Cactus League Pitching Stand-outs: Gold Nuggets in the Valley of the Sun

March 8, 2014 · Posted by Brian Hansen in MLB,Spring Training

2014 Cactus League

Don’t put away your suntan lotion too soon, because spring training is not just happening in the sunshine state!  The counterpart to the Grapefruit League in Florida is of course the Spring Training Cactus League held in the Phoenix Arizona metro area; more commonly known as the Valley of the Sun.  There aren’t any beaches, but the sun is shining and there are still plenty of sand piles and prickly things to keep you on edge.

RoadrunnerSo what is the buzz in the Cactus League this spring? There are a ton of people yearning to see what their pitching staffs will look like after a long off-season.  Hitters have been bulking up and resting and its time to see what new additions these hurlers might bring. With all the roadrunners in Arizona, let’s see which pitchers might burn a stinger down the dish to one of them this coming season.  They have to be careful though, the Roadrunner has been known to be quite tricky……

The San Francisco Giants – The Lincecum/Vogelsong Tandem

Two hurlers’ that are always floating around SF these days are Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong.  These two, when hot are the dream for any pitching rotation.

Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong

Lincecum as you will remember captured back-to-back Cy Young awards in 2008 and 2009, but in the past two year has struggled with consistency on the mound.  In 2012 his ERA was 5.18, improving slightly in 2013 to 4.37, a far cry from his 2.62 ERA in 2008 and 2.48 in 2009.

Long known for his ease and ability to adjust mechanics on the mound during a game, Lincecum started the game against the Padres on Monday with two shut-out innings appearing confident on the mound, before later losing the game 7-2.

Lincecum’s manager Bruce Bochy recently described him as a galloping thoroughbred “You just let him out of the barn.”  So out of the barn he may be, after spending the off season in Seattle pitching in his own private warehouse through the winter to maintain his mechanics.

Ryan Vogelsong, after having his season shortened last year due to a 2 ½ month sidelining with a broken hand, still managed to finish the year with a 4-6 record and a 5.73 ERA, a far cry from his last full season in 2012 where he went 14-9 with a 3.37 ERA.

Does anyone remember his game last August 25th after his return from injury where he pitched 8 shut-out innings against the Pirates?  Remember how good the Pirates were last season?  Is it any wonder the Giants signed him to another one year deal this off season?

If these two were to return to their best season form in 2014, the Giants will be a very tough out come October baseball time.  Is it time to introduce the Licky-Vogel Sandwich at the stadium?

Los Angeles Dodgers – Clayton Kershaw 

Clayton KershawHow can this guy not be on top of your fantasy league draft list this coming season?  Two Cy Young’s in the past three seasons?  National League ERA Title three years in a row?  What is not to like about this Southpaw who seems to step out of the box every spring training season like a new Toy Story hero?

In 2013 Clayton Kershaw went 16-9 with a 1.83 ERA!  And 232 strike outs to boot!  His ERA after the All-Star break was 1.59!  In three seasons this guy has thrown 709 strike outs!  Extremely scary numbers for West Coast opponents moving into the 2014 season.

Kershaw appears to be in similar Cy Young form this spring as he has shown no cobwebs from the offseason.  This 25 year old appears to be stepping right back on the road for another great season ahead.  Can we say ‘Frustrated hitters?’ boys and girls?

Oakland Athletics – Scott Kazmir

Scott KazmirScott Kazmir, the  6’0’ left-hander, made his Cactus League debut today against the D-Backs pitching 3 scoreless innings.  He allowed two hits and struck out two impressing A’s coaches and delighting A’s faithful.  The A’s signed Scott to a 2 year deal this offseason ending his tenure with the Cleveland Indians.  He went 10-9 with a 4.04 ERA in 29 starts with the Indians, using mainly a two pitch routine of a fastball and slider.  During interviews this offseason, he has alluded to the work he put in with the coaches fine tuning his curveball. It will be interesting to see how he uses it this coming season.

You might remember that Kazmir was signed originally in 2002 by Mets scout Dave Lollsfeld after he was named Baseball America’s 2002 High School player of the year.  Billy Beane has been singing his praises all offseason and Kazmir is expected to become a mainstay of the A’s rotation for the next two years.  Keep an eye on this guy this season as Oakland has an uncanny way of finding pitching diamonds in the rough!

Cincinnati Reds – Tony Cingrani

Tony CingraniTony Cingrani is expected to have a permanent spot in the Reds rotation this coming year after coming off a 7-4 season with a 2.92 ERA.  The downside is that he threw fastballs 82% of the time in 2013, so hitters around the league are not going to be easily fooled this year.

However, he and his coaches have hinted in interviews that he is working on a slider to sneak into his routine, so maybe a little Roadrunner action is to be expected from Tony?  Luring in the hitters with confidence, and then vroom!

Consider him to be a mid-rotation installment in the Reds strategies this season.  You might also remember that he missed three weeks in September last year due to lower back soreness, but appears to be healthy in his work outs in the Valley, so no worries…

Seattle Mariners – Blake Beavan

The right-handed Blake Beaven was an 11 game winner for Seattle in 2012, before Blake Beavenstarted only 2 games in 2013 and was then sent down to triple-A ball for the rest of the year because of tendinitis issues in his knee.  He surfaced from AAA ball once, being recalled for one brief relief appearance on June 6th.

This spring, however, he appears to be making a case for a return to the Mariners line-up with some productive outings down in the Valley.  He has a 1.83 ERA over five innings pitched between two appearances.   With three of the other Seattle starters struggling with minor injuries, Beavan just might fly under the radar and be back into the Mariner’s rotation early in 2014.

Other Cactus League Curiosities

Russell Wilson was the third youngest Quarterback to ever win a Super Bowl, and also helped bring the first Vince Lombardi trophy home for Seattle.  However, he may have a back-up plan in place should the NFL limelight fade.  He also is a second-basemen whose contract rights were acquired by the Texas Ranger’s Triple A club this past December.

Russell WilsonWilson was in a Texas Rangers uniform this week in the Cactus League taking on Cleveland.  However, despite being allowed to bring the line-up card to home plate at the start of the game, his only action was taking ground balls and double play balls in the warm up.

Who would have thought Wilson was a two-sport athlete?  Before being drafted by the Seahawks, he was a minor league infielder in the Colorado Rockies farm system, where he hit .229 in 315 at bats!  He was also an on-base threat, stealing 15 bases in 61 games! 

The Sun Is Setting On Our Time In The Desert

There are a lot of interesting developments and a lot of interesting talent to watch on the mound down in the Cactus League this year.  The Cactus league might sound like a prickly name, but don’t let that confuse you.  Try to think of it more as a pineapple with some gold inside!  Gold nuggets in the Valley of the Sun! Yum!  Anyone excited about opening day yet? Make sure you enter your email address and invest with us this coming season!

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