Final Day in Florida

Since I last blogged, we’ve made quite the loop around the coasts of Florida. Friday afternoon we were in Dunedin (northwest of Tampa on the western coast of Florida) to talk with Casey Janssen and Jeremy Accardo of the Blue Jays who both played in the NWL in 2001. On Saturday, with no interviews scheduled, we traveled two hours south of the Tampa Bay area to Fort Myers to check out a Minnesota Twins game. We spent that afternoon and early evening cruising east across Florida to the other coast in preparation for our final few days on the road. 

Yesterday we stopped in at Cardinals camp to see a pair of minor leaguers hoping to break through. Matt Pagnozzi is a catcher for the Cards who has been as high as Triple-A in their system and is in the final year of his contract with the Cardinal organization. He played for the Madison Mallards in 2002. Allen Craig is rising fast and is confident that he’ll get his first crack at the big leagues sometime this year, although he doesn’t think it’ll be when the team breaks camp in early April. Craig has been groomed mostly as a third baseman since his minor league career began in 2006, but with a surplus of major league caliber third baseman in the Cardinal system, Craig may have to switch positions. This spring he’s been backing up Albert Pujols at first base and has played in all ten games so far. The former Alexandria Beetle leads the Cardinals with a .471 batting average (8-for-17). He’s also homered once (doing so in the first inning of his only start) and is tied for the team lead with seven RBI.

Well, this is day 13 of our extended trip. We’ll spend this morning at Mets camp in Port St. Lucie and head north to Nationals camp in Viera. There are no guarantees that we’ll get to speak to all of them but we’re hoping for a few minutes with some of the better pitching prospects to come through the Northwoods League in the past few years. Last year’s 33rd overall pick Brad Holt is in the Mets organization and he had a great first year in 2008 coming off of his summer with the La Crosse Loggers in 2007. Dillon Gee is on the rise with the Mets. He played in Brainerd with the Blue Thunder in 2005. Lastly, Jordan Zimmermann’s summer with the Eau Claire Express in 2006 turned him into a prospect and he now sits as the number one prospect in the Nationals system, according to Baseball America.

This will likely be my final post from the road unless I get some time at the airport on Tuesday. Regardless, continue to check in throughout the spring as I will update which players are having a big spring or which may be demoted to minor league camp when it opens later this week. So far, of the original 55, only RHP Reid Mahon of the the Diamondbacks has been reassigned to minor league camp. He was a Thunder Bay Border Cat in 2004.

I should note that two NWL alumni are playing in the World Baseball Classic. OF Curtis Granderson is with Team USA and 1B/OF Valentino Pascucci is playing for Team Italy. Pascucci told me that he was not born in Italy but his father was so that allows him to play for team Italy in the Classic. He was 1-for-2 with a pair of walks batting as the cleanup hitter and designated hitter in Italy’s opening-game 7-0 loss to Venezuela on Saturday. Italy needs a win today against Canada to avoid elimination. Granderson did not start in the USA’s opening victory against Canada but did in last night’s win over Venezuela. He batted ninth and played centerfield going 2-for-5 with an RBI.