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Grapefruit League Report - 2019

Baseball, Travel & Hallmark

Grapefruit League Report - 2019

Jon Daniels

In early March I spent 10 days on Florida’s Gulf Coast going to 9 baseball games featuring 8 teams in 6 parks. The sunny weather was warm with temps in the mid 80’s. Most of the time was spent at my timeshare on Siesta Key in south Sarasota. The last 3 days I stayed in Dunedin at the Fenway Hotel.

I flew into Tampa Saturday afternoon and had plenty of time to reach a game in Sarasota that evening with SABR friend and Yankee fan John Carter from Halifax. My podcasting brother Jeri flew in the next day and stayed 5 days. His trip was shortened by one day when his original Southwest flight was cancelled as a result of the Boeing 737 8-max grounding.

Below you will find commentary on each game as well as my observations and the players I found interesting. I have classified my comments into the following categories:

  1. Prospects with a (MLB) rating (1-30) by team from the 2019 MLB Prospect. Watch

  2. Starting pitchers (SP) with indication of their position (1–5) in the rotation from the MLB Roster Resource Depth Chart.

  3. Ex-Cub, Ex-White Sox and Ex-Cardinals players still hanging in there.

  4. Minor League veterans, some with Non Roster Invitee (NRI) status  

New York Yankees vs. Baltimore Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota

The Yanks defeated the O’s 6-1. The Yankees righty starter Luis Cessa (SP5) pitched 4 shutout innings striking out 4. The O’s righty hurler David Hess (SP4) went 3 1/3 innings giving up 2 runs and striking out 4. The Yankees offense featured a 2 RBI single by catcher Gary Sanchez. Yankee Greg Bird who is battling Luke Voit for the 1B position was 1 for 3. Other players noted:

  • Billy Burns (NRI formerly with A’s) – This Yankee showed he still had some speed with a run- scoring double and 2 SB’s. He will probably shore up the Yankees outfield at the AAA level.

  • Albert Abreu (Yankee Prospect MLB3) – This 23-year-old righty hurler was acquired from the Astros for Brian McCann. He has an upper 90’s fastball coupled with a swing and miss slider. Although he did not give up any runs in his 1 1/3 innings, 3 walks showed he still needs some work on his control. With the Yanks fully loaded pen, his MLB ETA is not likely until 2020.

Pittsburgh Pirates vs. New York Yankees at Legends Field in Tampa

The Yanks came from behind to edge the Pirates 6-5. Pittsburgh got off to a fast start on HR’s by Jung Ho Kang and Francisco Cervelli in the 2nd inning. Due to an alleged sexual assault in Chicago and leaving a DUI scene in Korea, Kang only played 3 games during 2017 and 2018. In spite of this inactivity, he has had a strong spring (6 HR’s) and is slotted to start the season at 3B for the Pirates. The Yankees relief corps headed by new Yankee Adam Ottavino (3 K’s in one inning) held the Bucco’s at bay. The Yanks pulled ahead on a 2-run HR by Zachary Zehner in the 8th. Zack finished at the AAA level last year and could become the first MLB player with both a first and last name starting with “Z”.

Other players noted:

  • Chris Archer (Ex-Cub Prospect) – This Pirates starter (SP4) threw 3 shutout frames striking out 4.

  • Francisco Liriano (Ex-White Sox starter) – This southpaw followed Archer and was unable to retire a batter as he walked 4 straight hitters. His starting days are over as he will be a middle reliever.

  • Nick Burdi (Pirates Prospect MLB24) – This righty reliever held the Yanks hitless in 1 1/3 innings. Since being drafted in the 2nd round by the Twins in 2014, he has displayed a mid-90’s fast ball with movement as shown by his 12.2 K’s per 9 innings in the minors. He is a Rule 5 pick and therefore has a good chance of making the Pirates pen.

Minnesota Twins vs. Pittsburgh Pirates at LECOM Park in Bradenton

The Twins walloped the Pirates with 6 runs in the last 2 innings 10-4. Twins southpaw starter Stephen Gonsalves (MLB11) went 3 innings giving up 3 runs and striking out 3. 24-year-old Stephan has 6 years in the minors through the AAA level and 7 games with the Twins. He will likely start at the AAA level as his ERA in spring training is close to 6.00. Cancer survivor Jameson Taillon (SP1) got the start for Pittsburgh giving up 3 runs and striking out 2 over 4 innings.

Other players noted:

  • Lamont Wade (Twins Prospect MLB22) – This 25-year-old left-handed outfielder drove in 3 runs with a triple and could be an early call up.

  • Melky Cabrera (Ex-White Sox outfielder) – The Milk Man had 2 singles in 3 AB’s and has a good chance of making the Pirates as a backup outfielder.

Toronto Blue Jays vs. Baltimore Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota

The O’s came back with 3 runs in the 8th to edge the Jays 6-5. Short righty Marcus Stroman (SP1) dominated over 4 1/3 innings giving up 1 run and 2 hits while striking out 6. Marcus made an egregious error in the 4th when he called off the infield and unsuccessfully tried to catch a popup near 2nd Base; definitely not the play one would expect from a Duke graduate. Ex-Cub righty Andrew Cashner (SP3) lasted 3 2/3 innings for the O’s giving 3 runs while striking out 4.   

The Blue Jays are loaded with prospects. SS Bo Bichette (MLB2), catcher Danny Jansen (MLB3), outfielder Billy McKinney (MLB14 and ex-Cub prospect), and 1B Rowdy Tellez (MLB22) each got at least 1 hit and any of them could be called up sometime in 2019. There were no Vlad Jr. sightings as he had already been sent to the minor league camp. 

Philadelphia Phillies vs. Tampa Bay Rays at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte

The Phillies scored 3 runs late in the game to edge the Twins 4-3. The Rays used righty opener Emilio Pagan and 4 other relievers who did not issue any walks. 24-year-old righty starter Drew Anderson of the Phillies threw 4 scoreless innings and likely will start the season at the AAA level where he was 9-4 last year with an ERA of 4.04 in 19 starts. Dylan Cozens, a large (6’6” 235 lbs.) outfield slugger (88 HR’s in past 3 minor league seasons) hit the go ahead HR for the Phils in the 8th inning.

Other players noted:

  • Gift Ngoepe (NRI minor league veteran) – This 29-year-old Phillies infielder has played most of his 10-year career in the Pirates organization. In April 2017, Gift made his ML Debut and became the 1st South African to play in the Majors. His spirited play has made him an international ambassador of baseball. It was a pleasure to see Gift hit a 2-run HR to tie the game.

Detroit Tigers vs. Tampa Bay Rays at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte

The Rays scored 5 runs in the 5th inning to defeat the Tigers 7-3. The Rays used righty opener Ryne Stanek and 4 other relievers who issued only one walk. Ryne started 29 games last year and could be the 1st player to start 40 games since Charlie Hough in 1987. Righty starter Spencer Turnbill (MLB19) gave up 1 run in 4 innings and is projected to start the season in the Tigers pen as a long reliever/spot starter. Ex-Indian infielder Yandy Diaz supplied most of the Rays offense with a HR, single, and 4 RBI’s.

Other players noted:

  • Emilio Bonifacio (Ex-White Sox and Cub infielder) – This slap-hitter had 3 singles in 4 AB’s for the Rays and will probably start the season at the AAA level.

  • Avisail Garcia (Ex-White Sox outfielder) – Avisail had a walk in 3 PA’s and is expected to be the Rays regular right fielder.

  • Jeimer Candelario (Ex-Cub infielder) – Jeimer had a double in 3 AB’s and is expected to be the Tigers regular 3rd baseman.

Baltimore Orioles vs. Toronto Blue Jays at Grant Field in Dunedin

The Grant Field has been the only spring training home (since 1977) of the Blue Jays. The park will be having extensive renovations before next spring. Renovations mean replacing the charming Craft Beer Café in the 3rd base concourse with a Tiki Hut Bar beyond left field. No spring training park improvements are complete without a Tiki Hut Bar.

The O’s slipped by the Jays with a score of 4-3. Righty O’s starter Alex Cobb (SP1) was pumped by the announcement of being the opening day starter as gave up 3 runs in 5 innings while striking out 8. Jays’ righty starter Sam Gaviglio allowed 2 hits and runs while striking out 5. Sam is an 8-year minor league veteran with stops at St. Louis, Seattle & Kansas City before coming to Toronto. He is expected to be in the Jays bullpen staff. 2nd Baseman Gavin Biggio (MLB10) and Catcher Reese McQuire (MLB24) lead the offense with a hit & RBI apiece.

Other players noted:

  • Austin Hays (Orioles Prospect MLB4) – This 23-year-old outfielder had a HR in 4 AB’s. Austin, a 2016 3rd round draft pick out of Jacksonville University, should be promoted to the O’s in 2019.

  • Elvis Luciano (Blue Jays Prospect MLB28) – This 19-year-old right-handed reliever out of DR pitched 1/3 inning giving up a hit, a run and 2 walks. He has already pitched for 3 organizations and was selected by the Jays in the Rule 5 draft. Since he must be on the ML roster to stay with the Jays, he has a good chance of being the 1st player born in 2000 to make it to the Majors.

New York Yankees vs. Philadelphia Phillies at Spectrum Park in Clearwater

The split squad Yankees brought their “B” team to Clearwater and powered up to beat the Phillies 7-3 behind HR’s by Greg Bird, Gleyber Torres, and Troy Tulowitski. Southpaw starter James Paxton (SP2) of the Yankeeslooked ready to start the season with 4 1/3 innings of no hit ball. Phillies righty starter Jered EIckhoff threw shutout ball striking out 5. Jered is scheduled to start the season at the AAA level but should be one of the 1st starters called up when needed. Bryce Harper made his 1st start at DH since injuring his ankle on a HBP. He was 0 for 4 striking out twice. He appeared to run okay on the ankle.

Other players noted:

  • Tommy Kahnie (Ex-White Sox reliever) – This hard throwing righty threw scoreless ball for an inning and looks ready to take his place in the formidable Yankee pen.

  • Shane Robinson (Ex-Cardinal NRI) – This diminutive veteran outfielder was the hitting star of the Yankees with a 2-run triple. He will probably start the season at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Detroit Tigers vs. Toronto Blue Jays at Grant Park in Dunedin

The Blue Jays scored 3 runs in the first 2 innings and held on to beat the Tigers 3-2.  Minimalist southpaw Daniel Norris (SP5) of the Tigers started and gave up 3 runs in 3 innings. Daniel is known for living out of his van and staying overnight in Walmart parking lots. The cost of his lifestyle barely dents his $2 million bonus. Ex-Cub Clayton Richard (SP5) of the Jays gave up 2 runs over 6 innings striking out 6.

Other players noted:

  • Teoscar Hernandez (minor league veteran) – This 26-year-old Blue Jay outfielder was 2 for 4 with a HR and a single. Teoscar came up through the Astros farm system. He was presented with a 2017 WS ring based on playing 1 1/3 innings in the outfield in one game. He has a good chance of sticking on the team as a utility outfielder.

  • Christin Stewart (Tiger Prospect MLB8) – This 25-year-old left-handed outfielder went 0 for 3. I saw Christin play for the Mud Hens in 2018 and noted his exceptional power. He hit 25 homers for Toledo and is expected to start the season in LF for the Tigers.

  • Gordon Beckham (Ex-White Sox infielder) – This 10-year ML veteran has only played 36 ML games the past 3 years. He hit a HR in 3 AB’s & will head north with Detroit as a utility infielder.

I felt good seeing 9 games in 10 days. On the off day, my brother Jeri and I went to the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium on Longboat Key in Sarasota. Yes, I enjoy activities besides baseball.