Padres 2012 Spring Training Report – 2/23

Baseball 23 Feb 2012

It is absolutely AWESOME to be back in Peoria for another Padres Spring training!

I will be with the team virtually every day for the rest of the season, and will try to keep my website busy with blog articles, heyscan emails, occasional video posts, etc., to share as much of the 2012 season from this color analysts’ prespective as possible.

So, what did I see in my first day of watching workouts?  Big arms, and some great communication.   With the position players still not officially reporting until tomorrow (but almost all of them already here), it was a standard early day of spring with pitchers throwing bullpens, and catchers squatting for an hour learning their new battery mates.  Manager Buddy Black and pitching coach Darren Balsley have the starters and relievers throwing their bullpen sessions on alternating days, and it was the rotation candidates’ turn today.  So who stood out for me in my day #1?

PLEASANT SURPRISE: Edinson Volquez – I know he’s always had a strong arm, so in that sense not really a “surprise” to hear the ball hissing as it left his hand before making the awaiting mitt sing.  What I did not anticipate, however, was the percentage of pitches that were down in the zone at the knees.  Although Edinson’s numbers have not been that impressive the past couple of years, no one has ever questioned the liveliness of his stuff even after his surgery elbow surgery in 2009.  What has been a concern and a down fall at times has been his control, averaging over 5 BB’s per 9IP.  The Pads hope that 2 years removed from surgery, and not having to pitch in Cincinnati’s band box ballpark, Volquez will be more aggressive and confident in his stuff to not nibble around the zone.  It’s only one side session, but still it was good to see good life, plane, and location out of a guy who could be a difference making X factor for this rotation.

GREAT COMMAND: Robbie Erlin: For an early spring workout and guys just starting to throw breaking balls, there were surprisingly few baseballs bouncing and short hopping catchers.  That being said the control to both sides of the plate, and consistently at the knees location of the left hander on the far right mound caught my eye.  Not knowing who it was I had to wait until he finished to see the number on his back…then it made sense.  Erlin walked only 16 batters in 147.1 innings last year spread out over 3 teams.  For his minor league career he has issued only 34 free passes in 266 innings of work…and that’s with the inconsistent eyes of A-ball umpires.  To put those numbers in perspective, Greg Maddux averaged 1.8 BB’s per 9 IP; Erlin is averaging 1.15 so far in his minor league work.  So, no surprise here, but still good to see one of the anticipated young stars of the future doing what he does – pound the zone.

NICE TO MEET YOU: Jose De Paula and Jorge Reyes: First time I’ve seen either one of these youngsters throw, but they were fun to watch.  DePaula’s long limbed physique can be a double edged sword in that his mechanics can easily get out of whack, but when he gets that strong left arm into a good throwing position the ball jumps out of his hand and onto the batter in a hurry. Reyes, at 6’3″ and 195lbs. has a wiry build, and the movement his whip like delivery generated today was exceptional.  It looked like some of his pitches changed direction 3 times on their way to the plate.

Dustin Moseley looked smooth as he is returning from surgery to his non throwing shoulder, and Clayton Richard‘s arm action looked free with good extension.  Anthony Bass was also fun to watch as it looked like he was rushing it up there pretty good.

Along with hearing the sound of gloves popping in the bullpen, I heard another less familiar sound.  In fact, when I first heard it I was curious of it’s source.  It was the sound of a player teaching a group of other pitchers and all the catchers in camp how his ball moves…doing the talking was Ernesto Frieri.  Since when did Frieri become a team instructor?

As he stood at home plate, ball in hand, reenacting the movement of his ball as it approached then crossed the plate, the group intently watched and listened.  He then squatted down like a catcher and mimicked where the catcher’s glove should be, then moved to the other side of the plate and set up with a slightly different glove position.

I was initially puzzled as I had never seen this type of demonstration done in an organized group before, but I finally realized that he was indeed teaching the group in detail everything he could about his pitch repertoire, action, selection, location, and how he wanted his catcher to set up for each pitch and situation – brilliant!  As intuitive as it may be that pitchers explain what they normally do to get hitters out, and what they want from their catchers, it would surprise you at how rarely those conversations take place, and when they do how superficial they can be.

Each pitcher was required to address the group of catchers and pitchers with his self evaluation.  This simple exercise accomplished several things:

  • It initiated an open dialogue and line of communication between each pitcher and every cacher he would be throwing to during camp.  For some guys these conversations are comfortable and common, but for the less gregarious this was a healthy exercise to break any pitcher-catcher conversation ice.
  • In just one exchange each catcher now equally knows how each pitcher wants to go after hitters, and how the catchers can best set themselves up to give the desired target.
  • In publicly evaluating themselves the pitchers reveal what they believe to be their strengths, and in some cases either directly or latently their weaknesses, and are now accountable for both.  This insight can be helpful to the catchers and coaches in understanding why a pitcher does what he does in certain situations.  In some cases it can open dialogue for catchers, coaches, or even other pitchers to suggest other ways for a guy to use his weapons to be more effective and helpful to the team.
  • This forum of veteran and young players provided a great classroom for the young bucks to listen and learn as guys who have had success at the MLB level explain how they approach batters, use their pitches in different situations, change the trajectory and movement of a pitch depending on who they are facing and the situation, how they want their catchers to move and set up, and other golden nuggets of learned experience.  Some of it will be taken and applied right away, some of it will go right over their heads, and some of it will be absorbed and lay dormant until at a later time, when the player is ready and the conditions are right  like a seed it will germinate and come forth.

Sometimes it is the most simplest, and obvious of exercises that are often overlooked, but when executed can  provide great returns.

This is my 28th spring training, and I am still learning – LOVE IT!

Looking forward to what tomorrow will bring!

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