The temperature in Clearwater was a little warmer Friday morning. There was very little breeze as a handful of spectators, four to be exact, took up their positions to watch 31 ball players take to Robin Roberts Field at the Paul Owens Training Facility, a place I often refer to simply as the Complex.
The healthiest of the group began their scheduled work out by performing stretching exercises in a circle in left field line under the watchful eyes of their trainers. The “walking wounded” milled about before making their way to the right field foul line for their own supervised drills. My friend, Steve Potter, and I stood along the fence and tried to guess who was who among the new coaches watching the players. The Phillies have added a lot of new faces other than players this off season. Steve’s wife and her friend made up the rest of the spectators and sat on the bleachers waiting for some action.
In earlier articles buried at the end of the Readers’ Poll posts, I have reported that up to 30 players have been seen at the Complex, today Jerad Eickhoff reported –
- Mario Sanchez,
- Sutter McLoughlin,
- Vince Velasquez,
- Tom Eshelman,
- Adam Morgan,
- Mark Leiter,
- Pedro Beato,
- Ben Lively,
- J.D. Hammer,
- Drew Anderson,
- Jake Thompson,
- Zach Eflin,
- Nick Pivetta,
- Ben Brown,
- McKenzie Mills,
- Kyle Young,
- Garrett Cleavinger,
- Seth McGarry,
- Ryan Etsell,
- Zach Warren,
- Jeff Singer,
- Kevin Gowdy,
- Grant Dyer,
- Roman Quinn,
- Dylan Cozens,
- Edgar Cabral,
- Carlos De La Cruz,
- Pedro Florimon,
- Logan Moore,
- Mitch Walding, and
- Jerad Eickhoff.
Several other 25-man roster players were rumored to be coming in this week. I wonder if the recent players’ anger over the lack of movement with free agency has caused them to delay their arrival. More on that some other time.
In Clearwater, we have a series of important dates on our timeline between the end of live baseball and the date pitchers and catchers report.
- First we have the Instructional League to give us a baseball fix for 4 weeks, cut to 3 this year due to Hurricane Irma. This gets us half way through October.
- Next we focus on two weeks of men’s tournaments at the Complex and several other venues during two weeks in November.
- Our next milestone is the winter meetings in early December.
- Nothing after that until Phantasy Week. In January, even amateur baseball looks good.
- During and after Phantasy Week players begin arriving and working out at the Complex.
- This week, two certain spring identifiers occurred – the arrival of the merchandise truck that sits next to Steve Carlton Field during the first days of spring training, and the arrival of a fourth catcher.
The arrival of a fourth catcher is an important event because it changes where the pitchers throw. They move from the easily observed three mounds between Schmidt and Ashburn Fields to the well hidden Seven Mounds behind the clubhouse.
For me, this signals the “unofficial” start of spring training, since all workouts from this point on will resemble normal spring training workouts. Our two-week window of watching the pitchers throw up close has closed until next year. And there are still 11 days until pitchers and catchers report.
The players in Clearwater fall into three types –
- Players who are still rehabbing and who report monthly for check ups. Most are probably here for good now.
- Players who are working co-op jobs for the City of Clearwater. This is a very successful program that gives young players (usually pitchers) the opportunity to earn some money and access to workouts at the Complex.
- Players who come down on their dime.
Today, Jerad Eickhoff brought the census up to 31 players. After stretching, some running, and long toss, the pitchers went behind the club house to throw. Walding took ground balls at third. Quinn, Florimon, Cozens, and De La Cruz took a variety of batted balls in the outfield. These five took their batting practice swings and then turned the cage over to the catchers after they were finished with the pitchers – Moore and Cabral.
While the guys were doing their exercises, Grant Dyer, Mario Sanchez, and Kevin Gowdy were throwing over in right field. I had known that they were throwing off flat ground, but this was the first time I saw them, albeit at a distance. I would estimate that Gowdy was throwing 50-55 feet. He was about as far from the foul line as the pitching rubber, so he would be throwing less than 60’6″. He wasn’t throwing for velocity, but seemed to be trying to simulate a certain release arc. Same for Sanchez. But he seemed to be a little further from the line and looked to have a little more velo. Dyer was throwing as much as 90′ with reasonably good velocity. He looks like he’s trying to show he’s ready to get back on a mound.
Among the new faces was Phillies’ bench coach and long time Yankees coach, Rob Thomson. During Walding’s fielding drills, Thomson asked to hit a few. He hit a soft line drive over Walding’s head on his first swing. I felt an uncontrollable urge, and booed him. He hesitated and turned, like he couldn’t believe that somebody would boo during fielding practice. I called out, “Welcome to Philly!”. Fortunately, he got the joke and smiled in good-natured acknowledgement.
Gabe Kapler came out in civvies to watch BP. I assume he watched the pitchers before coming over. He made a point of introducing himself to every player and had a brief conversation with each. He had an extended conversation with Roman Quinn. One which I could overhear, but decided to walk away and not listen in. This reminded me of the talks that Larry Bowa and Matt Stairs had with Nick Williams last spring. Anyway, Roman has looked sullen at the Complex so far. After their conversation, he looked to be in much better spirits.
By the end of practice, a few more fans and a couple autograph guys had arrived. Gabe Kapler came over to sign a few autographs. I positioned myself to introduce myself to him after the last autograph and had a nice conversation with him. Among other things, I gave him the name and location of the healthiest restaurant in the Clearwater area.