Spring Training Stock Watch 3/20: Who’s Rising and Who’s Falling
(Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire)
Spring is here, the birds are chirping, the sun is shining, and a bunch of millionaires are throwing a ball around for your entertainment. What could be better than this? Let’s have a look at some notable and ignoble spring training performances from the past few days.
Quick bit of trivia: Mike Minor’s great grandfather actually invented minor league baseball: hence the name minor league baseball. Amazing, huh? Mike paid tribute to his great grandpapa this past Friday by striking out 11 batters over five innings in a minor league intrasquad game. While this start isn’t reflected in his current spring training line, and the competition in minor league intrasquad games is obviously not elite, Minor is certainly looking good so far in his bid to become a starter again. Minor is coming off an incredible campaign as a reliever, and has one excellent season as a starter under his belt already, so he may be worth a flier heading into the year. Also, I made up the stuff about his grandfather because I’m a liar.
Kyle “The Professor” Hendricks is here this spring to teach baseball fans a lesson about the nature of infinity; his current 18:0 strikeout-to-walk ratio technically registers as infinite. Hendricks spun six innings of one-run ball against Arizona this past Thursday, and has been on an amazing run this spring. The control so far is particularly encouraging, as he struggled with it quite a bit last season, at least by his standards. If you’re doubting on Hendricks this year because of his lack of velocity, just know that your concerns are like the square root of -1: imaginary.
Dan Vogelbach (1B, Seattle Mariners)
.429/.535/.914, 4 HR, 8 K, 10 BB (41 at-bats)
Vogelbach is a gigantic man, so even if this whole baseball thing doesn’t work out for him, he’ll always be able to settle for a job as a thug in the Final Fight video game series. That said, he may not have to worry about that anytime soon, as he’s been absolutely crushing it this spring. Vogelbach went 4-for-8 over the weekend with two home runs, and is building a case to begin the year on the Mariners’ roster. Jerry Dipoto has already endorsed him, and with Nelson Cruz on the shelf, it’s looking like he’ll be Seattle’s designated hitter in the early going.
Scott Schebler (OF, Cincinnati Reds)
.515/.553/.939, 3 HR, 8 K, 3 BB, 1 SB (33 at-bats)
I have not made my love for Scott Schebler much of a secret. In fact, I’m currently commissioning a marble sculpture of him to be made for my foyer. Some have doubts about Schebler though. “He’ll never get at-bats with the great Jesse Winker on the roster,” they say. But my faith is unwavering, and my loyalty is true. Also, Schebler has been schmashing this spring, including a 3-for-5 performance over the weekend. Hop aboard the Schebler hype train while there’s still room.
The chances of Kopech cracking the Opening Day roster were already slim, but there was some hope considering the dried husk of James Shields was penciled in for a rotation spot. That hope crumbled into a fine powder and blew off into the ether this past Sunday, when Kopech allowed seven runs (four earned) in just a third of an inning against Oakland. Kopech was coming off an equally disappointing start against the Royals the week prior, when he allowed five earned runs in just over two innings of work. Kopech starting the year in the minors will probably do him and the White Sox’s wallet some good.
Mitch Haniger (OF, Seattle Mariners)
.190/.261/.333, 1 HR, 10 K, 2 BB (21 at-bats)
Haniger was a pretty popular sleeper heading into last year, and he had an encouraging season despite some injuries that cost him a decent chunk of playing time. That said, the jury is still out on what Haniger can do over a full season, and if he can stay healthy. He’s already battled some injuries this spring, and is struggling with making contact in the early going. Safeco Field is built on an ancient Native American burial ground, so a series of fated Mariners injuries has assured Haniger a starting job, but a stronger performance to close out the spring would provide more reason for optimism that a breakout is in store.
Nick Williams (OF, Philadelphia Phillies)
.194/.219/.226, 0 HR, 7 K, 0 BB (24 at-bats)
Williams collected his only two hits of the month over the weekend, ending an 0-for-18 drought. Plate discipline and contact ability have always been an issue for Williams, and even during his solid 2017 showing he posted a .375 BABIP and 28.3% whiff rate, which indicated that he still had some work to do if he was going to have sustained success. Spring has not been kind to Williams so far, and with three other outfielders to compete with for playing time, he might be the odd man out once the season starts.
Tanaka allowed four runs and two homers in just 2.2 innings this past Saturday against Detroit, and is doing very little this spring to quiet concerns about the bloated 1.77 HR/9 he posted in 2017. Optimists tend to point out that Tanaka improved considerably in the second half last year, but he did still give up 12 home runs in only 76 innings over the final months. The whiffs are a great sign, but Tanaka isn’t quite out of the woods yet, especially given that he pitches half his games in the miniature scale model known as Yankee Stadium. He’s definitely a pitcher to keep an eye in his last few spring starts.