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February 28, 2010
On the Beat
After taking a look at five players from the National League who scouts say should open some eyes during the exhibition games that begin on Tuesday, let's take a look at five from the American League:
The days of Jones being a Gold Glove center fielder and one of the top stars in the game are over. However, so are the days of him being overweight and disinterested. Jones reported to spring training 25 pounds lighter after beginning to put his career back together with the Rangers last season when he hit .214/.323/.459 with a .266 TAv and 17 home runs in 331 plate appearances.
"The guy looks great, like he did back in the Braves days," a scout said. "I thought he had reached the point where you really couldn't play him in center field anymore, but he looks the part again now. Guys tend to lose bat speed when they get heavy, and maybe some of it will come back now that he's trimmed down."
PECOTA projects Jones to be useful this season, hitting .222/.321/.412 with 22 homers in 400 plate appearances.
Ortiz had to finish with a flourish just to put up a .238/.332/.462 line with a .266 TAv and 28 home runs in 627 plate appearances last season. He looked finished at the end of May when he was hitting just .185/.284/.287 before turning it on. Ortiz is now 34 and not in the best of physical condition. However, he showed enough in the final four months of last season to make scouts feel he has something left.
"He has lost some bat speed-everyone can see that-and pitchers can beat inside with good fastballs," a scout said. "However, he seemed to start understanding his limitations as last season went on. He didn't try to pull everything like he used to. Instead, he started using the whole field. That will cut down on the home runs, but he can still be a productive hitter even if he's not the same old Big Papi."
PECOTA sees Ortiz improving upon last season with a projection of .263/.373/.487 with 24 homers in 557 plate appearances.
Barton has yet to live up to the hype of being acquired from the Cardinals in a trade for Mark Mulder following the 2004 season. Barton played in just 54 major-league games last season and hit .269/.372/.413 with a .280 TAv and three home runs in 192 plate appearances. Barton, 24, spent a majority of the season at Triple-A Sacramento, but did hit .306/.402/.468 in 117 trips to the plate in September and October for the Athletics.
"It seems like a lot of people want to write him off, but he's still a kid," a scout said. "He's going to hit for some power. He's not going to be a classic 30-homer first baseman, but he's going to hit some balls out of the park and he's going to get on base because he has a great eye. You could see it all starting to come together at the end of last year. He's ready to step it up."
PECOTA isn't quite as optimistic, as it calls for Barton to hit .263/.365/.423 with 12 homers in 533 plate appearances.
Galarraga seemingly came out of nowhere in 2008 after being claimed from the Rangers off waivers the previous winter to post a 3.73 ERA in 178
"He's a sinker/slider guy, nothing out of the ordinary, but the key for him is throwing strikes," Galarraga said. "He didn't do that last season. He was pitching scared. However, he looked good in Venezuela. He had his confidence back."
Last season was one to forget for Santana. He injured his elbow in spring training, did not make his first major-league start until May 14, and was then bothered by forearm stiffness later in the season. He wound up with a 5.03 ERA in 139
"The Angels won the American League West pretty easily and they didn't really get anything out of the guy," a scout said. "I don't know if he is the No. 1-type starter who can replace John Lackey, but his fastball is excellent when he is healthy. Not only does he throw it 95 mph, but it moves. If he's healthy and pitches like he did two years ago, look out."
It cannot be ignored when the owner of a major-league team mentions your company while giving his state-of-the-team address to the media at the beginning of spring training. Thus, allow us to relay what the Red Sox' John Henry had to say this past week at Fort Myers.
"Baseball Prospectus thinks we're the best," Henry said. "They predicted us to win by two games. It's going to end up being a dogfight."
PECOTA projects the Red Sox to have the best record in the major leagues this season at 95-67. That would put the Red Sox two games ahead of the Yankees (93-69) and five ahead of the Rays (90-72) in the AL East.
While the Red Sox' winter was characterized as general manager Theo Epstein becoming all about run prevention, as he added Lackey, third baseman Adrian Beltre, shortstop Marco Scutaro, and center fielder Mike Cameron as free agents, Henry said that is not entirely accurate. In fact, Henry expects the Red Sox to remain among the top offensive teams in the major leagues.
"People have been talking about offense, and Theo reminded us that essentially, the Angels and Red Sox had the second-best offense in baseball last year (behind the Yankees)," Henry said. "So we think this is a very strong team, I think stronger than last year. Last year when we went into the playoffs, we felt we had a team that was going to be very strong for the playoffs. We had three top starters and this year, again, we have six very strong starters and perhaps the six strongest starters. We always come into camp, it seems like, with six, knowing that sometimes it's hard to have four strong starters out there for an entire season."
For the second straight offseason, the Red Sox failed to land a slugger. They lost out to the Yankees for Mark Teixeira in the winter of 2008-09 and allowed left fielder Jason Bay to leave for the Mets in January. However, Henry is adamant that the Red Sox have more than made up for the loss of Bay.
"We spent significantly more than we did last year," Henry said. "We didn't know for sure we were going to spend as much as we did because we didn't know if opportunities would present themselves to be able to go out and get a pitcher like John Lackey. We didn't know the opportunity would come to fruition. It was really driven by events."
Meanwhile, Henry was critical of Major League Baseball's revenue-sharing system during the offseason, saying he was weary of subsidizing "chronically uncompetitive teams." However, he steered clear of the subject this time, especially after being fined by Bud Selig for his remarks as free speech is strictly prohibited by the commissioner.
"We have strong feelings," Werner said. "We have a fiduciary responsibility to protect our franchise, our fans, and we're aggressive about that. Our relationship with the commissioner's office is fine, but we're certainly aggressive about making our points."
Well, we should get to know plenty about the White Sox this season. Just a few days after MLB Network announced it is going air a reality show called "The Club" that will feature the front office, irrepressible manager Ozzie Guillen opened an account on Twitter. He is tweeting at twitter.com/ozzieguillen.
GM Ken Williams was not very happy about owner Jerry Reinsdorf giving MLB Network access to front-office doings and less thrilled that his always-quotable manager is now sending out thoughts to the masses. Guillen was allowed to keep tweeting only after assuring Williams that he not allow let any club secrets to escape into the public domain in 140-character bites.
"I guess I can't have fun," Guillen said. "I flunked in school five times, and I never had as much trouble as I'm having right now. Why do I have to explain to people why I'm doing this? Like I said, I talked to Kenny about it. It's not anything that involves the ballclub. There are a lot of people in baseball that have Twitter. Why me? Why do I have to explain why I have Twitter? Obviously, I know I'm the manager of the team and the face of the ballclub, but there are a couple guys out there-I won't say any names-that have Twitter. I guess they're not famous, or people don't care about it. The one thing I promise people-well I don't have to promise-but Jerry and Kenny, it's nothing to do with the White Sox. I hope I don't have to say I got in a fight with my wife last night.''
While Guillen will give glimpses of his personal life on Twitter, he said he will not allow MLB Network's cameras to follow him away from the field.
"My private life is my private life," Guillen said. "I want to have a private life, and I tell my life just on my computer."
Cubs owner Tom Ricketts, who gained control of the team last September, gave his first preseason pep talk to his players this past week in Mesa. Manager Lou Piniella called it "inspiring" and said it harkened back to the days when he played for the Yankees from 1974-84 and George Steinbrenner was the owner.
"Tom and George aren't alike as people, but I played in New York for a very, very competitive owner that wanted to win all the time," Piniella said. "We had a lot of success there, and since I've been gone they've still had success. The Ricketts are going to be good for Chicago. They're going to be good for the Chicago Cubs. And like they said, this is not just a one-two year thing. They want to keep this team in their family for a long, long, long time."
The Cubs are marketing this season as "Year One" in reference to Ricketts and his family's first full season in charge. While there was initial concerns by some in the organization that the Cubs might scale back their spending following the transfer of ownership from the Tribune Company, Ricketts assured the coaching staff players that was not going to happen.
"He talked about how the family would do everything in their power to help the Cubs win, from the training facilities to the (improvements) at Wrigley Field, even the new dietician that we have," Piniella said. "We're thrilled to death, and we're going to do everything in our power to do whatever we can to ensure that we win, and to work with him and for him."
Ricketts, whose family made their fortune in launching TD Ameritrade Holding Corporation, has become something of a celebrity in Chicago. However, he says it has not been life-changing.
"A few people come up and say 'hi' in the airport that probably wouldn't have otherwise said hello," he said. "But other than that, so far, so good. We're loving every minute of this."
MLB Rumors and Rumblings: Those who know White Sox left-hander Mark Buehrle claim he is serious when he says he is considering retiring once his contract runs out after the 2011 season, even though he would be 32, because he frequently gets homesick for his family in Missouri. … The Indians plan to play Russell Branyan regularly at first base and let Michael Brantley and Matt LaPorta compete for the starting left fielder's job this spring with the loser likely headed to Class AAA Columbus. … The Mariners are experimenting with moving second baseman Jose Lopez to third base and playing Chone Figgins, who they signed as a free agent in the winter, at second. … Utility infielder Maicer Izturis will bat leadoff for the Angels when he is in the lineup and shortstop Erick Aybar will when he isn't. … Cubs shortstop Ryan Theriot said he would gladly move to second base if 19-year-old phenom Starlin Castro plays well enough this spring to make the team.