2014 Spring Notes: Intrasquad Game Notes

Heavy rain in the forecast meant no big league game in Lakeland on Monday, and abbreviated workouts for the minor leaguers on the back fields. Despite the weather, impromptu intrasquad games let quite a few players on the Double-A team shine, including Devon Travis and James Robbins. Plus, a former premiere prospect was sighted working out behind the dugout.

Paulino Returning to Baseball Activities

Two years ago, there was a budding star on the back fields on the mound – long and lanky with a mid-90's fastball, Brenny Paulino appeared to be another find destined for big things. But multiple shoulder surgeries resulted in him missing two full seasons of action and concern that he may never come back to pitching.

It's obviously still too early to tell if he'll ever regain his 2011 form that made him a prospect to watch, but good news is that he's up and around and putting in work. He wasn't on the mound, but was doing stretching and various other exercises back behind the dugout. It's a small but important first step on the road to recovery, and also possibly a sign he's maturing in taking his comeback seriously.

First Basemen Dialed In

Both James Robbins and Aaron Westlake have had some bumps in the road over the past few years, mixing in occasional success with a lot of struggles in-between. Robbins showed signs of breaking out in 2011 with West Michigan when he belted 16 home runs and 26 doubles, but tumbled last season in Erie with only 7 home runs and a .585 OPS. Westlake meanwhile had a very slow start to his pro career, but hit .291 with a .791 OPS for Lakeland last season.

Both have had their issues that they've needed to work through, but both showed encouraging signs in the intrasquad game.

Westlake in particular looks more comfortable at the plate, with a much quicker swing through the zone. As Mark Anderson wrote in Westlake's scouting report, he has made improvements in his load and quickness to the zone. With that improved swing, he took a pitch and lined a hard single to right. One teammate even implored Westlake to "save some of those hits for the real games," obviously indicating this wasn't the first time he's gotten a hit.

This will be a key year for Westlake, likely facing a jump in competition in Double-A ball for Erie. He'll have to show that he can keep up with the more talented pitchers, and especially harder throwers. But a good spring is always a good way to start.

Meanwhile, Robbins was mashing the ball. In a game situation (read: not batting practice), he took an inside breaking ball deep, well over the fence, but just foul. Not to be out-done, two pitches later he turned on a fastball that one hopped off the wall in left for an easy double. It's the sort of power that we know Robbins has, but all too often hasn't put on display. Robbins has big holes in his swing and a tendency to swing and miss due to both not controlling the zone and struggling with breaking balls – addressing that could go a long way toward allowing Robbins' power to play up in hitter-friendly Jerry Uht Park, where it's likely he'll repeat 2013.

Speaking of Power…

Steven Moya has been one of the stars of spring, flashing his mammoth power in big league camp for two weeks before coming across the street to the back fields. His batting practice on Sunday morning drew a miniature crowd, with players temporarily stopping what they were doing to watch a few swings.

Monday in the intrasquad game, Moya after being displeased with a couple "borderline" strike calls (remember, the catchers call balls and strikes when it's impromptu intrasquad games as there aren't any umpires), attempted to tee off on one. His long swing meant he got under it a bit too much, resulting a in a flyout to deep center field. It was an out, the ball hung up in the air for what seemed like an eternity.

So, just in case you weren't sure, yes, Moya can hit the ball a long distance, even if that distance is up.

Travis Takes on Advanced Pitching

After shining across two A-ball levels in 2013, Devon Travis's next challenge would be to see if he could hang and put up a .300-plus average against more advanced pitching – the sort of pitching one would see in big league camp, and would face even in Double-A. Early returns are good.

Travis hit .278 in 19 plate appearances in big league camp before heading to minor league camp. When asked about Travis, Tigers' manager Brad Ausmus was very complimentary, saying "I think he's a good player, a gritty player. He looks like he's got a pretty good idea at the plate, continuing about his offensive game, "He's never going to be a power hitter, but he gets the barrel on the ball, makes good contact, just needs to play."

That vote of confidence obviously doesn't hurt, but just as noteworthy was Travis actually facing more advanced pitching on the back fields, holding up to adjustments. In one particular plate appearance, he displayed excellent bat control, working a count and eventually ripping a solid single right back up the middle. It's the type of at-bat Travis will need to show he can give the club consistently to maintain an upward trajectory with a big league future, as he doesn't have the power potential or standout defense or excellent speed to make it without it.

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