The four games I saw included a number of tough left-handed pitching match-ups from both Tacoma and Reno, and the three lefties at the top of the Chihuahuas lineup responded differently.
For Franchy Cordero, the southpaws were a real problem, even as the organization pushed the situations on him. Rod Barajas sat him on Saturday in favor of getting him looks against hard-throwing lefty Anthony Banda on Sunday. The result was ugly as Cordero struck out four times on the day, though he did draw a walk as well. Overall, he went 1-for-7 with five strikeouts against portsiders on the weekend, with the one hit a double on which Tyler O’Neill had a chance to make a play.
Infielders Carlos Asuaje and Cory Spangenberg fared much better. Asuaje had good walks on Thursday against both starter Dillon Overton and Dean Kiekhofer. While Spangenberg struck out twice, he had a key double against long-time big leaguer Nick Hagadone on Friday and had a double and triple against Banda. While Asuaje is off to a slow start offensively overall, he’s actually posted much better results against lefties in the small sample size. Spangenberg left El Paso with an OPS over 900 against lefties, and encouragingly, handled velocity from lefties particularly well.
Roving infield instructor Kevin Hooper was in the Sun City for the week, working heavily with Spangenberg, Asuaje, Dusty Coleman and Jamie Romak. As Barajas noted, Spangenberg's natural athleticism means that he's able to make the stellar plays that are all about reflexes, but he was still very much working to find a feel on a number of routine plays that he simply hasn't seen very much.
One of the reasons Asuaje was an early send-down in spring training is that, while his bat profiles best in a utility role, he has been limited to second base defensively because of his arm. He spent significant time with Hooper working on both footwork and getting through his throws on plays around second.
Coleman is the best true defender at shortstop above Single-A in the system.The 30 year old signed as a minor league free agent this winter after three and a half s in the Royals system. He isn't the typical glove-first shortstop though. While he only owns a .720 career OPS in the minors and struck out in three of his five big-league at-bats, Coleman is a bigger guy with some thump in his bat. He slugged two homers while I was in and owns a respectable .156 career Isolated Power rate. But he's struck out in nearly a third of his career plate appearances.
The tandem of Tony Cruz and Rocky Gale behind the plate give the Chihuahuas pitching staff a huge amount of support. With 17 years of combined professional experience, the two are visible extensions of the coaching staff in how they manage their staff. While it'd be great to see each of them get another shot in the big leagues - Rocky got a brief taste of the big leagues in 2015 - whenever their playing careers are over, each will almost certainly have multiple job offers in scouting or player development awaiting them.
Phil Maton hasn't maintained quite the cartoonish numbers he put up in his first full season last year, but he's still a legitimate back-of-the-bullpen option who isn't terribly far removed from the big leagues. In addition to the oft-mentioned high-spin fastball, Maton showed off his slider several times in his inning of work while I was there. The pitch is a strong second offering that could develop even more if Maton chooses to move in that direction.
Carter Capps's rehab assignment is not going as well as the organization might have hoped. In addition to sitting several ticks below his traditional high-90s velocity with the fastball, Capps showed little command or control in his outing or a bullpen session. While there had been some hope he'd be ready for back-to-back appearances by now, instead the organization has been spacing him out a bit more again, giving him two, and then three, days off between appearances. It certainly wouldn't be beyond the realm of possibility that the club will let him play out his entire rehab assignment and then option him to El Paso until he demonstrates he's the same pitcher he was before the Tommy John surgery he had in the Marlins' system last spring.
Big righty Bryan Rodriguez remains an enigma in his sixth season stateside and eighth year in the organization. He has an ideal pitchers' frame, shows solid athleticism on the mound, and is able to throw his power sinker in the 94-95 range. But he continues to have trouble executing pitches with any consistency, leading to an ugly 6:4 strikeout-to-walk through his first 17 innings of the year. This is the third consecutive year he's appeared in a Chihuahuas uniform.
A quarter of the current El Paso pitching staff was originally drafted by Logan White when he was with the Dodgers. Logan Bawcom, a college teammate of Michael Choice, and Simi Valley product Matt Magill were late-round selections, while Zach Lee - who was shuttling back and forth to San Diego while I was in El Paso - was a big-bonus first-rounder. Each has reached the big leagues, and each will likely see some time in San Diego this year. We'll have a profile on Magill's journey from prospect to forgotten man to being on his way back coming up.