Gammons: Tales from Spring Training
Carmona has new delivery; Rangers get creative
These are the stories of the spring. When Manny Acta got the Indians' managerial job, he spent hours studying video, and one of the things he noticed was that Fausto Carmona was pitching from the first-base side of the mound, and Acta believed it took away from Carmona's command and ability to run his sinker on both sides of the plate.
Acta went to visit Carmona while he was playing winter ball, and when he saw him pitch, Carmona had already moved to the first-base side of the rubber.
"Jose Lima advised him to make the change," said Acta.
Carmona has looked close to the pitcher who in 2007 won 19 games, threw a three-hitter against the Yankees in the American League Division Series and finished fourth in the Cy Young Award balloting.
"Jake Westbrook is throwing as well as -- I'm told -- he threw before surgery," said Acta. "With Westbrook and Carmona at the front of our rotation, we could be all right."
Up the road, Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux calls Colby Lewis "The Pioneer." Maddux asked if any American pitcher had gone to Japan, returned and was successful. Bill Gullickson came back and won 61 games, including 20 in one season. But it is a rare feat for a pitcher, and Lewis, who was a first-round Draft pick of the Rangers in 1999 and kicked around seven teams as a radar-gun, injury-prone guy, found himself in Japan. He came up with a cutter, learned command, won 32 games and, most significantly, had a 369-46 strikeout-walk ratio.
"We're not asking him to be a dominant No. 1 starter," said Texas general manager Jon Daniels. "But he can be a solid, economical starter, which, for a two-year deal for $5 million, seems pretty good. He's been up to 95 [mph], so it's not as if he's a junk-baller."
Daniels has to be creative, as the delays and peculiarities in the sale of the club have tied his hands regarding payroll. He signed free-agent right-hander Rich Harden, who has a 9.17 spring ERA as he works on all his pitches but has thrown in the 90s his last two outings. Daniels signed Lewis, decided to move C.J. Wilson into the rotation, retained 17-game-winner Scott Feldman and has watched Matt Harrison bounce back and look as if he can move right into the rotation.
And in an organization known for a warehouse of power arms such as Neftali Feliz, Derek Holland, Martin Perez and Tanner Scheppers, there is now another phenom named Alexi Ogando, who is said to throw from 92-98 mph. The Rangers took Ogando in the Minor League Rule 5 Draft from Oakland five years ago as an outfielder they planned to convert to pitching, knowing he might not get into the U.S.
"It was," said Daniels, "a chance worth taking."
As chronicled by T.R. Sullivan and Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com, Ogando and fellow pitcher Omar Beltre were involved in a human-trafficking ring in the Dominican Republic five years ago. They continued to pitch, volunteered at the Women's Committee in Defense of Human Rights, did other social work and were cleared to enter the U.S. this winter. On the back fields in Surprise, Ariz., Ogando has attracted scouts from all around baseball.
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"You don't see many arms like that," said one National League scout. "He has huge upside. Five years out? Who's heard of that?"
Daniels looks everywhere for pitching, hence Lewis and Ogando. But a few miles down Highway 101, there is another starting pitcher returning from Japan. Ramon Ortiz, once called "Little Pedro" with the Angels, is back from Japan and looks as if he's going to win a spot in the Dodgers' rotation after posting 19 strikeouts over 14 2/3 innings.
"He's looked tremendous," said manager Joe Torre. "He's earning a spot."
At this time last spring, White Sox coach Joey Cora was hitting ground balls to Sergio Santos at third base.
"Not real good," said Cora. "But he had a great arm."
Santos was sent to the Giants, returned to the White Sox, converted to pitching and will be slotted into what manager Ozzie Guillen hopes will be a powerful bullpen that includes Matt Thornton, J.J. Putz and Matt Linebrink in front of Bobby Jenks.
We are all looking for the new, new thing. No one had to look far for Braves phenom Jason Heyward or the Mets' Jenrry Mejia. We won't have much time to wait for the Nats' Stephen Strasburg and Reds prospects Mike Leake and Aroldis Chapman. One of the fun debates on the west coast of Florida is rating the three young, big arms on the Rays. I polled six scouts, five had it 1. Wade Davis, 2. Jeremy Hellickson and 3. David Price, and the other had it Hellickson/Davis/Price.
One GM said Tampa Bay's Sean Rodriguez "has the best bat speed I've seen all spring," and two scouts think the 160-pound lefty reliever the Rays got from the Angels in the Scott Kazmir deal, Alex Torres, will be a major factor in the second half.
One AL scout said Dodgers right-hander Chris Withrow "will be in that rotation in the second half of the season -- great fastball, breaking ball." Withrow was a 2007 first-round Draft pick, threw 13 innings in '07 and '08 because of a snorkeling accident that sliced his index finger, then had elbow and Steve Blass Disease problems.
One scout raves about D-backs lefty reliever Jordan Noberto. Boston shortstop Jose Iglesias has played so well this spring that the Red Sox may have to start him in Double-A Portland, not the warmer Salem, Va.
Scouts in Central Florida think stocky right-hander Craig Kimbrel is going to be a player in the Braves' bullpen come June. We know what Roy Halladay will do for the Phillies, but there are two very good scouts who think Kyle Drabek was the best pitcher in Blue Jays camp, and outfielder Michael Taylor has the earmarks of a high ceiling right fielder with the Athletics.
Two scouts have called to rave about the work Yankees slugger Jesus Montero is doing on his catching, and one GM in Arizona said, "Our people can't believe how close Jacob Turner is to being the Tigers' next Rick Porcello."
We can't wait to see backstop Carlos Santana and third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall in Cleveland by year's end, and you can't wait to see Angels outfielder Peter Bourjos run and the Cubs' Starlin Castro play shortstop.
Then there's my favorite bullpen coach, Scott Radinsky of the Indians. Rad is a cancer survivor, owns one of the biggest skate parks in Los Angeles, has a new line of skate and outdoors clothing and apparel, has finished his 10th Pulley CD, "Time Sensitive Material," and, oh yes, he's Guillen's brother-in-law.
You couldn't make Radinsky up, or meet many people more interesting or with better people skills.
Peter Gammons is a columnist for MLB.com and analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.