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March 25, 2011

On the Beat

Spring Surprises

by John Perrotto

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After initially writing Wednesday that I would look at each team's biggest disappointments of the spring in this column, I've shaken off the catcher and decided to throw the changeup. Instead of ruining that warm and fuzzy feeling we created just two days ago, I've instead decided to look at a player from each of the 30 major-league teams who has been a pleasant surprise during spring training:

Angels: CF Peter Bourjos. His continued excellent work in the field confirmed Los Angeles' decision last season to call him up from Triple-A in July and move nine-time Gold Glove center fielder Torii Hunter to right field. However, the most encouraging part of Bourjos' spring has been his offense: a .386/.491/.591 line in 54 plate appearances, including a grand slam Thursday against the Brewers, after he hit .204/.237/.381 as a rookie last season.

Astros: RHP Enerio Del Rosario. The rookie has sewn up a spot in the bullpen by not allowing an earned run in 11 1/3 innings while striking out nine and walking one. A sidearmer who induces ground balls, Del Rosario has the makings of a really good ROOGY, and maybe more.

Athletics: 1B/OF Chris Carter. The slugging prospect will start the season back at Triple-A Sacramento, but his plate discipline was a highlight, as he drew 12 walks in 55 plate appearances. Considering left fielder Josh Willingham and designated hitter Hideki Matsui are eligible for free agency at the end of the season, Carter's time should come by 2012.

Blue Jays: LHP Jo-Jo Reyes. After being a disappointment with the Braves, he will begin the season in the rotation now that Brandon Morrow has been placed on the disabled list. Reyes has a 3.32 ERA in 19 innings, perhaps helped by Toronto having a former pitching coach in John Farrell as manager.

Braves: CF Nate McLouth. He is washing away the memories of a miserable 2010 by hitting .304/.431/.457 in 55 plate appearances with nine walks and just three strikeouts. If they gave out the Comeback Player of the Year in March, he would win it after hitting .190/.298/.322 last season.

Brewers: RHP Marco Estrada. He was brought back from minor-league camp after being reassigned earlier in the spring and is now the favorite to begin the season as the No. 5 starter with ace Zack Greinke on the shelf. Estrada has allowed only one run in 8 1/3 innings for a 1.04 ERA.

Cardinals: 3B Matt Carpenter. Though he will begin the season at Triple-A Louisville, he gave the major-league staff something to remember by hitting.340/.421/.528 in 56 plate appearances. Third baseman David Freese's health is also a question mark, so it's comforting for St. Louis to know Carpenter is just a phone call away.

Cubs: OF Reed Johnson. The Wrigley Field fan favorite is in position to win a bench job as a non-roster player. Though Johnson has hit just .225/.279/.325 in 43 plate appearances, the Cubs like his versatility and, of course, his grit and determination.

Diamondbacks: LF Gerardo Parra. He was expected to lose his starting job to veteran Xavier Nady this spring but has responded by hitting .340/.375/.491 in 55 plate appearances. Losing weight in the offseason and working well with new hitting coach Don Baylor have fueled Parra's resurgence.

Dodgers: OF Tony Gwynn. He may not be the hitter his father was, but he has looked better at the plate this spring than he did during his time with the Padres, putting together a .308/.372/.384 line in 43 plate appearances. He is elbowing his way into the left field picture alongside Jay Gibbons and Marcus Thames.

Giants: RHP Ryan Vogelsong. Taking the roundabout path back to the major leagues after three seasons in Japan and one at Triple-A, he has given up five runs in 15 2/3 innings for a 2.87 ERA while striking out 14. He has a chance to stick as a long reliever/sixth starter.

Indians: 3B Lonnie Chisenhall. He has been optioned to Triple-A Columbus but made a big impression during his time in major-league camp by hitting .500/.567/.885 in 29 plate appearances. With Jason Donald, the presumptive starter at the hot corner, nursing a broken hand, and Jack Hannahan and his balsa bat nothing more than a placeholder at third base, the path is clear for Chisenhall to get a mid-season promotion.

Mariners: DH Jack Cust. His three doubles and three home runs in 50 plate appearances might not seem like a big deal. However, a hitter with a .511 slugging percentage looks pretty good to a team that ranked last in the major leagues in runs scored last season, especially for a guy whose home run total slipped to 14 last season with the Athletics.

Marlins: 2B Omar Infante. While some scouts and front office types think it's a leap of faith to make Infante an everyday player, he is hitting .435/.451/.522 in 50 times at bat. Now if he could just match Dan Uggla's power…

Mets: 2B Brad Emaus. The Rule 5 draft pick from the Blue Jays has put himself in position to be in the Opening Day lineup if he can win a competition in which no one has taken a big step forward. Emaus is hitting .293/.396/.439 after going 4-for-4 on Thursday against the Cardinals.

Nationals: CF Rick Ankiel. The former pitcher and 30-homer man is on the verge of beating out Nyjer Morgan for the large side of a platoon in center with Jerry Hairston Jr. Ankiel's three home runs and defense have made enough of an impression to offset a .250/.308/.521 line in 51 plate appearances.

Orioles: LHP Clay Rapada. The former Tigers and Rangers sidearmer figures to open the season as Baltimore's resident LOOGY. Rapada has given up three home runs in 7 2/3 innings this spring, but the Orioles are encouraged by his 8:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Padres: CF Cameron Maybin. He was acquired from the Marlins with the idea he would be an above-average center fielder. The good news is that he is showing signs this spring of finally figuring out how to hit major-league pitching, as he has a .349/.391/.512 line in 46 plate appearances.

Phillies: INF/OF Michael Martinez. Though he has never played in the major leagues, the 28-year-old has a chance to crack a fairly set roster because of his versatility and his .274/.293/.419 slash stats in 64 plate appearances.

Pirates: RHP Mike Crotta. Considered a middling starting pitching prospect, he was converted into a reliever at the start of spring training and has responded by working 10 1/3 innings without allowing an earned run. That's a pleasant development for the team that gave up the most runs in the major leagues a year ago.

Rangers: LHP Derek Holland. He sealed a spot in the rotation by allowing five earned runs in 14 innings for a 3.21 ERA with 12 strikeouts. That wipes away the bitter taste of his rough World Series performance out of the bullpen last fall. Holland will be the Rangers' No. 4 starter behind C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis, and Matt Harrison and in front of Tommy Hunter now that it has been decided Neftali Feliz will remain the closer. If Hunter begins the season on the disabled list with a strained groin suffered Thursday, then Michael Kirkman will be the No. 5.

Rays: LHP Jake McGee. The rookie with the 98-mph fastball has won a spot in the bullpen after pitching two scoreless innings Thursday against the Astros. While Tampa Bay will begin the season in a closer-by-committee setup, McGee has the best pure stuff of any of its relievers and is likely to wind up getting the most save opportunities this season. He has allowed just one earned run in 10 innings.

Red Sox: LHP Dennys Reyes. The portly southpaw still has a chance to beat out Hideki Okajima for the role of primary bullpen lefty, as he has allowed only one run in eight innings despite arriving late to spring training because of visa problems in his native Mexico.

Reds: MI Chris Valaika. The rookie is hitting .317/.370/.415 in 44 plate appearances. Most importantly, he gives Cincinnati another alternative at shortstop in case Paul Janish doesn't hit and Edgar Renteria has even less left in the tank than he showed last season with the Giants.

Rockies: MI Jonathan Herrera. The diminutive one has hit .367/.436/592 in 54 plate appearances with six walks and three strikeouts. While Jose Lopez might start the season as the starting second baseman, Herrera will be putting pressure on him.

Royals: LHP Tim Collins. The short southpaw prospect will be the primary set-up man to closer Joakim Soria from the left side. Despite standing 5-foot-7, he has struck out 11 batters in 9 1/3 innings, showing the power stuff needed to work the seventh and eighth innings.

Tigers: LHP Andy Oliver. He will start the season at Triple-A Toledo, but every team eventually needs extra starters during the course of the season. Oliver is likely to get the first call after showing vast improvement this spring over his rookie showing of 2010. Oliver allowed just one run and struck out five in five innings of Grapefruit League action.

Twins: 2B Tsuyoshi Nishioka quickly showed that he was more suited to play second base in the major leagues than shortstop because of a below-average arm. However, that doesn't dampen Minnesota's enthusiasm over the player who won last year's Japanese Pacific League batting title with the Chiba Lotte Marines. He has hit .357/.386/.452 in 44 plate appearances in his first taste of American pitching.

Yankees: CI Eric Chavez. After playing a combined 64 games with the Athletics over the past three seasons because of a myriad of injuries, he is healthy this spring and has won a bench job by hitting .371/.405/.457 in 37 plate appearances. Perhaps he and Andrew Jones can sit in the dugout during games and commiserate on how much interest they are earning on their big contracts from days gone by.

White Sox: RHP Phil Humber. The former Mets first-round draft pick and key piece to the Johan Santana trade with the Twins bounced from the Royals to the Athletics to Chicago on the waiver wire over the winter. Humber has clicked with pitching coach Don Cooper and will be in the season-opening rotation now that Jake Peavy will start off on the disabled list. Humber had allowed just three earned runs in 11 innings this spring until getting touched by the Cubs yesterday for seven runs in 4 1/3 innings.

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Rumors and Rumblings: Center fielder Julio Borbon has played so poorly in the field this spring that the Rangers are considering shifting left fielder Josh Hamilton to center—a move they really don't want to make—and starting David Murphy in left. … Rookie Mark Trumbo has had a big spring but may not see regular duty for the Angels even as first baseman Kendrys Morales begins the season on the DL. The Angels are considering shifting second baseman Howie Kendrick to first base while playing Maicer Izturis at second and Alberto Callapso at third, which would give the Halos an Eddie Gaedel-like infield. … The Mariners have decided to move Jack Wilson from shortstop to second base and play Brendan Ryan at shortstop so the transition will be more seamless when second base prospect Dustin Ackley is called up, most likely in June. … Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik will have some serous roster juggling to do in the next few days, with the possibility of six non-roster players making the club. … The Diamondbacks are expected to officially place non-roster first baseman Russell Branyan on the major-league roster today, the deadline for either purchasing his contract or allowing him to become a free agent.

The Twins plan to take the decision of whether Matt Capps or Joe Nathan will be the closer right down to the last day of camp. … Left-handed reliever George Sherrill has pitched so poorly this spring for the Braves that there is an outside chance he could be released. … The Braves have picked Brandon Beachy over Mike Minor for the fifth starter's job and will use Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters as co-closers. … Yankees designated hitter Jorge Posada says speculation that he will retire at the end of this season is premature and he would consider moving on to another team if he found the right fit. … The Astros are so unsettled at catcher following Jason Castro's knee surgery that they have recalled journeyman Robinson Cancel from their minor-league camp to compete with J.R. Towles and Carlos Corporan to share time with Humberto Quintero. GM Ed Wade will also scour the waiver wire for a catcher during the final days of spring training.

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Scouts' views on various major-leaguers:

Mets second baseman Brad Emaus: "Nothing against the kid, because he plays hard and he's a gamer, but he's not a starting major-league second baseman. It tells you how bad Luis Castillo is that they released him, swallowed a ton of money, and gave the job to this guy."

Royals second baseman Chris Getz: "He'll give you all he has, and he's a good baserunner. Yet you know the Royals won't be a good team until the day comes when they have someone like this on their bench rather than hitting second in the batting order."

White Sox third baseman Brett Morel: "He can play the heck out of third base, and he might win a Gold Glove, but his bat is pretty light for a corner infield position. I just don't think he'll hit enough be a long-term regular."

Nationals left-hander Oliver Perez: "The Nationals have the one guy who might be able to get through to him in [minor-league pitching coordinator] Spin Williams. Spin was the Pirates' pitching coach when Perez had his big year [239 strikeouts in 2004]. Maybe they can click again. I wouldn't bet on it but I don't blame the Nationals for taking what is essentially a free shot on the guy."

Red Sox left-hander Dennys Reyes: "You look at him and you can't figure out how he does it. He's overweight. He doesn't throw especially hard. He doesn't have one great pitch. Yet he gets people out. It's like he's Houdini."

Tigers second baseman Will Rhymes: "He doesn't dazzle you with tools, but he grows on you the more you watch him. He's not a great hitter but he's a pesky hitter. He'll work the count, slap the ball around, and basically be a tough out."

Cubs right-hander Carlos Silva: "It seems like the only time he pitches well is when there is a fire lit under his ass. He was on the verge of getting released and then he was lights out for six innings [against the Athletics on Wednesday]. It was the same way in Seattle. He had the big contract and got fat and lazy."

Giants shortstop Miguel Tejada: "I know better than to question [GM] Brian Sabean's judgment, but Tejada looks to me like he can't handle shortstop anymore. I haven't seen him hit a ball hard all spring, and his range is so limited that he makes Edgar Renteria look like Ozzie Smith in his prime."

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

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