It's good to be back and writing my weekly column about real baseball being played right in front of me by rookies, veterans, over the hill guys, under the radar players, can't miss prospects, prospects that have missed and Manny Ramirez. Manny is in a special category. He may be a member of a group or groups I mentioned above, but there isn't any player quite like Manny. He's in a class (or no class, depending on one's opinion) by himself.
Manny is making another comeback. He looks chunky. His long hair hasn't changed. He's wearing No. 1 on the back of his Oakland A's uniform. He's smiling and he's having fun. Manny has always been young at heart. In fact, in his early days in Cleveland, Manny was more of a big kid than a big league ballplayer. It looks like he may be having fun again.
But the bat has slowed. The patience has gone. He saw three pitches in his first two at-bats. He pounded the second pitch into the ground for a 6-4-3 double play. Next time at the plate he dribbled the first pitch for another ground out. The bat is slow. He'll have 50 games to work on his swing while he lives out his suspension for a second drug offense. I'm not sure how much he'll have in the tank when he returns. He's hustling. He's trying to fit in and be one of the guys -- he jaws with his teammates. But his bat is slow. The only way Manny Ramirez will be measured will be his impact at the plate. Everything else will be secondary. He will have to hit to sell tickets. He'll have to hit to gain headlines. He'll have to hit for the A's to trade him to a contender when the A's seek even more prospects. But even at a bargain rate of $500,000 Ramirez will have to hit. But right now...the bat is slow.
The A's are an amazing story in roster construction. The former quality arms traded by Billy Beane really weren't that expensive. Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, Craig Breslow, and Andrew Bailey were reasonable by today's standards. But they were going to be expensive in the near future. Ah - that's the rub. Their paydays were coming. Rid the team of their cost now and replace them with inexpensive prospects that have tremendous upside. Now that's a plan. Welcome left-handed Tommy Milone, and righties Brad Peacock, Jarrod Parker and Ryan Cook. Not much is known about Cook. But he's with the A's now, too.
Peacock and Parker in particular have numbers. They bring buzz. Very solid arms. I think both can probably be very good pitchers. If. If the offense can score some runs when they pitch. But they'll probably be traded when their paydays are due. Remember Zito, Mulder and Hudson? Yes, we've seen this before. Gonzalez, Cahill, Breslow and Bailey represent an updated version. Milone, Peacock and Parker have a chance to be really good. Here's what I've seen:
Tommy Milone -- Think crafty lefty, being able to throw hitters off balance with a steady diet of breaking balls. At varying speeds. That's Milone. Not a high velocity fastball, but a very good arsenal of slider, curve and change-up.
Brad Peacock -- Think a strong arm, fastball first pitcher. He can throw his heater at up to 96 or 97 and then bring a solid, fall off the table curve. Then he shifts to an 83 mph change-up. Lots to like. Especially if he slots adjacent to Milone in a future rotation.
Jarrod Parker -- Think a moving high velocity fastball with late life. Lots of sink on his two-seamer. He uses the entire plate with good command. He also throws a plus slider and really, really improving change-up. I think his slurvy/curveball is a work in progress. He will ultimately slot with Milone and Peacock to form a nice, well balanced rotation. I saw Parker go from 96 mph to the low 80s and turn a few hitters to jello.
Oakland will have to offer some offense to make their rotation work. That's the challenge.
Who plays the corners? Not just first and third. I'm talking left and right as well. Problems. No power anywhere. Quick now. How many home runs did Daric Barton hit last season? That would be none. Now that's not pretty. He's in the mix again this year. Along with Brandon Allen. Kila Ka'aihue has even surfaced. Third base? Another black hole. Even if Scott Sizemore didn't lose his season to injury it would have been a mess. Nobody to hit there. As of now it looks like Josh Donaldson gets the call. Josh Donaldson? The catcher Josh Donaldson. Yep. OMG.
So Bernie, who do you like for fantasy on the A's?
Jemile Weeks -- The man can run. He can also put the bat on the ball. I have targeted him at second base for his stolen base and potential batting average numbers. But scoring runs? Who knocks him in? And forget power. That's not his game.
Coco Crisp -- He can steal bases and should hit around .260 if he sees some pitches. The arrival of Yoenis Cespedes could move Crisp to left field.
Brandon McCarthy -- If he's healthy, I like McCarthy as a low round or low auction price starter. He will suffer from a lack of run support. He pitches in a big, pitcher-friendly park and he has a solid repertoire.
Parker and Peacock are the starters to draft, pay for at auction and stash.
I worry about the bullpen being able to hold any leads the Athletics may have late in the game.
The Mariners are a totally different story. I think they are a club on the move with a fine mix of veterans and emerging young players. In addition, they have a stable of prospect players that should able to compete against the high-flying Angels and Rangers in time.
Ichiro looks like he's on a mission to redeem himself. His bat still plays. He has the short, crisp swing that cuts right through the ball without extraneous movement. He can still beat out leg hits. He's in great shape. Do not write him off. I don't think he hits .300, but he'll drive in runs from his new three-hole in the lineup, score runs and be an offensive force. I don't look for him to steal as much hitting in the heart of the order. But he'll pick some good spots to run.
The future pitching for the Mariners is top shelf. Consider a rotation that will ultimately include Felix Hernandez, Danny Hultzen, James Paxton and Taijuan Walker.
Jesus Montero looks totally lost behind the plate. With the presence of Miguel Olivo and John Jaso, how many games will Montero catch? I wonder how long it will take for him to qualify in most leagues. It's a concern. But he can hit. He's a good UT or DH option, depending on how your league classifies that role.
I do think the Mariners have good fantasy options:
Ichiro -- Not finished. Not the Ichiro of old, but he's moved down to the third spot in the lineup and he should produce. Stolen bases may decline but he still has the bat. He's been fooled by change-ups and breaking pitches this spring.
Jesus Montero -- Should bring your team some real power. It may take him time to adjust to big league pitching. Be patient. He swings off his front foot and I'm not nuts about that, but he can hit. I look for a good average by the end of the season as well as some RBI and runs scored. Solid option.
Miguel Olivo -- Could provide some much needed power from in the middle tier of catchers. Many leagues use two catchers. He fits well as your second if you can grab a stud for your first.
Dustin Ackley -- I like his potential to boost your batting average. He makes good contact and sprays the ball around to all fields. His power may come, but Safeco Field present a challenge for him in that regard.
Justin Smoak -- I like him more and more. He's maturing as a hitter. He has solid power, he's still young and he can hit. Of course, Safeco impacts him and that's a shame. He would have been much better playing for Texas, but those are the breaks.
Alex Liddi -- I don't see room for him yet on the Mariners' roster, but he can hit. He can't play defense at either third or first base and he can't play the outfield. Like Montero, his bat is his game. If you can stash him on your bench or keep him for a year or two he could be trade bait to an American League club.
Brandon League -- I think he's a very underrated closer. He'll get his chances and he'll close the door. I like his arm and his mound demeanor. Probably should slot higher than he does but other closers have bigger names and play on better teams. I trust League.
Felix Hernandez -- He may get a few more wins this season. All the other numbers will be there. He looks healthy and strong.
Danny Hultzen -- I see him arriving at some point in the season - and he may even break camp with the club. He has all the pitches and the command to go with it. Could miss bats and keep his WHIP down in the process. A nice roster pitcher for you to keep your eye on.
Hector Noesi -- He can induce groundballs and everything he throws moves. I'm not sure what kind of season he'll have, but be sure he'll be in the rotation and get innings. Not a star but worth a lower round look.
Bottom line on the Mariners? They are on the move. Their nucleus will improve with time and repetition. They'll be much better next year. But they have some guys to target.
After a lengthy wait for his visa, Yoenis Cespedes arrived in Athletics camp. The A's are hoping he will add the power bat the club desperately needs.
Keep your eye on left-handed hitting Eric Sogard as a potential starter at third base for Oakland. He's hitting the ball very well and the club has a tremendous hole at the position. I like Sogard. Better than any of the other options at this point in spring.
Yu Darvish is scheduled to pitch March 7th against the Mariners. I'll be On The Scene. A huge turnout is expected.
Munenori Kawasaki is a middle-infielder from Japan. He is not on the Mariners' roster, but has been invited to spring training. He is good defensively and he has great speed. He has the same hitting mechanics as Ichiro, but the results aren't the same. He may be a middle-infield option for the M's. We'll know more by the end of spring.
With Franklin Gutierrez out injured again, the center field position is up for grabs with Seattle. Michael Saunders may be an option. He has some power, but he needs lots of playing time in spring training.
Carolos Peguero is a guy the M's have been targeting for years. He has immense power. The Mariners have a squad filled with very big, powerful hitters. He hit long homers in the first two spring games.
Third baseman Chone Figgins is fighting off a challenge from Kyle Seager. Figgins has had multiple down seasons and he could find himself as an expensive utility player unless he hits and runs in the early part of the season.
It seems that Diamondbacks shortstop Stephen Drew will not be ready to start the season. He is doing well and making progress, but he still can't play in games. That means Willie Bloomquist and John McDonald will see time at short in his absence.
Jesus Montero took two foul balls off his chin on consecutive pitches. He left the game and didn't play the following day. He indicates he's fine, but was slowed early this week by a case of food poisoning.
Follow me on Twitter @BerniePleskoff and on MLB.com in the voices section. As always, I am pleased to answer questions and I welcome your comments.