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Development is Complex, Not Linear

Sarasota update
Eric Garfield
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An Update from Sarasota…

Watching the Orioles extended Spring Training, I’ve been able to see lots of players & storylines emerge. Here’s a chance to summarize my notes and observations to give some perspective to fans who don’t feel like (or have the opportunity to) sitting in 90+ heat for several hours every day to watch this.

First of all there are new players, some of whom I’m just getting to know. That’s the most exciting part, seeing who the organization thinks is ready for the challenge stateside. Players like Alex (Leonel) Sanchez, Junior Lara, Angel Tejada, Deivy Cruz, Rolphy Cruz and others are learning on the fly and showing elements of skill as well as confidence. Lara is a smallish OF who has electric movements. His 1st step and fly ball tracking are electric and fundamental. Tejada plays OF and IF and has no drop off at either spot.

Also, vets like Stiven Acevedo, Robert Martinez, Trendon Craig, Erison Placencia, Angel Herrera and Luis Gonzalez are blending in with the new crew and showing them how to build up to daily play and preparation. I love to see this because I remember when these guys were the babies and how Yorky Alvarez, Carlos Baez, Davis Tavarez, Moises Ramirez and Josue Cruz showed them the way. The baseball circle in the low minors keeps moving and the repercussions are felt at all levels.

But there are stars here no doubt and seeing the players who can make impacts on future affiliate rosters is thrilling. Haven’t seen Maikol Hernandez get off in games yet but others are thriving. Catcher Samuel Basallo is one name that has shown me much. He’s enormous but has great legs/feet. Throwing from a crouch or throwing from 1B across the diamond, he has great follow through and a clean, quick motion. Much like a big QB, once his shoulders are square, expect a hard and accurate toss.

Infilder Frederick Bencosme is slender but witty strong. His pickup/transfer/throw is so smooth and precise it’s easy to tell that his youth baseball days were filled with thousands of grounder drill reps. He’s already incorporated an uppercut into his swing and is making it work. Great early progress. Standing out even more is 3B Anderson De 𝐋𝐨𝐬 Santos. This guy has the attitude and demeanor of a baller. Serious and focused but not wound too tight is what I see. When the ball’s hit near him he’s always in ready position. Transfer isn’t yet elite but this guy throws straight arrows across the diamond. His lower body is thick and his legs do lots of the work for him. He also shows little rush at the plate. His cut is equally level but smooth. He’s demonstrated good wrist skill too, aiming his hits from line to line depending on where it’s pitched.

Speaking of pitchers, there were a couple of arrivals I was eager to see including righty Cèsar Alvarez. His bag is change-up based, and he shows several, but this is not a junk baller-type. His off season work included lots of leg work and it’s paid off. He can take the intense sun and last a few innings and locate some good snapping heat too. As the season goes on and he gains confidence he’ll be the kind of guy to start big games against good teams from TB, PITT and ATL’s low minors.

A couple of outfielders who have caught my eye for various reasons are running around down here too. First off, recent trade acquisition Kevin Guerrero. Kevin is a tall and extremely fluid athlete. He’s taller than 6-2 and strides well but is growing fast. In fact, sitting close to the dugouts, sometimes I can see when the guys get hungry and eat during games. Weird to notice, but last week at Pirate City the guy came out of the game, stayed on the bench and slammed three sandwiches! When he plays between bites, he shows a good arm, but swing mechanics are in need of work so he can do more with the ball upon contact. By this time next year he’ll be much more solidly built and so ready to make an impact, but I’d be surprised if it didn’t come a bit sooner.

The next outfielder is the youthful Teudis Cortorreal. He’s one of the two lefty #76’s which doesn’t make it easy, especially as he shows good gains from lifting daily. He might not catch up to the 6-4 L Gonzalez height-wise but he’s thickening out fast. Corto brings some loud and happy energy to the field with lots of baseball skill. He’ll smile through an 0-5 with five strikeouts, and it won’t be because he’s not learning. What I noticed from him now is burst and acceleration in a straight line, Corto can move.

Not to forget another outfielder showing me something significant: one of my personal favorites, big Stiven. Physically, he’s never going to have a barrel chest or shoulders that touch his ears but I’ve seen him go from skinny to athletic over the years. The recent focus for him is all on driving the ball with violence and lift. He’s doing it. Two times this week he hit liners towards infielders who just could not handle the steam, both resulting in hits. Every time he swings it’s outfield-type hits, so the residuals from good contact should be lasers. Near the dugout after he scored following one of them at Pittsburgh a coach walked up to him, put his hands (up high) on Aće’s shoulders and said ‘FLY BALLS BABY…ALL UP! This is power hitter development and the winner will be us. I said last week that I thought he’d heat up soon, and since he’s had two multi-hit games. Let’s just say that I’m sharing lots of good videos with the king of the minor league nickname. Call him the Lawman, call him La Leche but bat the dude 4/5, he’s doing it!

Another development and another player I’ve been drawn to is infielder Robert Martinez. Mart keeping weight on in the FL sun is a challenge, especially when he dances so much, even during pitching change meetings on the mound. He’s 19 and not a day-in/day-out starter yet, but I love how he handles his zone at 2B and SS. His glove is better than adequate and his arm much better than a player listed at 145. But his swing decision work is becoming artistic. Twice this week he’s had the longest AB of the game. Yesterday against Atlanta, he saw 12 pitches from a reliever before walking to keep a rally alive. Days before he did the same thing before lining a 13th pitch perfectly but right to Pittsburgh’s second baseman. Seeing him outwork batteries and their strategy then gaining the confidence is a big foundational piece for him as a hitter. It’s working.

The arms who have been impressive are harder to see, I can’t pick up much from the ball in the air but have noticed a few things. Lefty Deivy Cruz has tough stuff to LHB’s nearly impossible to see. If he’s changing speeds effectively he’s going to rack up bad swings to them and has shown heat and movement based finishing stuff. Josue’s brother can fill it up. On the right side, it looks like another favorite Miguel Padilla has brought some of his best stuff back from Venezuela and it’s confusing hitters. Working off breaking ball location and spin, he’s in a good spot as far as confidence and rhythm. He lost it for a bit against Pittsburgh but young backstop Creed Willems popped up to bring him back to calm and it worked. Fly ball out, strikeout end of inning. Artwork to me.

Creed Willems visist the pitcher's mound
Eric Garfield

Too bad I can’t write about Willems, as he not surprisingly got called up to A Delmarva, but this would be several more paragraphs of praise. He got immensely better at baseball and being a leader while he was here so we’ll wish him well and notice a hole he left in the lineup.

One more pitcher who I noticed thrives on that ‘always ready for go’ rhythm is Keagan Gillies. Yes he’s tall so he has a close release point but his plane changers are ravishing in their patterns and his heat both accurate humming with run. Yesterday the Braves called time out often, stepped out of the box as much as they could and successfully affected his get-it-and-go. When they did the strikes became infrequent and he left a few up that weren’t missed. Finding a way to maintain his rhythm and be the pace dictator will make his appearances strike-filled and probably really fast. He wants to have his half inning last a half minute.

There are lots of names on the list of who I’m watching. More players will come back to full health and I’ll be able to notice what they do and when so I’ll let you know. Elio Prado, Heston Kjerstad, Reed Trimble, Toby Welk, Anthony Servideo and Sarasota favorite Raul Rangel should be back to regular work sometime soon so I’ll have more when I see them.

Until then I hope that you have a bit of a picture of what’s going on as we get closer to the rookie league season in late June. All of what we see has a ripple effect on the entire farm so watch what happens at the complex to see what’ll go down at the affiliates soon.

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