"Beware The Eyes Of March"

RECAP: A'S HANG ON TO WIN 6-5

Powered by 3 HRs -- a 3-run first inning bomb by Josh Reddick and solo blasts by Manny Ramirez and Brandon Allen -- the A's jumped out to a 6-1 lead and then hung on to win 6-5. Jarrod Parker walked 7 batters in just 3.2 IP, charged with just one run because he allowed only one hit and the A's turned a couple key DPs behind him. Parker's slider looked good but he couldn't control his changeup at all. The radar gun clocked his fastball around 93 MPH, but clearly Parker is still a work-in-progress commanding his stuff post Tommy John surgery. On cue, Susan Slusser tweets that Parker has been sent down to the minors. For more observations on other players I saw the past 4 days, keep reading...

The dumbest thing you can do is to base your roster decisions on what you see in spring training. However, the second dumbest thing you can do is not base your decisions at all on what you see in spring training. Stats? Pretty meaningless. Process? To be taken with a grain of salt, but not ignored.

A veteran with a track record who struggles in the spring still has a track record. But a guy whose fastball looks straight, or whose swing looks better than before, or who looks dejected and confused at bat after at bat, or who looks smooth in the field at a new position? You'd be foolish, in my opinion, not to include that data in the complex series of factors that inform your decisions. Here's what I saw in my 4 days watching the A's...

Welcome to Small Sample Size, Population: 2 Eyeballs and 4 Days

Ready For Prime Time:

Collin Cowgill can play. Some of Billy Beane's "man-crushes" haven't worked out so well (see Jackson, Conor) but I think Billy may hit the jackpot on this one. Seemingly all I saw from Cowgill at the plate were walks, line drive hits, and line drive outs. More to the point, I walked away from seeing 10 or so plate appearances going "I have no idea how I would pitch this guy." Usually, you at least have an idea but I couldn't spot a type of pitch, a location, anything that seemed more likely to get him out than any other.

But here's the thing that really stood out to me: When he's stealing 2nd, Cowgill gets to full acceleration incredibly quickly to where he's well on his way to second base by the time the pitcher releases the ball. It's the equivalent of Cowgill always "getting a huge jump" when he attempts a steal, even though his lead is not especially big. It makes sense to me now that Cowgill, despite not being known for having "lightning fast speed," was 30/33 in his stolen base attempts last season at AAA and is 72/88 for his minor league career.

Cowgill has a chance to be squeezed out by the numbers, with Seth Smith and Jonny Gomes likely fighting with Cowgill for 2 spots, but I think if your goal is to put the best 25 out there you have to roll with Cowgill, who can hit, and run, and field -- something you can't say about the other two.

I Still Believe

Brandon Allen

It's not that all I saw was good. Allen looked bad chasing a slider from a LHP with a half-swing and then doing it again on the next pitch, but against RHPs he looked consistently comfortable to me and most importantly, his short-and-quick power swing looked like it was back. One rocket off the center field wall stood out as being "the Allen I remember from when he first joined the A's" and in the field, Allen looks graceful and confident whether he's stretching to pull in a wide throw or tracking a pop foul down the right field line.

The A's had three guys whose potential was mashy but whose results were trashy: Chris Carter, Michael Taylor, and Brandon Allen. The first two are looking more like busts every day; Allen still looks like a player to me. I continue to believe Allen is going to be a good player for someone and I'm hoping it's the A's.

Needs Moar Practice:

Sonny Gray

I had a chance to see Sonny Gray throw a couple innings in the College World Series, and when I saw him throw 2 innings live on Saturday my impression was identical to the one I had before: Gray has the stuff (and apparently the makeup) to be a very good major league starting pitcher, but I would caution that he probably isn't as close as a lot of scouts have suggested.

First of all, Gray does not exhibit great control. He struggled to command his pitches Saturday, and while his mechanics are visually a dead ringer for Tim Hudson's, his drop and drive delivery must not include the repeatability Hudson enjoys because Gray isn't at all sure where the ball is going when it leaves his hand. Gray's fastball and slider are quality pitches, but while his fastball velocity is good he struggles to keep it down where it can induce ground balls, and while his slider has a sharp and late break Gray does not appear to be able to throw it for strikes on command.

I would like to see Gray start back at AA and earn a AAA callup midseason, but not to be in the major league conversation until 2013 -- with 2014 a possibility if he does not show significantly improved command. He'll also need to refine a third pitch (e.g., a changeup) to stick as a starting pitcher, and that doesn't happen overnight. He has a chance to be good; he just doesn't appear to me to be "right around the corner". Nor should he be -- the guy is all of 20 innings removed from college ball.

Brad Peacock

OK I'm cheating here because I missed seeing Peacock live -- he got lit up the day before I arrived, but let me tuck my "scouting report" in here where it fits. Peacock has a lot of attributes, from a 4-seam fastball that clocks in at 93MPH, a decent breaking ball and changeup, and good control (not that we've seen it in the Cactus League). However, watching his 3 inning stint on TV, his fastball looks straight and it must have looked straight to hitters because they squared his pitches far too many times. Peacock allowed just 1 ER in 3 IPs that day -- his only decent statistical performance so far -- but it was the result of a few "at 'em balls" that were hit hard.

I'm not overly concerned about Peacock's "GO/AO ratio". That is, I believe he can enjoy success as a fly ball pitcher, just not as a "straight fastball" pitcher, that he doesn't need to miss more bats so much as he needs to miss the sweet spot more often. But he needs movement on his fastball one way or the other, whether it's getting sinking action or tailing action on his 4-seamer, or adding a 2-seamer to go with his 4-seamer.

Pitchers who throw mid-90s with a straight fastball do well in the minors and get lit up in the big leagues. To avoid becoming a AAAA-pitcher who is unfavorably compared to Todd Van Poppel, Peacock should start back at AAA. Like Gray, Peacock has a chance to be a good major league starting pitcher but his time is not now.

Other Random Observations...

Yoenis Cespedes looked pretty consistently fooled by offspeed pitches, but he's also seeing every pitcher for the first time...

...Seth Smith actually looked very good in RF, including one excellent shoestring catch made possible by a great read, but ultimately I trust the long-term scouting report over a nice weekend in the Cactus League -- and that means we shouldn't anticipate any gold gloves for Smith...

...Adam Rosales has a cannon from the SS hole, but looked really uncomfortable at 3B. Donaldson actually looked the better of the two at 3B...

...It is truly sad to watch Chris Carter and Michael Taylor walk back to the dugout, with their head hung low and a dejected "It happened again!" look on their face. They look like failures, not ballplayers, and in the big leagues if you don't believe you're any good who's going to prove you wrong? You know the expression "He looks like he belongs"? Rotate that 180 degrees and you have the "once future beastly duo" that is Carter and Taylor. Watching them return to the dugout after an at bat is like watching Charlie Brown walk away from the mailbox on Valentine's Day...

...Hail in Scottsdale on March 18th...are you kidding me?

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