One last look at Spring Training …
Well, another Spring Training is in the books.
After six weeks in Arizona, I pulled into the driveway on Sunday afternoon, ready to see my wife, Schnauzer and, soon enough, the weeds I need to tend to in the backyard.
On the five and a half drive yesterday, I started thinking about the time spent in Arizona and what we learned during that time. I decided to try to wrap things up in words, give a few thoughts about the things I saw, what I liked and what it all means.
So here’s a few of the things that stood out to me in Arizona (in no particular order):
— Pitcher Casey Kelly. The Padres have worked with him to quicken his pace as well as slide him to the first base side of the rubber to create a little deception and make it easier for him to throw his fastball down and away. He had a 1.74 ERA in 20 2/3 innings with 18 strikeouts and two walks. I think he took a big step forward this spring. He’ll try to roll that momentum over to his time with Triple-A Tucson. Tough ballpark and very tough league for pitchers.
— The young talent. There wasn’t a day that passed where we didn’t talk about the young talent in camp. Erlin, Wieland, Kelly and, as manager Bud Black called them, the B-bombers, the young players who would fill in late in games. Rymer Liriano, Jonathan Galvez, Edinson Rincon, Jaff Decker, Matt Clark. Too many to name. There was no shortage of talk all winter about how good the Minor League system is. This spring, we got to see it for ourselves. The future looks very promising.
— First baseman Yonder Alonso. The Padres made it clear early that they wanted their new first baseman to play a lot and to get a good look at the pitchers from the NL West, pitchers he’s bound to see this season. Well, Alonso played a ton. He told me a few days ago that he was getting tired. That makes sense. He had 72 at-bats (hitting .314 with seven extra-base hits). He walked three times but I think he’ll walk more during the regular season. As advertised, the guy uses the whole field. I saw him double down the left field line on a ball away. I saw him homer to right-center, I saw him turn on a number of balls. It looks like an advanced approach to hitting. He told me he’s had the same approach since he was 13. He was much better later in game, the result, he told me, of his body telling him it’s time to hit.
— Right fielder Will Venable. Venable told me in camp that, before this spring, he’s often tinkered with different stances in hopes of finding one that works. Through work last winter with hitting coach Phil Plantier, Venable believes he’s found something that works. He’s quieter in his stance. The bat is quiet and he’s done away with the double-tap in his stride that threw off his balance. Better yet for him, he’s quit worrying what went wrong during an at-bat and instead focusing on what he’s doing right. Here’s a snippet from Venable:
“I’ve asked them a lot of questions,” Venable said of Plantier and Alonzo Powell, both in their first season with the team. “If I ask them what I did wrong on a swing, they will tell me not to worry about it and instead focus on the five good swings that I just took. For me, it’s not focusing on the bad stuff.”
— Other highlights? It’s hard not to like the three deals the Padres did in March to lock up Cameron Maybin, Nick Hundley and, last week, Cory Luebke. The Padres will fork over a guarantee of $46 million in those three deals. All three deals rank as club-friendly. All three follow what new GM Josh Byrnes saw work well during his days with John Hart in the Indians front office in the 1990s.
A few things to keep an eye on moving forward:
— The offense. Yes, it was much better in Spring Training. But what do averages in Arizona get you in the regular season? Zilch. Still, I think the offense will be better one-through-eight than it was in 2011. Really, it has to be if the Padres are to eclipse the 71 victories they had a year ago. I wrote about the offense the other day as part of our season preview. You can read about it here.
— Starting pitching. Not much of a history here as far as innings-eaters go, and that scares me a little. If you can’t work deep into a game, that puts stress on the bullpen. Those appearances start to pile up and that can lead to some bad things. That Tim Stauffer might start the season on the disabled list with a strained right triceps isn’t good. The Padres are going to needs guys like Edinson Volquez and Cory Luebke to log some big innings in 2012. The Padres, who lean on the run prevention model as much as anyone in the game, need their starters to work deep. Here’s what Byrnes had to say.
“In general, I think starters’ innings are a real indicator of a team’s success,” Byrnes said. “… It has a huge carry-over effect. You want your starters to pitch deep in games.”
Anyway, just a few thoughts as we move forward toward Opening Day on Thursday.
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Corey Brock, MLB.com