MONDAY, MARCH 1st
I woke up this morning ready to get out to Spring Training early. "Early" for me meaning 9AM, which on vacation is plenty early. I rolled my adorable little Kia Forte into my favorite spot on Kaat Place and disembarked with a few baseballs in my bag and my trusty new camera and as soon as I got up to the first practice field near the stadium and saw Scott Baker, Jon Rauch, and a bunch of other pitchers doing warmup drills of backing up the catcher on a throw to home from the outfield, I thought I'd snap some pictures.
But it wouldn't turn on. I think I left it on all night after downloading my last batch of pictures to the computer for yesterday's post. So, instead, I used my blackberry to take pictures today...
I wandered over to some of the back fields and watched a bunch of exercises in running down baserunners. Here was the set-up: Span is on first, Cuddyer on third. Manning the bases are Morneau, Hudson, Hardy, and Harris (is this hopefully a good sign that the four of them are practicing together and Punto's on another field??). Mauer and Wilson Ramos take turns behind the plate, and about a dozen pitchers take a turn on the mound every time they run the drill. Let's start with Slowey though. Slowey checks the runners, pauses, and Span breaks for 2nd and Mauer starts cawing, so Slowey steps off, checks Cuddyer at third, and then throws to Hardy covering 2nd. As Hardy chases down Span to keep him in a rundown, Cuddyer then breaks for home. Hardy tags Span and throws to Mauer in time to keep Cuddyer in the rundown between he and Harris. It was kind of a fun exercise watch and all the pitchers got a turn.
Slowey and Blackburn are hanging out watching their fellow pitchers run the drill.
Tom Kelly and Rick Anderson were running the drills and it was great hearing TK teasing all the players. During the exercises he looked from the large crowd of onlookers over to Mauer behind the plate and shrugged his shoulders saying "We only had like 3 or 4 people watching back here the other day..." My guess is that Mauer wasn't working out with them then. People would follow him around like he was a magnet. When he sat down to catch Jose Lugo's bullpen session he was only separated by a tiny yellow chain from a swarm of people begging for his autograph and he had to say "Guys, I'm sorry, I really can't sign right now". I can't believe he was able to concentrate on the bullpen session with everyone swarming around him like that...
I guess including me because I was taking his picture on my blackberry...
I remembered watching Shooter Hunt and Deolis Guerra throw bullpen sessions on the backfields last year and I remember how cool it was being that close to them. Before Mauer stepped into the pen it wasn't quite as crowded and I was able to get in close and listen Rick Anderson giving pointers to Anthony Swarzak in a session. Swarzak was talking about he just developed a cutter he's only been throwing for about three weeks (hope I'm not giving away any scouting info here...). Swarzak was throwing to Wilson Ramos.
Ramos is a stud. His batting practice session after this was in the same set as JJ Hardy and Orlando Hudson, and Ramos was just mashing the ball, I felt bad for JJ and O Dog being placed in the same set as him. Eventually Jose Lugo came to throw some live batting practice to JJ, O Dog, and Ramos, and it looked like Ramos fouled a ball hard off his leg and the trainer had to come out and look at him.
Earlier I watched JJ and Orlando on a different field taking reps up the middle with TK watching over them. Orlando had wandered over there with a coach and a bucket of balls and took a bunch of reps before JJ joined him. It was fun watching the two of them play together and see the early stages of our double-play tandem's chemistry on the field. Hudson was certainly showing some great range. He and Hardy botched a handoff and TK immediately said "Ugh, bad ball. Throw it in the trash that one's so bad. We need a good ball."
Later Hardy and Hudson left and were replaced by Morneau, Cuddyer, and Thome. Morneau and Cuddyer were taking hard grounders and first and then tossing them over to Thome who I guess was just out there to get some exercise. TK called to everybody watching and said "Hey, pay attention here, 'cause you guys aren't going to ever see this again" and he hit a hard chopper to Thome who fielded it cleanly out at 2nd and tossed it to Morneau. Morneau and Cuddyer were laughing and so was everyone else.
Eventually I noticed some people practicing on a field without many spectators around it. I figured they were minor leaguers, so I wandered over, and I was right. There were maybe a dozen or so low level minor leaguers working out, taking grounders and throwing them around the horn. One of the guys taking reps at third was none other than Miguel Angel Sano. His footwork looked great and he had a nice arm. It looked like the coordination with his glove was a little shaky on some plays, and he accidentally released a ball to 2nd when he was aiming for 1st which got him plenty of ribbing from the other guys on the diamond, but he definitely looks like a future big leaguer. For one thing, he's huge. I wish I had been able to see him taking some batting practice but he didn't step into the cage. He looked like he was having a lot of fun though, which was cool to see. I was even approached by a couple guys with a camera asking me if they could record my impressions of Sano, and after speaking with them for a bit I found out they've actually been following him around for over a year. They're making a documentary about several prospects from the D.R. and their paths to the majors and the obstacles and situations they encounter. I exchanged info with them and hope to find out some more about it because it sounds like a great project, so hopefully I'll have more for you on that soon.
I wandered back over to that field later and was able to watch Aaron Hicks and Max Kepler taking batting practice together. Kepler is also built really well like Sano, and he just looks so young. But he's got a very fluid swing and I can see why everyone was comparing it to Shawn Greene's. He and Hicks both just looked like naturals with the bat in their hand and the ball would fly off of it really easy.
Anyway, after a few hours at the complex I realized that I should have put on sunblock. When I got out of my car it wasn't really hot and the sun wasn't very direct (it's been surprisingly chilly in Florida the past few days), so I neglected to put on the 70+SPF I had with me -- I burn easily. So I high-tailed it out of the Lee County Sports Complex and back to Naples, picked up my cousin from the condo, and we went back to my favorite Cuban restaurant Fernandez the Bull.
Media noche (Cuban sandwich on sweeter bread), with yuca and sangria.
I slipped into a food coma and spent the rest of the day reading on the porch (in the shade) overlooking the ocean with a few cold Red Stripes. Then I went out with the family to Yabba's Island Grill in downtown Naples and some delicious grouper and a crab and corn chowder, both of which were excellent.
The weather forecast tomorrow is pretty gloomy but I'm still hoping to make it out to Spring Training, so stay tuned!