CLEARWATER, Fla. – Young Yankees slugger Greg Bird hit two blasts here at Spectrum Field Wednesday afternoon, and it seemed for a while like they might actually fly onto busy US-19 that encircles the back of this comely park. Eventually, both balls settled onto the back reaches of the post-outfield berm, giving Bird six spring home runs and reinforcing the notion that he is on his way to stardom, perhaps superstardom (and he leads our list of 30 potential breakout players, which is below).
“I feel great,” Bird said afterward. “It’s fun being back playing. I think we’re going to surprise some people.”
The jury’s probably still out on the rebuilding Yankees. But Bird is the word down here. “That kid can really hit,” one rival coach noted.
Bird showed a glimpse of that potential in a 2015 cameo before missing all of last year. “I put in a lot of work. It was tough to see at times where it would lead. But you have to deal with it. This is the fun part of it.”
Bird won’t make any predictions, but noting Gary Sanchez’s monster rookie season, he allowed, “If we both do what he did last year, that’d be good.”
Indeed, it would. From here, I wouldn’t put it past either one of them.
Bird tops our roster of baseball’s best breakout candidates. (A couple have already broken out, but even more is expected of them.)
1. Bird, Yankees 1B.
2. Robbie Ray, Diamondbacks SP. The hard-throwing lefty certainly has the talent to hit it big, and has showed flashes of it in the past, including this spring.
3. Dylan Bundy, Orioles SP. There are people who believe he can be better than Kevin Gausman. He has great stuff, and is another year removed from Tommy John surgery. One key spring decision: he has the go-ahead to break out the cutter at key moments.
4. Andrew Benintendi, Red Sox OF. In the tradition of Boston left fielders, he could be another great one. He is small (he’s listed at a generous 5-foot-10, 180 pounds) and looks about 18. But man can he ever rake.
5. Nick Castellanos, Detroit 3B. People forget he’s still only 25. And he gets lost in the shuffle with all the big names in that Tigers clubhouse. But many believe the best is yet to come.
6. Devon Travis, Jays 2B. If he can stay healthy, he could be a monster offensive star. Only average defensively, but boy can he hit. He’s definitely a key man for the Jays, who don’t really have a lead-off man without him.
7. Corey Seager, Dodgers SS. OK, OK, this one is easy. He obviously already broke out last year, but with his hitting ability, he could even surpass Carlos Correa and all the other great young shortstops. This says it all. Brother and Mariners star Kyle Seager’s rotisserie team is named, “Corey Seager’s brother.” Legend.
8. Byron Buxton, Twins CF. His athleticism is off the charts, and he started to show what he could do with his big September. He’s one of two untouchable Twins (more on that in the notes below).
9. Orlando Arcia, Brewers SS. Folks started to forget about him after a rough introduction to the bigs last year. But he should be one of the best with the glove, and productive with the bat, too. Might take another year, though.
10. Noah Syndergaard, Mets SP. He’s already a star, and his excellent hair and social media game only add to the allure. One scout recently referred to his stuff as “sick.” In a nice way.
11. Jose Peraza, Reds 2B. He’s the everyday second baseman now, after Brandon Phillips’ refusal to leave delayed his coming out party. The Reds always have loved him, and they may have been right. Some knocked Cincinnati’s trade of Todd Frazier, saying they should have taken the three prospects that were sent to the Dodgers in the three-way instead. But Peraza, Scott Schebler and Brandon Dixon looks like the better play now.
12. Jon Gray, Rockies SP. The man picked one spot behind NL MVP Kris Bryant in the draft is going to be a star. But of course, it isn’t easy predicting these things with pitchers at Coors Field.
13. Christian Yelich, Marlins OF. “Could be big-time star,” in the words of one scout. The park doesn’t help, but Don Mattingly sees developing power. So apparently does Jim Leyland who batted him third on Team USA with Buster Posey, Paul Goldschmidt and other more established stars.
14. Hunter Renfroe, Padres OF. He has big power potential and could combine with Wil Myers in the middle of the Padres’ offer for years to come.
15. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays OF. He had to go back to the Jays for about 10 percent what he originally sought (word was he was looking for $180 million last spring — $30 million a year for six years), but now he has returned with an even bigger chip than usual on his shoulder after coming back for $18.5 million guaranteed. His agents actually did well just by beating the qualifying offer after a season of injury at age 36. But he always believes the best is yet to come. And he’ll be a free agent again at the end of the year. And yes, by the way, he was killing it in spring before he went to the WBC, where he was also killing it.
16. Mike Zunino, Mariners C. The No. 3 overall pick a few years back has been an all-or-nothing player but he’s showing some positive signs this spring. He also handles a pitching staff well, and could get help from Carlos Ruiz, who came up the coast from the Dodgers.
17. Taijuan Walker, Diamondbacks SP. Just needs to stay healthy, scouts say. Might not hurt that he’s switched leagues, either.
18. Trea Turner, Nationals SS. Teammate Jayson Werth picks Turner to win the MVP. And if he repeats what he did in the second half last year, he probably will win it. Werth’s prediction may not be wrong, but there’s a hunch here he’s just also guarding against giving Bryce Harper a big head. “Someone’s got to keep him grounded,” Werth said. “You guys (the writers) aren’t going to do it.”
19. Francisco Liriano, Blue Jays SP. Eyebrows were raised when they acquired him from the Pirates, where he had been struggling throwing strikes. Who leaves the Pirates to start pitching better, right? But the the theory was that, with Francisco Cervelli out last year, he was missing that veteran catcher and could be be back to his old self once reunited with Russell Martin, who also caught him in Pittsburgh.
20. Joe Musgrove, Astros SP. He should make the Astros’ rotation, though that decision hasn’t been made officially. Seems to have the right stuff to make it big.
21. Willson Contreras, Cubs C. The job is his now, and he has the talent to become another Cubs mega star. That arm, wow!
22. Jharel Cotton, A’s SP. He looked good in a late-season camo, and certainly has the name. Very nice Billy Beane pickup.
23. Addison Russell, Cubs SS. He showed some nice power last year, with surprisingly long home runs, and could be ready to enter the conversation with Seager, Correa and Francisco Lindor.
24. Sanchez, Yankees C. Again, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if he continued to star after two great months in the Bronx. He’s raking in spring — though he hasn’t quite outpaced the amazing Bird to this point.
25. Gregory Polanco, Pirates OF. If the WBC is any indication, this guy could be the monster they originally predicted him to be. From an all-around standpoint, Starling Marte is probably the better player. But Polanco could make a huge jump offensively.
26. Eric Hosmer, Royals 1B. Throw out those first base metrics. The guy is a leader, and a winner. He played over bigger name Goldschmidt in the WBC, and showed why.
27. Travis Jankowski, Padres OF. He may look like an extra from Good Times at Ridgemont High but he’s impressing scouts with his speed and play out in Peoria.
28. Nomar Mazara, Rangers OF. He showed flashes of otherworldly talent early last year, and may be primed for even better.
29. Schebler, Reds OF. Mattingly was always a fan, and now others are, too. The Frazier trade looks like a hit now.
30. Trevor Story, Rockies SS. He has to stay healthy (which seems like a problem for unlucky Colorado) but he has great gifts and could be another Tulo.
Around the camps …
- Chris Owings is the shortstop favorite, as was suggested in this space last week and reported first by Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic.
- Nick Ahmed is said to be available. He was seen as a Tony La Russa favorite, so the regime change may have affected his status. No word yet on whether the Yankees could be in play, but they sound like they are going the stop-gap route while Didi Gregorius, who also came from Arizona, is out.
- Josh Thole’s hamstring injury is a severe one, and he is expected to be out awhile.
- Kelly Johnson would fill the need for bench power, but the Braves see this possibility as a “long shot.”
- Matt Szczur was a target, as Ken Rosenthal reported. That would be a big plus. He is a special person.
- In any case, the Braves are determined to upgrade the bench.
- One scout, agreeing with Braves GM John Coppolella, says Ender Inciarte is indeed “the best center fielder in the game.”
- Matt Wisler is thought to take setbacks hard. Hopefully, he won’t take his likely demotion to heart. Mike Foltynewicz is assured of the No. 5 spot in the rotation, barring injuries.
- Bartolo Colon says he isn’t worried about a 9 ERA. If he isn’t, we aren’t either. R.A. Dickey also has struggled.
- Prospect Ronald Acuna impressed this spring. Acuna, 19, had a 3-homer game as soon as he went back to minors camp.
- Bundy is going to keep his cut fastball “in his back pocket’” to be used only a few times a game, as the Orioles look to protect their young potential star.
- It looks like they could start with platoons in left field and right field, surrounding star center fielder Adam Jones, with Hyun Soo Kim, Seth Smith, Joey Rickard and Craig Gentry, who has impressed Buck Showalter. They all are in position to make the team.
- Trey Mancini has had a big spring, but he appears to be caught in a numbers game. He will be up at some point.
- Pedro Alvarez is crushing the ball. He’s “squaring everything up,” right out of the blocks, one scout observed. But he appears tabbed for Triple-A to start, as he got there late and is learning the outfield.
- Michael Bourn is anxious to get back into action after breaking his left ring finger working out with a football. No one will say who threw the ball that broke Bourn’s finger, though word is that it wasn’t former Division I QB Smith.
- Manny Machado, Adam Jones and Jonathan Schoop distinguished themselves in WBC play with brilliant defensive gems.
- And here’s one vote for someone other than Mike Trout as the top MLB player. “Manny Machado is the best player on the planet,” one scout says.
- Mark Trumbo is believed to have sought a four-year deal for at least Nelson Cruz money before settling for $37.5 million over three years. It was a tough year for sluggers. As Trumbo noted, in past years it never made sense to accept the first offer. But in several cases this year, especially with the sluggers, that would have resulted in a higher deal. Trumbo didn’t say what his first offer was, but in many cases, offers were lowered after the CBA changed rules for top free agents next year. In any case, Trumbo expressed no big regret and is happy to be back with the Orioles. He’ll likely play right field vs. left-handed pitching, and otherwise DH.
- Some Orioles people seem a little put off by the limited usage of Mychal Givens in the WBC.
- The Orioles are hoping Chris Tillman will be back in early May. They don’t need a fifth starter immediately, but when they do, one of this quartet will fill the role: Mike Wright, Chris Lee, Gabriel Ynoa and Jason Aquino. Lee, who is vision impaired in one eye, has “good s—,” according to MLB Network’s Dan Plesac, and is especially adept at getting groundballs. Aquino has opened some eyes.
- It’s going to be tough for the Orioles to carry either of their Rule 5 outfielders, Aneury Tavarez from Boston or Anthony Santander from the Indians. So these teams should have the chance to re-acquire those two players.
- Zach Britton threw well in a minor-league game Monday and says he will “absolutely” be ready to go come Opening Day.
- Showalter is encouraging head-first slides into home now that blocking the plate is disallowed. The only danger, Showalter notes, is if a catcher has a “flashback” to the old rules.
- One rival player wondered aloud if Showalter ordered the stadium audio guy to play Sweet Baby James Taylor while his team hit to lull them to sleep. Showalter says it was merely a day for the coaches to pick the music, which actually isn’t such a bad idea in Florida, where most of the fans are 50-plus years old. It was probably just a fun conspiracy theory since it was spring training. The Orioles did lose the game, by the way.
- Spring training coincidence: One of the main roads through Sarasota is 301, which happens to be Maryland’s area code.
Boston Red Sox
- Pablo Sandoval will be the starting third baseman, thanks to a better frame and a better frame of mind.
- Hitting coach Chili Davis says Mitch Moreland and Andrew Benintendi look good and Sandoval looks “real good.” He is looking for that trio to make up for the loss of David Ortiz. “With those three guys, we should surpass the Big Papi,” Davis said, realistically understanding it can’t be done by just one person.
- Davis should easily get a managerial chance. He’s one of baseball’s best hitting coaches, and also one of its best personalities. If it’s going to happen, it should happen soon, as Davis is 57.
- What Ortiz did is even more remarkable when you consider he did it in pain, his former mates pointed out.
- David Price says he was pessimistic about his outlook when he went down, saying the day after he pitched “I couldn’t even put my earrings in.” He said the elbow feels fine now, but he’s making sure not to rush back. “You don’t want to come back just to be back. You want to come back to stay back,” Price said. There’s no timetable on him yet.
- Drew Pomeranz thinks he’ll be fine. But with multiple concerns, the Red Sox are looking for pitching depth. Farrell mentioned he’d love Henry Owens or Brian Johnson to show they are ready to step in. But in the meantime, they say they are looking at mostly minor leaguers who’d be ready to go. (Of course, last time they suggested the rotation was fine, and they went out and got Chris Sale.) “Boston’s in some trouble, for sure,” one rival GM opined, although Sale has looked fantastic.
- Beyond Quintana, there aren’t really major-league starters to be had at this time, and while Ken Rosenthal suggested the Rays might consider trading a starter, it’s hard to imagine them trading one to the Red Sox.
- Dustin Pedroia says he would have played had the WBC asked. He and Ian Kinsler were briefly teammates at Arizona State before Kinsler transferred.
- Farrell held a funny competition including an obstacle course, with the losers having to make the trip to Tampa. Interesting idea. Who would have thought staying in Fort Myers could be a prize?
- Spring training coincidence: One major road between Red Sox and Twins camps is called Ortiz Blvd. Not named after David, been there for years, since before the Papi become the Papi.
- Jake Arrieta, responding to a visitor who suggested he takes so much batting practice because he wants to pass Madison Bumgarner, interjected that he “I already have.” When it was pointed out that Bumgarner homered off no less than Clayton Kershaw, Arrieta pointed out he homered off Bumgarner. Told about that interplay, Bumgarner didn’t argue, saying it’s OK for him to say that since Arrieta won the Silver Slugger. (Bumgarner has won it twice previously, though.)
- Ian Happ’s stock continues to rise.
- Jason Heyward is still hitting .132. They see signs, though.
Chicago White Sox
- Jose Quintana could still be in play. The request for Quintana from Houston was for Francis Martes, Preston Tucker and others. An Astros connected person called it “a king’s ransom.” But they, for one, could use him. With the price of big-time pitching, it’s pretty hard to blame the South Siders on this one.
- They haven’t talked to the Nats about David Robertson in “over two months,” one person familiar with those talks said.
- The White Sox are said by rival GMs to be open to anything, though one rival added, “but at their price.” Hard to blame them for that either, especially with what they got for Chris Sale and Eaton.
- Cody Asche is killing it, with a .528 on-base percentage.
- Tyler Saladino, who is the new second baseman, is having a big spring.
- When terms of Tim Anderson’s six-year, $25-million deal started to become known, the plaudits for GM Rick Hahn started rolling in. One person tweeted to me, “When do they build the statue for Rick Hahn?” In this space, though, no one is faulted for accepting a first fortune, and Anderson made clear he and his family wanted the deal, which could be worth $50.5 million if the seventh- and eight-year options are exercised.
- Hahn though does have quite the track record on these early deals, including the one for Adam Eaton that helped net them a haul for the outfielder.
- Here’s the Tim Anderson breakdown, $850K in ’17 followed by salaries of $1M, $1.4M, $4M, $7.25M, $9.5M with option years of $12.5M and $14M and a $1 million buyout on the option years. The ChiSox are hoping they don’t have to do the buyout, of course.
- Veteran Scott Feldman will get the call on Opening Day due to his experience. Otherwise, Brandon Finnegan probably would have been the guy. The rest is undetermined, or at least unknown. Sal Romano, the 6-foot-5, 270-pound Long Islander from Syosset, is one in the mix. Others include Tim Adleman, Rookie Davis, Amir Garrett, Cody Reed, Robert Stephenson and Bronson Arroyo
- Anthony DeSclafani is expected out until at least June. Garrett, the former St. John’s hoops player, is having a nice spring.
- Dilson Herrera looks like a good hitter but is dealing with a shoulder issue all spring.
- Indians people have worried about relief genius Andrew Miller, who nicely agreed to pitch for Team USA despite pitching gallantly and brilliantly (and a lot) into November last year. And one rival exec said, “His stuff may be down a little.” It’s rare to see Miller get hit, and he has.
- While Terry Francona managed Miller wonderfully, almost getting the Indians a World Series championship, nobody believes any reliever can be used like that during the regular season. “If you did that throughout the year, he’d be dead,” asserted a rival manager of a reliever.
- The Indians are being careful with Carlos Carrasco due to his elbow history.
- They could have used Chase Utley, as it turned out. Jason Kipnis will miss the first couple weeks with shoulder trouble.
- There are encouraging reports on Michael Brantley (shoulder).
- Austin Jackson has a shot to grab the fifth outfielder job behind Brantley, Tyler Naquin, Lonnie Chisenhall and Brandon Guyer.
- Spring training coincidence: the Indians play in Goodyear (of Akron fame) and main roads through Goodyear are called Buckeye Road and Lower Buckeye Road.
- Mark Reynolds is the likely first baseman until Ian Desmond returns. Stephen Cardullo is playing well, and could be another option with Ian Desmond down.
- Antonio Senzatela may have a slight lead in the competition for a starters’ job. German Marquez, who pitched in the big last year, and Kyle Freeland, who’s looked pretty sharp, are among others in that mix, as is Jeff Hoffman.
- Over a seven at-bat span in the WBC, the great Nolan Arenado had 8 K’s and a GIDP. “He doesn’t look ready,” one exec opined.
- Best of luck, Chad Bettis. The Rockies announced that he began chemotherapy Tuesday. Terrific young man by everyone’s account.
- Their CF job remains an area of intrigue, with JaCoby Jones seeming to remain in the picture along with Tyler Collins and Mike Mahtook. “Up in the air,” is how one Tigers-connected person describes it.
- Miguel Cabrera tweaked his back at the WBC, but Tigers people believe he’ll be fine.
- No one’s called yet about Anibal Sanchez (at least not as of Monday), but after a disastrous beginning to spring training, he’s had two good outings in a row.
- Team Venezuela was a major disappointment. They didn’t seem to be on the same page, and should have worked to get Asdrubal Cabrera, Gerardo Parra and Eduardo Rodriguez on the team, rather than discouraging them from playing by suggesting they wouldn’t have big roles. In any case, they badly underachieved considering their immense talent.
- There’s concern about J.D. Martinez’s foot.
- Congrats to Jim Leyland for leading Team USA to its first WBC title. Leyland should be a Hall of Famer.
- Musgrove is well ahead of some pitchers in the rotation, and there’d be no good reason for him not to make it. The last rotation spot and one pen position are really all that’s to be decided. Musgrove and Mike Fiers are officially battling for that last starters’ job.
- There remains some health, readiness questions about Colin McHugh, though, so both Musgrove and Fiers may start in the rotation. McHugh has had shoulder discomfort.
- Chris Devenski, who was brilliant out of the pen, is likely to remain there barring multiple injuries to others … There’s some minor concern about Lance McCullers, though both McCullers and Dallas Keuchel recently ramped things up a bit.
- One scout, naming two prospects who impressed him, pointed to Martes as one of them.
- Luke Gregerson has been great as Team USA’s closer. It was a big year for Astros in the WBC, as Correa and Carlos Beltran starred for Puerto Rico.
- No one can figure out why Doug Fister doesn’t have a job. His agent Page Odle doesn’t return messages, so it’s hard to know what’s happening. Hopefully, he returns calls from interested GMs.
Kansas City Royals
- Raul Mondesi Jr. has played well, and could have the inside track for the second base job.
- Hosmer showed again what makes him so great in the WBC. Some might disagree that he’s playing over Paul Goldschmidt. But he does seem to be the hotter hand, at least.
- Jorge Soler (5 for 41) is having a rough spring.
Los Angeles Angels
- Cam Bedrosian will close to start with Huston Street working his way back.
- Martin Maldonado is wowing them with his arm. But he hasn’t hit at all this spring. Neither has another winter pickup, Cameron Maybin.
Los Angeles Dodgers
- Andre Ethier has been dogged by back and hip trouble. He was ticketed to be part of a left-field platoon with Franklin Gutierrez.
- Clayton Kershaw is said to have had interest in the WBC. But coming off of a back injury last year, that made it tough to commit. No doubt, it would have been magical seeing Kershaw at Dodger Stadium in the finals.
- All the best to Dave Roberts and family. He lost his father Waymon, 68, last week.
- The Marlins are said to be open to adding a starting pitcher – no surprise there.
- Jose Urena was throwing 97 against the Mets Sunday. He’ll make the team since he’s out of options.
- Martin Prado has a grade 1 hamstring strain. So he is relieved.
- Keon Broxton has been fantastic (.489 on-base percentage) and could be perfect for the leadoff spot.
- Lewis Brinson has impressed scouts even more, but may be a half-year away.
- Junior Guerra has been announced as the Opening Day starter with Kyle Davies also assured of a rotation spot. One scout says he’d fill out the three remaining spots with Jimmy Nelson, Wily Peralta and Chase Anderson. That scout says Tommy Milone and Matt Garza shouldn’t make the rotation. If true, Garza could be a release candidate. This is the last year of his contract.
- Travis Shaw is having a nice camp. The deal to land him and prospect Mauricio Dubon for reliever Tyler Thornburg looks like a good one, at least early. The Brewers have made hay trading relievers to needy teams.
- Jonathan Villar is a great athlete, but one scout says he’s concerned about him at second base.
- Jesus Aguilar has five homers in the Cactus League.
- The Brewers have scored a ton of runs this spring. Oops. They just scored another.
- The Twins are said to be open to dealing just about everyone with a couple notable exceptions. Buxton isn’t going anywhere. They’ve also told folks Max Kepler will be staying.
- The loss of Trevor May to Tommy John surgery thinned an already suspect group.
- Speaking of Eddie Rosario’s play for Puerto Rico, manager Paul Molitor said, “We all know Rosie loves the big lights.” Nice quote.
- Johan Santana still would be interested in a job. He is working out, and hoping to be ready to sign with someone for the second half.
- Best to respected veteran Ryan Vogelsong, whose request for a released was granted.
New York Mets
- The Mets are impressing folks. Their pitching looks even better than thought.
- However, the story that Jacob deGrom touched 100 in his last start should be filed under “fake news.” He did throw 93-96 but was mostly working on mixing his pitches and fine tuning things for the regular season.
- Nobody has rotation depth like the Mets. Seth Lugo looked good in the WBC for Puerto Rico, and one rival NL East star said of Robert Gsellman, “He has nasty stuff.” Zack Wheeler is also said to be in the mix.
- There’s some concern Matt Harvey’s radar readings remain in the 92-93 range, and although he has the pitching know-how to win at that speed, one scout calls Harvey’s spring “a worry.” Another scout says, “He looks a little long in his delivery. But there’s time to figure it out.” Jayson Werth says Harvey was the best when he came up. “He was throwing 98 with cut, and all strikes,” Werth says.
- Wilmer Flores reportedly isn’t thrilled with his limited role. Can’t say I blame him entirely.
- One scout says he’s never seen so much infield depth. Jose Reyes will play third base with David Wright out, but that leaves as potential backups and Las Vegas reinforcements, in addition to Flores, Matt Reynolds, Gavin Cecchini, Ty Kelly and T.J. Rivera. Plus, there’s future shortstop Amed Rosario, who’s fantastic. One scout, noting two prospects who impressed him, named Rosario as one of the two.
- Michael Conforto could be caught in a numbers game. He has options left. “We’re in good shape as far as (options) are concerned,” GM Sandy Alderson said, generally speaking.
- David Wright continues to take batting practice in the hope his shoulder will heal satisfactorily. Obviously, a lot has to go right with Wright also having back and neck issues (though the neck seems healed after his surgery).
New York Yankees
- The Yankees aren’t thrilled with how much time Didi Gregorius spent at DH in the World Baseball Classic.
- Gregorius, who’s become a star, is expected to miss April, and the Yankees are suddenly holding tryout camp for shortstop. The main competitors are Ronald Torreyes (whose name is a combination of two Yankee-related things, Torre and Yes), Tyler Wade, Ruben Tejada and Pete Kozma, and some would like to see Wade, who’d been ticketed for Triple-A, get the call – though there may be a divergence of opinion. Kozma may be the safest play. “He can certainly catch the ball,” one scout said.
- Starlin Castro is officially in the mix, as well, as he kindly volunteered to move over if need be. But one scout said, flatly, “He can’t play shortstop anymore.”
- Bryan Mitchell appears to be a frontrunner for one of the two remaining rotation spots open, and one scout said it should be Luis Severino along with Bryan Mitchell winning the Nos. 4 and 5 spots. GM Brian Cashman says Severino has shown some improvement with his developing breaking ball. But generally, Yankees people would like to see more consistency from the combatants. Lefty long shot Jordan Montgomery is being given a chance to show what he has on Thursday.
- Aaron Hicks would be a backup if he can’t beat out Aaron Judge for the starting job in right field, while Judge would likely be sent to Triple-A if he loses out.
- Billy McKinney has been impressive in camp, too (.1.522 OPS).
- The opt-out actually seems realistic now for Masahiro Tanaka the way he’s been pitching through his very minor tear.
- Dellin Betances was absolutely dominant for the D.R. in the WBC. No surprise there.
- Ernesto Frieri is an interesting sign. He gets $800K if he’s in the majors, plus incentives.
- Joe Girardi’s idea to play the WBC at All-Star Game time seems wise and is gaining steam. Girardi explained that research tells us that injuries are most likely when there’s urgency to win before players are ready, and specifically that Tommy Johns are most common in April and with descending frequency as the season goes along.
- Billy Beane once joked that he’d need Franklin Barreto to win an MVP to justify that Josh Donaldson trade. It’s early to judge that, but Barretto is having a monster spring (.481).
- Ryon Healy continues to show great power.
- The Phillies are making progress on their rebuild, and looked like they’ll be pretty stacked at Triple-A with Jorge Alfaro, Nick Williams, Rhys Hoskins and Dylan Cozens.
- One question remains the pitching. Vincent Velasquez, Aaron Nola and Jerad Eickhoff look like solid big-league starters, but one rival executive says, “They may have a mostly 4s and 5s.”
- Velasquez has the talent to be “much higher,” the executive allowed, but he’s got to cut down on pitch totals and break away from being a five-inning pitcher. Phillies people agree he needs to pitch smarter.
- The rotation lines up as Jeremy Hellickson, Eickhoff, Clay Buchholz, Velasquez and Nola, who is healthy.
- Chris Coghlan and Daniel Nava are having big springs, and they are expected to make the team. Brock Stassi is having an even bigger spring, but a numbers game likely will mean he’d have to be sent to the minors.
- Ryan Hannigan has played extremely well this spring, but with Andrew Knapp expected to make the team (he’s struggled), it’s uncertain what Hannigan’s chances are.
- Feisty Phillies bench coach Larry Bowa, 71, told folks he was giving up getting mad over plays in the games. Colleagues say tht lasted about 10 minutes.
- Switch-pitcher Pat Venditte remains a unique and fascinating story. He’s a natural right-hander converted to switch pitcher by his dad at 3 years old, Pat Sr. The Omaha product says he didn’t become truly effective until he dropped down while starring at Creighton. He’s also switched teams a lot, but could be a big help to the Phillies. And by the way, the 2010 rule instituted only for him that mandates he declare first which arm he’ll use when facing a switch hitter isn’t fair (it’s a much greater accomplishment to effectively switch pitch, as history shows!). The one switch hitter who didn’t take the advantage was Hank Conger, who decided he’d hit lefty vs. a lefty, but otherwise Venditte has been at an unfair disadvantage in these cases. For the record, the affable Venditte also talks with both hands.
- Side note: Jesse Spector of FanRag Sports noted on Twitter that the Phillies now have two Pats (also Neshek in the pen), but no Genos. I asked Venditte which cheesesteak he prefers. Naturally, he said, “I like them both.”
- Dallas Green was an imposing figure with a sharp tongue. But he was also fair and honest, and undeniably a great baseball mind. His trade for Ryne Sandberg and Larry Bowa, who he knew from his Phillies days, for Ivan DeJesus was the reverse of the Brock for Broglio trade and maybe the greatest deal in Cubs history. Green, 82, will be missed. He passed away Wednesday.
- The Pirates are said to be looking to upgrade their pen.
- Gregory Polanco was absolutely brilliant in the WBC for Team D.R.
- Jose Osuna has been impressive at the plate.
- Jung-ho Kang must have a good lawyer. To have gotten three DUIs and be free to come play seems rather lenient. Anyway, it’s good for the Pirates infield.
St. Louis Cardinals
- Yadier Molina is showing his worth in the WBC. It’s getting tougher for the Cardinals not to keep this all-time leader.
- Matt Adams made his spring debut in left field Wednesday, as he’s trying to improve his versatility .
- Greg Garcia is making a nice impression again; he recently hit for the cycle in consecutive at-bats over two games.
- Jordan Schafer, an intriguing pitching option, is out seven months after elbow surgery. They were relieved he didn’t need a reconstruction, but in terms of the baseball calendar, the result isn’t all that much different since it likely takes him out for the year.
- Adam Wainwright had a worrisome outing recently, allowing 10 runs in 1 2/3 innings.
- Luke Weaver was sent to the minors, leaving Michael Wacha as the No. 5 starter. It will be interesting whatever they decide to do with Trevor Rosenthal.
San Diego Padres
- The Padres are still looking at shortstop.
- Christian Friedrich will not make the Padres rotation. He’s had a balky arm from elbow to shoulder.
- Brett Wallace has a strikeout problem. He has nearly a strikeout every two at-bats (15 in 32).
San Francisco Giants
- Jarrett Parker has likely won the left-field job. He’s out of options anyway, so they wanted him to take the position … Chris Marrero has played well in that spot, too.
- Mac Williamson and Michael Morse have suffered injuries, taking them out of the outfield picture after nice starts. With Hunter Pence struggling and Denard Span not killing it, either, you have to wonder if old friend Angel Pagan could make any sense.
- They are underrated for their smarts. They’ve started later in the day during spring training than almost everyone else for years (and it probably hasn’t hurt when it comes to the season, and postseason). The early start times for the spring make no sense since when players have to adjust to a mostly night schedule over six months. The Yankees and Dodgers are others among the later starters. The false hustle of the 7:30 a.m. start makes no sense.
- We are all rooting for Jimmy Rollins, who is working hard but it’s not easy to see him making it (3 for 29). Potentially, this could be the end of the line for three of the great Phillies, with Ryan Howard thus far unable to get a job and Shane Victorino undecided about trying a minor-league deal. Of that superb group, Rollins, plus Roy Halladay and Chase Utley, have interesting Hall of Fame cases. And of course Cole Hamels is still in his prime.
- Lefty Will Smith was said to have elbow ligament damage so that’s another concern.
- The M’s are open to bullpen help.
- Drew Smyly wowed scouts by hitting 96 on the gun in his lone outing for Team USA.
- The Mariners are getting most of their players back, with the elimination of the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.
- Zunino (1.488 OPS) is having a big spring.
Tampa Bay Rays
- Upon close inspection, Kevin Kiermaier got himself a pretty good deal. Though he’s obviously playing it safe, $53.5 million is a very good take for a defense. He gets a $1M signing bonus followed by salaries of $3M, $5.5M, $8M, $10M, $11.5M, $12M and a $13M option for 2023 with a $2.5M buyout, as Mark Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times first reported.
- There’s an unusual escalator clause for 2023. His base increases by $1M for each MVP 2019-22, by $750K for second through fifth and $250K for sixth through tenth..
- He also gets $1 million (one time) if traded before the end of the 2018 season, and $500K if traded after ’18.
- Reliever Shawn Tolleson has some back issues.
- Brad Boxberger (lat) is expected to miss Opening Day, but hopes to be back in a few weeks.
- The Rays considered Pedro Alvarez before he went back to Baltimore.
- Tim Beckham continues to look better.
- Chris Archer remarked about how criticism of the Team USA rotation didn’t turn out to be warranted. How right he is!
- Texas bumped up its first offer to Rougned Odor, but it isn’t believed to be where the player wants it to be. Odor’s side has suggested he is comparable to Jason Kipnis, who got a six-year, $51-million three springs ago, only younger. So they may see the Kipnis deal as a baseline, and Texas isn’t believed to be there yet. No counter is expected from Odor’s guys at this time, so this may wait for another day. Texas has been trying for two years to sign Odor long-term, going from a Martin Perez-type deal to a Gregory Polanco-style deal to a bit more than that.
- Dillon Gee is in the starting mix for Texas, as T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com reports.
- Joey Gallo has whiffed 19 times in 42 at-bats, though he does have three homers.
- Sam Dyson has been impressive in the WBC. Just another reminder of the power arms that populate the Rangers bullpen.
Toronto Blue Jays
- Some were shocked the Blue Jays brought star Jose Bautista back. They tried for the beloved Edwin Encarnacion first, and word was getting around they might have been worn down by Bautista’s strong personality. But they stayed in touch, and when they needed an outfielder, they didn’t hesitate to take him back. Speaking about the rumor out there that they wouldn’t have minded a change due to Bautista’s well-known strong personality, GM Ross Atkins said, “We don’t have any soft personalities. We love Jose’s makeup. We love his fire. We love the way he’s committed to the game, and the team. The only issue here was price. And there never was any other issue on our part.”
- Rival GMs believe the Blue Jays are open to adding to their outfield depth. They’ve discussed bringing in Angel Pagan, but so far Pagan has sought an MLB deal at a certain salary level … The new regime of Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins ended up very much liking manager John Gibbons, so they are wrapping up a multiyear extension for him, FanRag Sports first reported. What they love best about Gibbons is that he lets the teams’ many big personalities be themselves, which seems to work. And while he doesn’t grade out especially well in bullpen usage, they love the fact Gibbons treats the relievers with kid gloves, resulting in continuing health for almost all of them. Good call by the Toronto bigwigs on this one.
- Kevin Pillar looks “totally different” at the plate, Gibbons said. They thought that he was so aggressive that he would be exploited by pitches out of the zone, and so far this spring he’s been more patient.
- Pillar followed Team Israel, but decided not to play since he was coming off thumb surgery, and as he put it, “This is a big year for me.” He didn’t say it, but with a little more plate discipline, he could be seen as a comp for Kevin Kiermaier, or at least Ender Inciarte, who both signed big deals this winter. He is heading into his arb year.
- Marcus Stroman has pitched a lot of big games for someone still just 25. Stroman’s first big game was his Long Island high school matchup with Steven Matz. Matz struck out 12 as his Ward Melville beat Stroman’s Patchogue-Medford 1-0. Stroman struck out 14.
- They talked a bit to Pedro Alvarez before he signed with the Orioles.
- J.A. Happ’s cousin Ethan Happ is an All-America sophomore forward for the University of Wisconsin, which surprised Villanova in the second round.
- It appears Dusty Baker’s extension will wait. The sides are currently not engaged in talks, and Baker has just this year remaining at around $2 million. “I ain’t worried. Why worry about (it),” Baker said, characteristically
- Baker and GM Mike Rizzo have both made clear they want to settle on one closer, and there’s no indication it’s coming from anywhere but in-house. Officially, the combatants remain Blake Treinen, Koda Glover and Shawn Kelley, though some see the two past Tommy John surgeries for Kelly as a deterrent. Rizzo differs, saying the closer job is the most regular job. Treinen is seen by others as having the best stuff (in three innings this spring, he’s allowed no hits or walks with six strikeouts), but Nats people are intrigued by Glover, who’s seen as exceptionally tough. Baker ran Glover out in the ninth inning in five straight appearances, as Jamal Collier of MLB.com pointed out, if anyone’s looking for a hint.
- Matt Wieters admits it would have been advantageous to arrive extra early the one year he switched teams, and there’s clearly an adjustment for a new catcher with a totally different staff, even for someone as smart as Wieters. And Wieters is smart – though reports of a 1,500 SAT score were exaggerated, he says. “It keeps getting higher and higher,” he says. “Believe me, the scholarship wasn’t for academics.” Wieters, who went to Georgia Tech, says he got 1,250. “”I could have gotten 1,500 in those years it was out of 2,400,” he jokes.
- As it turns out, he couldn’t have signed much earlier anyway, as he ripped up his wrist when a five-gallon jug exploded on him. He had surgery and had to stay away from baseball activity for 10 weeks, though he calls himself lucky. “The nerve was intact,” he said. He also reports they’ve gone away from the water jug system in his house.
- Max Scherzer, amazing healer, seems to be fine for Opening Day … In making up the lineup card, there’s some concern about stacking three straight lefties at 2-3-4, though Daniel Murphy and Bryce Harper are pretty much locked into 3 and 4. That could mean Adam Eaton isn’t automatic for the No. 2 spot.
- Some Nats people aren’t thrilled Murphy hasn’t gotten regular at-bats in the WBC, as he’s playing behind Ian Kinsler.
- Michael Taylor is killing it in West Palm. And Bryce Harper is up to an MLB-high 6 dingers now (tied with Bird).