Sunday, March 3, 2013

And After A Week of Camp...

Well, 3-6 isn't exactly where the Bucs wanted to be sitting right now, but it's not time to hit the panic button.  All in all, they're pretty much on schedule.

They've made some errors fielding the ball, and continue to run the bases like the Bad News Bears on a sugar high. But remember, they didn't even start camp until March 3rd last year, so the coaches have time to scold and there are plenty of reps left to straighten out those errors.

The Bucs didn't steal worth a dang last year and are only 3-of-8 so far this spring, so that needs work. So does controlling the running game; opponents are 7-of-9 already, so there's not a lot of improvement there, either.

We're not concerned with the basepath follies; they did eventually learn to run the bases fairly well for a not very speedy club and we'd expect the same this season. The team was third in UBR, Fangraph's Ultimate Base Running metric, in 2012, so the coaches were getting some smart running out of them (tho to be fair, the stats note that the Bucs were last in stolen base efficiency).

There are, after all, 59 guys in camp vying for 25 big league jobs, plus three injured and a flock of minor-league-only guys getting a turn. A lot of the players you see Clint Hurdle working into the lineup now will be at Indy in another week or two as the roster is winnowed by the staff. And as the clubhouse tightens up, so should the play.

And there have been some nice storylines so far. All the outfielders, from Cutch to Jerry Sands and Felix Pie, have been competitive so far. In fact, the resurgence of Jose Tabata in the early going is one of the bright spots of camp.

Gaby Sanchez looks stronger in his first Bucco camp. Jordy Mercer and Ivan DeJesus have raced ahead of Josh Harrison and Brandon Inge in the battle for the reserve infield spots, though there are miles to go before that decision is reached. And just in case, Jared Goedert and Anderson Hernandez have been squaring up pretty well so far.

The pitching is a little harder to hang a hat on. The veteran guys are working on fastball command in the early going, so it's going to be a couple of more outings before we see what they have in this year's toolkit. Jeff Locke and Kyle McPherson have more than held their own; they're responding pretty well to the challenge the Bucs tossed at them by signing Francisco Liriano, Jonathan Sanchez, Andy Oliver et al.

But the pitching is where the one worrisome sign of the early spring points. They walk too many guys, and a ridiculous number of them score. Even without the 15-walk abnormality against Boston, in the past four games, the staff has given up 20 runs with 16 walks - and seven free passes scored.

So that's the first camp report, four weeks before they play for keeps - so far, so good, if they can cut down the walks and figure out how to swipe a sack or two and toss out an opponent.

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