Spring training every year is relatively the same in that fans never fail to overreact to a good or bad preseason. Almost every player in the league is either poised for a career year or destined to fall off a cliff. In actuality though, most of what goes on in spring training is to be taken with a grain of salt.
If a backup catcher goes out and hits .450 this spring, that probably won’t carry over to the regular season. Actually, it definitely won’t carry over to the regular season. Similarly, if Mike Trout struggles to a sub-.200 average this month, it’s safe to say he’ll still give you typical Mike Trout production once the real season begins.
That being said, some of what happens in spring training shouldn’t simply be ignored. A good preseason could be a sign of things to come, whether it’s a result of fixed mechanics, someone finally getting a full-time job, or whatever other reason it may be. These are the guys you need to pay attention to, as they could be the draft steals who help you win your league. Here are some players who have already seen their stock rise or fall this spring, despite being barely a week into the season.
Rafael Devers (3B, Boston Red Sox)
.625/.625/1.000, 1 HR, 1 K, 0 BB (8 at-bats)
After a strong stint in the majors to end the 2017 season, Rafael Devers had his ups and downs in his first full season in the big leagues last year. He showed plenty of pop with 21 homers in 121 games, but his .240 average was a bit underwhelming. His struggles were believed by many to be weight-related. After hiring a nutritionist in the offseason and focusing primarily on his conditioning, he now appears poised for a true breakout in his age-22 season. Once again batting in the middle of a stacked Red Sox lineup, Devers could be a great value pick in the middle of drafts.
Byron Buxton (OF, Minnesota Twins)
.625/.625/1.500, 2 HR, 0 K, 0 BB (8 at-bats)
After entering the big leagues in 2015 with high expectations and major potential, Byron Buxton just hasn’t been able to put it all together at the major league level yet. He flashed some of his potential in 2017 when he hit 16 home runs and swiped 29 bases, but he struggled to a .253 average with 150 strikeouts, which made his overall season a disappointment. With 2018 ending up as a lost season that saw him play just 28 games, many people are beginning to give up on him entirely. That should not be the case, however, especially if he continues to crush the ball throughout March. The talent has always been there, and he is just now entering his age-25 season. Buxton certainly has breakout potential, so this is a player to watch as spring training progresses.
Luke Voit (1B, New York Yankees)
.500/.600/1.250, 1 HR, 1 K, 1 BB (4 at-bats)
July 29, 2018, may wind up being the best day of Luke Voit‘s career when it’s all said and done. That was the day Voit was traded from the Cardinals to the Yankees, finally giving him the opportunity for some real playing time. To say he took advantage of that opportunity would be an understatement. In 39 regular season games with the Yankees this past season, Voit posted a .333/.405/.689 batting line while slugging 14 home runs. To expect a replica of those numbers would be unreasonable, but he seems more than ready to produce at a high level in his first full season in pinstripes. He technically still has to win the starting gig over Greg Bird to even get regular playing time, but Bird’s .199/.286/.386 line from this past season doesn’t exactly worry me. I have all the confidence in the world that Voit will be starting at first base on opening day.
Miles Mikolas (SP, St. Louis Cardinals)
0.00 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 1 K, 1 BB, 0 HR (5.0 innings pitched)
After spending three years pitching in Japan, Miles Mikolas returned to the major leagues this past season, and he was nothing short of outstanding. The first time All-Star posted an 18-4 record with a shiny 2.83 ERA and 1.07 WHIP. The only knock to his game was that he didn’t strike out a ton of batters (6.55 K/9). While he will never be an elite strikeout pitcher, he definitely has the stuff to improve on that mark from 2018. Even if he fails to do this, he should still provide more than enough value as he continues to prove more than capable of getting outs. Locked in to start for the Cardinals on Opening Day, Mikolas looks poised for another terrific season.
Michael Conforto (OF, New York Mets)
.333/.333/.333, 0 HR, 5 K, 0 BB (12 at-bats)
Michael Conforto looked primed for a big 2018 after hitting 27 home runs with a .279/.384/.555 batting line in just 109 games in 2017, but he wound up having a worse year with a .243/.350/.448 line and just one extra home run despite playing in 43 more games. Although he is actually hitting for a strong average in the early going this spring, he has yet to record an extra-base hit, and his biggest problem this past season — strikeouts — is very prevalent thus far. After striking out 159 times this past year, he has already recorded five in just 12 at-bats. Until he can show legitimate improvement in this area, I simply can’t trust him for solid production, especially in a subpar Mets lineup.
Madison Bumgarner (SP, San Francisco Giants)
54.00 ERA, 5.00 WHIP, 1 K, 0 BB, 0 HR (1.0 inning pitched)
Despite posting a respectable 3.26 ERA this past season, Madison Bumgarner never really looked like his old self. He struggled to strike out batters, leading to the worst strikeout numbers of his career (7.57 K/9). He also seemed to have luck on his side throughout the season, as his SIERA of 4.42 shows that the season could have gone much worse for the southpaw. Unfortunately, he has only strengthened the notion that he is on a steep decline, with an absolutely hideous start to 2019. Obviously, it would be foolish to completely count out a pitcher with Bumgarner’s pedigree after one poor spring training performance, but combined with this past season, it’s beginning to look more and more like 2019 could be a rough year for MadBum.
Michael Fulmer (SP, Detroit Tigers)
18.00 ERA, 2.00 WHIP, 0 K, 1 BB, 1 HR (2.0 innings pitched)
Since winning the 2016 AL Rookie of the Year award, it has all been downhill for Michael Fulmer. He has constantly battled injuries, while his ERA has gone from 3.06 in 2016 to 3.83 in 2017 and finally to 4.69 this past year. For the second year in a row, he is possibly being viewed as a bounce-back candidate, assuming he can remain somewhat healthy for once. So far, this scenario seems pretty unlikely. Fulmer couldn’t strike out a single batter in his first appearance of the spring, in large part because of his fastball topping out at 91 mph compared with the 96-mph heater he averaged this past year. He was a major question mark entering the season even without this substantial drop in velocity, but now it is looking almost certain that he will not be able to recapture the magic from his rookie season, at least not this year.
Ken Giles (RP, Toronto Blue Jays)
INF ERA, INF WHIP, 0 K, 3 BB, 0 HR (0.0 innings pitched)
Despite pitching to a mediocre 4.65 ERA this past season (4.12 with the Blue Jays), Ken Giles entered spring training as the clear favorite to begin the season as Toronto’s closer. Naturally, one of baseball’s most inconsistent relief pitchers came out of the gate seemingly doing everything in his power to give away the job. Giles allowed four runs on two hits and three walks, failing to record an out before being pulled from the game. Yes, he was a fairly dominant closer for Houston in 2017, but I’m not betting on that version of Giles showing up this year. At this point, it will be interesting to see if he’s still pitching the ninth come Opening Day.
(Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire)