Spring roundup: Big Bay Area names make long-awaited debuts
Adding a speed-and-power threat like Yoenis Cespedes or getting an emerging star like Buster Posey back from injury would have a big impact on any team, but the A's and Giants were each in the bottom three in their league in runs scored in 2011, making the potential impact of those players, both of whom made their spring debuts over the weekend, all the greater.
Cespedes, who is built like a running back and is reportedly as fast, made his A's debut in centerfield in Saturday's game against the Reds and impressed with a perfect day at the plate, drawing a walk in his first trip, delivering an RBI single up the middle in his second, and leading off the fourth inning with a home run in his third and final turn at bat in the game.
The home run came on a hanging breaking ball from non-roster lefty Jeff Francis, a chest-high pitch on the outside corner that the switch-hitting Cespedes lined over the left-field fence. Francis is no longer the same pitcher he was in his heyday with the Rockies, nor did it answer the question of whether Cespedes can turn around a quality major league fastball but it was nonetheless a good sign for an A's team that will take power any place it can get it. On Sunday, Cespedes went 0-for-3 with a walk and a strikeout against Bruce Chen and the Royals.
Posey returned to the Giants' lineup on Friday for the first time since his season-ending ankle injury last May, catching two innings and getting one plate appearance. Posey started behind the plate again on Sunday and has thus far gone hitless in three trips and thrown out just one of the three baserunners attempting to steal against him. Still, just having Posey healthy enough to be in the lineup is huge for the Giants, who will need the offensive infusion he can provide.
Less encouraging was the performance of Cespedes' new Oakland teammate, Manny Ramirez, who returned from some back stiffness to go 0-for-3 and is now 0-for-8 on the spring without so much as a walk. In his first at-bat on Saturday, Ramirez had his first Manny Being Manny moment in an A's uniform when he lost track of the count and attempted to take first on ball three. He fouled a lot of pitches off on the day, suggesting a slow bat, which is a notable concern for a player who missed all but five games last season before his premature retirement. In all, Ramirez grounded out to the left side three times, though he did hustle to first base each time, twice reaching on an error. Ramirez and Cespedes are both expected to be back in the A's lineup on Tuesday with Cespedes alternating days in centerfield with positional rival Coco Crisp.
Several of the game's top pitching prospects were among the first players cut from major league camp on Sunday. The Mariners, who, along with the A's, are in something of an accelerated spring training due to their early opener in Japan on March 28, cut 15 players on Sunday including their trio of starting pitching prospects, Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker and James Paxton. That put an early end to speculation about Hultzen, the second-overall pick in the 2011 draft, making the Opening Day rotation.
The top pick in last year's draft, Gerrit Cole, was sent down by the Pirates on Thursday. Also on Sunday, the Orioles cut eight players, including Dylan Bundy, the fourth-overall pick in 2011. Cole, Hultzen and Bundy all received major league deals after being drafted and were thus automatically invited to major league camp but their demotions were hardly a surprise.
Nevertheless, all three are expected to move quickly through the minors. Hultzen could be the first to reach the majors, perhaps as soon as the end of this coming season, as Seattle continues its rebuilding efforts in the challenging AL West.
While young pitchers had their big league dreams put on hold, three pitchers with varying degrees of experience in the Show continued their climbs back to the majors. The Mets' Johan Santana, the Orioles' Brian Matusz and the Rockies' Jamie Moyer, each had strong second outings over the weekend. Santana, a two-time Cy Young winner who missed all of 2011 after shoulder surgery, threw 42 pitches over 2 2/3 innings on Sunday, striking out two and allowing just three baserunners (a walk, a single, and a Hanley Ramirez double) and one unearned run. Particularly encouraging was the fact that Santana threw more off-speed pitches than in his first outing, sat around 89 miles per hour with his fastball, and has yet to report any discomfort in his surgically repaired shoulder this spring. He's expected to get up to 60 pitches in his next start on Friday.
Matusz, a 25-year-old and former No. 4 overall draft pick who has posted a 5.53 ERA across parts of three seasons with Baltimore, threw four scoreless innings against something close to the Phillies' starting lineup on Saturday, striking out four against no walks and three hits. He has now struck out seven men against no walks in six innings this spring and hasn't allowed a home run, either, a particularly good sign given his gopheritis of a year ago.
Moyer, the 49-year-old southpaw who is trying to crack the Rockies' rotation as a non-roster player after also missing the entire 2011 campaign, allowed just one run on three hits and no walks while striking out two on Sunday against a White Sox traveling squad. He has allowed just that one run and no walks in five innings this spring.
The big injury news this weekend was that Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter was diagnosed with a bulging disc in his neck on Saturday. Per MLB.com's Jenifer Langosch, Carpenter first reported a stiff neck after throwing live batting practice on March 3 and has not thrown since, meaning he also hasn't appeared in any exhibition games. Carpenter claims his neck is improving, and the Cardinals are holding out hope that he can start on Opening Day, or close to it, with just three spring starts under his belt, which is all he had last year. However, they plan to have a sixth starter ready to go if necessary, with that yet-to-be-identified pitcher likely to start Wednesday's exhibition game.
The Mets' David Wright, who also hasn't played in a game yet this spring, will be in New York on Monday to have his left side examined and likely receive a cortisone injection. Wright's injury continues to be described vaguely as "rib-cage discomfort," suggesting that the Mets, who have developed a reputation for ineptitude in handling player injuries, aren't sure what they're dealing with. Unless Wright starts to make progress soon, he could be in doubt for Opening Day, which will further reduce the potential market for a player who continues to be the subject of trade speculation.
Several players made news by being hit by baseballs this weekend. Giancarlo Stanton came out of the Marlins game on Sunday after being hit in the left wrist by a pitch. Fortunately his x-rays were negative. Orioles left fielder Nolan Reimold was hit in the jaw by a pitch on Friday but escaped with only a chipped tooth.
Among the top prospects whose pursuit of an Opening Day roster spot has been slowed by injury or illness, the Phillies' Domonic Brown just returned to the lineup on Sunday after missing five games with a jammed right thumb and the Nationals' Bryce Harper hasn't played since Tuesday due to a strained left calf. The Nats hope he can return this week.
Most significantly, the Angels' Mike Trout has yet to play this spring due to the flu and has reportedly lost weight due to the illness. It's difficult to imagine him forcing his way onto the major league roster with just three weeks left in camp and no projected date for his return. On the flip side, Rays pitching prospect Matt Moore, who experienced some muscular pain in his abdomen during fielding practice in late February, threw batting practice on Saturday and will make his spring debut on Tuesday. He remains a good bet to open the season in the Rays' rotation.