Manny is still being Manny -- at the plate, at least

561178.jpg

Manny is still being Manny -- at the plate, at least

From Comcast SportsNetSANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (AP) -- Manny Ramirez homered on his first pitch of the Dominican winter league season.Thousands of cheering fans stood and cheered as Ramirez came to bat in the bright yellow jersey of the Eagles, a team from the northern region of Cibao. Ramirez then drove his first pitch over the right-field fence.The Eagles went on to lose Wednesday night's game 3-2 to the Escogido Lions.Ramirez had last played in his Dominican Republic nearly 20 years ago. He served his second 50-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball's drug policy last year, then was released from his minor league contract with the Oakland Athletics. in June without making it back to the big leagues.

Raiders head to NFL Combine looking for defense, RBs, depth

nfl-generic.jpg

Raiders head to NFL Combine looking for defense, RBs, depth

The Raiders are headed for this week’s NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis looking to refine and strengthen opinions on NFL draft prospects they’ve been studying all year.

General manager Reggie McKenzie has eight selections in this year’s NFL draft, starting with the 24th overall pick. That marks his latest start since 2012, when he didn’t have a first or second round pick.

Those selections were traded away. The No. 24 overall pick was earned with a 12-4 record in 2016 and the team’s first playoff berth since 2002.

When selecting that late, it’s hard to target a specific position. McKenzie would say he’ll take the best player available over a specific need every year, but that’s often required after the draft crop has been picked over. That’s also easier given the Raiders currently under contract. The 2017 roster is already strong, though there are areas to fortify this offseason.

McKenzie made it clear last month the Raiders defense must improve at every level. The Raiders need help on the interior defensive line, especially rushing the passer. They need assistance in the secondary, with immediate needs at cornerback and long-term assistance at safety. They need one interior linebacker solid in tackling and coverage, possibly two.

There are options possibly available at No. 24 who could help the Raiders in those areas.

Most mock drafts have the Raiders targeting defense in the first round with cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey (Alabama) and Tre’Davious White (LSU) getting regular mentions. Though it also must be mentioned nobody had the Raiders taking safety Karl Joseph No. 14 overall last year, and they pulled the trigger without hesitation.

Cornerback still could and likely should be a focus for the Raiders at this scouting combine.

“Then as far as a corner situation is concerned, this is a great corner class,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said Monday in a conference call. “If you don't get one in the first round, you can come back in the second or third round and really help yourself.”

The Raiders spent big on Sean Smith and extended David Amerson, but adding young depth can increase options moving forward and strengthen a pass defense that wasn’t good enough. There’s playing time available in the slot next season, with DJ Hayden set to hit free agency.

Latavius Murray is also on course to hit the open market, which comes as no surprise. McKenzie prefers to use the market as a tool, and let it decide whether a player meets his valuation. That will be the case with Murray, who could price himself out of Oakland.

This is known as a deep draft class for running backs. Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey is an intriguing prospect head coach Jack Del Rio knows well – McCaffrey and Del Rio’s son Luke played prep football together – and might be a good fit.

The Raiders have proven adept plucking rushers from late rounds. Murray was taken in the sixth round. DeAndre Washington was a fifth-rounder and Jalen Richard was an undrafted diamond. The Raiders could use a bigger back to round out 2017’s run game, and there are options late.

Roster strength should also allow the Raiders to draft for depth that can become starters in time. They might need help at offensive tackle, free safety and receiver, positions with at least one older veteran.

While combine coverage will focus on top prospects, the scouting combine is a great resources to collect medical information and meet with a maximum of 60 college prospects. The tangible data collected at the combine is valuable, but is just one piece of a larger evaluation process. Game tape is of great value, and the combine helps cement opinions gather during a long scouting process.

The Raiders have proven to be solid talent evaluators, and will use this part of the pre-draft process to round out opinions of some players and figure out which options best suit their franchise heading into the future.

Notes: Key A's relievers gear up for exhibition debuts

baseball-generic.jpg

Notes: Key A's relievers gear up for exhibition debuts

MESA, Ariz. — The A’s are targeting Thursday to start easing their veteran relievers into Cactus League action.

Manager Bob Melvin said Ryan Madson and John Axford would be among those making their spring debuts Thursday against the Texas Rangers. Similar to last season, the A’s have held back with some of their relievers in an effort to keep their arms fresh.

Lefty Sean Doolittle, who has dealt with shoulder injuries the past two years, has yet to appear in a game. The same goes with Ryan Dull and Liam Hendriks. And the A’s still await Santiago Casilla’s visa issues to clear so he can report to camp from the Dominican Republic.

Melvin estimated that he likes to get his veteran relievers into nine or 10 games during the Cactus League but that it’s not a hard and fast rule.

**

Also pitching Thursday in relief will be Frankie Montas, a pitcher who has impressed team officials in his early bullpen sessions. One of three pitchers acquired from the Dodgers in the Rich Hill/Josh Reddick trade, Montas threw just 16 innings in the minors last year because of two rib injuries, then tacked on some impressive work in the Arizona Fall League.

The A’s want to give Montas a look as a starter this season, but Melvin said Montas won’t be stretched out to start during camp because of his small workload last season. The hard-throwing Montas ranks fifth on Baseball America’s list of top A’s prospects.

**

Heavy rain hit the Phoenix Valley early Tuesday morning but by 11 a.m. local time, the sun had poked through the clouds and the A’s were taking infield practice at Hohokam Stadium. The wet weather relegated them to taking batting practice in the indoor cages in advance of a 1:05 p.m. (MST) game against the visiting Cleveland Indians. For those curious, yes, Rajai Davis is leading off and playing center for the A’s against the team for which he hit a dramatic Game 7 home run in the World Series last fall.

Also of note, lefty closer Andrew Miller — MVP of the AL Championship Series — is scheduled to pitch for the Indians.