A handful of additional Spring Training-related items to share this morning …
- Last year, the Chicago Cubs broke and set all kinds of Cactus League attendance records at then Cubs Park, and it looks like they’re poised to break their own records again this year. Yesterday’s attendance at Sloan Park for the Jon Lester debut was 15,331, a new Cactus League record (and a record for any Spring Training game). At Camelback Ranch yesterday, the Dodgers drew under 7,000. And it’s not like the Dodgers are unpopular.
- Still not impressed? Try this on for size: in 2014, the average attendance at Indians big league games was just 17,746. Yesterday, the Cubs drew a borderline (bad) big league size crowd in Mesa, Arizona for a Spring Training game against the Reds.
- Mike Olt has been working to change his swing since late in 2014, and he says it feel like night and day compared to last year, in terms of how he’s able to lay off bad pitches (Cubs.com). That would certainly be a good thing, because Olt did whiff at a higher rate than the rest of the league when he went out of the zone, but he actually swung at pitches outside the zone less than the rest of the league. Olt’s real issue last year was how infrequently he was swinging at pitches in the zone (57.1%, versus league average of 65.7%) and how infrequently he was making contact with pitches in the zone (75.6%, versus league average of 87.3%). That combo yields a whole lot of taken strikes, a whole lot of pitcher’s counts, and then a whole lot of strikeouts.
- The CCO was at yesterday’s game, and got video of a number of players (including Kyle Schwarber behind the plate, if you want to see). Check it all out here. One video to share here is Javier Baez’s first plate appearance, the one in which he came up with a runner on third and one out, and swung hard through three fastballs. It’s not pretty (but it’s just Spring Training, don’t know what he was told to do, etc.):
- BN’er Spriggs (Dale, if you’d like to be on a first name basis) has been checking out Spring camp for the past couple weeks, and he sent me an update at the end of February, before the games started, that’s worth a look:
There are some notable changes from last year’s spring training set up. First of all, true to Joe’s word, there is music. Since the full squad workouts started on Thursday, the back four fields have music piped into all 4 of the fields. From the top of the observation deck in the center of the 4 practice fields, one speaker is aimed at each field. Mostly 60’s and 70’s rock and roll is what blasts down onto the fields, mystifying some of the older folks and delighting many. It helps create a nice atmosphere.
Ball launcher. These might not be new, but I have never seen one before, and they’re neat. These are small machines (like a very small cannon on wheels) that you drop a ball into, aim it, and shoot! Sort of like those t-shirt launchers you see at all sorts of games. It works great for pop-ups to infielders and catchers, and for short flies or line drives to the outfielders. The first time I saw it launch a ball – a pop to short – the ball was dropped by Castro!
Canopies for the bleacher seats were added at the four practice fields. Actually black mesh screens that provides an awesome sunscreen for the fans, making for a much more pleasant time in the Arizona sun!
Workout schedules are now posted at all fields for each day showing who will be working out at what time, doing what drills, and on what field. Another great feature for the fans.
The crowds are noticeably larger than last year and there is more of a buzz around the fields. The anticipation of a good year is definitely in the air.
Joe Maddon. Maddon always carries a bat around with him. He is very talkative guy around his players and coaches and moves around constantly from field to field. He’s held quite a few instructive sessions with many of the young players, notably Bryant and Baez. I asked Mr. Maddon what he thought of the young guys now that he’s seen a little of them, and he told me that he thinks they are better than advertised and we should be very excited about them.
Manny Ramirez seems like he has a great relationship with Baez, Lake, Bryant, Soler, and Alcantara. Those are the guys I have seen him working with and talking to the most. During the bp session that took place, Baez put on an amazing opposite field home run show. It was simply jaw dropping. This is when they were working with him to lower his bat/elbow.
When Jon Lester completed his first day of live batting practice (Baez, Soler, Rizzo, and Olt were among the hitters), he walked up to all the hitters and shook their hands. It was an interesting show of mutual respect and maybe a touch of veteran leadership sprinkled in there somewhere.
Speaking of leadership, it is also very obvious that Rizzo is becoming more vocal on the field this year during these practices. It is mostly shouting encouragement. He seems to be a little freer in giving advice to his younger teammates (Soler and Baez especially).