount of time crossing between the walkway of a Target and the handicapped lot. I’m pretty sure he was a war hero, based on his icy stare and his deliberate gait, and I’m also pretty sure I was being an impatient jerk, but I had hot bag of Chick-fil-A on the dashboard and I was ready to eat a large order of waffle fries and two chicken sandwiches, without pickles, even though I like pickles; if you order the chicken sandwich without pickles, it is made fresh and isn’t delivered to you straight from the heat lamp that will ultimately leave the bun soggy and the pickles warm and rubbery. I like to purchase my pickles separately, so I can apply them to my chicken sandwiches at my own discretion and in my own environment.

The elderly war hero was meandering like everything in his life was leisure after he killed a few dozen enemy soldiers with his bare hands and took a bayonet to the groin back in 1944. His pants were higher than my irritation level, and even though I respected his service and his valor, I would have vocalized my irritation had he been able to hear anything above a jackhammer placed two feet from his person. At the time, my desire to crush a few chicken sandwiches outweighed my respect for the United States of America and those who had bravely served her. I’m only slightly ashamed of this. Was it my finest moment? No. Did the chicken sandwich turn out to be worth it? Yes, it did. It was delicious and satisfied a very basic need. Did that solider die so I could enjoy that chicken sandwich? That’s a little deep, Patricia. I’ve never felt this close to you. I’m not always such a diva, My Dear. I hope you don’t think of me as one. Not that I’m desperate to impress you, but I’ve been lonely out here, and I guess I’m desperate to impress you. Sorry that I referred to you as My Dear. I was caught up in the moment. I guess you want to hear about my baseball adventures. 

Day 30, 11:00 AM
The last time I dropped my random baseball thoughts on your beautiful brain, you responded with kindness and a smile, which stole my heart and triggered a sensitive reaction. It’s important to have sensitive reactions. I have so much to tell you; so many notes that I’ve left in my head that I need to deliver to you. Did I tell you about the war hero I was angry at because I was hungry for chicken? My mind needs to sleep. I really miss you. I miss us. I forgot to ask you: Is there an “us”? I’m doing it again. Sorry. Check this out:

  • There will come a time, perhaps in the next few seasons, when teams will look back on the 2011 draft and say that Francisco Lindor should have gone number one overall. He has that potential. With Lindor, you aren’t looking at a player that at the present is miles away from his future; rather, when you watch Lindor on a field, you see a player that is more advanced than his contemporaries. He lacks crazy speed, but he can get to anything on the diamond and his glove casts a wide net at the position. His arm is quite strong and accurate, capable of making throws from deep in the left-side hole and over the bag at second. His bat is very promising, although his offensive tools lack elite individual grades; his hit tool could be a high-six, and the power could end up as average (5). The offensive combo should allow the 18-year-old to hit for a high average, with an approach that will encourage a high OBP, and enough pop in the bat for 10-15 homers a year at maturity, with a gap-to-gap swing that will produce countless doubles. Combine the offensive skill-set with the plus defense from a premium position and you have one of the better prospects in the game.

    He’s similar to Jurickson Profar in the sense that both players are very advanced for their age, with a feel for the game that is hard to articulate but you know it when you see it. They always seem to be in the right place at the right time,  making their skills seem even more impressive in game action. When the game is close and you need a hit on offense or a clean play on defense, those two players have a preternatural ability to rise to the occasion, cool as Kilmer in Real Genius, and make the play. Lindor is one of the rarest commodities in the game: an up-the-middle talent that projects to stay up-the-middle, with average-to-plus futures across the board. At the major league level, those type of players are called all-stars. Lindor has that potential, and his floor will probably find him as a major league regular for 10+ years. One day soon, Lindor falling to the eighth pick in the draft will be a much-discussed occurrence.

  • Every once in a while, magic occurs on the backfields of spring training complexes, and all the bodies stack behind the backstop to participate. A few days ago, I was casually watching the Seattle Mariners, when a few intense pops of the mitt sounded an alarm that brought all available eyes into the picture. Some random pitcher started off his appearance with two crisp 95 mph fastballs, each thumping the leather of the catcher with a ferocious strike. I quickly readied my gear and found an angle to watch, which I convinced myself would be worth the effort. The crowd grew and scouts asked in unison, “Who the hell is this kid?” The kid’s name was Wes Alsup, and he was a 25-year-old reliever with Indy ball on his resume, having been released by the Braves in 2011. Now a Mariner, the 6’2’’ 200 lb. unknown began to pump 95-96 mph fastballs into the zone, touching as high as 97 on one gun, showing a little late life on the pitch. The slider was the next gift to arrive, arriving in the 86-87 range with some tilt, the majority of which were in the zone. The fastball command was shaky at best, but the stuff was undeniable. Alsup was showing a late-inning arm, and he put on a cherry on top of the performance by throwing an 89mph slider to finish his inning of work. I was too impressed with the stuff to bitch about the command, which still needs considerable work. The delivery wasn’t bad; a little mechanical and jerky at times, but the arm itself worked very well, and you can’t discount the arm strength and arm speed involved.

    After the inning, the buzz died, as people returned to their lives and unremarkable baseball continued on field five. You wouldn’t think that a 25-year-old reliever with an Indy ball background who was released by the Braves and pitching in a non-descript backfield game in late March for the Mariners would have enough juice to transform the environment into a place of wonderment. He did. Anytime you get to watch 95-96 mph fastballs and exploding 86-87 sliders appear out of nowhere, the magic that is baseball grips you with a firm hand. The rest of that day sucked.

  • I bet Jaff Decker has a kid named Chone.

  • You know who I’m really starting to like? Colorado Rockies 3B Nolan Arenado. This kid can really smoke a ball. The defense at third is a little loose; the actions can be stiff and mechanical. The arm is plenty strong and all the athleticism necessary for the position is present. I think the fielding actions will improve through repetition. The bat is the money maker, with plus futures on both hit and power tools; the hit tool is the bread winner of the tool family, with a high-six future, with impressive bat speed on a simple bat path built for high contact and line drives. Power will flow through the hit tool, and at maturity, Arenado could hit 20+ homers a season. I really, really like the swing, and he doesn’t let mistakes from the pitcher escape that distinction. He can punish balls over the plate, and he can battle when he’s presented with quality stuff. Last year at this time I wasn’t 100% sold on his future, thinking he might not have the glove for third and he might not have the bat for first. Based on what I’ve seen, Arenado has the chops to stay at third, and he has the bat to become a first-division starter. He’s legit.

Day 30, 11:52 PM
I’m weeping inside because I’ll only have time for one more entry to you, Patricia. I have so much to tell you yet so few words left in my vocabulary. I’m stuck on auto-pilot and the auto-pilot is stuck on repeat, so my anecdotes are Xerox copies of yesterday’s anecdotes, and tomorrow’s news has already become a story locked in my file of anecdotes. I’m not desperate, but I’m eager to maintain this relationship, Patricia, as I’ve felt your hand on the back of my neck for the last 30 days and your bones have shielded me from the sun. Thanks for that. I’ll make it up to you. It’s important to make it up to people. You can have my bones. Talk to you soon.

Jason Parks is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jason's other articles. You can contact Jason by clicking here

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