My annual sojourn down to the Cactus League is coming up on Friday, with games Saturday, Sunday, and Monday for me to do all the "eyeball scouting" I can.
You know all the various predictions I have made about who is the best comp for Newey McSniny and whether or not Shiny Newsmith will reach his potential? I reserve the right to change every prediction I have made, and replace them with new ones, once I have the opportunity to actually watch these guys play.
Stats, other scouts' ideas, pedigree and comps are all great -- they truly are -- but ultimately I trust my eyes most when it comes to making an actual assessment of a specific player. Every player is unique and has to be evaluated as such. In the same way that every hitter has to "trust his hands" I believe I have to "trust my eyes" and usually that turns out to be a good idea. Sometimes it doesn't.
Spring training has been where I have had the chance to make many of the observations that turned out to be prescient:
- In 2009, I watched C+ catching prospect Josh Donaldson take batting practice and was immediately impressed with his swing and how the ball jumped off his bat.
- In 2010 I got my first look at Michael Taylor's swing, which I believe began on Saturday and ended Sunday morning. His swing never got faster, and I never got bullish on his chances of hitting in the big leagues.
- In 2012 I watched then no-name castoff Brandon Moss hit and could not remember when I had seen such a beautiful swing produce balls hit so hard.
- In the 2012 Bay Bridge Series, I got my first look at Brad Peacock in a 3 IP stint, and concluded, "Good arm, straight fastball, iffy command, bust."
- In 2013, I watched Hiro Nakajima take ground balls at SS, saw his range and arm, and said, "Ruh-roh." Then I saw him take two at bats in the game later that day, observed the length of his swing, and said, "RUH-ROH." Later that morning I saw a very young guy take ground balls at SS, watched his arm and his overall facility and thought, "OK this kid is a real shortstop -- who is he?" Turned out to be Addison Russell. That same spring I watched Michael Choice in the outfield and wondered why anyone thought he could stick in CF.
As in hitting, if you're scouting you're not batting 1.000, not even close:
- Just after the A's signed Sonny Gray I watched him make a College World Series start for Vanderbilt and wasn't overwhelmed by either his command or his breaking ball. Suffice it to say that I am now far more whelmed by Sonny.
- In 2012 I watched Chris Carter getting over matched, psyched out, and walking dejectedly to the dugout time and time again until I was moved to join the list of fans who wanted to believe in Carter but were giving up on him.
- A sucker for a short-but-powerful swing, I actually kind of liked Jeff Larish. Who? Exactly. There's no need to talk about Brandon Allen, as he's still young enough to come back to the U.S. and have the Hall of Fame career he deserves.
Zooming In On...
Suffice it to say, I'm duly stoked for this trip to Arizona with so many new faces to see in action for the first time. I'm most excited to get to "eyeball scout," and report back on, the following players, listed in alphabetical order with what I'll look for most noted in parentheses:
Mark Canha (do I see a "keeper" who can mash LHPs at the big league level?)
Kendall Graveman (how does his cutter compare to Duchscherer's, Chavez's?)
Rangel Ravelo (can he stick at 3B?)
Marcus Semien (defensively, is he a worthy every day SS?)
Pat Venditte (because he's THAT interesting, BWH)
Joe Wendle (can I see why the A's are higher on him more than others are?)
I would add Barry Zito and his fastball velocity, but he is scheduled to pitch on Thursday and thus seems unlikely to pitch over the weekend.
I will be part of a six-eye posse, flanked by baseballgirl and Oaktown Power, both of whom come with ample "street cred". Robust, even! (Those old enough to remember should exclaim the previous sentence in their best Snagglepuss voice.)
So tell us: Who are you most keen to get an "eyeball scouting report" on, and what do you want your fellow A's "eyeball scouts" to report back on?