Three Strikes: Bagwell’s tryout working out; we’ll see about Toronto’s gambles

Stan McNeal analyzes three hot topics in Major League Baseball.

The Astros' hitters have responded well to Jeff Bagwell's mentoring.
The Astros’ hitters have responded well to Jeff Bagwell’s mentoring.

STRIKE 1: Bagwell’s tryout is going well

Jeff Bagwell isn’t ready to consider his new job as Astros hitting coach as more than a "two and a half month tryout." Maybe he should.

Since Bagwell moved to the dugout from his role as special assistant to the GM, the Astros lead the N.L. in scoring per game. Yes, he’s been in the position barely three weeks, but before the break, the Astros ranked 15th in runs. Bagwell must be doing something right. Such as:

• Fixing swings. Rookie Jason Castro isn’t going to threaten for the N.L. batting title, but after a sit-down with Bagwell earlier this season, Astros assistant GM Ricky Bennett says the 23-year-old catcher improved his average by "about 70 points in a matter of 2 1/2 weeks" in the minors and reached the majors a month later.

• Enhancing analysis. When an Astros hitter is at the plate, Bagwell is dissecting the at-bat in the dugout with other hitters. "This enables them to look for certain things when they go to the plate," manager Brad Mills says.

• Swinging smart. While Bagwell’s predecessor, Sean Berry, favored an aggressive approach, Bagwell wants his hitters to work counts. "That’s my biggest thing: I don’t want them to give at-bats away," he says.

The 42-year-old former slugger has brought an old-school approach to the job. He is not big on video and he doesn’t believe that 100 swings in the batting cage are more beneficial than "10 or 15 good ones." Today’s hitters, he says, "find ways to put themselves in slumps."

The Astros did not fire Berry until they had asked Bagwell if he would make the commitment to coach. Bagwell had spent plenty of time watching Astros minor league hitters, and had impressed Bennett with an ability to notice flaws and communicate how to correct them. Being a potential Hall of Famer doesn’t hurt his efforts to gain his players’ attention.

"He did it at this level for 15 years, so they’re going to listen," Bennett says. "They better."

STRIKE 2: Taking chances in Toronto

When the Blue Jays traded for Anthony Gose on the same day the Phillies moved him to Houston, many wondered what the Blue Jays were thinking. They gave up Brett Wallace for a kid who was caught stealing 27 times in barely half a season.

Wallace, 23, already has taken over as the Astros’ first baseman and is widely regarded as someone who’ll hit .280 with 20-plus homers for many seasons.

Gose, 19, is a leadoff hitter who posted a .325 OBP for Clearwater before he was traded. Yes, he was a second-round pick and possesses plenty of tools: speed, arm, defense and bat speed. But he has yet to show if he’ll learn how to lay off a slider in the dirt. He could be an All-Star; he might never reach Class AAA. At this point, the odds are about the same.

But that’s the point. Under rookie GM Alex Anthopoulos, the Blue Jays are about taking risks. They feel the best way to hang with the Yankees and Red Sox without their checkbooks is to gamble on high-upside players, especially ones at premium positions. So they’ve taken a chance on Gose just like they have on shortstop Yunel Escobar. Give up a solid-to-good player for a young player who could be special.

To improve their chances of being right, Anthopoulos has beefed up his scouting department at a time when some clubs have cut back. Now he’s listening to his scouts and, most impressive, is showing that he’s not just going to talk about taking risks.

"I give Alex a lot of credit," says one Jays scout. "I don’t think any GM would have had the guts to make a deal like that (for Gose). But he’s sticking to his guns. He wants premium guys, and he knows we need to take risks."

Vicente Padilla has had eight consecutive great starts.
Vicente Padilla has had eight consecutive great starts.

STRIKE 3: Quick hits

• When talking about the hottest pitcher going, don’t forget Dodgers right-hander Vicente Padilla. His two-hit shutout of the Padres Wednesday night gave him eight consecutive starts of allowing two or fewer runs. He baffled the Padres by mixing in a 53-mph curve (Vin Scully calls it the soap bubble) with a 95 mph fastball, taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning.

• No injury to a contender could prove more costly than the Cardinals’ loss of rookie third baseman David Freese for the rest of the season. Trading right fielder Ryan Ludwick will look even more ill-advised if the Cardinals don’t come up with a better replacement than sore-kneed Felipe Lopez or Aaron Miles. Freese’s defense has been most missed so far.

• Hitting home run No. 600 was a big deal for Alex Rodriguez, but it might not have been the best news of his day. This could have been: Determining a winning bid in the Rangers’ sale means there should be no legal hangup of the $24.9 million the club owes him in deferred salary. Interesting to hear A-Rod say that 600 is a nice number but the milestones that will mean more are ones when he starts catching the six sluggers ahead of him. Think that has anything to do with the $6 million he’ll be paid by the Yankees for each one he passes?

• Another reason that Torii Hunter is what’s right about baseball: His move to right field was accompanied by little comment except, "If it’s best for the team, OK."

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

Stan McNeal analyzes three hot topics in Major League Baseball.

The Astros' hitters have responded well to Jeff Bagwell's mentoring.
The Astros’ hitters have responded well to Jeff Bagwell’s mentoring.

STRIKE 1: Bagwell’s tryout is going well

Jeff Bagwell isn’t ready to consider his new job as Astros hitting coach as more than a "two and a half month tryout." Maybe he should.

Since Bagwell moved to the dugout from his role as special assistant to the GM, the Astros lead the N.L. in scoring per game. Yes, he’s been in the position barely three weeks, but before the break, the Astros ranked 15th in runs. Bagwell must be doing something right. Such as:

• Fixing swings. Rookie Jason Castro isn’t going to threaten for the N.L. batting title, but after a sit-down with Bagwell earlier this season, Astros assistant GM Ricky Bennett says the 23-year-old catcher improved his average by "about 70 points in a matter of 2 1/2 weeks" in the minors and reached the majors a month later.

• Enhancing analysis. When an Astros hitter is at the plate, Bagwell is dissecting the at-bat in the dugout with other hitters. "This enables them to look for certain things when they go to the plate," manager Brad Mills says.

• Swinging smart. While Bagwell’s predecessor, Sean Berry, favored an aggressive approach, Bagwell wants his hitters to work counts. "That’s my biggest thing: I don’t want them to give at-bats away," he says.

The 42-year-old former slugger has brought an old-school approach to the job. He is not big on video and he doesn’t believe that 100 swings in the batting cage are more beneficial than "10 or 15 good ones." Today’s hitters, he says, "find ways to put themselves in slumps."

The Astros did not fire Berry until they had asked Bagwell if he would make the commitment to coach. Bagwell had spent plenty of time watching Astros minor league hitters, and had impressed Bennett with an ability to notice flaws and communicate how to correct them. Being a potential Hall of Famer doesn’t hurt his efforts to gain his players’ attention.

"He did it at this level for 15 years, so they’re going to listen," Bennett says. "They better."

STRIKE 2: Taking chances in Toronto

When the Blue Jays traded for Anthony Gose on the same day the Phillies moved him to Houston, many wondered what the Blue Jays were thinking. They gave up Brett Wallace for a kid who was caught stealing 27 times in barely half a season.

Wallace, 23, already has taken over as the Astros’ first baseman and is widely regarded as someone who’ll hit .280 with 20-plus homers for many seasons.

Gose, 19, is a leadoff hitter who posted a .325 OBP for Clearwater before he was traded. Yes, he was a second-round pick and possesses plenty of tools: speed, arm, defense and bat speed. But he has yet to show if he’ll learn how to lay off a slider in the dirt. He could be an All-Star; he might never reach Class AAA. At this point, the odds are about the same.

But that’s the point. Under rookie GM Alex Anthopoulos, the Blue Jays are about taking risks. They feel the best way to hang with the Yankees and Red Sox without their checkbooks is to gamble on high-upside players, especially ones at premium positions. So they’ve taken a chance on Gose just like they have on shortstop Yunel Escobar. Give up a solid-to-good player for a young player who could be special.

To improve their chances of being right, Anthopoulos has beefed up his scouting department at a time when some clubs have cut back. Now he’s listening to his scouts and, most impressive, is showing that he’s not just going to talk about taking risks.

"I give Alex a lot of credit," says one Jays scout. "I don’t think any GM would have had the guts to make a deal like that (for Gose). But he’s sticking to his guns. He wants premium guys, and he knows we need to take risks."

Vicente Padilla has had eight consecutive great starts.
Vicente Padilla has had eight consecutive great starts.

STRIKE 3: Quick hits

• When talking about the hottest pitcher going, don’t forget Dodgers right-hander Vicente Padilla. His two-hit shutout of the Padres Wednesday night gave him eight consecutive starts of allowing two or fewer runs. He baffled the Padres by mixing in a 53-mph curve (Vin Scully calls it the soap bubble) with a 95 mph fastball, taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning.

• No injury to a contender could prove more costly than the Cardinals’ loss of rookie third baseman David Freese for the rest of the season. Trading right fielder Ryan Ludwick will look even more ill-advised if the Cardinals don’t come up with a better replacement than sore-kneed Felipe Lopez or Aaron Miles. Freese’s defense has been most missed so far.

• Hitting home run No. 600 was a big deal for Alex Rodriguez, but it might not have been the best news of his day. This could have been: Determining a winning bid in the Rangers’ sale means there should be no legal hangup of the $24.9 million the club owes him in deferred salary. Interesting to hear A-Rod say that 600 is a nice number but the milestones that will mean more are ones when he starts catching the six sluggers ahead of him. Think that has anything to do with the $6 million he’ll be paid by the Yankees for each one he passes?

• Another reason that Torii Hunter is what’s right about baseball: His move to right field was accompanied by little comment except, "If it’s best for the team, OK."

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

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