FORT LAUDERDALE -- The Orioles open the spring season against the Mets, Wednesday, Feb. 25. A few random observations:
-- Luis Castillo is leading off. Forget the talk the Mets will do that with him during the season, moving Jose B. Reyes to the third spot. It is ridiculous talk. Think about it: If you are the Mets -- a three-time choker down the stretch -- what story do you want the mass media to write on Day 1 of full-squad workouts? The choker story? Or one about one of the best leadoff men in baseball hitting third? A stroke of genius by Jerry Manuel. In fact, Lou Piniella did the same thing with the choking Cubs. Hey, welcome back to baseball, Cubbies. Oh, and by the way, Alfonso Soriano might hit third. It sure took the emphasis off the end of the previous season, right?
-- Brad Hennessey, former Giants starter/reliever, started for the Orioles. He is a candidate for the rotation and his veteran status gives him a chance. I would hardly touch him in deeper AL-only leagues, though.
-- There's the first pitch... strike one. Baseball season is under way.
... oh, and another weak groundout for No. 8 hitter Castillo.
-- Daniel Murphy, hitting No. 2, drew a walk. He has a well-documented, sound approach at the plate. He has sleeper written all over him. Look at his high Class A numbers and compare them to that of David Wright. Now, Murphy doesn't have superstar stature in the future, but there are signs of a possible hidden diamond in the rough.
-- Angel Pagan hit third. He singled. Remember that guy? He is one of the stars of last spring before a shoulder injury ended his season early. He looks much thicker, less built to run. It looks like he will need another great spring to make the team, but it is hard to see that happening. I wouldn't touch him even in deep NL-only leagues right now.
-- Ryan Freel led off against Mets reliever Sean Green -- acquired in the J.J. Putz deal. Freel is going to be a platoon outfielder and super utility man. It makes him intriguing in AL-only Rotisserie formats. Freel did his thing, beating out an infield hit. He stole second and scored on the next pitch on a single to center by Ty Wigginton. Freel and Wiggy are going to be two great bench players for the O's and deeper AL-only leagues this season. Freel can steal 20-plus bases for Rotisserie owners. Wiggy can hit 15-plus bombs. Both should get 400 at-bats, starting about half of the team's games.
-- Green left in the middle of the first with a blister problem. Lefty specialist Pedro Feliciano replaced him in the first and pitched the second.
-- There was a Fernando Martinez sighting. He was hitting ninth as the DH, dealing with a sore elbow from winter ball. He struck out with the bases loaded on a ball in the dirt by lefty Chris Waters. It's telling. F-Mart needs more of a Murphy approach at the plate, quit swinging at junk, and he needs to hit lefties better. He solves those two problems, he could be an impact player for the Mets and deeper Fantasy leagues by the end of 2009 at the age of 20.
-- Luis Castillo can't get out of his own way. He singled home two runs with the bases loaded, slashing one to right between second and first. He then proceded to get picked off first on the play as right fielder Luis Montanez hit the cutoff man.
-- OK, Pagan beat out and infield hit. He can still move, even though he looks thicker in his bottom half. Last year, he was a bit more wiry and sprinter-like. Strength helps, too, I guess.
-- Ryan Church, he of the multiple concussions, goosed one to center for a double, scoring Pagan. That ball was ripped. Church can really smoke it when he is healthy. Remember, he was one of the Mets MVPs before Yunel Escobar kneed him in the head, costing him much of the summer and ruining his breakthrough season. That swing drew a quick, loud crowd reaction as it soared over Adam Jones' head. That was a mean drive. Church just might be back. I will try to catch up with him later.
-- A day after saying he would "steal 30-40 bases, why not?" -- Jones stole a base in his first attempt in spring training. He made it without a throw. It takes more than athletic ability to steal bases. It takes timing and knowledge of the pitchers and catchers. Jones had the timing part down perfectly. We don't see his optimistic numbers, but 20 is apparently possible. Look at Nick Markakis' jump from Year 1 (2) to Year 2 (18). Jones could go from 10 to 20. If you add his added muscle and increased power potential, Jones is a big-time sleeper in all formats, especially Rotisserie leagues. Jones looked real good scoring from second on an RBI single to left.
-- Two sharp singles to left by Nick Evans. He is a nice consolation in NL-only leagues if you miss out on Murphy, but we think Evans begins the year in Triple-A. He should be up at some point and he has a chance to serve as the right-handed portion of a platoon with Church or Murphy.
-- Jones, by the way, said gold glove for him this year, taking one from Torii Hunter. He put his glove where his mouth is, diving for a bloop off Jose Valentin's bat. That was a nice play. Dangerous for Game 1 of spring training, but a nice play.
-- Fernando Martinez... hard single to right. Don't throw that 20-year-old fastballs. He can rip.
-- Oh, that Luis Castllo fellow... two-run double over the head of Luke Scott in left -- opposite field off the righty. That's four RBI. And that's why Mr. Scott will be the primary DH this season. He played that one like someone on my slow-pitch softball team. We give up doubles and triples like they are candy on Halloween.
The postgame quotebook:
Luis Castillo: "I've got to get off to a good start. I know they want me to get off to a good start."
Mets manager Jerry Manuel on Luis Castillo: "That is exactly what Luis needed. We talked about getting him off to a good start. That was appropriate for him."
Manuel on motivating Castillo and Ryan Church coming into spring: "I should challenge other folks, now, too. It is exactly what you wanted to see from them."
O's manager Dave Trembley on catalyst Ryan Freel's head-first style: "It will be hard to control Ryan Freel."
Ryan Church on his concussion issues: "There were no affects today and there haven't been (this spring)."