Surprise report, v.1.

It’s a game of inches.  

I’m not sure what would have happened had we not left the house at 5:45 a.m., had we not arrived at the airport at 6:20, had we not checked in and arrived at the security check line at 6:30, nearly an hour before our 7:25 a.m. flight.  

They Know Why We Fly, but they must not know when Spring Break is, because they had only one guy in place to check boarding passes and ID’s for the hundreds of us lined up for security checks.  He deserves a merit badge for moving the line as fast as he did, but it still took us 30 minutes to get through the line.

But that was OK, because it was just 7:00, our gate was 50 feet away, and departure wasn’t until 7:25.  No sweat.

Except that as we walked over to the gate, we heard, “. . . Last call before we give your seats away to standby passengers.  Last call for Smith, Newberg, . . . “

Really?  Really??  When you check in, at the airport, an hour before your flight, if you don’t show up at the gate (because of backed up security checks) until 25 minutes before departure, they’ll give your seats away?

It takes a lot to torque me off on a trip to Surprise, but if we’d shown up at the airport an hour before our break-of-dawn flight instead of 65 minutes early, and had our seats taken away from us, then the 3-14-10 Newberg Report would have put this particular airline on a short list that includes Todd Zeile, Dish Network, Luis Alicea, Flip Boone, and Nickelback.

Instead, it all worked out — barely — and instead of a bunch of vitriol you’re subjected only to seven wasted paragraphs that you didn’t sign up for.  

I was pretty tired yesterday so there’s a 10 percent chance I’m wrong about these things:

1. I think I saw Reds third baseman Scott Rolen hanging out with his kids at the pool at our hotel.

2. I think I saw Indians AAA pitching coach (and 129-game winner) Charles Nagy at dinner (bemoaning Cleveland’s 5-0 loss to Texas earlier in the day).

3. I think I saw Johnny Whittleman wearing a Whittleman 49 jersey during afternoon BP on the back fields.

I’ve been to more than 20 spring trainings.  There are a handful of moments I still remember as being the very first thing I saw on that particular trip.  Donald Harris bloodying his own lip on a foul ball in BP in 1990 in Port Charlotte.  Dodgers rookie Raul Mondesi making a throw to the plate that you could have hung clothes on in 1994 in a game against the Astros in Kissimmee.  John Bannister blowing Royals uberprospect Billy Butler away on three fastballs in 2005.

And five years later, on that same field where I saw Bannister-Butler, the southeast of the four surrounding the Eagle’s Nest on the back fields in Surprise, I saw a guy who I’ve been expecting for several years now to have that breakout season take another predictably dazzling round of BP.  I don’t know if Johnny Whittleman is going to have a big summer, but there’s no question he had a big winter.  The 23-year-old put on what had to be 20 extra pounds of good weight this off-season, and he looks like Troy Aikman out there.

He’s still got to field his position better at third, and still needs to show more consistent power and aggressiveness at the plate, and he knows that.  But if his off-season workouts are any indication of how dedicated he is to taking that next step, this may finally be his year.

I saw less than one hour of work Saturday afternoon before they packed things in to wrap up the first day of full squad minor league workouts, but in that time, between throws with Max, a few other things caught my eye as well:

1. Jorge Alfaro’s BP session was the most inconsistent one I saw, but also full of wow.  The 16-year-old catcher from Columbia is the definition of raw offensively (wish I’d taken a photo of the talk he and hitting instructor Luis Ortiz were having between turns at the plate — Alfaro wants it), but mature physically and extremely talented.  I can’t wait to see him show off his defensive tools, based on how the great Jason Parks described his work behind the plate.  

2. Watching 23-year-old dirtdog Vin DiFazio take batting practice while 17-year-old wunderkind Jurickson Profar fielded fungoes at shortstop made me think of how different their paths have been, and how much I root for both of them.  That’s two players who want to be great, not an insignificant trait.

3. Absent from minor league camp were two other diametrically opposite players.  One was outfielder Steve Murphy, who has retired.  The 25-year-old was the Northwest League MVP in 2005 after being drafted by Texas in the 14th round that summer out of Kansas State, and by 2007 he was an everyday AA player.  The former high school teammate of John Mayberry Jr. didn’t come into pro ball with much fanfare, but had several years as a productive minor leaguer.  The other was Emmanuel Solis, who signed at age 17 out of the Dominican Republic for more than $500,000 but never has produced.  An experiment was underfoot last year to move the third baseman to the mound, but he’s not on the camp roster as far as I can tell.  

It had been three years since the Rangers had been rained out of a spring training game when they were washed out last week, and it had been three years since the club had twirled a shutout before yesterday’s blanking of the Indians.  Brandon McCarthy pitched in the March 4, 2007 gem and in yesterday’s as well.  I didn’t see any of the game, but McCarthy reportedly relied on a fastball with tremendous life to set three hitters down on strikes in his three innings of work (three hits, one walk), and Darren Oliver (one inning), Luis Mendoza (three innings), and Guillermo Moscoso (two innings) followed with six innings of one-hit ball.  

Third baseman Matt Brown doubled off a lefty and tripled off a righty.  

Chris Davis singled in three trips and sits at .522/.560/.739 with only four strikeouts in 23 at-bats.

Ian Kinsler will be held out of action for at least a week with a high right ankle sprain.

There’s a little speculation brewing in local reports that Neftali Feliz is less than a lock to break camp with the big club, particularly if he doesn’t begin to command his secondary stuff.  If Feliz gets optioned, it won’t so much be because of strong efforts from bubble candidates like Mendoza and Moscoso or flashes of awesomeness from newcomers Tanner Scheppers and Alexi Ogando, who are certainties to start the year on the farm — it will be strictly because  of the state of Feliz’s development and how to handle it best.  

Kevin Millwood’s second Orioles outing was no better than his first: five earned runs on nine hits in 2.2 innings.

Mike Lowell is supposed to see game action for Boston tomorrow.  Red Sox officials are praising his early work at first base.

Washington released Eddie Guardado.

Jason Botts is 1 for 12 in White Sox camp.  Omar Vizquel is 2 for 15.  A slimmed down Andruw Jones, on the other hand, is 5 for 14 (.357/.471/.500) with as many walks (three) as strikeouts, and two stolen bases in two tries.

The Pirates are reportedly not guaranteeing infielder Ramon Vazquez a job even though he’s guaranteed $2 million.  A trade is expected, and for obvious reasons the Rangers are being mentioned in Pittsburgh reports as a possible destination.  Keep an eye on this one.

Jayson Stark’s Grapefruit League travels produced a list of the hardest throwers he’s seen in Florida this month, topped by Stephen Strasburg and Daniel Bard, each of whom touched 98, and six others who hit 97 — including Tampa Bay’s Joaquin Benoit.  (Interestingly, at least four Rangers pitchers I can think of off the top of my head would have made that list had Stark made
it over to Arizona the last couple weeks.)

Benoit told reporters, on the subject of new Rays teammate Hank Blalock: “I’ll tell you what.  If he’s healthy, he’s gonna be unbelievable.  He swings hard at everything, and he’s not the kind of guy that swings hard and misses.”


Blalock on why he chose Tampa Bay: “I didn’t have any other choice.  That’s why I’m here.”

Nice touch: Texas got minor league infielder Travis Adair into a game last week as a “Just In Case” against Seattle — whose pitching coach is his Dad, Rick Adair.  Travis worked a walk in a ninth-inning pinch-hit appearance.

Colorado signed righthander Rick Bauer and lefthander Scott Rice to minor league deals.

The Laredo Broncos of the independent United League released outfielder Juan Senreiso.  The Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League signed righthander Joselo Diaz.  The Windy City Thunderbolts of the independent Frontier League signed first baseman-outfielder J.T. Restko to a contract extension.

Full day of baseball ahead.  Catch you tomorrow.


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(c) Jamey Newberg
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