CHICAGO (CBS) — Spring Training offers a fresh start around MLB, insofar as that’s possible with baseball working through the aftermath of the Houston Astros cheating scandal. The exhibition games have started. And while they mean nothing in terms of the standings, they can mean a lot for players’ futures.
The league’s prominent up-and-comers have an opportunity to secure their places on opening day rosters or at least make their case for a call-up in the weeks to follow. Luis Robert looks poised to hold down an outfield spot on a young and exciting Chicago White Sox squad. Jo Adell could do the same in Los Angeles for the rising Angels.
The Astros’ exhibition season is already offering a taste of what the team can expect on the road this season. Houston was technically the home team in Saturday’s opener with the Washington Nationals, and none of their projected regulars were in the lineup. Though none of that was obvious from the fans’ spirited reactions.
Madison Bumgarner revealed himself to be a budding rodeo star. The recent success may be short-lived, however, now that the Arizona Diamondbacks are wise to him.
This week’s Spring Training Report looks at some of MLB’s rising talent, a little of the secondary fallout from the Astros scandal and MadBum’s rodeo exploits.
Young Players To Watch
Part of spring training’s fun is seeing the players who may soon dominate the box scores. This year’s MLB rookie class boasts its fair share of potential stars. White Sox outfielder Luis Robert is already being compared to Mike Trout, despite never having actually played in the big leagues, while the Angels Jo Adell looks destined to play alongside Trout himself as the season progresses.
Robert seemingly has all the tools to be a longtime producer at the highest level. He’s fast, can hit for average and power, defend his position and, perhaps most importantly, plays with unrivaled passion. Whether this potent mixture makes him a generational talent remains to be seen; Robert has yet to play a regular season game. But his stats in AAA last season — .328, 32 HRs, 36 stolen bases — were enough for the White Sox to offer him a $50 million contract extension. The AL rookie of the year favorite should be in the lineup come opening day.
Adell may not be one of the Angels in the outfield when Los Angeles takes on Houston on March 26, but it’s just a matter of time. Adell is coming off an up-and-down 2019 season in the minors that started with a spring training injury. He eventually hit .308 in 43 games in AA, but only .264 in 27 AAA games. The 20-year-old prospect went 2-3 from the designated hitter spot in his spring training debut for the Angels, picking up an RBI and a stolen base. He sat out Monday’s action.
Jesus Luzardo, the Oakland A’s young left-handed pitcher, actually made his MLB debut last season. In six appearances down the stretch, Luzardo put up a 1.50 ERA and a 0.87 WHIP in 12 innings pitched out of the bullpen. He also logged two saves. This season his fastball has already been clocked at over 96 MPH, though he has yet to take the mound in exhibition action. Luzardo is scheduled to start Tuesday against the San Diego Padres, and should round out the A’s rotation then the regular season begins.
Los Angeles Dodgers infielder Gavin Lux would already be starting on many major league teams. Lux spent most of his 2019 season in AA and AAA and most of that time at shortstop, hitting well over .300 at each of his stops. But Corey Seager already holds down the Dodgers’ shortstop spot, which means Lux may have more luck cracking the Dodgers’ lineup at second base. Lux had 79 big-league at-bats in 2019, hitting an uninspiring .240 with two home runs and nine RBI. Those numbers should improve with regular exposure to big-league pitching.
Astros Exhibition Season Stumbles To A Start
Opposing fans players aren’t happy with the Astros, and neither are opposing fans. The team was recently exposed as serial sign-stealers throughout their 2017 World Series run, leading to the suspension and/or firing of multiple coaches and executives. No current players were disciplined for their actions that season, leading to ongoing outrage among players around the league.
Houston started their exhibition season Saturday night in West Palm Beach, Florida against the Washington Nationals. The Nationals beat the Astros in the 2019 World Series, and the two teams currently share a spring training practice facility. This was Houston’s first game since the World Series and their first game since the scandal erupted into public view.
The crowd at Saturday night’s game was clearly rooting for the Nationals, with audible boos for anyone in an Astros jersey, including the mascot. At least one fan hoping to heckle the Astros had his sign confiscated. (Maybe “stolen” is the right word.) That none of the Astros regular players were in the lineup didn’t matter. Baseball’s faithful were (are) mad and looking to voice their displeasure.
The Astros should expect to hear booing on the road all season long, and that this game was technically a home game didn’t really matter. The crowd was on the Nationals’ side. The fallout from the scandal will continue through opening day and well beyond. Houston’s best approach may just be to let it play out and not make things worse. Confiscating signs certainly won’t help. Neither, frankly, will expressing disagreement of any sort with the disgruntled people who fill the stands. Within the bounds of decency, the way to get through this is to sit back and take it.
The Nationals-Astros exhibition game was rained out after two innings.
MadBum At The Rodeo
Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher and three-time World Series champion Madison Bumgarner has been moonlighting at the rodeo. The 2014 World Series MVP, it was recently discovered, ropes steers and competes in other events under the name Mason Saunders. He says he picked up the rodeo bug as a teenager, and uses an assumed name to limit the attention he receives while competing in rodeo.
Bumgarner, as Saunders, partnered with roping professional Jaxson Tucker, recently won $26,550 in competition. The left-hander, who was one of the most sought-after free agents this past off-season, signed a five-year $85 million contract last December, just weeks after the incriminating photos were taken.