In Arizona, it looks like the A's have it
Deep pitching, energetic offense makes Oakland the talk of spring
PHOENIX -- It is interesting how many officials have uttered the phrase, "Oakland has a really good shot at winning the AL West," this spring.
Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, Brett Anderson and Dallas Braden are 23, 25, 23 and 27, respectively. Brandon McCarthy has had a great spring and looks like the kid who came up with the White Sox. If the A's can can get 25-30 starts out of McCarthy and Rich Harden and Andrew Bailey's forearm problem doesn't prevent him from anchoring a very deep bullpen most of the season, they should have the best 1-to-12 staff in the division. Remember, they led the league in quality starts in 2010, and pitching in cavernous Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum only makes them tougher.
Coco Crisp has played like a man possessed this spring and has become a Billy Beane favorite. David DeJesus and Josh Willingham bring experienced bats, as does Hideki Matsui, and the GM believes that not only is Daric Barton the game's best defensive first baseman, but he's got a chance to be a force in the middle of the lineup. Say this for Barton -- he's serious, so serious that several days he had coach Mike Gallego film his batting practice straight-on using his iPhone.
"It gives me a different angle to view my swing," says Barton. Can't imagine that the 1961 Yankees thought of using an iPhone as a learning device for hitters.
2010 Spring Training - Major League Baseball
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Texas is going to score a ton of runs and simply has to get its pitching and roles in line. The Angels cannot afford to lose Joel Pineiro, not with Scott Kazmir looking like Ollie Perez West.
As owners and player representatives met at the Ritz in Phoenix this week, one phrase heard over and over was, "It's very unlikely we'll have a strike in our sport."
The dialogue between Rob Manfred and Michael Weiner has been respectful and civilized. People on both sides say Bud Selig does not want another labor stoppage on his watch. Revenues have grown by more than five times since the end of the 1994-95 strike and franchise values continue to rise.
"Whether it's changing the Draft or certain other adjustments, of course there are issues the owners want addressed," says one source. "But both sides have been open to listening and discussing. This is a very bright, energetic new group of Players Association leaders who have ideas. Isn't it ironic that baseball now is the negotiation model?"
Part of that is the growth of the sport's revenues, part of it is that MLB and the MLBPA clearly want to find a way to continue peace.
There are substantial issues, including the futures of Oakland, Tampa Bay, Cleveland and some other franchises. But the issues are really owners vs. owners, not owners vs. players, and there is no Ray Grebey or Richard Ravitch arguing that the union can be broken.
"We haven't heard even a casual mention of breaking the union for years," says one management official. "Rob and Michael have too much respect for one another to even think that way."
If anyone even thinks about such a notion, he should be forced to watch a 24-hour 1995 Replacement Baseball Special.
Other thoughts, some heard:
Joe Torre has thrown himself into his new position with the Commissioner's Office. "This is the first time in my life I've been on my own schedule, not someone else's," says Torre, who has amazed Manfred and the MLB folks with his enthusiasm.
"Michael Pineda is the best young pitcher in Arizona," says a GM. The scouting report is "XL, imposing frame, big arm, blends VCB shape with feel. Fastball 95-98 mph."
Favorite scouting report, on Matt Anderson: "Gives the appearance that he's a little weird."
Marc Kroon is back from Japan, with the Giants and claims this is his 21st Spring Training. He's been at 92-95 mph and one report claims "he's regained his giddy-up through the zone."
Like Michael Brantley as a breakout-season candidate, several scouts called Lonnie Chisenhall "the best young hitter [in Arizona]," adding that if Grady Sizemore is back in mid-April, joining Carlos Santana, Shin-Soo Choo and Asdrubal Cabrera, and Matt LaPorta edges toward what they thought he would be when they traded CC Sabathia for him, the Indians are going to be an offensive threat. They need Carlos Carrasco, at 24, to put it together and hope Alex White and Drew Pomeranz come quickly.
Aaron Harang was a consistent 89-91 mph all spring and will benefit from PETCO Park. Privately, Bud Black wouldn't be surprised to see Casey Kelly in the rotation by the Trading Deadline, and to say the Friars are in love with Anthony Rizzo is an understatement.
Pure stuff in Arizona? The Dodgers' Rubby De la Rosa has a 96-98-mph fastball, 91-mph split and 86-91-mph slider.
Great question from a GM: "For the next five years, who would you take, Jon Lester or Clayton Kershaw?"
No one believes Royals lefty reliever Tim Collins is taller than 5-foot-5. "He gets it up to 94, hitters don't see the ball because he's such a short-armer, his breaking ball is a knockout and his change is good," says one scout. "He's something to watch."
Remember Matt Bush? Here's his report: 91-94 mph and his "fastball jumps through the zone. And he really competes."
Love this report on Dontrelle Willis: "91-94, wide, sweeping slider for strikes, missing bats."
When you see the commercial with Carlos Gonzalez hitting for a razor company, the pitcher is one-time promising Brewers prospect Byron Browne, whose father played in the big leagues.
Scout talk: "Brandon Belt reminds me of John Olerud." High praise.
More scout talk: "Ivan Nova has been the biggest surprise of any pitcher in Florida. He's really good."
And even more: "If things don't go well for the Mets by June 1, they ought to try to get the Yankees and Rangers into a bidding war on Mike Pelfrey."
Three scouts offered the opinion that infielder Chris Owings, drafted last June, can be a major future piece for the Diamondbacks.
The GM consensus is that UCLA's Gerrit Cole and Virginia lefty Danny Hultzen will be two of the first three Draft picks come June. "Cole isn't far from [Stephen] Strasburg," says one GM. Yeah, but growing up in Groton, Mass., it is really good to see that right-hander Tyler Beede of crosstown Lawrence Academy has a chance to be a first-round pick.
Report on Erik Bedard: "88-92, free, loose and easy, tight downbreaking curveball is back."
Finally, Tim Lincecum is this generation's Mark Fidrych. Fans love him, not because of the delivery, not simply because he is a great pitcher, but he makes fans so happy. "Pitchers pitch off a number of emotions," says Barry Zito. "Tim is fueled by his pure love of the game, out of simple joy."
Peter Gammons is a columnist for MLB.com and an analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.