(Photo by Carlos Herrera/Icon Sportswire)
Player stocks rise, player stocks fall. You can’t explain that. Welcome to your semi-regular update on all things spring-related. Today we’ll be covering some young players doing their best to play their way onto your imaginary baseball teams. And there are a couple guys that aren’t doing so hot, I guess we’ll talk about them, too.
Gregory Polanco (OF, Pittsburgh Pirates)
.360/.407/.720, 2 HR, 6 K, 2 BB (25 at-bats)
One of the Pirates’ scouting directors once said that Polanco moved like a “sick giraffe.” That’s not really relevant at all, I just thought that was an oddly specific insult and wanted to share. Polanco seemed primed for a breakout last season after a very impressive 2016, but a nagging shoulder injury sapped him of his power, leading to a 10% drop in hard contact and just 11 home runs on the year. So far this spring, Polanco has been showing he’s ready to put the past behind him and prove to the world that, actually, he is a very healthy giraffe thank you very much.
Ian Happ (2B/OF, Chicago Cubs)
.393/.485/1.071, 5 HR, 8 K, 4 BB, 2 SB (28 at-bats)
Ian Happ clearly wants me to talk about what he’s been doing this spring, because I keep leaving him out of these updates, hoping he’ll go away, and he keeps on hitting. I GET IT, IAN, OKAY? YOU’RE GOOD. One of Happ’s biggest issues in 2017—his inflated strikeout rate—is still hanging around this spring. But it’s hard to really find fault with it when he’s contributing across the board in every other category.
Ronald Acuna (OF, Atlanta Braves)
.412/.512/.618, 2 HR, 4 SB, 7 K, 4 BB (34 at-bats)
In our recent staff rankings I was pretty low on Acuna, so naturally he’s decided to go and set the world on fire this spring training. He’s gone 3-for-6 over the past week with a home run and two stolen bases, and is essentially ensuring that the Braves give him a call up once they’re done gaming his service time at the start of the year. I would still caution against assuming a 20-year-old is going to be able to immediately have success in his first taste of the bigs, but that attitude is not going to get you any shares of Acuna this year, so you do you.
Franklin Barreto (SS, Oakland Athletics)
.333/.395/.758, 3 HR, 1 SB, 10 K, 3 BB (23 at-bats)
Barreto flashed a very intriguing power/speed combination during his time in the minors, and even during his disappointing MLB debut in 2017 he managed to hit the ball hard. The strikeouts were a big problem last year, and have been an issue so far this spring, but the results to this point have otherwise been impressive, and Barreto has gone 4-for-8 over the past week. He’s currently blocked by Jed Lowrie and Marcus Semien, but neither are bastions of health, and if he continues to produce in the final weeks of spring he could ensure that he gets the first crack at a job once an opening appears.
Blake Parker (RP, Los Angeles Angels)
18.69 ERA, 3.23 WHIP, 6 K, 2 BB, 1 HR (4.1 innings pitched)
Jon Heyman reported recently that Cam Bedrosian is the favorite for Angels saves, much to the surprise of just about everybody except the crazy little man pulling the levers inside Mike Scioscia’s head. Blake Parker has been doing his best to justify the decision though, including allowing five earned runs in less than an inning this past Wednesday. A popular speculative closer just a few weeks back, it appears the shine on Parker has faded.
Jon Gray (SP, Colorado Rockies)
10.22 ERA, 1.86 WHIP, 11 K, 4 BB, 3 HR (12.1 innings pitched)
Gray allowed five earned runs in four innings against the Dodgers this past week, which was not a promising follow-up from his six earned run outing against Cleveland the week prior. The long ball has been an issue for Gray these past two outings. Gray is coming off an impressive, albeit injury-shortened, 2017 season. But questions remain about how high his ceiling can be when he’s pitching half his games in Colorado, especially if he continues to struggle at keeping the ball in the yard.
Eric Thames (1B, Milwaukee Brewers)
.156/.229/.281, 1 HR, 11 K, 2 BB (32 at-bats)
Thames has scuffled this past week, going just 1-for-13. Heading into spring, it was expected that Thames would get most of the first base at-bats. However, Ryan Braun has begun taking reps there, and has been off to a much better start than Thames this spring (.440/.526/.867). With no real spot for Braun in the outfield at the moment, it’s feasible that Thames could be on the outside looking in if he doesn’t pick it up in the coming weeks.
Kolten Wong (2B, St. Louis Cardinals)
.115/.207/.154, 0 HR, 7 K, 2 BB, 6 SB (26 at-bats)
Wong has gone hitless over his last twelve at-bats, tanking what had already been a poor offensive line this spring. The six stolen bases are nice, but as they say, you can’t steal first. Mike Matheny always seemed to dislike Wong with a Jason Motte-like intensity, and with both Jedd Gyorko and Matt Carpenter plenty capable of taking over at second base, time is running out for Wong to earn a starting spot on the roster.