I recently returned from a week out in Surprise and was fortunate enough to speak with several of the prospects participating in major league camp. All of the interviews are brief and most of them consist of similar questions. The interviews were all timed to follow an individual performance (game/bullpen/side) and I didn't give the players much opportunity to properly compose their answers. They are snapshots of the moment. In all four cases, the glow of the field is still clearly visible on their faces and in their words. Baseball at its purest.
Q: How is camp treating you so far?
TD: It's good. It's a little bit different from previous years. It's better. Everybody is working a little bit harder this year. We all see where this is going. We all feel like something special is happening.
Q: How does the slider feel? Why did you make the switch from the curveball?
TD: It feels good and I've had more success with it so far. The curveball was good at times, but when it was off, it was really, really off.
Q: Were you having trouble commanding it?
TD: A little bit more than the average breaking pitch. Most people can still locate their breaking ball if it's not on that day, but I couldn't do that.
Q: Was the switch your decision?
TD: I decided after talking with other guys in the clubhouse and some of the pitching coaches and coordinators. It was a group decision.
Q: Are you finally 100 percent healthy?
TD: I feel great. 100 percent.
Q: Tell me about your first professional camp?
Smoak: It's so awesome, man. My first camp has been great. All of the guys are making me feel comfortable. I'm learning a lot and having a good time.
Q: Have you given much thought to your starting assignment?
Smoak: Of course, but you never know where they are going to put you. Right now, I'm just out here playing baseball and wherever they put me I'll be. I'm excited to be playing.
Q: Do you have the talent to start at the major league level right out of camp?
Smoak: I think so, but I still have a lot to learn. I just need to keep playing.
Q: What has the biggest challenge so far in camp?
Smoak: Seeing [major league] pitching for the first time and trying to get my timing back. Just adjusting to life in spring training. Some of the big leaguers have been helping with that.
Q: What's it like to face major league pitching? Big difference between the minors and the majors?
Smoak: It's alright. I played in the Arizona Fall League and there is definitely a difference. Guys locate much better. Adjusting to quality pitching is just another thing you have to work hard at. I'm prepared to do that.
Q: What is it like being in camp with a new team?
Golson: It's definitely different, but it's just a transition. I'm just trying to get familiar with my new teammates.
Q: What is it going to take to make you a major leaguer? What needs to improve?
Golson: Basically, I have to cut down on my strikeouts and get better on defense. I haven't been playing much center field in camp and I need more work on the corners.
Q: Is the move to a corner a permanent one, or just something to add to your defensive versatility?
Golson: I don't know. They've been working me in right field most of the time. It's a transition, but I'm open to all changes.
Q: Are you going to be starting in Double-A Frisco or Triple-A Oklahoma City?
Golson: I think Oklahoma City, but it doesn't really matter to me. I just want to play baseball.
Q: I guess that means that you and [Julio] Borbon will be patrolling the same outfield in Oklahoma City. Will it be possible to get a ball by you guys? Is this even fair?
Golson: [Laughing] Nope. No chance.
Q: What is the difference between facing minor league pitching and major league pitching?
Golson: I think a lot of that is a little over-hyped. Quality guys in the minor leagues make it to major leagues, so it's the same stuff. Their ability to locate is better, and they have a better idea of what they are doing, but good stuff is good stuff.
Q: Here is a tough question: Philly or Texas?
Golson: I'm going to have to say Texas, man. No contest. I love it here. Texas is my home. There are a lot of great people in the Philadelphia organization. They just saw another opportunity in [Junior] Mayberry, so I'm going to make the best out of it. Honestly, as much as I love Texas, anywhere is fine with me. I'm just happy to be playing baseball.
Q: What are your thoughts about being in camp with the Texas Rangers?
Moscoso: Awesome. You know, I'm a rookie and I need to learn, and guys like [Vicente] Padilla and [Eddie] Guardado have been there for me and have already taught me a lot. For me, this is a good opportunity to show what I can do, and I think I'm doing a pretty good job so far.
Q: What do you need to work on to reach the major leagues?
Moscoso: I'm working on changing speeds right now. That needs work. My change-up is not very good right now.
Q: Some people have suggested that you would be a better option out of the bullpen. Do you want to be in the Double-A Frisco rotation or the bullpen?
Moscoso: I don't know. The Rangers asked me what I wanted to do. I said I don't care. I just want to help win games. I just want to do my job.
Q: What is your best pitch?
Moscoso: My fastball. My two-seamer. I'm good at working the corners with it. It's my best pitch.
Q: What about your breaking ball? How is it developing?
Moscoso: I'm working with a splitter right now. I used to throw it before my surgery and now it's starting to come back.
Q: Who decided to bring the splitter back?
Moscoso: I used to throw it and I had some success with it, so I told the pitching coach that I wanted to work on bringing it back. We've been working on it so far in camp and it feels good.
● Marlon Byrd and Brandon Boggs were usually the first to the batting cages (7:30 a.m.), and on several occasions were the last to leave. Both players were all over Rudy Jaramillo for additional instruction. Sponges.
● Byrd was quick to take Golson under his wing. He gives detailed instruction like a coach. He's very patient and very knowledgeable. Impressive.
● Golson is in serious shape. Finest athlete in the entire system.
● David Murphy looks much stronger this season. A physically imposing player.
● Willy Moscoso has a very good fastball. The slight right-hander has his low-90s fastball on a string. It's an aggressive pitch without aggressive velocity. You have to see this pitch in person. The ball just explodes as it approaches the plate. His build reminds me of Wilfredo Boscan. Smart pitcher.
● Michael Main arrived in camp three weeks early. If you didn't already know, I'm kind of a Main fan.
● Engel Beltre is such a special player to watch in person. I'd pay to watch him take batting practice.
● Elvis Andrus is going to struggle at the plate and make a lot of errors in '09. That said, Elvis can get to balls on defense that most major league shortstops wouldn't even attempt. His range is just ridiculous. Over the winter, Andrus played shortstop for Magallanes in his native Venezuela, so he is more than ready to handle the pressures associated with playing at the major league level. If you want to know more about the intense pressures of playing shortstop in Venezuela, I encourage you to read the excellent book Venezuelan Bust, Baseball Boom: Andres Reiner and Scouting on the New Frontier by Milton Jamail. It will give you a new perspective on what Andrus has already accomplished.
● Vicente Padilla is a very affable guy and it's unfortunate that people don't get to see the personality he displays on the backfields. He is really funny.
● Jarrod Saltalamacchia finally looks like a major leaguer this year. His work ethic was impressive.
● Manny Pina: Good.
● John Whittleman: Don't forget about him.
● Tommy Hunter was not very impressive. His fastball was in the high-80s to low-90s and straight. His curveball was nice, but he didn't show good command of it. His change-ups are batting practice pitches at this point. Snapshot analysis of course, but if his stuff doesn't improve he is not going to be a major league starter.
● Andruw Jones is a very engaging guy, but unless his first step improves in center field, his enthusiasm for the game will not be enough to make the 25-man roster. He still has a long way to go and the clock is ticking.
● Kris Benson was solid but not spectacular. I'd love to see him end up in Frisco or Oklahoma City as a back-up option.
● Coach Wayne Kirby should have his own reality show.
● Emerson Frostad: Professional.
● Omar Poveda's mechanics are a concern. His change-up is a beautiful, beautiful pitch. His fastball is hittable.
● Neftali Feliz is very hard on himself. I like that. He needs to get beat up a little. Same with Derek Holland. Feliz struggled with his fastball location for the first five batters he faced. His sequencing was off and his change-up was non-existent. He was noticeably upset. He calmed his nerves and devoured the last hitter he faced with two 99 mph heaters on the black and a brilliant 12-to-6 that made the batter look quite foolish. Lesson learned.
● Josh Lewin puts in the work. He was at the backfields early and often was asking the right people the right questions. I was impressed.
● Mike Maddux is one of the most likable guys in the organization. It helps that he is also one of the sharpest.
● Blake Beavan: Baseball fan. After a full workout he would make his way to the main fields to watch the game. Every day.
● Josh Hamilton doesn't act like he is Josh Hamilton. He acts like a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy named Josh Hamilton.
● I could go on all day.