Day 2: Lakeland

Hey all, coming to you from Joker Marchant Stadium after a thrilling 7-6 Tigers victory over the Cardinals. There’s a lot of stuff I want to talk about, but let me start with my Day 2 Prospect Impression.

It was a good day to watch young relievers who can light up radar guns. Jason Motte, the converted catcher who’s competing to be the Cardinals’ closer this season, entered the game in the eighth and struck out the side, topping out at 98 mph and breaking Mike Hessman’s bat in the process. He’s now gone six innings this spring, allowing five hits while walking none and striking out 10. Works for me.

Not to be outdone, Tigers 2008 first-round pick Ryan Perry came into the game in the ninth. While he gave up a hit and struck out just one, he was just as overpowering, routinely hitting 97 and 98 on the stadium gun, which I’m told isn’t necessarily the most consistent machine you’ll ever see. Still, it seemed pretty legit. The fastball was working so well, he threw just one slider and that clocked in at 88. In a word, nasty. The right-hander out of Arizona has definitely made some noise this spring, going 5 2/3 innings, allowing five hits, one walks and striking out six. He’s yet to yield a run. If Joel Zumaya isn’t ready to answer the bell on Opening Day, don’t be shocked to see Perry head north with this club.

Two other things I wanted to touch on… I always enjoy when the more “mainstream” media, which don’t often write about prospects or the Rule 5 draft, do something on the subject. I was very pleased when I got my USA Today at the hotel this morning to find that Bob Nightengale had done a nice feature on several Rule 5 picks hoping to stick in the big leauges (once I made it through the 457 pages of NCAA tourney coverage). Good stuff.

Finally, and this is oddly related to the Rule 5 stuff, so much of the talk and stuff we write about Spring Training is about hope, optimism, you know, “up with people” kind of stuff. There is a down side, of course, when people get sent down. Sometimes it’s inevitable or known ahead of time. Jess Todd, the Cardinals prospect about whom I just filed a feature, knew he wasn’t going to make the team this spring and loved experiencing his first big-league camp (don’t be surprised to see him in St. Louis this season, though).

But sometimes it’s a little surprising. 2007 Rule 5er Brian Barton was optioned today. He’s a great underdog story, a smart guy who was a non-drafted free agent. He moved up the Indians’ ladder until the Cards plucked him in the Rule 5 when Cleveland didn’t protect him. He had a big spring last year, made the team and though he had two stints on the DL, looked like he was ready for a career as a backup outfielder at the very least.

But he hadn’t played well this spring and it was tougher to find him enough playing time, so the Cards sent him down so he could play every day. Barton’s a classy guy and handled the ensuing questions with aplomb, saying that he’s always been the type of player to have a positive attitude. So don’t look for him to sulk. Here’s hoping he puts up monster numbers and forces his way back into the St. Louis outfielder picture soon. They could use a right-handed bat and I’d like nothing more than to see him get another shot.

I’ll be in Tampa for the night tilt between the Pirates and Yankees. Till then… 

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