Thursday, February 26, 2009

It's Really Starting

Today we play our first official Cactus League game, which marks the beginning of our spring training season. The title of this post, however, refers more to my daily routine than to the big league team, as I'll see eight games over the next four days starting with a tripleheader today.

I start today with our Major League game, which I'll leave early in order to hurry over to a local high school game before it begins to see a high profile pitcher. Near the conclusion of that game, I'll jump back in the car and head to Arizona State for the ASU/Missouri matchup that most of the scouting world will see.

It'll be a long day, and the quality of play will vary dramatically, but it should be productive. Oh yeah, it'll probably be fun, too.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Pads Win!

I don't care what time of year it is or even if the game doesn't count, it always feels good to win.

We yielded a game tying homer with one out in the top of the ninth, but managed to get some baserunners aboard in both the 9th and 10th. With two outs in the 10th, Travis Denker drew a walk, and then Luis Durango entered the game as a pinch runner and promptly stole second base. As it turns out, the SB probably wasn't needed as Kyle Blanks laced a gapper into deep right-center field to end the game (after just missing a homer down the line to LF).

Ernesto Frieri gets the win after a scoreless top of the 10th.

Lineup Changes

The starters have all left the game, so we now have the following around the diamond:

Eliezer Alfonzo, C
Kyle Blanks, 1B
Travis Denker, 2B
Chris Burke, SS
Pete Ciofrone, 3B
Emil Brown, LF
Drew Macias, CF
Cedric Hunter, RF

We're Definitely Not in Petco

The Pads have taken a 3-2 lead through five innings largely because we've gotten the leadoff man on in each of the five innings.

Scott Hairston and Kevin Kouzmanoff have led the way with Hairston going 2-2 with a double and a walk and Kouz going 1-2 with a 2-run opposite field homer and a walk.

Though they weren't 1-2-3 innings, Cla Meredith, Chris Britton, and Wilton Lopez all pitched scoreless frames with the help of a couple of double plays.

Through Two

Through the first two innings the Pads are down 2-0.

After a scoreless inning from Peavy in the 1st, Heath gave up four hits and two runs in the 2nd, though Chase Headley did throw out a runner at home.

Offensively, both Hairston amd Edgar Gonzalez led off with singles, and Kouz mixed in a walk, but we haven't been able to capitalize.

Meredith has taken the mound for the top of the 3rd.

First Game... Kind of

Today we finally have our first game, but it's not an official Cactus League game so you won't find it on Rather, it's the annual charity game that we play against the Mariners.

Nine different pitchers will each get one inning today:

Jake Peavy
Heath Bell
Cla Meredith
Chris Britton
Wilton Lopez
Mark Worrell
Scott Patterson
Mike Ekstrom
Oneli Perez

The starting lineup:

Scott Hairston, CF
David Eckstein, 2B
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Kevin Kouzmanoff, DH
Chase Headley, LF
Edgar Gonzalez, 3B
Will Venable, RF
Nick Hundley, C
Luis Rodriguez, SS

I know Tiger Wood is back out there today, but so are the Pads.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Full Squad

Everyone has reported to camp, and we're currently in the indulgent stage: all of the pitchers look great on the side, our hitters smack homer after homer during batting practice, and (knock on wood) nobody has been injured. Nevertheless, I'm not satisfied.

All winter we wait for the day that pitchers and catchers report. After months of being in the office and trying to acquire players through many different channels, we finally get back out on the field and see these various players side-by-side. The problem is that it takes about a day or two of watching pitchers fielding practice (pfp) and bullpen sessions to start itching for the rest of the position players.

Once the position players do arrive we have a big team meeting before the first full squad workout (this happened yesterday), and then early in the workout I realize yet again that the action really doesn't start until live bp (which happens tomorrow). Live bp is when our hitters dig in against our pitchers, and the staff and front office assume the umpire's spot to get a close up view.

I enjoy live bp, because it forces me to appreciate every year just how good these guys really are. Quite frankly, you can get a little numb watching on tv and even in the stands - it can look so easy. However, when you're right there, just a few feet from the batter's box, the velocity, the bite, the command... it always reminds me why I stopped playing a long time ago.

Of course, after about a day or two of live bp I want to start playing games. Then after about a week of those, I want to start playing games that count. And so it goes when spring training whets the appetite.

Nevertheless, I'm still looking forward to live bp.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Pitchers and Catchers

Back when I started working in baseball for the Cleveland Indians, the only feeling that rivaled winning in the playoffs was getting in your rental car in Orlando in the middle of February, rolling down the windows, and soaking up the 60+ miles to Winter Haven. The satisfaction had nothing to do with the drive itself - central Florida isn't necessarily known for stunning topography. Rather, it was the realization that another nascent season was upon us.

Of course, leaving the Cleveland winter behind didn't hurt.

The first event of every spring training is the opening meeting of the staff - front office, Major League coaches, AAA coaches, minor league coordinators and roving instructors. We always begin with some housekeeping items - introductions of new staff, important dates on the schedule, etc - but the meat is the roundtable discussion of each and every player in Major League camp.

As the various staff members share their experiences and perspectives, the discussion inevitably gets people excited. There are always new players in camp, new things to work on with veteran players, and a pervasive optimism. After all, our passion for this game has led us to these jobs, and we're all anxious to get started after four or five months of no baseball.

There are also always a few laughs, like the time in Oakland when a new staffer had compiled the depth chart which contained a young left-handed pitcher named Mark Mudler. Nobody really knew much about Mudler, but we had high hopes for a kid named Mulder. The poor guy never lived it down.

The next morning is full of greetings: "How was your winter? Family good?” But, as I’m sure the players suspect (or at least they should), it’s also full of whispers: “Did you see so-and-so? He looks great!” or the more sarcastic “It's good to see him so dedicated to eating fried food.”

The best part, of course, is when the players take the field, which all of pitchers and catchers are doing this morning. That's when everyone gets to do what they're here to do - players are throwing the ball around, coaches are coaching, and the front office... well, we're watching, evaluating, and just happy to be outside.

Leaving San Diego this weekend didn't have quite the same qualities as leaving Cleveland in the mid-90's. I now have a family, which makes it much more difficult to leave, and there's no urge to leave San Diego weather behind...ever (I actually drove through snow between San Diego and Phoenix on Saturday). That said, the feeling of arriving in spring training has not changed in my 14 years.

I hope it never does.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

New Season

I begin the drive to Peoria on Saturday morning, so I've been busy with a number of items this week in preparation for the new season, including this blog. Let's travel back for some context.

Back on May 9, 2008 the Padres returned from a very difficult nine-game East Coast road trip that resulted in a 2-7 record and four consecutive losses at the back end. Our record when we left San Diego was a disappointing, but manageable, 10-16. 12-23 upon our return, however, was both more daunting and more frustrating. Nevertheless, it was a Friday night with over 30,000 fans at Petco, and Jake Peavy was taking the mound against Colorado. All was well, and the Padres held a 1-0 lead through five innings.

In the top of the sixth the Rockies loaded the bases on a bunt and two walks before back-to-back singles drove in three runs. We didn't even manage another hit until Kevin Kouzmanoff's one out homer in the bottom of the 9th, and we lost 4-2. Sorry to make you relive it.

Rather than being at Petco, however, I was sitting behind home plate at UC Irvine doing some amateur coverage while following the Major League action on my blackberry. Despite not seeing even one pitch of the Padres game, I was really aggravated. On the ride home from Irvine, I just kept thinking, "We have to do something! ANYTHING!"

This blog qualified under the "ANYTHING" category.

The point of all this is that in my haste to get up and running late that Friday night, I overlooked (or ignored) a bunch of details... the first of which is the platform of the blog. I literally opened up google, typed "blog" and saw blogger right there at the top. Without hesitation, I plowed through the setup process and was blogging within minutes (side note: when starting something that may require a significant commitment, decisions are best made after a good night's sleep). The ease of use is a ringing endorsement for blogger, but over the past nine months I have found that it comes with certain limitations.

That being the case, I'm here to ask for advice. I've done some research on the topic, but I'm curious to hear your opinions on the various platforms out there - WordPress, TypePad, etc. As you've seen, I've dabbled with a few features (polls and such), but I'd like this blog to have greater capabilities - a nav bar with some different pages, ability to host live chats, and anything else that may seem fun and useful. So, I put the question out to you.

The second item I've been considering for a while is the comment section. The first step was to decide whether or not to allow comments. This was an obvious "yes" in my mind. One-sided conversations generally aren't very compelling conversations, especially when you're on the "receiving" end. The second step - how to monitor/screen those comments - wasn't so obvious to me. I knew there would be the inevitable critical comments of the Padres as well as those that would berate me for ruining this organization or that one. I hoped they were at least original and entertaining.

I really wanted to avoid a handful of things:
  • personal and/or mean-spirited attacks on people associated with the organization - players, coaches, front office, etc - because they weren't choosing to create this forum
  • rumor creation
  • derogatory comments about players with other organizations
  • spam

Fortunately, I have been able to publish well in excess of 90% of the comments, and I think it's great that readers often respond to the comments of other readers before I ever get the chance. Which leads me to the next question: should I simply allow all comments without any pre-screening?

To be honest, I would absolutely prefer to allow everything (assuming I can delete inappropriate material) because it will afford readers the opportunity to hold real-time conversations as opposed to waiting around for me to login and check up on things. Again, I'm interested in your input.

The last item is I've been thinking about is content. Part of my job here is to spend time in the different areas of baseball operations - amateur scouting, player development, and Major League operations. For me that big puzzle is what makes this job so much fun, but I don't assume that everyone else is equally interested in non-Major League topics. So, what would you like to see here during the 2009 season - more of a Major League focus or continued posts from each of the different areas of baseball operations?

I look forward to your feedback, but I reserve the right to reject all your comments. :-)

Pitchers and catchers report on Saturday.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Matt Bush to TOR

Today we traded RHP Matt Bush (yes, RHP) to the Blue Jays for a PTBNL. This comes after we designated Matt for assignment last week which gave us 10 days to trade or release him. According to the rules, we'll have to decide on the player within the next six months, but we don't anticipate it taking quite that long.

I could spend more time on the subject, but my sense (having only arrived here in 2006) is that San Diego fans are pretty tired of this topic. Yes?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Welcome, Cliff Floyd

Today we announced the signing of veteran OF, Cliff Floyd.

We've been talking for a number of weeks internally about the need to add a left-handed bat into the mix, as our bench was looking awfully right-handed. In an ideal world, we wanted to find a guy who could provide three primary skills: 1) the ability to do damage against RHP as either a pinch hitter, DH or occasional starter, 2) the ability to play somewhere other than 1B if need be, and 3) the ability to act as a leader for our younger players. We found a match in Cliff.

Performing in the DH role for a young Tampa Bay team in 2008, Cliff hit .268/.349/.455 and compiled an .819 OPS against RHP, so he could be a weapon for Buddy late in games. Last season we struggled to generate offense late in games, as our run production dropped significantly after the 6th inning. This isn't entirely unusual, because that's the point in the game when the better relievers are taking the mound. However, our drop was precipitous, no doubt influenced by the .540 OPS posted by our pinch hitters - by far the lowest in the National League. We knew this was an area that we needed to improve.

Importantly, we received positive reviews about Cliff's leadership and professionalism. No jokes about the MR here... we feel that the additions of David Eckstein, Henry Blanco and Cliff Floyd will help with the continued development of our young players and pitchers.