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Spring Training News and Notes II

It is usually at this time of the year that some attention gets drawn away from Spring Training baseball. There is this little thing called March Madness that will divert our attention away from baseball and on the plethora of college basketball that occupies the opening weekend of the NCAA basketball tournament. But before we share some baseball-related news, here is a trivia question for you to ponder: Name the two men who have played in both a World Series and a Final Four of the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship. Answer at the end of the article.

New York Mets left-hander Jason Vargas suffered a non-displaced fracture of the hamate bone in his right hand Saturday when he attempted to catch a line drive in a minor league game. Mets manager Mickey Callaway said that the team did not think Vargas would miss the start of the regular season, even if he doesn’t pitch again this spring.

On Monday, the Braves reassigned outfield prospect Ronald Acuña to minor league camp. Acuña will need to remain in the minors until at least April 13 if the Braves want to gain an extra year of control. The 20-year-old hit .325/.374/.522 with 31 doubles, 21 home runs, 82 RBI, 88 runs scored, and 44 stolen bases across three levels of the minor leagues last season. He hit .432 with four homers and 11 RBI in 44 spring at-bats.

Now heading the spring training news of 2018, Shohei Ohtani is still struggling a bit, as he was rocked for seven runs and seven hits over 1 1/3 innings in his second major league spring training start last Friday. He allowed tape measure style home runs to Ian Desmond and Nolan Arenado in addition to Charlie Blackmon’s two-run single and DJ LeMahieu’s run-scoring infield single. Angels manager Mike Scioscia is preaching patience with his Japanese star, which is making some speculate that Ohtani will start the season in the minors. However, the Angels are pubically remaining steadfast in their support and belief that he will be ready for the majors on opening day.

Twins shortstop Jorge Polanco has been suspended 80 games after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance. Polanco tested positive for Stanozolol. He claimed that he requested a different substance from his athletic trainer in the Dominican Republic, but was given something else. It is bad news for a Twins team that is trying to make it to the playoffs for a second consecutive season. Eduardo Escobar is the logical option to man the position during Polanco’s suspension, but his backup is unclear. Ehire Adrianza is also a shortstop who can play a utility role. Other possibilities include veteran Erick Aybar, who signed with the Twins just before camp opened, and Gregorio Petit, a veteran minor league journeyman who has had a strong camp with the Twins.

Phillies starter Jerad Eickhoff will miss the next six to eight weeks with a strained right lat. Eickhoff suffered a similar injury last year as he compiled a 4-8 record with a 4.71 ERA and a 118/53 K/BB ratio in 128 innings. There has been some speculation that this might have the Phillies taking a look at free agent pitcher Alex Cobb, but the Phillies are publically stating that they are content with the possible rotation replacements of Ben Lively, Zach Eflin, and Mark Leiter.

There is good news and bad news for Zack Greinke. The good news was that during last Tuesday’s appearance in a Cactus League game against the Reds, Greinke got his fastball up to 92 MPH and fanned a couple of batters with change-ups. The bad news was that he lasted only the one inning, as he left with tightness in his right groin. On Monday, Arizona announced that injury will prevent Greinke from being ready on opening day.

Craig Kimbrel was scheduled to rejoin the Red Sox on Monday and toss a live batting practice session. Kimbrel had spent nearly three weeks in Boston after his newborn daughter, Lydia Joy, needed another heart surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital. She was born in November with complications, and Kimbrel said in January he and his family were in need of prayers. Manager Alex Cora said Lydia Kimbrel has made significant improvement and that he expects his closer to be ready by the start of the season.

When the Yankees signed Neil Walker to a $4.5 million deal, it was assumed that he would be handed the starting job at second base. You know what they say about assuming. Walker, who is a switch hitter, hit .265 with 14 homers and 49 RBIs for the Mets and Brewers last season. The biggest issue with Walker is his health. Back issues and other injuries have limited him to 113 and 111 games the last two years. Walker made a case for himself on Sunday when he went 2-for-2 with a double and a single. The Yankees have also been impressed with Tyler Wade this spring. Wade has been hitting over .300 this spring and shown a good eye at the plate. The Yankees also like his versatility.

Trevor Cahill has signed with Oakland, as the A’s found themselves in desperate need of rotation depth this week after they announced that Jharel Cotton would miss the 2018 season to undergo Tommy John surgery. Cahill is expected to begin the year in the bullpen and work his way up to a starting role. Last year he compiled a 4.93 ERA, 4.8 BB/9, and a 9.3 SO/9 in 84 innings for the Padres and Royals.

The Yankees are not the only team with a position battle at second base, as the San Diego Padres are in the same boat. Cory Spangenberg and Carlos Asuaje are both the leading candidates for the job, and both received four at-bats during Saturday’s spring training game. Spangenberg went hitless, and Asuaje hit his third triple of the spring in his final time up. Asuaje is having the better spring, but the Padres insist the competition is still wide open. The Padres are also considering carrying three catchers, as Raffy Lopez continues to impress the top brass in San Diego. He would potentially join Austin Hedges and A.J. Ellis.


The answer to Trivia Question: Tim Stoddard (NC State ’74, Orioles ’79 and ’83) and Kenny Lofton (Univ of Arizona ’88, Indians ’95/Giants ’02). Both were also graduates of East Chicago (IN) Washington High School.

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