Bernie on the Scene: What I Saw in Spring Training

Bernie on the Scene: What I Saw in Spring Training

This article is part of our Bernie on the Scene series.

This week marks the first of two articles highlighting my observations from spring training in Arizona.

I was fortunate to make the rounds. I felt like Johnny Cash when he sang "I've been everywhere, man." I was in Tempe, Mesa, Scottsdale, Surprise, Glendale, Peoria, Meryvale and Goodyear. I logged hundreds of miles on my car and ate the lunch my bride packed for me every day. 

And I admit that now I am tired. Not worn out, but it took a toll.

However, what can be better than watching spring training baseball in Arizona? No, don't say watching spring training baseball in Florida. I've done that for years, and the travel and traffic is much, much worse.

So here are some highlights of what I saw. And remember, while spring training stats are thrown out the window when the bell rings, the mechanics of players stick with them, unless they are able to adust and make meaningful changes.

Kansas City Royals – Surprise

1. Salvador Perez looked every bit as awesome at the plate as he did last year. While it will be tough to repeat his 2021 numbers, he barreled balls to his pull side with authority.

2. I was stunned at the growth and development I saw in Bobby Witt year-over-year. The guy just crushed the ball. The ball made that "special" sound when it came off his bat. And he showed a total cannon from third base. I think he'll thrive with the huge gaps in Kansas City.

This week marks the first of two articles highlighting my observations from spring training in Arizona.

I was fortunate to make the rounds. I felt like Johnny Cash when he sang "I've been everywhere, man." I was in Tempe, Mesa, Scottsdale, Surprise, Glendale, Peoria, Meryvale and Goodyear. I logged hundreds of miles on my car and ate the lunch my bride packed for me every day. 

And I admit that now I am tired. Not worn out, but it took a toll.

However, what can be better than watching spring training baseball in Arizona? No, don't say watching spring training baseball in Florida. I've done that for years, and the travel and traffic is much, much worse.

So here are some highlights of what I saw. And remember, while spring training stats are thrown out the window when the bell rings, the mechanics of players stick with them, unless they are able to adust and make meaningful changes.

Kansas City Royals – Surprise

1. Salvador Perez looked every bit as awesome at the plate as he did last year. While it will be tough to repeat his 2021 numbers, he barreled balls to his pull side with authority.

2. I was stunned at the growth and development I saw in Bobby Witt year-over-year. The guy just crushed the ball. The ball made that "special" sound when it came off his bat. And he showed a total cannon from third base. I think he'll thrive with the huge gaps in Kansas City.

3. Whit Merrifield can still do it all. He is a gap doubles hitter, still can run and he plays terrific defense, regardless of where he hits in the batting order. He's an amazing talent.

4. Andrew Benintendi hit two home runs in a game I saw. I don't think he's a home run hitter, and I worry that he'll try to hit the ball out of the park every time at the plate. He's renewed his career in Kansas City. But hitting cleanup? I'm not sold. But he does have power.

5. Watching Zack Greinke pitch was still a joy for me. He was always a master at using the corners of the plate. And while he doesn't have velocity, he'll get through five innings and fly. He can still pitch. And he'll be a great mentor for any Royals pitcher who cares to listen to him and watch him pitch.

6. The Royals have a good offense and will be very challenged to stay in games due to their pitching.

Texas Rangers – Surprise

1. Marcus Semien, Mitch Garver, Corey Seager, Brad Miller, Kole Calhoun, Jon Gray and Martin Perez all came over to the Rangers this offseason. Semien, Garver, Seager and Gray will really add depth and quality to their club. They will change the entire Texas baseball environment.

2. I believe the hitting environments of Dunedin, Florida and Buffalo, New York helped Semien have a career year. While I still believe in him, I think his counting stats may be impacted a bit without those two hitter-friendly parks. But Texas should give him a good hitting environment.

3. Keep you eye on first baseman Nathaniel Lowe. I like everything about his hit tool. And he's hitting cleanup.

4. The Rangers still haven't fixed their rotation. I'm not a fan of Perez, Dane Dunning, Spencer Howard or Taylor Hearn. I think pitching is their downfall. But they have some terrific fantasy baseball hitters. 

5. I can't tell you how bullish I am on RHP Jack Leiter. He made me sit up in my chair and really pay attention. If you haven't done so, grab him in your keeper leagues. I think he'll be an ace. A true star. 

Milwaukee Brewers – Maryvale

1. Everyone wants to know about Christian Yelich. So far, he looks healthy to me. However, I think his back will bark during the season. I don't see the power anymore, and he isn't the same guy who came over to the club in 2018. I am hoping he can hit for average and drive in runs. But I would say 30 home runs is a dream. I hope I'm wrong.

2. Sadly, I think Lorenzo Cain is very similar to the Angels Justin Upton. They both are in the final chapters of their careers. Designated for assignment, Upton may catch on somewhere. Cain can still play good defense behind the great Brewers pitching.

3. I have my doubts that Hunter Renfroe will add much offense to the team.

4. The heart and soul of the Brewers remains their pitching. Their rotation is great, their bullpen is very solid, and they should win games by holding the opposition's offense down. That's what I saw. Very good pitching. Very, very mediocre offense.

5. In a weak Central Division, I think the Brewers will only be challenged by the St. Louis Cardinals. It will be crucial for Milwaukee to win games against the Cardinals. That must be a priority if they are to win the division.

Los Angels Angels – Tempe

1. I got to see Shohei Ohtani pitch. I find him a tad better than average, but I don't think he'll blow any doors off. It would be my preference to have the Angels keep Ohtani fresh as a hitter only. I think having him pitch takes something away from his tremendous offense. But, that's just me. The team needs him on the mound … I guess.

2. Noah Syndergaard looks like he did before his injuries. I really like everything I've seen of him. Don't sleep on Syndergaard. If he stays healthy, he helps the Angels tremendously.

3. I watched Jack Mayfield boot two easy ground balls at second base. To me, he looks like a minor league player, at best. 

4. Sadly, I saw less bat speed from Mike Trout than I've seen in years. He looks thinner and in good condition. But I don't see the oomph in his swing that I saw in previous years of his career. I have a bit of concern about Trout. He just doesn't look like the same hitter. I hope I'm wrong.

5. Brandon Marsh and Jo Adell have a bit of experience behind them. I see them both stepping up and joining Jared Walsh in having very solid offensive seasons.

6. For me, Reid Detmers is the guy on the rise in the Angels rotation. He will force manager Joe Maddon to use him. He's that good.

Oakland Athletics – Mesa

1. I watch three Athletics games. In a word, they are pathetic. They are a Triple-A team, and contrary to their other house-cleanings and roster purges, I don't see this new group of rookies as anything special. I think in every deal they made, they got hosed. Time will tell.

2. Big lefty A.J. Puk could not throw strikes when I saw him. I don't know that it will improve. He'll be very inconsistent. He's working out of the pen, but at one time, the guy was a top prospect. He can survive, but he has to improve his woeful command and control, and find some consistency with that blazing fastball.

3. I got to see Cole Irvin and Daulton Jefferies both get lit up in starts. Yes, they were working on things, but they were serving up cookies.

4. I did not see one fantasy relevant player on the Athletics roster. Not one. Not even prospect shortstop Nick Allen, who is a modern day version of Freddie Patek.

Seattle Mariners – Peoria

1. Julio Rodriguez blew the doors off. Beware, though — it is tough for a rookie to make changes in response to the adjustments pitchers will make after they have faced him once. He should be the Rookie of the Year, with the Royals Witt Jr. giving him a battle. Rodriguez had a monumental spring.

2. I wish I were as excited about the future of Jarred Kelenic as everyone I read is. I just don't see it. I think at some point, we'll see more of Kyle Lewis, once he returns from his knee surgery. I think Kelenic is trying to power the ball too much. He has to let his natural ability prevail.

3. I can't say enough about the progress I've seen in righty Logan Gilbert. He's finding the plate and he's missing bats. He's a very solid No. 4 starter and he might exceed that.

4. Matt Brash was the hot pitcher in camp. He made the rotation. I think he'll be fine, but I won't bet the house on it. I like him, but he's only 23, so growing pains may take over.

5. Getting Jesse Winker from the Reds was a steal. He can flat out hit. I think he's fine in his new home park. It'll mean he'll shoot for the gaps. I hope he isn't part of a platoon. He's better than that.

6. Abraham Toro deserves to be on the club. I like everything about what I have seen from him.

San Diego Padres – Surprise

1. I was worried about Mike Clevinger, and I was correct. He's out now with a bum knee.

2. The Padres stole RHP Sean Manaea from the hapless Oakland Athletics. Pitching in the three-hole in the rotation, he'll thrive in San Diego with that offense and his former manager, Bob Melvin. The Padres are only renting Manaea, but I would guess they'll try to keep him from entering free-agency by giving him a nice extension.

3. How is Eric Hosmer still with the club?  He's owed lots of money. But I think he's cooked.

4. Adding Luke Voit was a good move. And he looked healthy when I saw him.

5. I saw Jorge Alfaro hit one of the longest home runs of the spring. He could be a real steal, and he may get plenty of hitting chances as the back-up catcher.

6. Swiss army knife Jake Cronenworth continues to be a fan favorite. He garnered some of the loudest applause at home games.

7. It looks like Ha-Seong Kim will get the chance to fill in for injured Fernando Tatis at shortstop. And you know what, I liked what I saw from him. He looks much more confident and relaxed than last year.

HEADING HOME

I still don't think the Oakland Athletics owner John J. Fisher deserves to have a professional baseball team.

• I was very happy to see the Dolan family step up and pay Cleveland Guardians third baseman Jose Ramirez in a contract extension. People feel he left money on the table. But if he's happy and satisfied with his contract, that's what really matters.

• I think Yordan Alvarez has the ability to win an MVP award. But as a DH, I think it'll be tough.

• White Sox starter Lance Lynn's barking knee has caused heartburn and angina for his team. I clearly don't see Vince Velasquez as a viable starter for two weeks, let alone two months. The club needs to use Reynaldo Lopez or someone else in that role.

• I can't wait to see the damage Kyle Schwarber can do in Philadelphia.

• Every year I dismiss the Tampa Bay Rays, and every year they prove me wrong. I'm dismissing them again this year. I don't think they'll score enough runs to beat the Blue Jays or Yankees. But they'll still probably make the playoffs.

Thank you for following me @BerniePleskoff on twitter and for reading my work at Forbes. I will always respond to your comments. So leave them in the section below and I'll read them all. Have a great week.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bernie Pleskoff
Bernie Pleskoff is a former professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners.
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