It’s been a rough year for the Eyeball Scout. One year ago today, I was supposed to be flying down to spring training, but the previous day baseball shut down, eventually reopening only to cardboard cutouts. March 13th, 2020, was also the last day of live school that Oakland has seen.
Fast forward one year and the Eyeball Scout is still blind, having foregone a Cactus League trip for the second consecutive year. However, this hasn’t stopped him from making “observations” even if only based on what he has read, heard, and intuited.
Comeback A’ser of the Year: Matt Olson
Olson is simply too good, and too bright, to hit at Mendoza Line levels for more than a fluky 60 game season. It was a bit alarming to see him whiff on so many fastballs in the strike zone, but you had to think Olson was going to figure out how to tweak his hands, body, swing, and return to form.
Few awards are given out mid March, and for good reason, but if the first three weeks of spring training are any indication the league’s pitchers are in for a long year, and by long I mean 450 feet and majestic.
Even batting just .195 last year, Olson put up an above-average hitting line (103 wRC+), but I am predicting a return to form closer to 2019’s 135 wRC+ (.267/.351/.545) maybe with a slightly more modest batting average around .250.
Todd Linden Award: Pete Kozma
Every spring there is someone who tears the cover off the ball unexpectedly, and while you would think I was referring to Buddy Reed in fact Reed is just for 4 for 16 this spring, albeit with two home runs and yesterday’s game winning hit.
No I am referring to shortstop Pete Kozma, a light hitting defensive specialist who is 7 for 18 with a HR and 2 doubles in the Cactus League.
Here is where you remember that Kozma has had 341 major league games to establish who he is as a hitter, and it’s not pretty. .215/.278/.291 (54 wRC+) not pretty. Kozma is a Brendan Ryan’s Brendan Ryan and really a last resort to play any meaningful games at SS.
In contrast, Vimael Machin has put together a bevy quality plate appearances, which so far translate to the same 7 for 18 with a lot of the outs hard-hit, and while his options status probably guarantees him a ticket to the alternate site, Machin has a chance to make an impact this season for a team with plenty of endurance/quality questions up the middle.
Some other “don’t be fooled” notes...
Granted, Romo hasn’t instilled any with his first two appearances. But while scouts love to say things like “He could roll out of bed and paint the outside corner with a slider,” this isn’t actually true. March is for regaining muscle memory, and Romo will be fine. In fact at this rate he might get the save on Opening Night. (Hey, so did Arthur Rhodes.)
How nice that Jed is in “the best shape of his life” and able to show signs of being able to play second base again. Lowrie’s knee is unlikely to respond well to repeated time in the field, and playing him a lot at second base early in the season would probably just cost games and at bats on the back end.
This would be fine if the A’s had a hotshot second base prospect at AAA who just wasn’t quite ready. Then you squeeze what you can out of Lowrie in April and May until he breaks.
But given the realities of the A’s depth chart, and Jed’s body, I think the A’s will be wise to use the DH role (vs. LHPs), pinch-hitting, and occasional spot starts and to focus on keeping Lowrie healthy by exercising moderation. Jed’s body may look great now, but that is partly due to the lack of wear and tear that April brings.
The Eyeball Scout finally gets a break tomorrow, with a televised game started by Frankie Montas. It will be nice to report on what I see for a change, rather than using inference to replace optics. Remember to advance your clock one hour tonight, and that as a result first pitches will generally be at 1:00pm the next two weeks.
Thoughts? Agreements? Disagreements? Additions? Turkey sub?
Note: Today’s A’s-Reds game is at 5:00pm PST, with Sean Manaea getting his first start of the Cactus League for Oakland.