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Eyeball Scout: Nothing To See Here

Oakland Athletics v Chicago Cubs
Command, central.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Who am I kidding — there’s always something to see! I’m just a little bitter that A.J. Puk pitched Friday and thanks to friends who have questionable taste, the Eyeball Scout was bored watching a Dodgers-Royals game at the time. My hope of interviewing Jharel Cotton on Sunday looks like it will take a back seat to the still useful activity of watching him start the game. And as for today? Well it rained — like, seriously Arizona? — but at least it didn’t wash out the A’s game that was played, fittingly, at Surprise.

OK, got the kvetching out of the way. Some quick eyeball notes from the A’s 8-2 loss to the Rangers...

- First and foremost, on a non-A’s (but AL West) note I have to say that Mike Minor looked legitimately great. Throwing his fastball 92 MPH but also mixing in a cutter (or perhaps it’s just his fastball sometimes has natural cutting action), slider, curve, and changeup, what stood out is how much life and movement all his pitches had. It will be interesting to see if that holds up over 6-7 IPs and 20-30 starts, but today it certainly did for 4 dominant innings.

- Daniel Mengden was ‘rocked’ for 6 runs in his first 2 IPs, but I can offer a little solace that in a few ways it wasn’t as bad as it seems.

Twice Mengden was squeezed on two-strike pitches that looked like they could have been called strikes, and twice he was betrayed by his defense: once when Jake Smolinski had a runner dead to rights at 3B until he uncorked a 47-hop throw only vaguely near the bag and once when Boog Powell staggered around in RF but then got a fly ball at the wall, only to drop it as he fell to the ground (apparently having injured himself hitting the wall — he left with the trainer between innings).

Also positive were Mengden’s assortment of pitches, from a 94 MPH fastball to a sometimes biting and late breaking slider to a 69 MPH curve that froze the hitter. It’s a combination that if properly harnessed could be highly effective. And there’s the rub.

Where Mengden faltered was that he really didn’t know where his pitches were going. Too many “balls from the moment they left his hand,” combined with a couple key location mistakes in the strike zone, put Mengden behind the 8-ball despite worthy stuff.

In particular, I noted an 0-2 slider to Elvis Andrus with the infield in and Mengden looking for a strikeout. It found way too much of the plate and Andrus spanked it into LF for a hit. I would chalk this up to spring training rust but really a lack of control/command has been my chief concern around Mengden all along.

It seems to me that Mengden, even in warmups, struggles to maintain a consistent release point and rhythm. It makes you wonder if his elaborate and ever-changing delivery throws him off more than it throws off the hitters. Then again, he often struggles most from the stretch, suggesting that the issues might be occurring later in his delivery and not during all the window dressing.

- Speaking of the A’s beleaguered rotation, Paul Blackburn started, was immediately rocked for a line drive single (Odor) and a booming “swung on, gone” HR (Andrus), but then settled down to complete 3 IPs with only the 2 runs of damage.

Watching from behind the plate Blackburn’s non-electric stuff is evident, which is to say he can still be a “comfortable 0 for 4” on a good day but he is never going to wow you with his pitches. He did get his fair share of balls beaten and chopped foul or to his infielders, which is his game, but he also had 2 walks and other 3-ball counts that he cannot afford during the regular season.

To me the appearance demonstrated how fine Blackburn, who topped out at 91 MPH but was mostly around 90 MPH, has to be in order to succeed. His margin for error is razor thin, and he still seems to me to be much closer to Tommy Milone than to Doug Fister or Marco Estrada — that is, you like having him as your #5 SP but really don’t want to be talking about as your #3, because he commands his stuff well but doesn’t have a plus pitch to go to — just solid offerings and advanced understanding of how to harness them.

- On the hitter-y side, I got my first look at Sheldon Neuse. Watching him fly to RF and strikeout, what stood out, quite honestly, was how slow/long the swing was. However, here on March 10th it’s possible that timing issues are part of the equation because I have a hard time believing that Neuse is customarily so behind fastballs or so hard-pressed to get his bat across the plate while pitches are in the area.

Neuse was the DH so I did not have a chance to watch him field, but looking at his body live for the first time I can say that he is not really chunky so much as he has a rather sun-blocking, how shall we say, set of glutes? I can believe that he is not slow but still maintain that likely his “first step” may be a bit laborious as he attacks balls at 3B, 2B, or potentially LF or RF.

- I don’t have anything ground-breaking to say yet about Jorge Mateo, who started at SS. Mateo reached base beating out a one-hopper to 3B that was bobbled, and he went 1B to 3B on a subsequent single, but in neither case did he look like he was flying — on the E5 he was running out of the box, probably somewhat under control, and on the base hit he didn’t have to kick it into high gear to make it. I look forward to the first time I see him hit one in the gap or down the line.

At SS Mateo looked fluid on the two routine chances he had. No issues with footwork or the arm, and he looked like a SS, but I have to withhold judgment until I see him range far, charge hard, or throw from the hole. These, and not the plays he handled today, tend to tell separate the SS men from the SS boys.

- Finally, during warmups we noticed a really small, young dude playing catch. We weren’t sure if it was a minor league player, a coach’s kid, or a ball boy, but when he entered the game we learned that it was Nick Allen. He’s tiny, he’s adorable, and I want one for my garden. The only thing better than a Nick Allen garden gnome would be a Nick Allen Russian troll doll, where you took off his tiny head and pulled out an even tinier Nick Allen!

Eyeball Scout out for now — onto the clubhouse Sunday morning and more eyeball scouting Sunday and Monday until I have to fly home. Nick Allen will be my carry-on item.