First off, a few general notes. As a reminder, while these rosters can usually be considered directional as to which players are likely to play on what teams, things are by no means set, and in some cases, a pitcher might be throwing for a specific team for a variety of reasons, usually around trying to get everyone innings in an always crowded and busy spring.
In addition, early on when a lot of players are still competing for a single big league job, that filters down. So, with Eugenio Suarez, Hernan Perez and Danny Worth all still with the big league club, there's a need for middle infielders on the Toledo roster, which has a domino effect all the way down. With that, onto the player notes…
Nathan Cruises, Joba Struggles
As noted, sometimes guys need some work, so they use a minor league game, and Joe Nathan and Joba Chamberlain each got in an inning of work in the High-A game.
Nathan made quick work of the A-ball hitters he was facing, inducing soft contact and wrapping up his inning in just a few minutes.
Chamberlain on the other hand didn't cruise – struggling not just to hit his spots, but even control the ball – multiple times the ball went in the dirt and was followed up immediately by a loud audible curse word or two. He allowed two singles before eventually getting out of the inning without yielding a run, but he really labored to do so.
Who is Wynton Bernard?
Moving onto the minor leaguers, starting off first with Wynton Bernard, a player almost no one has heard of up until now. As noted in the Transaction Blog, he was the lone player signed out of the open tryout two weeks ago out of about 120 players. He wasn't completely out of the woodwork, as he was a 35th round draft pick of San Diego in 2012 and spent two seasons bouncing around the Padres system before being released, but he certainly wasn't highly regarded.
And so his prominence with the rest of the High-A team was noteworthy, hitting leadoff for the club. Bernard immediately flashed speed, beating out a slow grounder in his first at-bat of the game, and then legging out a triple on a shot down the line later on.
Given his status as a minor league free agent, he's probably not going to be someone shooting up prospect charts anytime soon, but might well become a player for one of the A-ball teams this season as a versatile outfielder.
Thompson Hit or Miss (Pardon the Pun)
Jake Thompson was the starter for the High-A club, and this is a projection that we expect to hold. He didn't actually start, as Joe Nathan and Joba Chamberlain each got in an inning of work, but he got in three innings of work, with mixed results.
Thompson's control would come and go over his three innings of work, pounding the strike zone in one at-bat, and issuing a four pitch walk on the next. He spent time after each inning chatting with Flying Tigers pitching coach Mike Maroth, specifically discussing release point and arm action.
When Thompson was keeping the ball in the zone, he was generating plenty of swings and misses, but didn't generate too many punch outs, and did allow a few hard hit balls, even though they went for outs (a stiff wind killed a lot of balls in the outfield).
The upside of course remains the swing-and-miss ability from Thompson, especially with his devastating slider, but he'll likely continue to need a lot of innings to refine his game.
Castro Flashes Wheels
Harold Castro showed off his speed in 2011 and 2012 in the complex leagues, but was much more reserved last season, swiping just eight bases last year. That is most certainly not a result of a loss of speed though, as Castro made sure to show early.
Castro reached base after working a four pitch walk, and promptly swiped second base without a throw, and a few pitches later, took third base as well and rather easily beat the throw to the bag. The walk showcased very good pitch recognition skills as well, earning the walk by taking close pitches, and not the product of a wild arm on the mound that gave up a free base.
It's an important reminder that stats can often be misleading, especially at the lower levels of the minors where players might be challenged in different ways, or working on specific skills that might result in diminished productivity in others.
New Positions for Ficociello, Robertson
Dominic Ficociello was getting lots of work at second base last year for the Connecticut Tigers, after predominantly being a corner infielder in college, working mostly at first base. Ficociello however is not only tall, but appears to have bulked up, and doesn't look or move like a middle infielder. Given that, Ficociello was getting all his work in on first base. That doesn't necessarily mean it's a permanent move, but it's also clear to observers that is where he looks most comfortable.
Also, Montreal Robertson had been drafted as a late round flier with a power fastball that projected well to a late inning bullpen role. Despite that, he's been starting a lot over the last two years, likely in an effort to force him to get work on his other pitches, especially his slider. It appears that is over, as Robertson paired with Angel Nesbitt to get the final two innings of work. It's a good bet that those two will fill similar roles for Lakeland when the season rolls around.
After a full day of action with the A-ballers, there's plenty to report on who's looking good, and who had their share of struggles. Highlights include highly regarded prospects Jake Thompson on the mound, Harold Castro putting in work, position moves for a few and who exactly is Wynton Bernard? Plus, how did two big league relievers look getting in some action.
Notes on Joba Chamberlain and Joe Nathan, Harold Castro and Jake Thompson.