(Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)
Welcome back to another round of Spring Training Stock Watch, where the players are all in the best shape of their lives and the numbers don’t matter! Here’s a smattering of risers and fallers from the past few days to whet your appetites and distort your draft values.
Aaron Hicks (OF, New York Yankees)
.304/.467/.478, 2 HR, 4 SO, 7 BB, 1 SB (23 at-bats)
Aaron Hicks had a 14.1% walk rate last year. He’s been hitting leadoff for the Yankees quite a bit this spring. If he hits leadoff for them in the regular season, he’ll be getting on base ahead of Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Gary Sanchez. If he does that, he’ll score a ton of runs. If you own him in fantasy, you’ll get a ton of runs. Wouldn’t that be nice?
It’s a crowded outfield, sure, but can the Yankees really afford not to play a guy who racked up 15 defensive runs saved last season in only 88 games? Hicks’ offensive performance so far this spring is only further cementing his role at the top of a loaded lineup. Keep an eye on this guy.
Luke Weaver (SP, St. Louis Cardinals)
1.00 ERA, 0.56 WHIP, 9 K, 1 BB, 1 HR (9.0 innings pitched)
Weaver had a very impressive, albeit short, 2017 season. There were some small reasons for skepticism leading into 2018 though. For one thing, he closed out the year with a 5.17 ERA over his final 31.1 innings. And while he posted an excellent 28.6% strikeout percentage, it wasn’t backed by pitches that had good chase rates (25.5% O-Swing) or whiff percentages—only his four-seamer rated as above-average by the latter. The early returns this spring have been good though, including four perfect innings with four strikeouts this past Sunday. More outings like this should silence any doubts that Weaver can pick up right where he left off.
Jose Pirela (OF, San Diego Padres)
.481/.559/.889, 2 HR, 8 K, 6 BB, 1 SB (27 at-bats)
Pirela quietly had a nice little breakout in 2017, and posted a .285 xAVG and .364 xBACON to back it up. He also has not let the Padres recent signing of Eric Hosmer get him down. In fact he seems to have been energized by it—he is Kal-El and the Hosmer trade is the edifying, strength-giving light of the Earth’s yellow sun. Though Wil Myers moving to the outfield may push Pirela for some at-bats, if he keeps performing like this, they may give Pirela the edge over Renfroe. And with some second base and third base experience, Pirela has a few different avenues to playing time.
Kyle Schwarber (OF, Chicago Cubs)
.333/.438/.741, 3 HR, 11 K, 5 BB (27 at-bats)
Schwarber not only lost a ton of weight in the offseason, but he found God and is now, finally, at one with himself and all of nature. Just kidding about the God stuff, but no #bestshapeofhislife spring training story has dominated the headlines as much as Schwarber’s. Your mileage may vary in terms of how much his impressive spring performance you attribute to a real, meaningful change, and the strikeouts are certainly still an issue. But it’s hard to argue with the rest of the results to this point.
Maikel Franco (3B, Philadelphia Phillies)
.103/.133/.241, 1 HR, 5 K, 1 BB (29 at-bats)
It’s been a three-year slide for Franco in the majors, and what started out as a very promising debut culminated in an incredibly disappointing 2017. Franco’s spring thus far has not given us any hope that he’s in store for a rebound, as he’s not drawing walks or making quality contact. With internal options like J.P. Crawford and Scott Kingery nipping at his heels, Franco really needs to turn things around and give the Phillies a reason to stick with him this year.
Joe Biagini (SP/RP, Toronto Blue Jays)
8.10 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 12 K, 2 BB, 4 HR (10.0 innings pitched)
You’ve got to love a player whose name is also a command: Joe, be a genie! There are other things to love about Biagini too, believe it or not. Biagini’s four-seamer hit 97 mph at times last year, and he paired it with a solid curveball and change-up. He ran out of gas towards the end of the year, but he was a player to keep an eye on heading into 2018 until the Jaime Garcia signing essentially pushed him out of the running for a rotation spot. The early K/BB ratio is encouraging, and with Marcus Stroman nursing a shoulder injury, an opening has appeared again for Biagini. However, he’s going to have to do a better job of limiting the home runs if he hopes to stick around long enough to make an impact.
Jason Heyward (OF, Chicago Cubs)
.130/.259/.217, 0 HR, 7 K, 4 BB, 1 SB (23 at-bats)
Oh, Jason. Jason, Jason, Jason. How many times do you think you’ll be able to fool me, huh? Last year it was a revamped swing. This year it’s a new hitting coach. It’s always a different story with you. I may not be as rich, successful, talented, or respected as the Chicago Cubs. But at least, unlike them, I can move on from you. You’re well on your way to becoming the most expensive fourth outfielder in the game, and while I would not wish that on anyone, you’ve crashed and burned far too many times for me to hop on board for another ride.
Ian Desmond (1B/OF, Colorado Rockies)
.045/.045/.045, 0 HR, 9 K, 0 BB (22 at-bats)
I’ve seen Ian Desmond get drafted this year as if 2017 never happened. Ian Desmond is currently using spring training to remind you that 2017 did, in fact, happen. For those who owned Desmond last year, it’s hard to look at his spring training line and not get rage-induced flashbacks to last season. Nobody who plays half their games at Coors Field is dead, as Ben Palmer pointed out recently But with the Rockies already struggling to find a place to play everyone before the Carlos Gonzalez signing, it’s hard to see them giving Desmond full-time at-bats unless he shows some signs of life soon.