Some notes from spring training games I hit earlier this week.
• Tsuyoshi Wada was the lower-profile of the two major Baltimore Orioles signings from Japan, the other being Taiwanese starter Chen Wei-Yin, who also pitched in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball. (We won't even talk about the O's follies in Korea.) Wada's stuff is very light for a starter in the American League East, with no above-average pitch and a repertoire that will require him to go heavy on off-speed and hope to be precise with his command.
His fastball was 87-89 with little life, but he mixed in a cutter, a splitter, and a change (with the latter two possibly the same pitch). The delivery is exaggerated as we see from most NPB starters, and there is some deception both from the funk in the delivery and the way he hides the ball, but that trick usually won't get you through the league more than once unless you have stuff, and Wada doesn't.
• Orioles top prospect Manny Machado (No. 4 on my top 100) played in that same game, a split-squad game against the Atlanta Braves, and fit in surprisingly well despite his youth and inexperience, only looking bad in an at-bat against a sidearming right-hander. He also made a play at short that many big league shortstops don't make, going to his right for a tough grounder and throwing a strike to first.
• I'd hoped to see Jason Heyward or Andrelton Simmons for Atlanta, but neither played; Tyler Pastornicky was at short and he was clearly pressing at the plate with some very defensive swings. Mike Minor started for Atlanta and touched 95 mph, pitching at above-average with a changeup that showed plus and his usual command, all of which was too much for a Baltimore lineup that bordered on the hilarious.
• Back over to the Cactus League, Neftali Feliz left his start against the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday early with mild shoulder stiffness that was evident early in his outing, as his arm, usually quite loose, wasn't free and easy as it usually is. He was still 92-95 and threw a few plus changeups around 85, although the pitch flattened out into a BP fastball up around 88.
He had no feel for his curveball at 79-81, getting on the side of it, leaving it up like a bad backup slider. I've advocated letting Feliz start for some time now, but even assuming the shoulder stiffness is a non-issue, he'll need to get on top of that breaking ball more consistently for him to be able to turn over a lineup three times.
• The Cubs threw reliever Alberto Cabrera, who has one of the most electric fastballs I've seen from a prospect in a long time -- but doesn't have much else. That fastball was 95-97 for two innings with plus-plus sinking life, and he was around the plate with it a lot more than you'd expect given its movement. His changeup was dead-straight and very hittable, while the slider is short but not sharp; one of those two pitches has to come along this year for him to be a viable bullpen option, but he can probably go further than most relievers with one pitch because of its velocity and life.
• Chicago's Rule 5 pick, right-hander Lendy Castillo, also showed a good arm, 90-93 hard to his arm side with some feel for a slider in the low 80s, but he's pretty raw overall and lost his command after four or five batters, walking in a run in the process.
• First baseman Anthony Rizzo (No. 36 on my top 100) played in that game as well, taking some good at-bats, one of which ended in a line drive single to the left-center gap off a 92 mph fastball from left-hander Michael Kirkman, significant in that and inability to lefties is the major hole in Rizzo's game right now. He's got his hands out from his body more than I'd like to see, as it might give him trouble covering the inner half, but the swing works once he gets his hands started and the approach remains a strength.
• On the minor league side on Wednesday, Cubs shortstop prospect Javier Baez, No. 95 on my top 100 and their first pick in the 2011 Rule 4 draft, showed unbelievable power with a big home run to the opposite field at Fitch Park where he didn't even fully square the ball up, only to have it take off when it left his bat. Baez later showed his youth and rawness on a three-pitch strikeout where he had already started his two-strike swing before the pitcher had released the ball.
• The same game featured Cuban outfielder Yasiel Balaguert, who the Cubs signed in December for about $350,000. He's got a young face but a somewhat mature body without much room left to fill out (except in the wrong way). The swing is pretty solid, with good weight transfer and some hip rotation to create loft; his back side goes a little soft and I didn't see him get the head of the bat down at all, as he seemed to want the ball up so he could drive it. He has bat speed and strength, but is a fringy to average runner who has to stay in right field. He's not an elite prospect but one worth watching because of the potential to hit.