Gotta Do what I gotta do

I was asked to make a few comments at Ron Shandler's recent First Pitch event in Washington DC and I wasted to clrify a few things before offering a few observations on what's happened so far this spring

I suggested to one inquirer that they should hold onto BJ Upton for a while in their fantasy league because guys with his kind of potential are pretty rare.  I even tossed out the "40/40" label.  I will probably regret saying that but here is where that came from:

player A: 20-years old in AAA hits .303/.392/.490 in the pitcher-friendly International League with 36 doubles, 18 homers, 44 steals and 78 walks versus 127 Ks.  

player B: 20-year old in AA hits .283/.419/.602 in the hitter-friendly Texas League with 19 doubles, 34 homers, 44 steals and 100 walks versus 145 Ks

Now granted, player A (Upton) is more of a line-drive hitter than player B (Darryl Strawberry) but the comparison is useful to demonstrate the kind of incredible physical talent we are talking about.  In retrospect, I should have suggested a limit on Upton's homers of the high 20's or low 30s.  Straw topped out at 39 homers and 36 steals; Upton should finish as more of an Eric Davis comparable with fewer homers but more steals that Straw.  Still, my point is that guys who can do that are fairly rare and should be retained even if it seems expensive to do so right now.

Speaking of the Uptons, there's been a lot of talk about Justin Upton disappointing this year or that he hasn't looked good this spring.  I haven't actually watched him in a game yet this year, but his numbers so far indicate everything is just fine.  He's batting .294 with an on base of .400, but more importantly has 2 walks to just 3 strikeouts.  Compare that to teammate Conor Jackson, who is known for having a good eye at the plate: he has two walks as well, but five strikeouts this spring.  

The Nationals aren't too far away from contending in the NL East but it won't be this year and it's not just because their starting staff has so many questions.  This line-up is just a little too right-handed.  No player on the team has a history or significant production against right-handed pitching.  Even Nick Johnson hits lefties better.  In a division with John Smoltz, Tim Hudson, John Maine, Brett Myers and Pedro Martinez that could pose some sticky match-up problems this year.  However, I think Jim Bowden has done the right thing by acquiring Milledge and Dukes and stacking his line-up with almost all right-handers.  The majority of the best pitching talent in the division is left-handed (Johan Santana, Oliver Perez, Scott Olsen, Andrew Miller, Cole Hamels, Chuck James, Mike Hampton, Tom Glavine, Jamie Moyer) and three of the division's big five right-handers are nearing retirement.  The rest of the division's right-handers (Sergio Mitre, Ricky Nolasco, Rick VandenHurk, Mike Pelfrey, Jair Jurrjens) are still works in progress.  Once Colin Balester, Ross Detwiler and Josh Smoker have gotten their feet wet in the majors, then Bowden can secure a big lefty bat for their title run.

I don't know why I'm not more excited about the arrival of Lastings Milledge in DC because there is plenty to like about his minor leeagu numbers: good batting average, good on base and not an excessive disparity between walks and strikeouts.  Yet, I just don't see him as an everyday outfielder.  I guess I just don't see a lot of power coming from him and his speed is dubious.  Sure, he's stolen a ton of bases but he's also been thrown out quite a bit, almost a third of his attempts.  So far in the majors he's been thrown out half the time.  No manager will let a guy run very much with a success rate that bad.  So middling power, no threat on the basepaths and an average (at best) walk rate.  That doesn't sound like the future in center field for me.  But it does make for a good fourth outfielder.

I have liked what I have seen from Matt Garza this spring.  In a game against the Yankees, he struggled against their regular line-up, walking two of the first four batters he faced but got out of a bases loaded jam by striking out Jason Giambi looking and Robinson Cano swinging on consecutive full counts.  I don't know that this is the year to buy into him because I think there will be a lot more exciting innings like this coming soon, but he's seems to have the stones to live up to his physical potential.

On the other hand, Even Longoria has not impressd me much which surprised me.  I've heard so much about his ability yet what I saw was a guy get carved up by major league breaking balls.  He didn't look as befuddled as Andy Marte has been but it's clear he's got some learning ahead of him.  I felt a sense of deja vu writing this and it occurred to me that I was saying the same thing about Alex Gordon after watching him perform in the Arizona Fall League two years ago.  Stardom may come for both of these guys, but I have not seen anything to convince me it will come this year.

I had to laugh listening to Ken Singleton try to explain that Jonny Gomes homer off Mike Mussina was purely the result of the stiff breeze in Tampa.  Gomes golfed a low fastball high into the jet-stream for sure, but the ball caromed off the building beyond the fence back onto the field.  Yes the wind was blowing, but it travelled at least 20 feet beyond the fence and hit off the second story of a building.  There was something else other than the wind that put that ball out of play.