Nico's Spring Training Eyeball Report

Burns, baby, Burns!

Greetings from the Cactus League, where the A's are currently playing their final weekend at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. I had a chance to see the A's commit more errors than they got hits against the Giants last night at Scottsdale, and just got back from Oakland's see-saw 6-5 win over the Mariners, with two games left to see Sunday and Monday.

Before getting into the "small sample theatre" that is my spring training eyeball report, let me say that I had a chance to conduct two interviews this morning, one with Billy Burns and one with Jesse Chavez. I will transcribe and publish those as soon as I can, probably running both interviews on AN next week.

Not only did both interviews go (in my opinion) well, but I feel compelled to note that both players were extremely gracious and friendly and that this is pretty much my experience each time I venture, tentatively and awkwardly, into the clubhouse to interrupt their breakfast with requests that they be interviewed by "some guy on a blog". The overall level of friendliness and cooperation is something I not only do not take for granted, but I doubt it is the norm in every clubhouse and I feel fortunate to have cast my fandom with the A's.

Friday night at Scottsdale, the lights (or lack of sufficiency thereof) were apparently a factor in the A's 3 errors and might also have contributed to the pitching dominance on both sides. That being said, Sonny Gray looked legitimately in mid-season form, especially considering that one inning he got (based on what he should have gotten) a groundout (E6), a double play (E4), another double play (turned), and a strikeout.

What can I say about Yoenis Cespedes? The stats (.130 batting average, .340 OPS) speak for themselves and they also don't. What stood out watching him Friday was that everything which is bothersome, be it the swing or the results, is clearly in his head. Watching him start his swing before he could see where the pitch was, and seeing him flail at sliders away, he looked like a hitter who feels he is in trouble rather than like a hitter who feels the pitcher is in trouble. The good news is, Cespedes still has a free week to get his head straight before it really matters how he looks or what results he gets. The bad news is, he currently looks like Bobby Crosby.

Today's game, however, featured more promising bits and pieces. After getting knocked around for 4 batters (4 hits, 2 runs) to start the game, Scott Kazmir settled into a groove that featured an excellent changeup, sharp slider, and low-90s fastball. His command was certainly come and go, but he was also pitching for the first time in 10 days.

Billy Burns pulled a stand up triple into the RF corner, chopped an infield hit to 3B, walked and stole 2B easily. You'll hear from him later in the week about learning to bat left-handed, but considering he was batting from his less accomplished left side, he did a lot right in a short amount of time. Perhaps most impressive was the triple because it came on the 10th pitch of an at bat he grinded out by spoiling off 2-strike pitches until he got a pitch he could handle. I remain bullish on Billy, partly because he has a keen sense of what he can and cannot do and seems determined to play to his strengths.

Arnold Leon had a couple hiccups but overall he looked a lot like I remember him from just prior to the injury that required Tommy John surgery. He hit 91-94MPH on the gun with a slider and occasional slower curve that hitters were prone to chase or not be able to time. When he keeps everything down in the zone, which he usually does well, he is very effective. I see him being as high as #6 on the current SP depth chart, with Drew Pomeranz still needing to get stretched out and re-acclimated in a AAA rotation and with Leon arguably having the current edge over Josh Lindblom.

Speaking of Lindblom, he starts Sunday in the split-squad game I will not see, and speaking of Chavez he starts in the game I will see. More eyeball reports to follow as events merit, and look for the Burns and Chavez interviews in the coming week.

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