It's not enough that Barry Zito, Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson are 1-2-3 in the AL in wins since Zito's debut on July 20, 2000, or Ted Lilly's offseason regimen has him throwing far better than he did last season. But out there on the horizon is 20-year-old Rich Harden. The A's sent Harden, a right-hander, back to Double-A Midland despite a 2002 season in which he fanned 187 batters in 153 innings at Class A Visalia and Midland.
In his first start this season, he was perfect in six innings of work, during which time he struck out nine. Astros scout Scipio Spinks reported of Harden, "his first pitch was 99 (mph) and he got better as he went along."
In his second start, Harden went seven more perfect innings. He's struck out 19 in 13 perfect innings this season.
The comparisons of Harden to Jim Palmer appear real. As much like Palmer had, Harden has an easy arm action with an explosive jumping fastball (he hit 98 mph consistently this spring), curveball and split ..."
"He throws so easy that when it looks like he throwing 88, he's really throwing 98," another scout said.
The Mets and Indians were also very pleased with the first starts of Aaron Heilman and Jeremy Guthrie, respectively. The Mets believe that Heilman eventually is going to be a candidate for their rotation this season.
With all the speculation about the future of Miguel Tejada, Mark Ellis has quietly emerged as a potentially impact middle infielder for the A's. Ellis is a great athlete, a smart player and is getting stronger to the point where some A's people believe he's going to hit 20-plus homers. He can also play shortstop and could be Tejada's 2004 successor, if prospect Bobby Crosby doesn't develop in time.
The Rockies were excited at the end of spring training about the emergence of Shawn Chacon after waiting for some time for the harnessing of his stuff, but they refused to rush Jason Young up when Denny Neagle and Denny Stark couldn't open the season. Meanwhile, if anyone told you at this time last year that Darren Oliver would be throwing 88-91 and be in the Rockies' rotation, he would have been assigned a padded suite at MacLean's Hospital.
Red Sox coach Mike Cubbage got Devil Rays rookie Rocco Baldelli at 3.8 (seconds) from home plate to first base, the best mark in the league. There have been few right-handed batters over the years who could top that. In the last 30 years, Alex Johnson, Ron LeFlore and Bobby Valentine come to mind going down the line under 3.8. Scouts got Cincinnati's Wily Mo Pena at 3.9 in spring training.
Colorado manager Clint Hurdle on the first four innings of the Astros-Rockies opener, which took 2 hours and 15 minutes to play, during which time 217 pitches were thrown: "It was like watching two drunks fight."
OK, you're a right-handed hitter facing Rangers reliever Reynaldo Garcia. He throws 95 with a filthy slider. In case you haven't heard: He's also blind in his right eye. Think about that!
Last June, Padres GM Kevin Towers saw the Giants' Joe Nathan pitch in Triple-A.
"He was throwing 84-86, and after his arm trouble, I thought he was done," Towers said. "Then they come in the first week and he's throwing 95, as well as anyone we've seen. Talk about a potential closer."
The Reds do love infielder Felipe Lopez as much as they say they do.
"One of the most important elements to winning in our park is defense in center and left field," says Rangers manager Buck Showalter of The Ballpark in Arlington. "Doug Glanville is an above-average major league defensive center fielder, and both Carl Everett and Kevin Mench are above-average defenders in left field. So we're all right there."
One point of interest: Showalter will have outfielder Laynce Nix back in a Rangers uniform before midseason.
The rumors that Lou Piniella will bring Jim Bowden to Tampa Bay to be the Devil Rays' GM at the end of the season just won't go away.
The Astros were not about to let Shane Reynolds earn $5.75 million in incentives, not when he was throwing 82-84 mph in spring training. But Reynolds has always been a good clubhouse presence and maximum-effort person, so his former manager Art Howe wants him, as long as he'll go to Triple-A Norfolk and earn his way back to the majors. On Sunday night, however, the Mets felt the Reynolds deal was slipping away from them and that he might instead be headed to Texas or Boston.
Pedro Astacio has made one minor-league rehab start, so the Mets eventually hope to get some veteran help at the back-end of their rotation, along with David Cone, of course. There is no reason the Mets can't eventually use six starters.
Not only were the Indians encouraged by the first starts of Ricardo Rodriguez and Jason Davis, but when Danys Baez was dominating at 95 mph with his splitter in his first save opportunity, new manager Eric Wedge was assured of having his closer.
There isn't anyone who has met Devil Rays outfield prospect Josh Hamilton that doesn't hope he overcomes his personal Todd Marinovich hell and makes it back. Better yet, there isn't anyone who doesn't believe he will make it back.
Yes, Massachusetts Turnpike drivers. Lou Merloni is already a cult hero in San Diego, playing 3,000 miles away to constant chants of "Lou, Lou."
Scouts are getting Ruben Sierra from home to first in 4.2 seconds, and one claims that he's getting times the Rangers haven't registered in years. This tells you that the Rangers' players are buying into everything Showalter represents.
Coming out of high school, Roscoe Crosby was the No. 1 wide receiver prospect in the nation, and a potential baseball star. He signed with the Royals for a $1.9 million bonus and played wide receiver at Clemson last year, but now has given up playing football and instead will devote all his time to baseball. He is someone to watch because he's never fully concentrated on baseball.
As it stands right now, the top five picks in the draft will be Southern shortstop-second baseman Richie Weeks, Wake Forest right-handed pitcher Kyle Sleeth, Brevard (Fla.) Junior College Adam Loewen (unless Baltimore signs him, which is unlikely), Los Angeles high school center fielder Delmon Young (Dmitri's younger brother) and Richmond right-hander pitcher Tim Stauffer.
"How Baltimore could ever let Loewen get away is beyond me," one GM said. "Our scouts saw him throwing 95 mph with a hard 83-85 curveball. He's special."
Tampa Bay may take Weeks and eventually have B.J. Upton (shortstop/second base), Weeks (second base/shortstop) and Baldelli (center field) up the middle.
We have seen some Wade Boggs tendencies in David Eckstein, who eats chicken and pasta before every night game.
Typical of the intelligent ways that the Yankees use their revenues to build their talent pool: when outfielder Anderson Amador, the talented Dominican who was taken away from the Dodgers for signing irregularities, hit the market, and New York won the $800,000 bidding war.
If you watch an Angels home game, you will see eBay ads in the visiting dugout. If you go on eBay, you will see that you can bid on being the Angels batboy for their May 8 game with Cleveland. As of Sunday night, with less than four days of bidding remaining, the bidding was up to $5,100. That's about what Francisco Rodriguez will make per appearance this season if he pitches in 60 games.