PEORIA, Ariz. — While most of the unattached baseball writing corps zigged over to Goodyear Ballpark for Yu Darvish's wild second start on Tuesday, I zagged to the Peoria Sports Complex to watch a game between the San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox.
I had my reasons. For one, Gavin Floyd's name was in some trade rumors and I fancied being present when Alex Anthopoulos' Wizard of Oz monkeys swooped into the park and carried him off the mound and on toward Dunedin where he'd reinforce the Blue Jays' rotation. (Sadly, this fantastical vision did not end up happening.)
For another, Edinson Volquez was starting and I wanted to see if he'd build up his confidence by striking out his onetime-Cincinnati teammate Adam Dunn. (This did not happen either, as the Chicago DH was scratched from his start after being carried off by a battalion of Wizard of Oz monkeys who drafted him too high in fantasy last season. Or because of a stiff neck. One of the two.)
If I'm being completely honest, though, I ended up at the Padres-White Sox game for no real good reason. Both teams are at the bottom of the Cactus League standings, which reflects nothing except the fact that no one is really predicting either squad to make a run at a postseason spot this season. Meanwhile, the smallish crowd — which was pro-White Sox despite being at the Padres "home" — probably didn't outnumber the media turnout for Darvish's start against the Cleveland Indians.
Not that I cared much. I try to do one game like this a spring because it's just as much a part of spring training as the headline starts by imported aces and the new faces in new places stories for some of the game's biggest names. None of these results really mean a thing, so it's nice to get out on a nice day to a park where the exercise really seems clear.
The cool thing about baseball, though, is that you can make any contest or team seem important if you watch it closely enough and then talk about it later. (The sheer number of Pirates blogs on the Internet will attest to this fact.) Tuesday's game — a 6-3 San Diego win — gave me just enough material to chew over.
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While the Padres and White Sox might be similar when it comes to outlook, it's hard to compare the two teams and walk away with any additional parallels. San Diego will likely finish a lot closer to 2011's 71-91 mark than 2010's surprise 90-72 effort, but the future looks promising. Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus just ranked the Friars' minor-league system as the best in baseball and there's just enough of a current team to get you to hallucinate about them being competitive in the always volatile NL West.
Whatever ends up happening, though, I enjoyed watching Jaff Decker, the Padres prospect with the unusually spelled first name and what Goldstein calls the "power, walks and athleticism of a beer-league outfielder." Decker hit two doubles in the Padres victory, continuing an impressive showing in spring training. While the Peoria native likely won't make the team this season, it was the type of performance from a young player that you like to tuck away so you might one day be able to say that you saw him when.
As for the White Sox, their farm system finishes dead last in all of the top rankings — including BP's — and Goldstein writes "it's really that bad." Their roster is loaded with expensive veterans who are so unmovable that GM Kenny Williams really has no choice but to stay in the limbo of his semi-rebuild. Their lineup and rotations are constructed in such a manner that it's going to take not only everyone staying healthy but everyone posting career years to make any sort of noise in the AL Central.
But that's not to say that I watched Tuesday's game with such extreme pessimism. Indeed, as I watched Paul Konerko somehow beat out an infield single after hitting a ball up the middle, I wanted to feel like anything was possible for the Sox if the situation breaks just right.
Even that long-awaited visit from the Wizard of Oz monkeys.