Observations from spring: Fielding

Peoria, AZ-- Texas transplant Justin Hatcher demonstrated both a strong throwing arm and a quick release. Hatcher's accuracy wasn't compromised even on rushed throws, making him the pleasant surprise of the day.

Never known for his offense, Hatcher caught the attention of some with several hard line drives to the warning track. On pitches that were up in the zone, Hatcher had trouble laying off and instead popped up several that would have done justice to the infield fly rule. On pitches down in the zone, Hatcher was able to golf them to centerfield. Given his age and his stagnant minor league career, he won't be on anybody's list of top prospects, though.

Juan Ciriaco looked comfortable in drills at second base. His double-play move is solid and he didn't seem to rush the transition from glove to throwing arm. His footwork has improved, though it's hard to evaluate his true fielding ability without a base-runner diving underfoot. In hitting drills, Ciriaco showed more power today than last week, but he undoubtedly needs to add more muscle. His swing still appears overaggressive. Perhaps he can improve his patience this season.

Brett Dowdy, like Ciriaco, excelled in would-be double play drills. His quick footwork and decent throwing ability make him a formidable defensive second baseman, and I was impressed by his on-the-run sidearm throws to first. Neither his accuracy nor his power seemed sacrificed on these drills.

David Freese wins my "I can handle anything" fielding award for the day – and yes, his fielding was better than my sub-par title for the award. His confidence shined through; he backed up errant throws with ease and fluidity. He realizes that he must catch the ball before throwing it – and this should prevent fielding errors at third. On hard grounders to the third-base side, Freese seemed to shy away just a bit rather than stepping up aggressively – his only fault today. On slow rollers, though, Freese's fielding and throwing was more than adequate. His arm looked better than I anticipated.

I only saw Matt Antonelli briefly today at second base and not at all at third. He seems to be a savvy second baseman, comfortable with charging the ball and throwing from the middle of the diamond on the run. I'll be surprised if he ends up playing third to any significant extent this year, since his focus seems to be on second, and his comfort level hardly makes him look inexperienced as a second baseman.

Outfielder Luke Cannon, though he may not have the bullet arm implied by his last name, showed respectable throws from deep left to home plate. His accuracy was exceptional as were his fundamentals – namely, keeping the ball low enough for the cutoff man. Conversely, Garner Wetzel's arm was more of a rocket but his accuracy was sub-par. He seemed disappointed in himself.

Catcher Robby Jacobson, signed recently by the Padres, looked largely uncomfortable on his throws. Though I have no complaints about his fielding (he handled pop-ups in the sun quite well), his arm accuracy suffered, particularly on throws to second base. He was more adept at throws to third and was noticeably less rushed to the third-base side of the diamond. Perhaps at this point he might benefit from sacrificing speed for accuracy.

Jeremy Hunt was solid at first base, demonstrating a relaxed demeanor and extensive range to his left. He was undaunted by errant throws, and he certainly has his fielding mechanics down pat. I would like more opportunity to observe his throwing arm, however, since he seemed to struggle when forced to throw the ball across the diamond to third.

Justin Pickett was more comfortable than Hunt in throwing to second and third. In particular, he excelled at both ends of the 3-6-3 double play: not only getting rid of the ball quickly, but also getting into position to be on the receiving end. Unfortunately, he wasn't dealt any difficult throws to nab.

- Brad Honigman


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