First, Camelback was beautiful. I liked walking in from the parking lot directly passed two practice fields, Maury's Pit, the batting cages and the weight room which you could see into. The "rivers" and such were largely overexaggerated, but still made for a nice atmosphere. If you get outfield grass seating, you can sit down the foul lines on the infield side of the foul pole and sit right up along the field (Bartman territory) and talk with a lot of the pitchers and outfielders warming up. Maddz is still proud of the headnod Jay Bruce gave her. Highly recommend these seats for both price and views.
HoHoKam Park was a fun stadium to visit. The parking lots are grass which gives it more of a midwest feel of just parking somewhere and playing ball. We sat in the second row down the RF line about even with the edge of the infield dirt. As we sat down, the gentleman behind us said our seats were 'No Dodgers Fans Allowed'. I asked if I could sit there anyway with the promise of not discussing 2008. That got a lot of groans from those around us, but we ended up making friends with them in the end.
Salt River Fields is a sight to behold. The infield seating is very similar to Coors Field, while the massive building/batting eye in center field and the berm seating and large scoreboard in left and right field really give the park a nice shape. A national anthem sang by members of the OK Corral was my favorite performance of the weekend. Maddz treated me well and got me second row seats behind home plate. I spent all my time watching pitchers and pitch location/movement along with hitters mechanics. She spent her time up close taking pictures of players, yelling their names to get their attention, and getting cold beer bottles put on her neck by vendors. The screech was loud enough from the bottle that a full section to our left and right were cracking up. The beer vendors here are hilarious. In the 7th inning, the same vendor who punked Maddz in the 5th was shouting "LAST CALL! BUY FROM ME NOW OR GO HOME SOBER!" along with calls of "YOU MISSED ME!" on foul balls into the seats.
My observations of those in camp:
Chad Billingsley: Against the Cubs, Chad had an awkward hitch in his mechanics where, when he came to his balance point, he tilted his hips towards home. This is actually quite normal and helps get leg drive. However, instead of just bending his legs and sitting a little bit, he was leaning backwards towards second base with his upper body as well, which caused his shoulders and line of sight to go from level while lifting his leg to up-angled while delivering to the plate and trying to get back level at release point. His location left and right was fine, but he went from bouncing balls to leaving them up frequently as a result. I'm sure it'll get noticed and corrected on film. Among the nicest in camp about signing autographs and taking pictures. He pitched well, and seems to really be on pace to have a great season. Was great at signing for kids despite calls for the gallery of "Get me 20 wins Chad! I Want 20 this year!". Mob mentality was in full effect at Camelback. Saw him do some fielding drills and he was moving around pretty well.
Jonathan Broxton: Still in terrible shape, and still walks by fans like he owns the place. I didn't get to see him pitch as I was off getting beer (Shocktop and Bud Light at one vendor, Blue Moon and Miller Light at the other at Camelback. $6.75 for a small "premium" beer, with small as your only size choice). I'm told it was pretty ugly.
Scott Elbert: May have been the butt of my best spring training joke. We had just walked into Camelback and saw the pitchers, infielders and catchers working on 1st and 3rd plays. The pitchers would go to the mound with a ball, get the play, deliver a pitch to the catcher and run the called play. Elbert had just walked up to the mound, came set when I said "Ball" loud enough that a couple coaches turned to see where it came from. I felt both pleased and embarassed, but it was fun nonetheless. Did not get to see Elbert pitch as he's been doing a lot of work on the side.
John Ely: I should let Maddz write this section. Ely did very well both times I saw him, but I still don't like how soft he's throwing. He's a guy who needs to locate like Maddux without the Maddux stuff. He gets by for now, but he's really trying to be a starter with a late-career Trevor Hoffman repretoire. Straight fastball, straight change, but not much else.
Jon Garland: I'm happy to report that Jon Garland has proven my opinions of him as a person to be misled. I always saw him as a tool but on a day he was the starting pitcher, he took a solid 20 minutes to take pictures and sign autographs with everyone who wanted one. He pitched well. Located everything down, had the typical Garland stuff going, and more importantly showed no signs of a shoulder issue.
Javy Guerra: Did not see.
Matt Guerrier: I liked his stuff. Fastball and offspeed looked good and the location was solid. With other guys being hurt and/or not progressing as hoped, he could be the 2010 Jamey Carroll contract no one liked but eventually was glad we had him on the team. The award name needs work.
Blake Hawksworth: fastball had more life on it than I expected. Threw roughly 93-94, but it was straight and poorly located. Curveball was slow and loopy. It had good depth but at the expense of a sharp bite. His biggest attribute continues to be his ability to not be Ryan Theriot.
Kenley Jansen: Oh, Kenley. Yes, the guy has a major league fastball. No, he is not a major league pitcher. Every fastball he threw was either up, down the middle, or both. Every slider he threw was either bounced or hung, and sometimes not even a slider at all. AJ Ellis caught Kenley's bullpen and said, "I know you're calling the same pitch, but I'm letting you know they aren't the same. One is a cutter and one is a slider". Coming in to close out the game at Salt River Fields, Kenley proceeded to throw the straightest fastballs I'd seen and no offspeed pitches after his warmups. During his warmups, he bounced the one slider he threw and clearly has no confidence in the pitch.
Clayton Kershaw: The one autograph I wanted this weekend, the man may in fact be a mythical creature. He threw well and was hanging around the cage during batting practice, but he eluded me on his way to the clubhouse. The man made Joey Votto (twice) and Jay Bruce (once) look terrible. We are certainly right to expect great things from this young man in 2011.
Hong-Chih Kuo: Spent all his time in the weight room, signing autographs and throwing his bullpens on a back field away from public access. Saw his throw, but could not see the pitches. His mechanics look smooth and consistent already, which is a great sign from someone with his injury history.
Hiroki Kuroda: Threw his bullpen at the same time as Kenley. His fastball looked crisp and with good downward movement, and his offspeed stuff looked to be in midseason form. Location of all pitches, along with the consistency of his mechanics were on point throughout the bullpen. He's not there to mess around. Hiroki's pace in the bullpen was quick and with purpose, like he knew exactly what he needed to do and in exactly what order to do it in. I'm very excited for a strong April from Hiroki.
Ted Lilly: Still not a Lilly fan for the same reason I'm not an Ely fan. I don't think soft throwers can succeed long-term, but Lilly continues to prove me wrong. He didn't throw many offspeed pitches, and instead focused primarily on his fastball and changeup. He threw okay against the Rockies. The results were fine, but his location was off. He frequently missed off the plate (which he has to do because of his lack in velocity) but also missed around the belt very often. I don't care if you paint the black of the plate, if you throw 85 and it's belt high, you're going to get hit. I'm sure he'll be fine.
Jon Link: Link pitched a couple innings against the Cubs at HoHoKam Park and didn't fare as well as he or Maddz would have hoped, but he did about as well as can be expected. The velocity on his fastball and break on his curveball were about where they were last season, but unfortunately so was the location of his pitches. When he got the ball down, he was fine. When he elevated it, he got hit. I still think he can be a serviceable spot started at the MLB level, but it seems likely he'll end up being a middle reliever.
Carlos Monasterios: Came in to pitch. Did okay. Not great, not terrible. The sun continues to be hot.
Vicente Padilla: Vicente was hanging out with fans in the berm at Camelback. He hung out with the three of us for a bit, buying us each tall cans.*
*May or may not be true.
Travis Schlichting: Continues to have most impressive hair in camp, least impressive pitching abilities.
Ramon Troncoso: Ramon pitched well in the inning he got against the Cubs. Seemed to keep the ball down well and really, with his stuff, that's all he needs to do. Dreds are ready for the season to start, are pissed they get overshadowed by the German Mullet.
Luis Vasquez: Shy enough that it was adorable. Was really happy when we yelled out his name as he was jogging in from the bullpen, enough so that he cracked a smile. For a guy with his major league fastball, he sure likes throwing the ball down the middle a lot. Hates ties, but would be okay with a bolo.
Rod Barajas: Unimpressive BP sessions, unimpressive during catcher drills. When he hit line drives in BP they all had top spin, which means he's rolling over a bit early. Minor mechanics adjustment and he'll be exactly what we thought he was: a marginal starting MLB catcher who was more the best option than the ideal option.
A.J. Ellis: Works great with pitchers. The problem is he likes to stride while starting his swing instead of getting his foot down early enough to recognize and react to pitches. Mathematically speaking, MLB pitchers throw hard enough that if your foot isn't down by the time they release the pitch, you've already missed it. AJ Ellis gets his foot down late enough that he's already missed his chance to outplay Dioner Navarro for the backup catcher job.
Hector Gimenez: Seems to have the best arm out of Barajas, Navarro, Ellis and himself. So far has hit everything in BP and the games on a line, and has a clean swing. Past precedence has to have its place, so don't get your hopes up of him staying on the team passed late March, but he's been impressive thus far.
Dioner Navarro: Who?
Casey Blake: Gets a lot of flack for not stopping to sign autographs, but he always seems to be going to the next drill. Some guys like to use Spring Training to get back into the swing of things, Casey Blake has been working his tail off in the cage and doing extra defensive drills. Already looks very smooth on balls to his left and right at 3B. This guy is the team mascot for sure. He keeps everyone loose but also shows that there is a time and a place.
Jamey Carroll: Similar to Blake. The guy doesn't sign autographs, but it's mostly because he's making the most of his time. His swing looks as good as it was last year and he's been getting in work all around the diamond.
Ivan DeJesus, Jr.: Ivan looks like he's put on some bulk, and looks great defensively at 2B. Range is good, arm is good. Unfortunately, he looks totally overmatched at the plate. Having seen the swings he was taking, I don't really expect anything more than AAA fodder in his future.
Rafael Furcal: Raffy made two very sweet plays going to his left with a spin and throw to first base against the Rockies. He looks quick and his arm looks great. Unfortunately, his bat was a little behind on the better fastballs, but that's something I expect he will get right as he sees more live action.
John Lindsey: Saw him play a little. Same old same old. Great guy, slow bat.
James Loney: Spent the weekend walking around signing autographs, so the knee must not have been too bad.
Russ Mitchell: The benefactor of most of the playing time at 1B with Loney out, Mitchell failed to capitalize. Last season when he came up, I was excited by how hard he hit the ball despite the lack of tangible results. This spring, he has continued to struggle with breaking pitches and I'm afraid what he'll do if he makes the MLB roster. That being said, i don't think i saw him face a lefty, and if he makes the team I don't expect to see him face a righty.
Juan Uribe: First, Uribe is not as heavy or as slow as many think. He's not as fast or as thin as most people who play his position, but he's still no Bengie Molina. Hell, he's not even Yadier. He made all the plays in practice and got down the line fine during games. He hit the ball well but right at people. I expect him to be the same old Juan Uribe once the season comes around. And I expect most of us to like and be infuriated with him at the same time.
Andre Ethier: The primadonna of the outfield, Dre spent more time fixing his hair than fixing his swing. Butthen, of course, he steps into the cage and hits absolute moon shots to right field and center. He took a swing against the Rockies that looked like Triple Crown Dre and drove a line drive single to center field. I still think the issue with his swing is that he pivots everything and kind of just spins in place to build torque. This leads to him crushing everything middle-in, but leaves him open to the outside corner unless he's looking for it.
Jay Gibbons: No one hit the ball harder over the last week than Jay Gibbons. His BP was an event, the swings he took during the game produced some of the hardest hit balls in camp. The man looks and carries himself like he's ready to rock. For all the talk about Xavier Paul, I think Jay Gibbons, if used correctly, is going to make us forget all about the X man.
Tony Gwynn, Jr.: Faster than I thought he was, Gwynn's defensive range and base stealing abilities were on display at every opportunity. Funny moment at HoHoKam: Gwynn was on first and Lopes had his stopwatch out on every pitch timing the pitcher. But then he put the watch in his pocket and started to look around innocently. Gwynn stole on the next pitch. Was funny to think Davey Lopes could be tipping off the opposition as to when we steal. Hat tip to Maddz for spotting it.
Jamie Hoffmann: Sprinting gets you bonus points. Sprinting out ground balls to the second baseman still means you grounded out to the second baseman.
Matt Kemp: No one looks happier. Matt was playing with fans, embarrassing the teenage girls who were screaming for him. His swing looks great, he looks like he's dropped a bunch of weight and he looks as fast as ever. Maddz pointed out that he's not a ladykiller because of the LA lifestyle. He's a ladykiller because he's attractive and has a great personality and would be a ladykiller in whatever city he played. Really looking forward to a big year from Kemp. Clearly, he's in the best shape of his life.
Xavier Paul: Hit the hardest ball I've seen hit in a long, long time. At Salt River Fields yesterday, Reynolds (I believe) threw paul a belt high 93mph fastball and he CRUSHED it into the RF seating area. That kind of crack is rarely heard. Just goes to show that anyone can hit a 93mph fastball down the middle.
Trayvon Robinson: Tray looked like a man on a mission. He got a little too long when he was challenged with fastballs instead of staying quick to the ball, but that will come with experience. His arm from the outfield is nowhere near as bad as Juan Pierre and he should be able to stick in centerfield long-term. His range, jumps and routes to the ball were all excellent. He hit a ball into right field on a line that was very solid, and I'm excited for his arrival in 2012.
Marcus Thames: I'm going to like Marcus Thames. Not only does he seem like he's a fun guy to have in the clubhouse, he also moves around okay in the outfield, has a good arm and was hitting the ball very well. He got fooled on a curveball on a 1-0 count on Monday, cursed at himself under his breath, worked the count to 2-2 and got the curveball again and hit it hard down the line for a double. He seems like a guy who goes up there with a plan and knows how to stick with the plan and execute.
Jerry Sands: First, this is one big dude. I still don't like how he extends his left arm back as his load mechanism then drags the bat through the zone as I think it makes his suseptible to good inside fastballs. The home run he hit Saturday was on a slow hanging curveball, so take it FWIW. The triple he hit in his next at bat was on a tough fastball out away from him and he took it just right of center field high off the wall. This dude can play defense at RF, LF and 1B with no problems, has a good arm (probably closer to a great LF arm or average RF arm than a great RF arm), and is simply fast for his size. The guy moves very well around the outfield and the basepaths. Looks like his dad and is a genuinely good guy.
Dee Gordon: As thin as advertised, we missed the opportunity to yell Skinny Swag at him because he didn't reach base against the Cubs and didn't play against the Rockies while we were within shouting distance. This kid struck out on a ball in the dirt, slammed his bat in the ground, then was a Davey Lopes step away from beating out the throw. The kid can fly. he seemed smooth on defense, with a good major league arm (no Rafael Furcal, but who is). I'm sure you all saw the foul ball to left field that he ran after. Let's just say it was a dozen rows deep and given the opportunity, he could have climbed the aisles to catch that ball. The kid gets great jumps on balls and flat out gets to anything. he could easily turn the range of our LF into a non-issue by getting to a lot of short popups both up the middle, down the line and straight back. Now if only we could solve that pesky "get on base" problem. Want him to hit better so I can start calling him Commissioner.
JD Closser: Gave us a fist bump when we called his name. Props to that guy.
Juan Castro: His line drive double off the right field wall is the worst case of mistaken identity since the Dude was mistaken for David Huddlestone.
Aaron Miles: Middle infielders on every team beware: Aaron Miles is looking for a starting gig and will run through a Closser to get it. He's been hitting and fielding well, which only makes it harder to watch.
Rubby De La Rosa: Fastball is as advertised. Unfortunately, so is his breaking stuff. The guy throws hard, harder and hardest. He's got a bit of a spraycan arm at this point where he just aims in the general direction. Sliders and changeups both were consistently in the dirt.
Mike MacDougal: Dude can still bring the heat. He throws with a three-quarters motion and puts hard arm-side movement on a harder fastball. His slider was okay, but the main problem was leaving the ball over the plate. Even with the great fastball, it still got squared up pretty good by more than one guy.
Tim Redding: Redding threw well, and most notably fielded his position well. His fastball was only 90-91, but it sat on the corners and had decent sink. His curveball was good with solid downward and side action. I still like him to start as the fifth starter if anyone else goes down in the next three weeks.
Ron Mahay: Lefty. Pulse. Elbert working on mechanical issues out of the spotlight. I think he makes it unless he implodes. He's the same old LOOGY, and that's fine by me.
Gabe Kapler: Spent too much time at the beach. His upper body is ripped and his legs look lilke toothpicks. He moved okay in the outfield but his arm was diminished and his bat was a bit slower than it used to be. With Thames playing well, I don't see a spot for Kapler.
Justin Sellers: Thumbwrestles Jamey Carroll for smallest player in camp. This guy needs to be stashed in a minor league cage and never let out.
Eugenio Velez: Vin pleads Ned to leave Velez at home so he doesn't have to pronounce his name all season long. He's quick, he has good range, he plays decent defense, he still can't hit. If we combine Sellers, Velez and Gordon we might have an actual sized baseball player.
Camp is a lighter atmosphere this year, which I know has been reported elsewhere, but really has to be experienced to understand. Guys are bustling from group to group, excited to get to work and ready to compete in a tough division. The new guys are responding well with the returners and everyone seems to be on the same page.
I LOVED the fact that with Loney out and Gimenez playing first base with the starters, Donnie hit him in the five spot to maintain consistency with Uribe, Thames and Barajas. I think consistency is a huge attribute in managerial style more even moreso in the workplace. No one likes coming to work and having their desk in a different corner of the building, just like no one likes not knowing what mood their boss is in. I still like Tim Wallach, but the more I focused specifically on the context and intent of Mattingly's moves both in-game and in lineup creation, the more I'm liking him as a major league manager.
Lastly, I highly suggest everyone find a way to take a puddle jumper down to Phoenix and catch a couple weekend games. Bring the family, get a feel for the place, take a picture with your kid and your favorite Dodger, and really just fall in love with this team again. Baseball is back.