A longtime reader of the Nation, Rich Thompson, recently traveled to Arizona. He has kindly written up his report of the trip. Take it away, Rich:
—–Being a baseball and a Cincinnati Reds fan, one of my bucket lists to do’s was to go to Spring Training and this year, I made it happen.
Probably as with many fans, the challenges to make such a trip happen often relate to scheduling (personal & professional) and finances. This year, with a little planning, I made such a pilgrimage to Arizona to take in three games over a four day period.
To share the experience, I was able to persuade my good friend Mike Rankin from Chicago, IL (who is a big White Sox fan) to meet me in Arizona to take in some of the games. Naturally, we both had to see the Reds take on the White Sox in Glendale and see his Sox take on the Tribe in Goodyear.
Ok, enough of the preliminaries and pleasantries; now let’s get into the reviews of the parks and players.
Overall Thoughts & Reflections on Goodyear
If you wish to go and see the players warm up and work out, you will have to walk, bike (Yes, fans actually bike to the games! I found this to be very cool since I am a cyclist myself), or drive to the practice fields, which are about a mile away from the park. It should also be noted before the games start they have buses bring the players over from the practice facilities to the main field. Parking is $5.00 dollars per car to park next to the stadium and it is free if you park in one of the auxiliary lots which is a nice walk and not too far away in my opinion.
Overall Thoughts & Reflections Glendale/Camel Back Ranch, Spring Training home of Chicago (AL) and Los Angeles (NL)Unlike Goodyear, which had an intimate feel to it, taking in a game at Glendale/Camel Back Ranch felt much more like attending a regular season MLB facility. In my estimation it is almost twice as big and Goodyear and it offered many more amenities. Even with that said, ticket prices were still incredibly reasonable, I believe my buddy, the White Sox fan, paid less than $20.00 dollars per ticket and we were on the 3rd base line/2nd row back from the Reds dugout. It also worth mentioning parking is free at Glendale/Camelback Ranch.
Visually, Glendale/Camel Back Ranch is a stunning facility and the practice fields are literally connected to the main park, which you can access once you enter it. To make the practice fields even more inviting, the planners literally create a town park atmosphere with shade trees, lush grass, and running water features to sit around as you enjoy the practices of the players and coaches. Yes, I think that this facility is just another example of two bigger market organizations (White Sox & Dodgers) with deeper pockets showing off what they can do. However, I still applaud the Dodgers, White Sox, and the town of Glendale for building such an outstanding fan friendly venue.
Impressions of the Players
Please keep in mind that my sample size was small since I only took in three games, but I did notice some things that Reds fans might find interesting. I will start with the pitchers and then cover/highlight the position players, and then the prospects that I saw.
Bonson Arroyo – During the game that I saw Bronson pitch, he was typical Bronson. He got hit hard when he got the ball up, but when he kept the ball down in the zone and changed speeds he was able to get batters out by keeping them off balance. I think that Reds will get another year of 200+ innings out of him but he has to locate his fastball carefully as always or it will get crushed.
Homer Bailey – Wow, I was really impressed!! In the game that I saw him pitch, he struck out 5 in two innings of work vs the Royals! His mechanics were sound; he was locating all of his pitches. What I was really impressed with was how much movement he had on his fastball. During this game, I was sitting on the 1st base side behind the Royals dugout; I could hear some players and coaches say, “This guy is a stud!” and “If he stays in the game more than two innings, we are not going to get much off of the Reds today!” All, I can say if he carries this form throughout the regular season, he might be a 17-20 game winner for the Reds!
Tony Cingrani – With his outing, my impressions of him have not really changed. He has a lively fastball that slightly cuts and has nice mechanics. However, as Doug Gray from Redsminorleagues.com has pointed out, he relies heavily on two pitches: his fastball and his slider/curve. He did try a few change ups and unfortunately they got crushed! He needs that third pitch to be an effective as a starter and if he stays in that role. From my observations, his changeup is indeed a project for him and he needs to keep it low. The ones that I saw him try just floated/tumbled belt high and like I said, they were hammered! Even with all that said, I think that he is a legit prospect and a year at Triple A will serve him and the Reds well.
Kyle Lotzkar, JJ Hoover, Logan Ondrusek, Chad Rogers & Armando Galarraga
The game that I saw Lotzkar pitch, he got lit up! His location was poor/up in the zone and to be honest, I think that maybe he was a bit overwhelmed being in the big league camp? I have read some good things about him, but as of right now, I think another season or two at AA or AAA would be best.
When I saw Hoover pitch he showed glimpses of what he can offer the Reds now His ball moves well, but when he got behind in the counts he got hit hard. In the game that I saw him pitch, Dusty and Price left him out there to work his way of trouble, but his pitch count was up and he was obviously laboring. It also appears that he might have put on a few extra pounds during the off season. Maybe he can find his command and improve his fitness as the spring training season progresses for I feel that he is a talent that can help the Reds out of the bullpen now.
Logan Ondrusek came in early during the Royals game that I saw and unfortunately, he was hit very hard. He was up in the strike zone and his fastball was very flat. I have always been high on him, but I am starting to feel that he is digressing a bit or the league has figured him out. So with all of that said, I think that the rest of the Spring Training campaign is really important for him since the Reds have a lots of options for a few bullpen slots.
Chad Rogers pleasantly surprised me with his stuff and command when I saw him pitch. However, what I really liked about him was his demeanor! He was calm, composed, and challenged hitters! I think it is unlikely that he will break camp with the Reds, but I will be following him more as he hopefully progresses through the Reds system.
Armando Galarraga – I was joking that Jim Joyce must have called Walt and gave him a good recommendation. All kidding aside, I bet Joyce still hurts over that blown call that cost Galarraga that perfect game. During his outing, he was hit a bit, but he was always around the plate and he worked the corners, the upper and lower parts of the strike zone fairly well. If he was trying to make the cut on a another team, I could see him making it as 5th starter or long reliever, but I think that the Reds have too much depth of pitching to make this squad unless someone like a Mike Leake gets traded. I sure hope that does not happen!Joey Votto looks great and fully healthy! The games that I saw him play he was driving the ball with authority and he appears to be using his lower body and legs well too when he swings. I am expecting him to have a great year with Choo and Phillips hopefully getting on base ahead of him. If so, I expect his RBI numbers to really go up this year.
Brandon Phillips was in mid-season form defensively, but he did struggle a bit at the plate during the games that I attended. I could tell that he was trying to make some adjustments and he was focusing on driving the ball to center and right field. Also, his playing time seemed to be limited compared to the rest of the starters. I am guessing that was due to his forthcoming participation in the World Baseball Classic. As always with Phillips, unless he is hurt, I fully expect him to put up solid numbers and he might be even better offensively this year batting in a consistent place in the batting order and with the arrival of Choo as the table setter.
Jay Bruce played in all three games that I watched and like many of the Reds regulars he too struggled at the plate, but he did hit the ball hard several times during his at bats. I know that he has heated up a bit recently during Spring Training and I hope that he can be a bit more consistent at the plate during the regular and post season. However bear in mind, he is still very young and he just keeps getting better!Todd Frazier is a player that I have watched in person in High A/Lynchburg, VA and Triple A when Louisville has come to play the Tides in Norfolk, VA. During the games that I watched him play this spring, he has improved by leaps and bounds defensively. During one game he made a really nice play diving to his right and came up throwing out the batter/runner at first. At the plate, he struggled and pulled off the ball a good bit which was something I saw him do a lot in the minors. However, I do keep in mind that it was early in Spring Training when I saw him and I am optimistic that he will get settled in at the plate before the regular season starts.
Devin Mesoraco is another player that I have seen play a good bit when Reds had affiliates in Virginia & North Carolina, or when Louisville plays some games in Norfolk, VA. At the Spring Training games that I saw him play, I was really impressed on how much he has improved both offensively and defensively! Hitting, wise he was hitting everything hard and showed really good plate coverage. But what I was most impressed with was how he was letting the ball come to him and then driving it where it was pitched. Even when he made an out, it was a hard out and he was driving the ball to center and right field on outside pitches which I have felt was a skill he lacked last year. What I was most excited about was his defensive improvements behind the plate. It was pretty apparent to me he came to Spring Training in better shape and much more flexible because he was setting up lower and was receiving the ball with more quiet hands like Ryan Hanigan. It should also be noted that it appears that he has really improved his footwork as a catcher! Consequently, he demonstrated a better mechanic coming out of the crouch to throw out runners or moving laterally to block balls in the dirt. Like I said, I was really impressed from what I saw out of him and I am very hopeful that he will contribute a lot more this year.
Spring Training would not be Spring Training unless you got to see some of the prospects and new acquisitions too. During the games that I took in these are the non-pitching players that I saw that impressed me one way or the other.
Donald Lutz is a big and strong guy! The ball just has a different sound coming off his bat. He is raw as advertised, but I see why the Reds brass likes him! He hustles all of the time and actually can play an adequate left field.
Yorman Rodriguez is without a doubt one of the most toolsy players that I saw in camp! He can run and has cannon for an arm. Unfortunately, he has a very long swing and it has lots of holes in it too that opposing pitchers really exploited. If he can shorten his swing some and be a bit more selective, I think that he can be really special.
Tucker Barnhart is an extremely competent defensive catching prospect! Receives the ball maybe even better than Hanigan! Incredible footwork and he has a real quick release when he is throwing to bases. Unfortunately, hitting wise he was pretty overmatched by opposing pitchers from what I saw.
Jason Donald, Jack Hannahan, Emmanuel Burriss, Cesar Izturis, and Miguel Olivo – These are the guys that are going to be battling for one of those coveted utility/bench positions. Donald is not flashy but he is steady in the field and believe it or not has a little pop in his bat. Jack Hannahan can play corner infield and outfield positions in a pinch. Burriss and Izturis are your prototypical middle infielder types. Izturis in my opinion is better with the glove but I feel that Burriss has better speed and maybe a better hit tool. What little I saw out of Olivo is that he is an adequate backup catcher, but he is behind Mesoraco considering what I saw out of him. It will be interesting to see who out of this group makes the team.Ok, now it is time to highlight the player and prospect that most Reds fans are full of anticipation about: Billy Hamilton. In the three games that I saw him play, I unfortunately have to report his was pretty much overmatched at the plate and struck out several times. However, he did get one walk during the game against the White Sox and that is when I got to see in person what makes him so special. On the second pitch he took off and stole second base easily.
Later on a fly ball to left field, he tagged up from second base and took third easily too. In my opinion, that is pretty much ill-advised or unheard of for most players, but he is not most players. I think that it is all for certain that he will be at Triple A when the season starts. I think that he will indeed be the Reds heir-apparent at the top of the order. However, he needs to demonstrate that he can handle more advanced pitching and cut down on his strike outs.
Final Highlight, Thoughts, and Recommendations
My final highlight that I wish to share is that I had the rare opportunity to meet the great George Foster! He was in attendance for the last game that I saw at Goodyear signing autographs and just talking to the fans. All I can say is that he was a classy guy and very much the gentlemen. Plus, I considered it a real honor to shake the hand of a guy who hit over 50 home runs in one season without the aid of PEDs. From my impressions, he was and is a true role model on and off the field!
In closing, if you are a baseball fan and Cincinnati Reds fan in particular, I cannot encourage you enough to plan a trip to Spring Training someday. Unlike attending a MLB regular season game, you as a fan have the unique opportunity to see some rising prospects and the chance to get really close to the players and coaches in a much more relaxed setting. Plus if you live in a cold weather part of the country, you will enjoy the 70’s/80’s that AZ has to offer at that time of the year.
With careful planning and maybe sharing the expenses with a buddy or a spouse you can make such a trip happen for around $1,100.00 like I did for 4 days & 3 nights. For me that included airfare from Richmond, VA, hotel, a rental car, food, tickets to the games, and parking.
Now, I am even more excited for the new season to start than I have ever been since I got an early taste of it! Maybe you will feel the same way one day too if you ever make it to Arizona for Spring Training.