First off, the story of the day because of his role in big league completion; Drew Smyly was excellent in his start for the High-A club. Smyly tossed four innings, allowing just one hit and yielding one walk while striking out eight of the 12 outs he recorded. Needless to say, he had a good day.
However, it's important to keep this start in context. A week ago, after a strong start, people were ready to anoint Andy Oliver as the fifth starter that is until he lost his control again earlier this week, and concerns returned about his ability to consistently throw strikes.
That's not to take anything away from Smyly, who pitched very well against competition he quite frankly should pitch well against. He throws strikes, controls his pitches, and while his competition has been good, it's also been inconsistent. Smyly, quite frankly, has not.
The fifth starter race was a complex one from the day spring training began, and with just two weeks to go until Opening Day, it remains so.
Fields Powering Up
Going beyond Smyly and the big league competition, arguably the biggest headline grabber of the spring on the back fields has been Daniel Fields. The young outfielder had a very impressive 2010, followed by a very disappointing 2011, to the extent that scouts weren't even sure they'd grade Fields as an actual prospect, despite his athleticism and tools that he was drafted on.
But with a lot of hard work this off-season, Fields has transformed his swing, and the results are paying off in the first week of games for the minor league clubs. Fields has had impressive pop in his bat, turning on balls on multiple occasions. On Thursday, he reached base three times, including a laser shot for a single and a drive over the fence in deep right.
The swing is only one part of Fields' offensive game that needed work – pitch recognition and making better contact are just a couple of the areas that he must improve as well. But showing a more authoritative approach at the plate with results to go with it is a great step in the right direction.
Burgos Shines in Typical Fashion
With Smyly getting the start for the High-A team, the scheduled starter, Alex Burgos, didn't get into the game until the fifth inning. Despite the delay, Burgos performed well in his usual style, mixing his pitches and displaying quality control.
This still does little to answer questions about his long term viability though. A control and command pitcher that can't dial his fastball up above the mid-80s will always have trouble as the opposition toughens, and Burgos is likely to experience that sooner or later. In other words, expect Burgos to have a strong showing in Lakeland in 2012, and don't extrapolate that performance and assume a materially better prospect than he is today.
Vasquez Growing Up
When fans saw Danry Vasquez in person last summer, the potential was clearly there, but it was also easy to notice that he was a long ways away, at a young age with a uniform that looked closer to a shirt on a hanger than a well fitting uniform.
But a year later, the just 18-year old Vasquez has seen quite a bit of growth since then , and he's beginning to translate that into skill on the baseball field. There were many outlets that were relatively down on Vasquez but talked about his potential, and no one had him ranked as high as TigsTown did (number three prospect in the organization). Let's just say there are no regrets on that ranking.