Diamondbacks Complete Instructional League

Instructional League is always an interesting concept that seems to be misunderstood by a lot of the more casual fans. It is an opportunity for teams to bring in players who either need to work on specific items in their game or possibly missed a substantial amount of time and need repetitions before stopping for the winter.

Instructional League is a cross between baseball practice and a game. Teams are allowed to stop an inning at any moment and set the offense and defense to any situation to work on a specific part of the game.

If a pitcher needs to work from the stretch the game could be stopped and base runners added to simulate a situation. Likewise runners can be removed to see how a pitcher works from the windup versus the stretch.

It is the most controlled environment a team can have with its players. As such, it is the perfect place to send players who are recovering from an injury to allow them to be evaluated while giving them a place that mimics game situations.

Most of the Instructional League games are played at the various Spring Training facilities. In the case of the Arizona Diamondbacks that means Tucson Electric Park at least through this year before it moves to Salt River Fields at Talking Stick next spring.

Today was a little different. It was the last day of Instructional League and as has become tradition the game was held at Chase Field in Phoenix. This gives many of the players their first opportunity to play in a Major League facility.

Today was different for another reason too. It would mark the final game for several pitchers who could factor into the Diamondbacks future plans.

Brandon Webb was scheduled to pitch in this game, his final opportunity to pitch before being shut down for the winter. It was also his last opportunity to show the Diamondbacks and other scouts that he has recovered from shoulder surgery and ready to pitch in the major leagues.

Besides Webb the Diamondbacks were also planning to allow Jarrod Parker pitch. This would be his first game situation since he underwent Tommy John surgery on his pitching shoulder last summer.

Finally, Tyler Skaggs was scheduled to throw for Arizona. Skaggs was the player to be named later in the Dan Haren trade and who many people believe will be the key part of that transaction once he reaches the major leagues.

I was hoping to attend this game and get a look for myself how these three pitchers looked. Unfortunately the Instructional League game was closed to the public meaning only team officials and other invited guests could attend.

I perused my mail and was disappointed to find I did not receive an invitation to attend. I did however find out I may have won the Publisher’s Clearing House giveaway so I do have that going for me.

Not to be dissuaded, I did what any enterprising and curious fan would do. I went down to Chase Field for lunch at Friday’s Front Row Grill. For those who have not been there, Friday’s overlooks left field in Chase Field.

There are two terraces containing tables that are actually in the stadium. The plan seemed fool proof. I would innocently go there for lunch and then keep ordering drinks and food until the game ended.

Granted I would pay for this dearly both in my checkbook and also on my waistline but we’re talking baseball here and desperate times require sacrifice.

Things didn’t quite go as planned. Friday’s had closed their outside terraces for the day meaning only tables inside the restaurant were open. After some negotiations I was finally able to secure a table at the window so I could at least see the field.

It was not exactly the best situation but it was better than standing outside with my face pressed against the glass of the stadium door with a pair of binoculars.

I should first preface my comments on the Instructional League game with the caveat that my observations are from a distance of 500 feet from home plate so don’t expect a lot of details about players reactions or facial expressions.

As I sat down the Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies were warming up on the field. I had to do a double take as I watched the two teams leave the field. The Diamondbacks players ran to the first base dugout while the Rockies went into the third base dugout.

For those of you who have been to Chase Field in the past you know that the Diamondbacks dugout has always been the third base dugout since the stadium opened. It seemed completely backwards to see them on the other side of the field.

Behind the plate in the seats were visitors and scouts. The section directly behind home was filled nearly to capacity. Obviously Webb was garnering a lot of interest. I need to find better contacts if that many people are able to get in the gates to a closed workout.

Webb was warming up in the visitor’s bullpen and started the game. His first inning consisted of approximately 20 pitches. He gave up one single but worked out of it to retire the side. I was somewhat surprised to see Webb go back to the mound for a second inning.

In his previous two games he went just one. The second inning did not go nearly as well for the former ace. He gave up an inside the park home run and a double and threw another 20 pitches bringing his total to 40.

From my vantage point Webb still seemed to be struggling with his mechanics almost changing on the fly. His pitches looked to have good movement but his velocity was definitely down from what I was accustomed to seeing from him. I have no way of knowing for sure but I would guess that most of the pitches he threw were in the low to mid 80’s.

In the second inning Webb left several pitches up in the strike zone and they were hit hard. By the end of the inning he seemed to be struggling with stamina, something that should be of a concern to any team considering signing him.

Jarrod Parker followed Webb pitching the third inning. This was Parker’s first game action since his surgery so I didn’t expect much. From a stature perspective Parker is similarly built to Roy Oswalt of the Philadelphia Phillies.

Parker seems to have filled out a little since the last time I saw him. I’m not saying he was fat, quite the contrary he looked very muscular a side effect from having a year to do nothing but lift and work out.

The difference in pitches between Webb and Parker were like night and day. The first hitter Parker faced he blew a fastball by him for a strikeout. Again without a radar gun I can only estimate that the pitch was somewhere in the mid to high 90’s with movement.

Parker was perfect in his outing and looked absolutely dominating. I had to keep reminding myself that he is still really young and coming off a fairly substantial injury. Even so, it was hard not to get excited about what he might mean for the Diamondbacks.

Given his rehabilitation common sense suggests Parker will start next season in Double-A where they will limit his innings to about 120 next season. Don’t be surprised if Parker pushes the Diamondbacks to the point where he goes to Reno with a late season call-up to Chase Field. If things go as planned he should be a substantial part of the Diamondbacks pitching staff in 2012.

Tyler Skaggs is a lanky left-hander who has long arms. The pitches seem to jump out of his hand and onto the batter quickly. He did not look as overpowering as Parker but was impressive nonetheless.

Skaggs motion seems rather relaxed but hitters seemed to have trouble with his pitches. He looked confident on the mound and will likely start next season at Low-A South Bend or possibly High-A Visalia if he has a good spring. Skaggs is farther away than Parker but looked impressive.

From a hitting perspective the Diamondbacks batters struggled against the Rockies pitchers but were able to scratch out some hits. This day belonged to the pitchers and gave hope that there will soon be another arms race at Chase Field.

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