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We’re going to take things on the lighter side here at Crooked
Numbers this
week, dropping the math and leaving things just Crooked. I’m down in
Arizona
taking in the Cactus League action, having seen the Diamondbacks, A’s,
Rangers,
Angels, Royals, Cubs, and Padres so far. For those of you who haven’t
been here
before, the Cactus League is a little more fan friendly than the
Grapefruit League,
with nine of the 12 teams packed into the greater Phoenix area and
several sharing
stadiums. There are always several games within a few miles driving
distance and
rainouts are as rare as worthwhile souvenirs.

Doing my best to read some chicken scratch from notes in my
programs, let’s get
right to it:

  • First off, the parks are big. Phoenix Municipal Stadium, the A’s
    park, is 345
    down both lines and 410 to dead center. Tempe Diablo, where the Angels
    play, is
    enormous: 340 to left, 360 to right, and 420 to deep center. The Cubs
    play in
    HoHoKam where it’s 340, 350, and 410. Dan Johnson,
    Kevin
    Mench
    , Mark DeRosa, and Jeff
    Mathis
    all
    hit balls well over 400 feet only to see them fall harmlessly into the
    leather.
    Thus far in three games, only Eric Byrnes has managed
    to clear the
    fences.

  • At both A’s games, Daric Barton, #9 on our Top
    50 Prospects
    list came into the game at first. As expected for a kid who has been a
    catcher
    since high school, he looked like he was still learning the position, a
    little
    hesitant at times. With backstops Kurt Suzuki and Landon Powell ahead
    of him for
    now, it’s clear the A’s are grooming him for a career at first. In
    three at bats,
    he has a single and a pair of groundouts. Barton has a compact frame,
    but a long
    swing and follow-through, giving hints of power to come. He’s survived
    the first
    round of cuts this week, but don’t expect him in the majors for a
    couple more
    seasons.

  • Both Shawn Estes and Chan Ho
    Park

    inexplicably pitched very well, with Park facing the minimum over four
    and Estes
    throwing five shutout innings – or at least he would have if
    Quinton
    McCracken
    hadn’t let the last out of the fifth hit him in the
    chest
    instead of the glove. Perfect through the first three and bolstered by
    several
    excellent defensive plays by new shortstop Royce
    Clayton
    , Estes
    took advantage of his defense and the A’s surprising propensity to
    swing at the
    first pitch. Park allowed only a bunt single to Josh
    Paul
    , doing
    his best Ben Davis to break up the perfect game in the
    third.
    Also like Estes, the key to his performance was keeping the ball on the
    ground,
    getting eight groundball outs and two strikeouts. If he can repeat any
    semblance
    of this performance in the regular season, maybe that last $29 million
    on his
    contract won’t be completely misspent.

  • With Chris Truby out with a broken wrist,
    Mark
    Teahen
    looks to have the inside track on the starting
    third base job. In
    the one game I saw, Teahen was 0-2 with a walk and didn’t record a
    putout in the
    field, a line that already makes him one of the Royal’s best hitters
    and fielders.

  • Dan Haren, despite a little wildness in the
    first inning of
    his outing, was very solid through four scoreless innings. Largely
    relying on a
    heavy fastball, Haren kept everything down in the zone or in the dirt.
    He was
    efficient enough to have to hit the bullpen after his outing to get his
    pitch count
    up. His motion looked a little more violent working in the pen, but
    while in the
    game, he was very smooth and consistent. The A’s have publicly voiced
    him as the
    third starter for some time now and considering the shaky performances
    from
    Joe Blanton and Dan Meyer this
    spring, he seems
    to be right on track.

  • The Cubs provided one of the worst programs so far. Not only
    was a list of
    NRIs – both Cubs and otherwise – completely absent, but the provided
    scorecard
    lacked a pitching section. We all know the Cubs pitching staff is
    having injury
    problems, but is it so bad that they just want us to forget that
    there’s a guy
    throwing a ball towards the plate? I nabbed a copy of the supplemental
    Vine Line
    Guide off the seat next to me; it attempted to improve on those
    shortcomings with a
    list of players grouped into Roster Locks, On the Bubble, Long Shots,
    and Not Ready
    Yet. Among the interesting notes: closer Joe Borowski
    is “On the
    Bubble” to make the major league roster and “Long Shot” Peter
    Bergeron
    “can’t hit big-league pitching.” Considering
    Neifi
    Perez
    is a “Roster Lock,” apparently that’s not a prerequisite
    for a job.

  • Darrell May struggled badly against the A’s
    yesterday,
    walking four and giving up five runs in 3.2 innings. May seems to have
    added a
    slight pause in his delivery, not quite Robb Nen‘s
    toe-tap, but a
    bit of a hover letting his body catch up before he plants his foot.
    I’m not sure
    if it’s completely new, but it certainly wasn’t working today. The A’s
    have been
    hacking at more early pitches than their preached patience would
    dictate, so
    walking four requires even more wildness.

  • Latest in the line of super college relievers taken high in the
    draft,
    Huston Street finished the ninth inning. When
    pitching from the
    windup, Street nearly steps off the mound with his left foot before
    resetting his
    right on the extreme firstbase side of the rubber and delivering. He
    walked his
    first batter, so he switched to the stretch and there was little chance
    of him
    falling onto first base for the rest of the inning. He certainly worked
    slowly,
    taking a full 15 minutes to finish the top of the ninth, wrapping up
    the game in
    1:57. It’s amazing what a lack of television breaks between innings
    does for game
    length.

  • Twice I’ve overheard fans grumbling “We’re going to be seeing a
    lot of
    that.” The first time was after a Jeromy Burnitz
    strikeout. The
    other was when Ryan Klesko started complaining, this
    time about
    balls and strikes.

  • With injury questions swarming around Mark
    Prior
    and
    Kerry Wood like Cubs fans around a beer vendor,
    Sergio
    Mitre
    solidified his claim on a spot in the rotation with
    three decent
    innings. Rumors that Dusty Baker sent him to the bullpen to reach his
    150
    scheduled pitches could not be confirmed.

  • The Ranger lineup again gave hints of how deadly they can be
    against
    righthanded pitchers this season. With switch hitters Gary
    Matthews
    Jr.
    and Mark Teixeira complementing lefties
    Hank
    Blalock
    and once-and-future super-prospect Adrian
    Gonzalez
    filling out four of the top five spots in the lineup,
    the top of
    the Rangers order knocked around Paul Byrd and
    Joel
    Peralta
    for five innings, notching four runs and several “just
    missed”
    home runs.

  • With Scott Hatteberg on the away squad of a
    split squad
    game, the A’s elected to play Erubiel Durazo at first
    base while
    Dan Johnson played DH. Durazo looked as inadequate as
    ever in the
    field and while Johnson’s no Keith Hernandez, he’s also no Durazo.
    Johnson should
    be in the mix in 2006, but hopefully he and Durazo’s defensive
    positions will be
    switched by then.

  • The Rangers’ top hitting prospect and #21 on our list,
    Ian
    Kinsler
    , entered the game late on Monday, playing second
    instead of his
    usual shortstop. He’s been compared to current shortstop
    Michael
    Young
    and it’s easy to see the similarity. He wasn’t
    challenged in the
    field and managed only two fly balls to left in his two at bats, but he
    looked
    about as good as you can when getting out twice and standing around the
    dirt. With
    the infield already set for 2005, the Rangers will let him work in
    Triple-A for
    this season.

  • When he was part of a group of top pitching prospects in the
    Oakland system
    a few seasons ago, the biggest knock against Mike Wood
    was that he
    didn’t strike out enough batters. He struck out five in three innings
    of shutout
    ball against the full Cubs lineup before leaving to allow Chris
    George
    – who had already been having a terrible spring – to
    yield six runs
    (five earned) in a third of an inning. If the Royals hadn’t nabbed
    Todd
    Walker
    at the plate, George’s ERA for the outing would have
    been infinite.
    Instead it was merely 135.00.

While it’s nice to catch the top prospects like Barton and Kinsler,
sometimes it
can get a little tedious constantly looking up players with numbers
higher than the
temperature. But today’s Rich HardenGreg
Maddux

matchup at the A’s game should prove to be one of the best of the
spring. More on
that next time.