2013 Spring Training Diary, Pt.2

I’d like to say we woke early like kids on Christmas morning, but it takes an overzealous maid and our failure to post the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign to get us up before 7:30. We grab over-sized cups of over-roasted coffee and navigate our way through the empty streets into the emptier ballpark lot. Heat waves radiate off the distant corners of the asphalt and we slather ourselves in 100 SPF sunscreen before hiking through the beginning of morning warm-up drills to a surprisingly active diamond on Field 4.

Saturday, March 16th – Peoria backfields, slow road to Goodyear, return to the Moon:

Having missed the 10-inning pitching prospect spectacular against Indian Hills Junior College the previous Sunday, and arrived in Arizona a day late for the Max Fried and Joe Ross show, I felt a bit saddened knowing that I had missed out on in-game action for some of the system’s top arms. That said, we showed up to Field 4 at around 9:00 to a game in-progress and a large crowd congregated in and around the backstop.

As I’d find out later, the Padres Low-A camp was hosting a game against the Langley Blaze – a Canadian high school travel team, boasting the battery of Cal Quantrill and Tyler O’Neill. In case the name Quantrill rings a bell, it may be due to the 14-year big league career his father Paul cultivated as a MLB reliever, including a stint with the Padres in his final season in 2005.

His son drew attention and praise from a large crowd, including Padres Assistant General Manager A.J. Hinch…and it was easy to see why. With a fastball at 90-92 MPH and a curve with decent tilt sitting around 77, he struck out several Padres prospects and, even with considerable room to grow into his lanky frame, looked rather comfortable against quality competition.

O’Neill, on the other hand, is built a bit thicker and despite the extra mass appeared to set up well and move fluidly behind the plate. His receiving seemed a bit stiff, but all was forgiven when he lumbered to the plate – with a larger build and quick hands that violently attack the zone, it’s easy to see why he draws comparisons to former countryman and former Blaze player, Brett Lawrie (see: big ass).

We also got to preview an inning from the Padres’ Jairo Gomez. This drew my attention for several reasons:

  1. Gomez was wearing #4 and a single digit jersey number for a pitcher is swoon-worthy.
  2. I had difficultly finding him on the camp roster because he originally reported, or was at least listed, with the catchers.
  3. He brought decent heat and a breaking ball with actual shape to it.

While Gomez did get an abbreviated stint on the mound last season (2.1 IP total), he’s caught for most of his short career and also seen time at every infield position as well as LF. He didn’t wow but didn’t disappoint, and it was anything but spectacular, but it’s always interesting to see a jack-of-all-trades try to master the one.

As penance for last night’s transgressions against an unsuspecting Jon Garland, it appears the baseball gods have reapprorpriated my stopwatch and sacrificed my Moleskine notebook in a lake of fruit punch Gatorade. I head through the rest of Spring Training holsters empty and humbled.

After catching a whole slew of infield drills and some Padres prospects engaged in rundowns – including Austin Hedges, Cory Spangenberg, and former Stony Brook speedster, Travis Jankowski – we refuel with a pint of Four Peaks Kilt Lifter ale at the nearby Barrel Grill (thanks to a recommendation by the beer-savvy, Corey Brock) and are off to watch Tyson Ross start on the main field (again, thanks to Brock).

Having watched a lot of Oakland A’s games during the Great FSSD Blackout of 2012 last season, I didn’t really see much different in Ross than I had seen all of last year.

Ross is an enigma in that he’s flashed a good enough arsenal to make anybody a believer in short stints, but an inability to generate any positive momentum with his considerably large frame creates a good deal of variance in the results. He’s oftentimes off-balance with an inconsistent release point and a short stride, falling off towards first base and pulling with heavy torque on his upper half and glove side, which results in a lot of wasted energy in his delivery.

Tyson Ross

As I’m trawling Twitter for feedback I notice the attention paid to running his scoreless streak to 11.1 IP, yet he ends the day with only 60% of his pitches going for for strikes. Clearly, Ross is a project that will keep Bud Black and Darren Balsley occupied through the 2013 season.

Also of note from this game, besides Kevin Towers’s magnificent Spring Training tan, were the performances of a couple intriguing names for the Padres’ present and future:

  • Yonder Alonso continues to confound in the field and for the majority of his first two at-bats, before redeeming himself with his first multi-hit game of the spring, inclduing an opposite-field shot and a booming double. Alonso went to the backhand on two separate occassions, seemingly unnecessarily, in the top of the third – one of which he grabbed for the out and the other for the major league olé. While Spring Training performance isn’t necessarily a cause for alarm, he did so with Adam Eaton and Didi Gregorius, which – even for Spring Training – shows bad situational awareness given their respective running threat. Not sure how his retooled swing will play in the regular season, but it worked on a wind-aided day in Peoria.
  • Rico Noel tallied a hit off of Diamondbacks’ starter, Ian Kennedy, and was disruptive on the basepaths – drawing a couple throws and breaking up a double play on the turn at 2B.
  • Donn Roach gets off to a rough start, as he surrenders a home run to Gerardo Parra which lands in front of the rightfield light tower, and a comebacker up the middle from A.J. Pollock in consecutive at-bats. When Roach gets the 2-seamer working, it generates a lot of spotty contact but my concern would be that his effectiveness is overly reliant on pounding the lower portion of the zone. Just as I begin to lose some faith with the potential back-end starter, he mixes in an amazing hook that gets Martin Prado looking foolish for the punchy. 

Due to equal parts heat stroke and complacency, we decide to scoot over to the backfields to catch the last couple innings against the Texas Rangers’ mid-level prospects…right as the stadium erupts, for Kyle Gaedele has unleashed a no-doubt grand slam to right-centerfield. It clears the bases and forces us back to our hotel to rethink our priorities.

The campus bar closed and the pool drawing a considerable breeze and cloud cover, there’s little time to bronze. We soon find ourselves back in the air-conditioned comfort of the Chrysler 300 and heading south on the 101 south. I direct the car off the freeway and towards the designated exit, only to be met with a string of taillights as far as the eye can see. First pitch comes and goes, and a series of detours and innings later, we’re through the turnstiles at Goodyear Ballpark. 

There isn’t much to report from Goodyear. As far as last-minute decisions go, $21 for a pair of lawn seats isn’t bad for such a beautiful park…but drawing the San Francisco Giants guarantees a crowd nearly 5,000 greater than what they’re used to and we arrive in the middle of the fifth inning. By that time, most of the starters have been removed and the only highlight we’re left with is aged slugger, Jason Giambi, putting one just beyond the fence to the left of the batter’s eye. We snap our photos and beat the crowd on our way back north.

We reconvene at the Moon, spectators to a series of prop bets and a marathon of daytime drinking. A couple watered-down rounds and a watchful eye designated for last night’s acquaintance is enough to contribute to increasingly depraved conversation and diminished expectations. Minutes transition to hours as we offset the monotony of sports highlights with barroom conversation, and we regrettably decide to call it an early night. After a far-too-brief exchange with Baseball Prospectus’ Jason Parks on the state of the Padres’ farm system, we grab the midnight-hour takeout from In-N-Out burger and soon find ourselves camped out in the beer-fumed (we find a second growler has exploded) and sweat-drenched (being in Phoenix, this should be self-explanatory) dungeon that is our hotel room. One more day.

Sunday, March 17th – Peoria for a spell, Tempe Diablo Stadium

This time, we do manage to grab some coffee and a spot on the backfield bleachers before the crowds gather. We happen upon ChangeThePadres‘ David Marver, where and he and my brother swap tales of high school ball and we take in the BP sessions of the organization’s brightest young prospects. While Hedges is making loud contact, he is up there with a plan and growing frustrating with his inability to drive it to all fields. Most impressive, however, is Spangenberg, who decides to crank it to 11:

Almost upon command, Spangenberg drops the hammer on a couple favorable pitches and lifts them two consecutive pitches over the trees beyond the rightfield fence of Field 4. I’ve seen plenty of Spangenberg, and the way in which he summons such bat speed during this session is still rather surprising. Marver pledges a roster spot on his dynasty team. My brother utters his name repeatedly in a stunned whisper. It’s a bit melodramatic, but still a promising parting gift before we hit the road for our last stop in Tempe.

Before committing to the tailgate lot, we make sure to make a detour to the nearby, Keith Law-recommended Hillside Spot. Besides grabbing the excellent pulled pork sandwich, their mix-and-match six-pack deal with a series of local beers made lunch more tolerable as the sun was relentless in this shade-less setting. Among the highlights, Jedd Gyorko, again making the start at second, makes a great diving play to spear a ball to his right; Jace Peterson has two patient at-bats that yielded free passes and looked comfortable at shortstop; Mike Trout accelerated home-to-third in the blink of an eye. We found Four Peaks on tap.

After sharing a conversation with some well-meaning Angels fans with curiously strong memories of Alexi Amarista, we are privy to the play that will keep the Padres’ top player, Chase Headley, out for several weeks as he breaks up a meaningless play (and his left thumb) on a takeout slide at second base. It’s always good to be a part of history.

We shoot down the backstreets of Tempe, destined to find a local brewery in order to grab a flight of pre-flight beers. A crowd of aimless bar-goers are clad in their St. Patrick’s Day uniforms, and speak loudly of their struggles to get sufficiently drunk the night before. I shuffle through my photos and notice that not one captured me or my brother. We may never have visited, evidenced only by the sweat-stained silhouettes on our seatbacks; a masterpiece etched in sunscreen and dust. I’m 150 miles out of Phoenix and have trained my eye on the I-10 west when my brother contacts me during pre-board, letting me know that he’s sharing a flight with the Oregon State University baseball team. We’re a couple hours removed, but already thinking of the time when we can return – re-baptizied on the ball field under those high skies and Arizona sun.

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