Wednesday, March 28, 2012

View From Goodyear: Part Three

Can you feel the RAGE?

Monday was my last day in Goodyear, as my flight back East departed Phoenix Airport at 4:50pm local time. The Indians obliged me with 6-inning intersquad games between Columbus-Akron and Carolina-Lake County on the MLB practice fields, so I managed to watch both games in their entirety before heading to drop off the rental car and hop on a plane. Not only that, but Pure Rage Perez was pitching for Columbus again, so I got to see him in action up close and personal for a 2nd time this spring. On to the notebook…

As I mentioned, Perez was bringing his Rage to the minors again, and he looked good. He worked one inning, allowing one hit and striking out one. He got Cord Phelps to fly out to center, then allowed a single up the middle to Reyes. He came back to strike out Dwight Childs and then got Juan Diaz to fly out to shallow LF to retire the side. Perez was putting all of his effort into his pitches, grunting like a tennis pro with each pitch. He was sharp, throwing only 11 pitches and it appears that his body is now ready to handle the intensity of pitching. He’ll make his Cactus League debut later this week and likely be on track for opening day after all.

Elvis Araujo
Big lefty Elvis Araujo started for Lake County, and twirled four scoreless innings while allowing just two hits. He was sitting consistently between 91-93 with his fastball, and really showed off a greatly improved slider that was giving lefthanded batters fits. Araujo won’t turn 21 until mid-July, and if he can stay healthy he’s a big time breakout candidate in the system.

Starting opposite Araujo for Carolina was righty Kyle Blair, who’s coming off of an injury-plagued season to forget. Blair looked like last year never even happened, matching Araujo pitch for pitch with four scoreless innings of his own. He also gave up just a pair of hits, but he erased Luigi Rodriguez by picking him off of first base after Rodriguez had singled. Blair was mostly between 89-91 with his fastball, and did a really nice job attacking hitters and making them hit his pitch. If he’s over the nagging injuries that slowed him down last year, he could really be a bounceback guy in 2012. He’s still a very polished pitcher who could move quickly through the system.

LeVon Washington made an amazing diving play in CF for Carolina. He’s really getting it done on offense as well as defense this spring. He’s hitting the ball well, throwing the ball well, and playing solid defense in center. He put in a lot more work this offseason than last year, and it’s really showing as he’s healthy and producing this spring. I expect him to have a much, much better season in 2012 than last year.

Lefty T.J. McFarland got the start for Akron, and gave up a couple of runs in four innings of work. McFarland was throwing the ball well, sitting between 90-94 with his fastball velocity. He was victimized by some bad luck on some softly hit balls that fell in for hits, but pitched well overall. He looks both taller and leaner this season, and has a chance to pitch in AAA Columbus as a 22-year old this season. 

Tony Wolters has had a really good camp, making a lot of excellent defensive plays in the field. He was really showing off his range at SS, both up the middle and in the hole to his right. He made a really nice backhanded play and jump-throw to nab a runner at 1B. He was also playing some 2B, and the versatility will go a long ways toward moving him through the system. The Indians have a lot of young, athletic shortstops in the low minors and Wolters might be better suited to move to 2B and play alongside them. He played with Francisco Lindor for Team USA before both were drafted, so there’s already some nice chemistry there.

Chun Chen
Chun Chen has been hitting the ball hard all spring, and showing a really nice approach at the plate. One thing that the Indians minor league coaching staff consistently stresses is having a plan every time you go up to the plate, and Chen certainly does that. He’s rarely swinging at pitches outside of the zone, and doing a nice job hitting his pitch early in the count and happy to take a walk if he doesn’t get something to hit. Catching coordinator Dave Wallace thinks that Chen has made progress towards becoming a more complete defensive catcher, and believes strongly that he’ll be able to play the position defensively in the major leagues someday. With his bat, all he only needs to be an average defender to be an above-average catcher overall.

Both Juan Romero and Robel Garcia showed what makes them promising prospects as well as what makes them far from sure things to make the major leagues. Both showed outstanding bat speed and strength, hitting balls way out of the park in batting practice. They have above average raw power already, and project to add even more strength and size as they mature. But both really struggled to recognize offspeed pitches, and struck out several times each on sliders in the dirt that they couldn’t have hit with a shovel. They have a ton of potential, but their development is not going to be without some growing pains.

Jose Flores, a reliever who struck out 49 hitters in 55 1/3 innings for Kinston last year, pitched a scoreless inning. His fastball was sitting between 91-94, and his slider looked sharp. He’s an under-the-radar guy out of Venezuela who could end up as solid reliever. He should start out in AA Akron in 2012.

Oh, and Roberto Perez threw out another guy stealing. Just thought I’d sneak that in there. 

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