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Notes from Spring Training, Part II

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Logan Gilbert, catchers, Julio and Jarred’s buddy comedy

D1baseball

Hello from Spring Training, again. This week was official report dates for the minor leaguers, with pitchers and catchers coming in earlier in the week and position players due to report today, so the backfields have filled up some, which means lots of notes about minor-leaguers in this installment of my diary from Peoria.

  • Both fields at the complex on Tuesday were crowded, as the Mariners minor-leaguers played against a squad of upper-level prospects and MLB pitchers, while on the other field Justus Sheffield pitched an intrasquad scrimmage against major-league hitters who wanted some extra at-bats (the usual suspects: Dee, Ichiro, Haniger, but also Edwin Encarnación and others). Not only were there plenty of fans in attendance, but Mariners’ personnel and scouts from various outlets. Mostly they were watching Justus, but everyone seemed keen to also get an eyeful of Julio Rodriguez, who did not disappoint: he beat out an infield hit and then swiped second on a passed ball, showing off surprising speed for a person of his size, and he also made a laser throw to nail a runner trying to stretch a single into a double. Disappointingly, no finger wag this time.
  • Everyone who’s watched an Instagram video of Julio knows he can hit, but he seems to be surprising people with his speed and arm strength, as well. Julio has said he prefers right field with the assumption that Jarred Kelenic would hold down center, but they’re both getting worked out with the center field group in practices. Between Julio, Jarred, and Miguel Perez, an 18-year-old who was also in the DSL this past season, that group impressed with laser-like throws to home plate. Julio has had the most time out of all of them practicing under the Arizona sky, and his comfort in the outfield showed; he’s quick to react as soon as the ball comes off the bat, immediately turning in the direction he wants to run and keeping his eye on the ball the whole time. He shows good instincts in tracking down even sky-high moonshots, and uses his speed to get to his spot ahead of the ball, making tough catches look easy and earning praise from the coaching staff. Kelenic has a little ways to go in establishing that same comfort and misread a ball over his head once, which appeared to make him very mad.
  • The Julio-Jarred dynamic is fantastic already. They are constantly talking and each wants to do as well as—if not better than—the other. During batting practice they stood off to the side, strategizing. Lydia Cruz noted later they had switched shoes for batting practice—each was wearing one of the other’s shoes.
  • I watched the catchers go through their paces and then catch some bullpens. There was a particularly brutal drill they were doing trying to emulate the ball squirting away onto the warning track/on-deck circle, requiring the catchers to leap from their squats and slide across the rocky infield dirt to snare the wayward ball before firing it in to the person covering the plate. A great many pairs of pants gave their lives in service of this drill. Cal Raleigh, he of the prodigious booty, did better than I expected given some of the questions that have been raised about his defense; his slides were not always the best but he managed to get in strong, accurate throws from some pretty awkward positions. Freuddy Batista, over from the DSL, also showed good instincts towards where the ball might be headed and made some especially strong plays.
  • The catcher I was most impressed with in bullpens was 2018 7th-rounder Jake Anchia, former D-II Gold Glove winner. Anchia catches a bullpen like Mike Zunino: he offers specific feedback to the pitchers after almost every pitch, whether it’s just a word of praise or a direction or suggestion. He’s also a strong receiver and frames the ball gracefully, never jabbing or yanking the pitch but simply allowing it to drift into the zone. He handled all kinds of pitchers well, from side-armers to velo kings.
  • Speaking of side-armers, 2018 21st-rounder Grant Anderson has some pretty nasty stuff. His line from last year looks wild—he pitched thirteen innings at three different levels, so it’s very scattered—but he was hitting the edges of the zone out of a very funky slot. His catcher, Freuddy Batista, maybe summed it up best: “Diablo!”
  • I was finally able to watch Logan Gilbert throw a pen. It didn’t seem like he was throwing with max velo, but his delivery is so smooth and effortless looking it’s hard to tell without a radar gun (related: who would like to buy LL a radar gun). He appeared to still be shaking off some rust, as he spiked a fastball once and missed his location a couple times. I did see him throw a few beautiful curveballs with a nice late break to them and some 12-7 movement. Anchia, who caught Gilbert’s previous pen and was coaching up his catcher this round, advised him that “everything moves,” and he was not wrong.
  • What was most interesting was after he’d thrown a pitch he was particularly happy with, Gilbert would immediately turn around and consult the Rapsodo. I caught up with him after he threw and asked about his experience with the advanced tech. It’s new to him, said Gilbert, but he appreciates the objectivity, because “the numbers don’t lie.” He also likes getting immediate feedback and being able to make adjustments on the fly, which he says suits his personality. Before, he says, it was a lot of trial and error and wasted time, and now he can figure out what adjustments to make and make them immediately. Since he wasn’t able to pitch last year, Gilbert especially appreciates the acceleration of the learning curve.
  • I’m working on a longer story about this, but I chatted with Dean Nevarez, 2018 draftee and rookie-ball catcher who earned a big-league camp invite after winning the PTPA (Productive Team Plate Appearance) contest. Nevarez said he’s learned more in the three weeks he was at big-league camp than ever, and named J.P. Crawford and Edwin Encarnación specifically as players who have gone out of their way to help him. One of the things he found most helpful was the emphasis on mental skills; he’s downloaded a mindfulness app that he uses every night before bed, similar to Mitch Haniger’s routine, and says that’s been extremely helpful.
  • During BP yesterday, Scott Servais pulled Braden Bishop aside and talked to him. Bishop walked away with a smile on his face that could power the valley. I wonder where in Arizona you can get a Japanese phrase book...