Braves-Mets today, weather permitting, and then I've got a flight home tonight. The next time I'm scheduled to see a ballgame is the MLB season opener, Yankees at Red Sox on April 4.
I'll watch as much Grapefruit and Cactus League action as I can on (in alphabetical order, to avoid a suckup agenda) the MLB Network, SNY and YES, but there's nothing quite like being at a game in person. Even for a professed non-scout like myself, you still pick up on some subtleties, and more important, you get to talk to the players, officials, actual scouts and other people hanging around.
Here are eight players I wish I could see in person this spring. They are presented in the order I thought of them:
1. Stephen Strasburg. He's scheduled to make his Grapefruit League debut on March 9. The Phenom is sure to draw a crowd, even in sleepy Viera.
2. David Ortiz. I spoke with a Yankees official recently about the Red Sox recently, and I said, "I guess the key is whether Ortiz can be the old Big Papi." The official said, "Wasn't he pretty much that guy in the second half?" Sort of, although he still fell short of his career averages in OBP and SLG. But if Ortiz can carry a .350 OBP and .516 SLG through the season, then that'll do. It sounds like Ortiz is enthusiastic about defying his critics.
3. Manny Ramirez. Meanwhile, Ortiz's old pal didn't look the same last year after returning from his suspension for illegal performance-enhancing drug usage. Like Ortiz, Manny is in his walk year, playing for a new deal. Will that produce a bounce, or is Manny fading fast? We, and the Dodgers, will look for clues.
4. Ben Sheets. The A's paid $10 million to a guy who didn't throw a pitch last year, and whose rehabilitation (from elbow surgery) wasn't even managed by a team, since Sheets didn't draw a salary from anyone. Since he's going to be all about getting through the year healthy, it'll be interesting to see what he looks like this early.
5. Hideki Matsui. The Angels signed him with the idea that Matsui would help in the outfield, an idea that Matsui himself embraces. But Brian Cashman said, repeatedly and unequivocally this past winter, that he didn't think Matsui and his bad knees could handle any outfield play at all. Let's see if he gets out there this month. BTW, I enjoyed reading about how the Angels are adjusting to the huge media contingent that follows Matsui. Yankees camp definitely felt quieter without Matsui's group.
6. Brandon Webb. He's coming off shoulder surgery, after starting Opening Day for the Diamondbacks last year and then not pitching again. For Arizona to have a chance in the very winnable National League West, Webb will have to be very good, at the least, again.
7. Mike Stanton. The word on this young Marlins outfielder, who will very likely start the season in the minor leagues, is impressive. And besides, there's always that extra note of amusement when a player has the same name as a former player. It's like when the dean from "Back to School" was named "Dean Martin."
8. Mike Lowell. The Red Sox are now speaking like they'll just keep Lowell, as a righty complement to Ortiz, after they tried to trade him to Texas over the winter. It makes some sense, in that Boston would probably have to pay all or most of Lowell's $12 million salary to ship him out of town, but surely other teams will be scouting him.
--Here at Mets camp, I wrote my column on Jon Niese. The Mets clearly do not have enough starting pitching, but it will be interesting to monitor their rotation this spring, because all of their pitchers do at least have the potential to be pretty good.
--Joel Sherman thinks the Mets are erring by hitting Jose Reyes third.
--Remember John Harper's column from yesterday, about Tony Bernazard creating the mandate the Mets hitters go the opposite field? John Walsh of The Hardball Times confirmed that many Mets players did indeed increase the amount of time they went the other way. Hat tip to Rob Neyer for helping me find this.
--As for this A-Rod situation...look, of course it's a big story. It's A-Rod, and he's getting questioned by the Feds. It's even more interesting because the Yankees were clearly taken aback by this development.
Now, having said that, can we please stop with the gloom and doom? Barry Bonds is still a free man, as is Roger Clemens. Miguel Tejada received the tiniest penalty for misleading Congressional investigators. The odds, based on both history and what we know (admittedly little) about this specific case, are that A-Rod won't be impacted legally by this endeavor.
--In a tangential item, from Twitter, I saw this Deadspin post, which linked to this Joe Posnanski take on Willie Mays and legendary writer Pete Hamill. Can we please, pretty please, stop with the idea that baseball was a more "pure" game back in the day? Or that the record book was "clean" until Mark McGwire came along? Geez Louise.
--Funny story here about Chipper Jones and ESPN broadcaster Jon "Boog" Sciambi (who used to be a Braves broadcaster), which involves statistical analysis.