For the first time in 5 months I saw an A's game, and this one did not end with Josh Donaldson diving a hair late. It was an A's comeback, walk-off win (as detailed here by Alex Hall), and most importantly of all it was baseball!!! Greetings from the Cactus League, where tomorrow I will be interviewing whoever I have a chance to interview but today I got to be strictly an A's fan.
Before getting to the scouting, let me remind us all what baseball is really all about. Just prior to the game, I heard one of my 6th grade students in Berkeley call out, "Nico!" She had spotted me and came to say hi. I had forgotten that she would be down here the same weekend I was.
About 10 minutes later she came back all smiles and giggles to show me a baseball. It was autographed by Coco Crisp, who you would apparently know was her favorite player if you saw the shrine dedicated to him in her house. A child's day, week, month, and year made by the simple act of getting her baseball signed by her favorite player on her favorite team. Thanks, Coco!
The new stadium, Hohokam Park in Mesa, is indeed a good place to watch a game. Besides having that new or renovated feel, it has several rolling hills of grass for kids to play catch, has concessions (gourmet sandwiches, tacos, Wok fried soba noodles) that blow Phoenix Muni -- and frankly the Oakland Coliseum -- out of the water, and has been redesigned to be clearly an A's stadium, from the green and gold color scheme to the historical murals. A couple photos because my words are only worth 1/1,000th of a picture:
The National Anthem was loud, which is different from good, and then the game began with Chris Bassitt taking the mound for the first 2 innings.
It's admittedly difficult to get too much of an idea from just a couple innings thrown, the first week of spring training, to what was far from the Angels' regular lineup. When we asked a scout with a radar gun behind us, Bassitt was ranging from 89-93 MPH. Later he threw a pitch or two that I surmised was likely more like 94 MPH. He appeared to go mostly "fastball/curve/slider" until the end of the 2nd inning, but when he finally did unleash a changeup it was a beauty.
The fastball looked pretty good, his curve and slider had good bite but hung a couple times, and his command was solid more often than not. Sitting behind the plate he didn't look especially deceptive to me as he released the ball, but the hitters will tell you more than your eyes will on that since you're not in the batter's box, and the hitters seemed ill enough at ease to suggest they were not picking up the ball as easily as we were.
All in all, an encouraging first effort even if I wasn't blown away by him. I would like to see more changeups to see if Bassitt has the tools to neutralize LHs and I would imagine he will begin the year as a starting pitcher for AAA Nashville for exactly that purpose.
On the first chance he had in the field at shortstop, Marcus Semien fielded a two-hopper flat footed and unleashed an offline throw that pulled Mark Canha off the bag for an E6. It was in stark contrast to a sharp grounder to the hole Andy Parrino fielded later in the game, gliding, scooping, setting, firing a strike, and making a tough play look easy. Later, Semien turned a 4-6-3 DP on a feed from Zobrist and looked sharp doing it. So 1 for 2 today, which is always a better line at the plate than in the field.
We got to see Mark Canha's round of batting practice and it was impressive. Not only was seemingly every ball stung on a line, but on the ones Canha lifted he showed "easy power". I believe the guy can hit. I am not, however, so sure he can field. He failed to scoop a relatively easy one hop throw at 1B and looked awkward taking a couple snap throws to 1B (by the way, yes Josh Phegley can throw!). He continues to remind me quite a bit of Allen Craig (right down to the alma mater), and there are many worse things to be than a 26 year old Allen Craig. The question is whether he'll be as versatile as Craig, or more of a DH. We'll see.
Renato Nuñez got 2 at bats, lining out to 3B and then winning the game with his smash up the middle and off the rubber in the 9th. In both at bats he punished the ball, actually hitting it as hard or harder when he made an out. In that earlier at bat, Nuñez flailed at a changeup but recovered to get back in the count, lay off that same changeup, and then find a pitch he could line hard. All in all an impressive day for the 20 year old.
There's small sample size theatre and there's small sample size theatre. I have now seen Wendle bat for one pitch, which he took the other way solidly for a single to left. He also ran better than I expected when coming around to score. So based on one pitch, I like the guy. I will be keen to watch him play 2B to see how well he is able to maximize his reportedly average skill set.
Finally, I love A's fans.
But I also have to give a shoutout to the family of Angels fans sitting in front of us, who were as nice, and as fun to talk to, as any Angels fans I have ever met. The icing on the cake was when Grant Green came up, tand he 7-year old informed us immediately that "he was traded for Alberto Callaspo". You go.
Meanwhile, the A's remain undefeated in the Cactus League and I continue to believe that they will not lose a game in 2015.