SARASOTA, Fla. — Some spring observations two weeks out from Opening Day, with an emphasis on teams playing at Camden Yards this summer:
* If the Yankees suffer many more hits and if the Red Sox implode any more, Tampa Bay might actually be recognized as legitimate contenders. Which, of course, the soon to be known as “pesky Rays” already are, thanks to their 96 wins and second-place finish in the American League’s Eastern Division a year ago. At the very least, the unknown but not to be underappreciated Rays figure as a strong wild-card contender.
* With outfielders falling down all around him, former wunderkind Clint Frazier could emerge as a key figure for the Yankees. A centerpiece in the Andrew Miller trade way back when, Frazier has flown mostly under the radar as something of a disappointment until now, but with Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Hicks in various stages of distress, Frazier seems to be coming out of his promising shell.
* Speaking of centerpieces, O’s outfield prospect Yusniel Diaz, who came along from the Dodgers in the Manny Machado trade, has displayed solid tools for the second straight year in spring training. The trick is for those tools to carry over to the regular season, when Diaz figures to be a mainstay at Triple-A Norfolk. He doesn’t even have to be added to the 40-man roster until next year, so the O’s have plenty of time to get the Dodgers’ money worth ($15.5 million signing bonus).
* I haven’t read anything about Trevor Bauer lately, and I miss him already. After famously calling his pitches in an exhibition start against the Dodgers, Bauer had a meeting with league commissioner Rob Manfred. Not sure what that was about, but sure hope it wasn’t an attempt to put a muzzle on the Reds’ right-hander.
* Some of the guys coming out of the Orioles’ bullpen you’ve probably never heard of before, but they all come out throwing gas. Cody Carroll has closer potential down the road, making me wonder if Hunter Harvey might not yet find his way back into the rotation picture.
* Pat Valaika is the O’s 2020 version of Hanser Alberto, bouncing on and off the DFA (designated for assignment) list, and he’s done nothing to suggest he won’t make the Opening Day roster.
* Nobody seems to know what’s going on with the Red Sox, other than they traded away their best player, Mookie Betts, and top-of-the-rotation pitcher David Price, and No. 1 starter Chris Sale could be a season-long casualty. Come to think of it, what else is there to know? Oh yeah, they are still waiting for a verdict from Manfred about any potential punishment for doing naughty sign-stealing in 2018. Still, it might be premature to dismiss the Sox from consideration.
* There hasn’t been any breaking news coming out of Dunedin, Fla., where the Toronto Blue Jays train, but the stream of young talent headed by Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is poised to make noise in the AL East if any of the big boys (or pesky Rays) stumble.
* I am not going all in on early spring training results, and I’m not convinced Chris Davis needed another 20 pounds to fix his swing, but his at-bats down here have looked nothing like what they’ve been at Camden Yards the last three years. They have presented a totally different look. Which, for those who hadn’t paid attention, is a good thing.
* Bruce Zimmermann is not considered one of the Orioles’ blue-chip pitchers, and at the age of 25 he might be considered late to the prospect party, but he very well could be the next starter to emerge from the minor-league system. He’s something of a John Means clone, plus about 3-4 mph, who looks and acts like he’s on the verge. Plus, he’s what we like to call in the trade a “stylish left-hander.”
* There has been way too much commotion regarding the Astros’ batters being hit by a pitch seven times. Only three other teams training in Florida (the O’s, Yankees and Nationals) had been hit FEWER times than the Astros. A .212 batting average was much more of a concern than anything other than Justin Verlander’s availability for Opening Day, which appears highly doubtful.
This was corrected to reflect that the Rays finished in second place in the AL East last year, not third.
Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com
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