An afternoon at the Cubs' minor-league camp in Mesa yielded looks at a few notable arms in the Oakland system:
•Peter Gammons mentioned Oakland flamethrower Henry Rodriguez in a column earlier this week, so I wanted to see if he could live up to the hype. Rodriguez has the quickest arm I've ever seen, and he uses that arm speed to generate plus velocity. He ran from 92 to 96 mph against the first hitter he faced in a Double-A game against the Cubs' affiliate. The next hitter was Carlos Zambrano, who came over with Ted Lilly to get some at bats. Rodriguez's next three fastballs came in at 98 mph, including one that broke Zambrano's bat on a groundout. After he retired Zambrano, Rodriguez went back to working in the 93-96 mph range, touching 98 just one more time. Rodriguez throws a solid-average changeup at 85-87 mph, maintaining his arm speed, with some tumbling action to it. His slider is primitive, hard without much break. His fastball command is below average, and his control historically has been poor, although he was around the plate all day Wednesday and wasn't afraid of Zambrano, who had homered earlier in the game off left-hander Brett Anderson. If Rodriguez begins to throw strikes, the A's should get him to the majors quickly, because there's no telling how long an arm like this will last.
•Speaking of Anderson, he threw four innings to start the contest. His fastball was a tick below its normal velocity at 86-89 mph; as usual he showed good command, and he ran the pitch in hard to right-handed batters. His best secondary pitch is his curveball, a spike pitch with a very sharp break, although it's a tough pitch to command and he threw a few that ended up in the dirt. Minor leaguers will chase that pitch, but few guys in the big leagues throw the pitch because major league hitters will lay off it. His changeup is another potential plus pitch; he maintains his arm speed and gets good run to his arm side. He has a sweepy slider that is well behind his curve. His delivery needs some work; he's long in the back with a little stabbing motion, and he could stand to move over on the rubber towards first base, as he cuts his delivery off and ends up throwing across his body. He has a relatively late release point, which should help his fastball play up above its velocity.
• The Cubs' Josh Donaldson (the 76th-best prospect in baseball heading into 2008) has an excellent approach at the plate, with a near-perfect load that lets him generate power but still gets his bat to the ball quickly. He squares the ball up and drives through everything, whether he's pulling the ball or going to the opposite field. He rotates his hips as he makes contact, and his weight transfer is just a fraction of a second early, but it still lets him get his lower half involved in the swing.