Good day for a prospect fan
Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.
I headed to Tempe with one initial goal — to interview Angels middle infield prospects Brandon Wood and Howie Kendrick. That mission was accomplished and then some. Wood and Kendrick are among the better interviews in all of Minor League Baseball and they play off each other like an old comedy team. So a good time was had by all.
Had that been it, I would’ve been happy. But while watching the pair workout on a back field in Tempe as cameraman Scott Caplan got extra footage of the duo, I turned to watch some of the pitchers get some side sessions in. There were some prospects of times past, like Chris Bootcheck, and some with intriguing futures, like Jose Arredondo. But then I honed in on a young right-hander wearing No. 90. He was working on his two-seamer and his changeup, mostly on locating it down in the zone. The main point the pitching coach tried to make was for this youngster not to do too much — concentrate on keeping it down. Don’t worry about the side to side location. Greg Maddux, it was pointed out, can locate his change in and out and he’s 40. So this kid had 21 years to figure that part out. The young prospect’s name? Nick Adenhart. I’d never seen Adenhart throw in person before…he was arguably the top high school pitching prospect in the 2004 draft before blowing out his elbow weeks before the draft and requiring Tommy John surgery. The Angels, never afraid of taking a risk, drafted him in the 14th round even though it seemed certain he was headed to North Carolina and a redshirt year. But they convinced him to sign and he made it back sooner than expected, and he pictched remarkably well. It was only one session, but he was throwing free and easy, he was soaking up the information and then using that info into how he delivered the pitches he was working on. Command may be elusive for TJ surgery recovery pitchers, but Adenhart was keeping both pitches down in the zone more often than not.
Had I just talked to Kendrick and Wood and watched Nick Adenhart throw, that would have been enough. But then I got to chat with Arkansas manager Ty Boykin. Ty managed Brandon and Howie in Rancho (at least until Kendrick got promoted) and really broke down their games exceptionally well. Minor league managers are great to talk to and Boykin, who was a player in the Angels’ system once upon a time, was no exception.
Had that been the end of my visit to Tempe, I would have been content. But then the last gift of the day came when I saw the team the Brewers brought to Tempe to play the Angels. Now some may have been disappointed by the lack of any Major League names, but not I. Alcides Escobar, Hernan Iribarren, Brad Nelson, Adam Heether, Angel Salome, Charlie Fermaint, Lou Palmisano, Darren Ford, Drew Anderson — need I say more? Oh, and Brewers Minor League pitcher of the year Tim Dillard started and was followed by pitching prospects like Yovani Gallardo and Mark Rogers. The fact the Brewers were spanked, 12-1, by the Angels (with some help from Kendrick and fellow prospects Kendry Morales and Jeff Mathis) is irrelevant. It’s one of the best things about Spring Training — all these players you hear about, you read about, you write about, you talk to scouts about — you get the chance to see in action. Watching the 19-year-old Salome pick up the lone hit against AL Cy Young Award winner Bartolo Colon, showing no fear, is something that barely creates a blip on the radar of Major League Baseball, but for prospect geeks like me, it was a sight to behold.
Before I take my leave, a couple of culinary recommendations if you’re in Arizona for Spring Training. One is the Old Town Tortilla Factory in old town Scottsdale. Good eats, great atmosphere. And then there’s the Stockyard Restaurant in Phoenix, not far from the airport. It’s easy to miss because of construction on the street, but it’s worth the stop.
Friday is Phoenix — don’t forget to tune into Around the Minors from Phoenix Municipal Stadium at 2 p.m. ET.