Watching Baseball in Florida – My Trip to the Sunshine State

February 20, 2012; Bradenton, FL, USA; A general view of baseballs during camp at McKechnie Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-US PRESSWIRE

I headed to Florida last week to experience Grapefruit League action in “The Sunshine State”.  I decided to head to the Bradenton-Sarasota area as it seemed like the logical place to go because of the number of games at the time in the region.

On Friday the 2nd, I was in attendance for the Pittsburgh Pirates inters quad game from McKechnie Field which is home of the High-A Florida State League’s Bradenton Marauders. The game featured most of the Pirate regulars such as (3B) Pedro Alvarez, (2B) Neil Walker, (SS) Clint Barmes, and (CF) Andrew McCutchen to name a few.  What got me most excited was the fact I got to see top Pirate prospects (RHP) Gerrit Cole, (OF) Starling Marte, (RHP) Kyle McPherson, (C) Tony Sanchez, (OF) Robbie Grossman, (LHP) Jeff Locke, (RHP) Bryan Morris, (LHP) Rudy Owens, (2B) Jarek Cunningham, (OF) Gorkys Hernandez, (C) Ramon Cabrera,(OF) Evan Chambers, and (OF) Mel Rojas Jr.  all play some part in the game. It is rare that one gets to see that many top prospects from one organization on display in a single game. The highlight of the afternoon to me was Sanchez hitting a 3-run homer.

Friday night, I headed over to GT Bray Park to catch a 7A Florida High School baseball game between Charlotte High School Tarpons and Manatee High School Hurricanes.  A few player on Manatee caught my attention including (SS) Chase Sandberg, (LF) Tyler Beeman, (3B) Trevor Beeman, (1B/P) Correlle Prime, who have all committed to play at the State College of Florida (SCF) for the Manatees next season. The player that left the biggest impression with me, however was (CF) Cord Sandberg who hit a 3-run double that cleared the bases with a hard hit ball into left-center field which helped Manatee rally to win the game by a score of 6-3. For those of you currently unfamiliar with the name Cord Sandberg, you probability will be hearing more about him soon. Sandberg is currently in his junior season and is the younger brother of Chase and also the son of Chuck Sandberg (who spend 3 minor league seasons in the Boston Red Sox organization after being selected in the 9th round of the 1979 MLB amateur draft).  Cord is also the starting quarterback of the football team at Manatee High School and is considered the top quarterback in the 2013 recruiting class out of Florida as he ranks in the top 150 players by ESPN. He passed for 2, 185 yards and 19 touchdowns, while also rushing for 814 yards and 10 touchdowns. He is considered the top two-sport athlete available for the 2013 MLB Draft and a potential first rounder. Already he has received scholarship offers to attend Auburn, Clemson, and Texas Tech among others. It will be interesting to see which direction that Cord ultimately goes in, be it College Football or professional baseball.   Former Major Leaguers (OF) Brian McRae, (RHP) Lance Carter, and (RHP) Brian Tollberg played baseball at Manatee High School.

SCF  has won 10 state titles, made 13 trips to the JUCO World Series and has had over 190 players go on to play professional baseball.  Some of the notable alumni include (RHP) Lance Carter, (LHP) Matt Maloney, (2B) Callix Crabbe,  (RHP) Joe Mays, (SS) David Howard, (OF) Alex Cole, (LHP) Rich Sauveur, (2B) Jody Reed, (1B) Glenn Davis, (RHP) Tom Hume, (RHP) Rick Langford, (LHP) Mac Scarce, (OF) Johnny Grubb, and (OF) David Moates. Current Detroit Tigers prospect (LHP) Alex Burgos played with SCF in 2010 and was a JUCO All-American before being selected by the Tigers in the 5th round for the 2010 MLB amateur draft.

Saturday, I headed over to the Pittsburgh Pirates Minor League Complex, “Pirate City” and watched the minor league players workout. Players took part in a series of drills that included bunting, base running, batting practice, and bullpen work.  Some of the notable Pirate prospects included  (RHP) Jameson Taillon, (OF) Josh Bell, (RHP) Luis Heredia, (RHP) Stetson Allie, (1B) Alex Dickerson, and  (LHP) Colton Cain.

Sunday, I returned to McKechnie Field to watch the Pirates play the Toronto Blue Jays. Top Blue Jays prospects included (C) Travis d’Arnaud, (OF) Anthony Gose, (SS) Adeiny Hechavarria, (OF) Moises Sierra, (1B) David Cooper, as well as young major leaguers (OF) Travis Snider, (3B) Brett Lawrie and (C)J.P. Arencibia. The Pirates former 2007 1st round pick (4th overall) (LHP) Daniel Moskos pitched a scoreless ninth inning. The Blue Jays won the game by a score of 8-5.

Monday, I headed to Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota and watched as the Baltimore Orioles hosted the Pittsburgh Pirates.  For the Orioles top prospects (SS) Manny Machado, (OF) L.J. Hoes, (2B) Ryan Adams, and (OF) Trent Mummey all played in the game.  The Pirates won the game 10-3. Machado displayed his athleticism in the field when he made a diving stop and then throw a bullet from behind second base to record the out.

For anyone that hasn’t been to spring training I highly recommend it, I had a great time all around from the nice weather to the affordable prices and accessibility to the players and coaching staff that you do not receive during the season. What I liked the post was the fact I could watch both prospects and established major leaguers on the same field which gave me a better gauge of how the young players stack up others in their respective organization.

This week I am off to Arizona to take in some Cactus League action from the “Grand Canyon State”.  There may even be  an Athletics Yoennis Cespedes sighting (shameless plug). So be sure to check as I will provide a summary of my adventures.

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For more on the Pirates, check out Rum Bunter.
For more on the Blue Jays, check out Jays Journal.
For more on the Orioles, check out Birds Watcher.
For more on the Tigers, check out Motor City Bengals.
For more on the Athletics,  check out Swingin’ A’s.

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Topics: Baltimore Orioles, Detroit Tigers, Grapefuit League, Manatee High School, Pittsburgh Pirates, Spring Training, State College Of Florida, Toronto Blue Jays

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