Bottom of the East
Here are a few observations from the recently concluded Devil Rays - Orioles series:
Rocco Baldelli may have trouble drawing walks, but unless he's overpowered, he makes contact. The thing that stood out about him, however, were his instincts and ability in the field. Of the active centerfielders I have seen, only Andruw Jones and Torii Hunter get to as many balls as easily as Baldelli. Even balls hit on a line right at him, he gets a terrific read on. And if it stays in the air more than 2 seconds, he will get to it. He takes direct routes and covers a tremendous amount of ground. This, perhaps more than any other aspect of his game, is why the Devil Rays felt comfortable rushing him to the majors. The STATS Inc scorekeeper sitting next to me suggested that he looked like Joe DiMaggio in center - that he gets to so many balls but doesn't look like he's really working all that hard to get to them. I had to agree.
At the plate, even though he doesn't know the pitchers, there doesn't seem to be anything that phases him, because if he can make contact, there's a decent chance he can beat it out for a base hit. I don't think he'll fail like many are predicting. Yes, he could use better instruction at the plate, so he can fully realize his potential, but I don't believe he will struggle too badly just because he doesn't draw walks. Alfonso Soriano started the same way and Baldelli looks like a similar kind of talent, but with less power. The downside, however, is in the long run because if he doesn't get better tutelage regarding his gameplan at the plate, he could end up like Gerald Williams rather than the star he could become.
Watching Lance Carter I was struck by two things. One is how hittable he can be and two, how pinpoint he can be. It could be an up and down year for Carter. His stuff simply isn't very good. So if he's not locating it, he's gonna get lit up and I'm sure that will happen a few times this season. However, I watched him throw 5 straight fastballs to the exact same spot, the low and outside corner of the strikezone. If they weren't all exactly in the same spot, they were within a few millimeters. Anyone who can do that can get people out in the big leagues.
But just a few batters before that display, he gave up 2 doubles and a single on 6 pitches and allowed three runs to score. True, it wasn't a save situation so he may have simply been too relaxed, but it's still a concern that his ERA may take a big hit every once in a while.
Colome is very close to being a good pitcher. His reputation for wildness works against him, but he's not as bad as his numbers indicate. For example, Melvin Mora drew a 3-1 walk against Colome in Monday's game on a belt-high pitch that split the plate. His pitches aren't missing by much and it's just a matter of time before he gets them close enough for the umps to start calling them strikes.
Gary Matthews Jr.
Matthews' swing is just a touch off so far. It seems like he's just missing his pitches. I suspect he's a little off because of the cool weather. He rarely wears long sleeves so I suspect his bat speed will improve once it starts to warm up. Right no, he's just fouling off his pitches, but he's very close to nailing them. If the weather warms up soon, don't be surprised to see his production take off.
Hairston's defense makes the Orioles pitchers look much better than they are. I am amazed by his range. He makes plays from the shortstop side of second to nearly directly behind first. Unless the ball is over his head or on a line past him, he makes a play.
Also encouraging is his approach to getting on base. He does not have the bat speed or control to get on base frequently with his bat, so he is being more selective at the plate, taking walks where they are given and swinging at pitches he can handle. Most encouraging about his improvement has been his willingness to take close pitches. He's not taking nearly as many panic swings as he did last year.