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Eyeball Scout Says “Hey-y” From The Cactus League

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MLB: Spring Training-Oakland Athletics at Seattle Mariners
Now THAT’S plate coverage.
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Fresh off a banana split he “probably shouldn’t have had but who can really resist?” the Eyeball Scout sits in his hotel room reflecting back on 3 days of Cactus League action.

First and foremost, let me announce, with pleasure, that my annual sojourn into the A’s clubhouse went well. I was able to sit down with Dustin Fowler, Jesus Luzardo, and Jharel Cotton, for “AN exclusives” I will transcribe and post during the seemingly interminable 10 days between now and “Opening Middle Of The Night”. I felt good about all three interviews and continue to marvel at how friendly and accommodating this team always seems to be.

Now, back to the action on the field...Notes and notables from Friday, Saturday, and Sunday’s games at Hohokam Park...

Jesus Luzardo

I stood behind the plate for Luzardo’s innings to get the best look I could at his stuff — although I will always maintain that I actually see pitches better from the TV angle than I do in person even right behind the plate. But this was definitely a good first hand look at the Jesus Lizard.

I felt like I saw the best and worst in seeing Luzardo’s 1st and 3rd innings, respectively. I see what the A’s mean when they say his key, at this point, is simply “fastball command”. In the 1st he didn’t quite have it and everything unraveled from there, as Luzardo couldn’t find the outside corner and then wasn’t especially deceptive throwing his changeup. The damage was only one run thanks to a base running blunder that turned a fly ball into a double play, but in reality the 1st, and really the 2nd as well, were characterized by spotty command and hard contact.

Nonetheless, you could see that the raw stuff was there as Luzardo’s fastball ranged from 92MPH-96MPH and had plenty of finish, sometimes also excellent arm-side run. His breaking ball had visibly sharp movement and his changeup came out of his hand same as his fastball. And yet he was not all that effective.

Then came the 3rd inning, in which Luzardo flat out dominated. You could see that he was in one of those “pitcher grooves” where he executed every pitch to precision. Suddenly the fastball was freezing batters and the changeup was getting wild swings and misses, or getting cued off the end the bat by batters visibly out in front. He was breaking down swings and making it look easy. The 4th inning was solid as well, in the same way, starting with “fastball command” and following naturally from there.

Is Luzardo one of the A’s best 5 SPs right now? I think it would be hard to argue otherwise, even if he has aspects of his game that are slightly raw. The stuff will play and mask some of the lack of polish, and as 21 year olds go he is awfully polished. The news of Daniel Mengden having a 4th option is huge for Luzardo’s chances, be it now or late April, because there is no longer a logjam of “out of options” pitchers. So while readiness and service time remain potential considerations, the fact that Luzardo has options no longer dooms him to start the season at AAA. The plot thickens...

Chad Pinder

Chad Pinder is flat out locked in this spring. The ball is exploding off his bat despite an easy swing and he has not looked like a “hacker” at the plate. And as if his .345./406/.690 didn’t speak enough for itself, Pinder has struck out just once in 30 plate appearances. In the field, Pinder made a “web gem” diving catch of a line drive in front of him, thanks to a sensational first step to go with strong closing speed and the decisiveness/confidence to make a good quick choice to lay out for it.

I have long argued that Pinder is best served as a platoon outfielder, but even though he gives up a bit against RHPs I think you could make a case that his LF defense is strong enough, and his bat is dangerous enough, he has a chance to be a solid everyday LFer. Certainly playing every day would give him the best shot at breaking out and realizing his potential, and on this A’s team — one gifted with plenty of offense — it is tempting to put a plus LFer out there every day and give up a little offense if need be should Pinder struggle against RHPs.

Prior to the signing of Robbie Grossman, Pinder was battling Nick Martini (currently injured) and Dustin Fowler (also a hitting question mark) for at bats in LF. Now, it appears Grossman will be very much in the mix and that no one is going to lay claim to an every day spot in LF. But Pinder is making a heck of a case right now.

Jerry Blevins

There are results and there is process. Obviously, on Saturday the results were terrible as Blevins walked a batter, hit another, and served up doubles and HRs like they were going out of style.

As someone who has always liked Blevins, nonethelss the Eyeball Scout is obliged to report that this time process matched results. Blevins did not top 88 MPH, could not effectively locate his curve, and was ostensibly serving up batting practice to the Brewers’ hitters, and not their “A team” either. When guys named “Orf,” “Lutz,” and “Erceg” — all presumably named by ancestors who randomly grabbed a few tiles from a Scrabble bag — are lighting you up like a Christmas tree, this is not good. And it was not good.

You know who apparently was good today? (I say “apparently” because he was in the split squad game the Eyeball Scout did not see.) Wei-Chung Wang, the Taiwanese lefty who faced 5 batters, gave up one hit and struck out the other 4. Is it possible Wang could make a late case to break camp as Oakland’s second lefty reliever? The alternative may be roll with just Ryan Buchter from the left side because while you never want to put too much stock in spring training performance, it really looks like Blevins may be “done”.

Other small sample observations...

- Twice, an outfielder played a ball badly and I wondered “Who was that out there?” Both times it was Skye Bolt.

- Greg Deichman clocked a HR and lined one through the right side hole so hard it got down the line enough for him to leg out a double. He also made a fine running catch of a foul fly ball right at the stands. A good showing for a prospect who was predicted to be a “fast riser” before his wrist injury last season.

- Tanner Anderson looked like a big league pitcher in his 3 IP Saturday, showing a heavy 92 MPH sinker and keeping hitters off balance with his slider and changeup. He could wind up being one of the most under the radar pickups of the A’s off-season, as well as one of their most effective Andersons.

Eyeball Scout out. Now to transcribe...........fast as I can, folks, fast as I can.