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At Fort Lauderdale Stadium, spring home of the Baltimore Orioles, they give the beer men whistles. Like traffic-cop whistles, and they toot 'em constantly, even mid-at-bat. The park also is right next to a small airport, so some whole at-bats are completely drowned out by the sound of propeller planes flying overhead or jets taxiing down the runway. And the press box is basically suspended above the grandstands, hovering over it without much support. It's almost like a giant game of Jenga, and when a few people walk around in there at a time, it sways and bobs. (Shiver.)
But getting to see Jose Reyes at his best, Daniel Cabrera pitch, well, like he usually does and Luke Scott play "defense" (he dropped two balls) made it worth it. On to the details on this, the last day of my scouting trip to the Grapefruit League.
New York Mets at Baltimore (in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
Reyes wasn't, even though D-Cab gave him reason to be. He went up and in early in Reyes' first at-bat, but the little shortstop coolly lined the next pitch off the right-field fence for a double. Next at-bat, though, Cabrera lost control of a high-90s heater and nailed Reyes in the right shoulder blade. His first reaction was one of surprise; no more than two seconds later, it was extreme pain. Reyes dropped to his knees, and I put my finger on my editor's speed dial, ready to pass along the bad news. But Reyes was OK. After some tending to, he trotted down to first. And then to second (with a steal), capped by a head-first slide. And then to third (he stole that one, too). Then he made a nice turn on a double-play ball and singled in his next at-bat. Jose is OK, to the tune of a 22-for-67 (.328) spring. Whew! And in case you're wondering, Mets starter Orlando Hernandez came up and in a few times to Nick Markakis, which I believe was to send a message that the Mets didn't like Reyes getting hit.
As for Cabrera, he had a pretty typical outing for him. The 2007 major league walks leader (with 108 in 204 1/3 innings) walked five batters in five innings but allowed only three hits and two runs. And of course the HBP; he was tied for third in the majors in that category last season, with 15. And he almost hit Brady Clark in the back of the head. And throw in a wild pitch, too. Cabrera has a tremendous arm, but he just can't harness it. And I'm starting to lose hope in him, even though he's only 26.
His walk rate did improve last season, but high-walk guys rarely make dramatic turnarounds; they just have to do everything else well enough to make up for it. Now, Cabrera is constantly up in the zone, always has been, and because of his wildness, a lot of those pitches are up and in, which sets up his other pitches and works to his advantage. There's a reason he breaks a lot of bats. High fastballs are the most tantalizing pitches for most hitters to swing at, which means two things: He's going to get his share of strikeouts (and popups), but he's also going to walk a lot of guys and allow his share of home runs. And he did again last year, with 25 homers allowed.
It was obvious to me that any good hitter who actually works the count, as David Wright and Carlos Delgado did, can either wait out a walk or get a pitch navel-high to drive. Until he proves he can throw strikes and/or just keep the ball down, he shouldn't be considered worthy of owning even in mixed leagues.
Trembley said that right now, Brandon Fahey and Luis Hernandez are both on the team. So which one of them will start at shortstop? "You'll find out [Opening Day]. I've decided, but I'm not telling you as a group." Brian Burres has been named the fifth starter, sending Matt Albers to the bullpen. However, because of off days early in the season, Burres likely will pitch out of the bullpen in the early going. I didn't see Burres pitch, but I liked Albers' arm action, for what it's worth. He has a nice delivery.
Speaking of the rotation, Cabrera, Jeremy Guthrie, Steve Trachsel and Adam Loewen will fill it out. Trembley says not to put too much stock into what number they are in the rotation. "Our staff isn't such that guys line up that way." Some people like Loewen, but I think Guthrie is the only guy in that group I'd own in a mixed league.
So how'd he look? Well, slow, and that's without a radar gun for specifics. No surprise there. Hernandez is past even the point in which he has had to make adjustments to be effective. He's now to the point in which he has had to completely reinvent himself as a pitcher. He throws from multiple arm angles, changes speeds, hits spots … and somehow manages to throw five or six strong innings, just as he did Friday, allowing one run through five to put himself in line for the win.
Perhaps it's because there aren't a whole lot of pitchers like him for major leaguers to look at, but opposing hitters just don't get good wood on many of his pitches (in a typical start, anyway). It helps that his breaking stuff is top to bottom and not as much side to side, but either way, he's tough to figure out. He's a junk-baller, like Harris from "Major League," though ostensibly sans the foreign substances smeared in secretive places.
After watching him, I went ahead and penciled him in as the Mets' No. 5 starter, but even El Duque is not sure about his health yet. He said after the game he felt good, and thus decided to go with his usual delivery. "Today it's good. But tomorrow, who knows?" Hernandez said. "I still have concerns." El Duque probably doesn't have mixed-league value because of his durability and effectiveness issues, but I think he's a good roster player in an NL-only league.
Trembley said it best about Jones: "Those of you who were here for that first intrasquad game had to be shaking your head. But yesterday he played center field like he'd been out there for a long time." He looked a little pull-heavy to me, but that often happens against El Duque. Jones won't start on my mixed-league teams, but he might finish on one or two of them.
And a few of the less meaningful notes …
fielders, but I'll chalk this up to a bad day. As long as he shows us he can still hit, and he did that Friday, we're good.
Brendan Roberts is a contributing writer/editor for ESPN Fantasy.