Spring Training Stock Watch 3/22: Who’s Rising and Who’s Falling
For the Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners, the regular season is already underway after completing a two-game series in Japan. For the other 28 teams, the start of the season is now just less than a week away, with games beginning in six days. This means that by now, most teams have finally made their decisions on who is making the Opening Day roster, who will be in the starting lineup/rotation, and who will be brought out to pitch the ninth. Generally, these decisions were a result of players having either a really great spring training or a terrible one.
Here are some players whose spring training performances stood out from the rest, whether for good or for bad:
Jung Ho Kang (3B, Pittsburgh Pirates)
.194/.275/.722, 6 HR, 17 K, 3 BB (36 at-bats)
Jung Ho Kang is completely off the radar for most people, having played a combined three games since 2016, thanks to both a variety of injuries and legal trouble. However, he is back and ready for action to start the 2019 season, and he will be the Pirates’ starting third baseman on Opening Day. Kang was very productive in his two real seasons in the big leagues in 2015 and 2016, hitting 15 home runs in 126 games in his rookie season before going off for 21 bombs in just 103 games the following season. He was able to remind us of his power this spring, as he clubbed six home runs, tied with Aaron Judge for the most in baseball. While the 17 strikeouts this spring might be a bit concerning, it can likely be attributed to him shaking off some additional rust from having missed so much time the past couple years. After all, he only struck out 179 times in his 232 career games in the majors. This is a guy who could potentially flirt with 30 home runs this season, and most people probably don’t realize he’s even still in baseball.
1.42 ERA, 0.53 WHIP, 23 K, 2 BB, 2 HR (19.0 innings pitched)
Shane Bieber is having an absolutely dominant spring. For the most part, he has looked completely unhittable, allowing just eight hits in 19 innings. With excellent control, he rarely walks batters, making it that much more difficult for opposing lineups to manufacture runs against him. After a strong rookie season that saw him post a 5.13 K/BB ratio, the 23-year-old looks poised for a breakout season. He’s young, loaded with talent, pitches in a weak division, and is backed by a strong offense. What more could you want from a guy?
2.13 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 20 K, 2 BB, 0 HR (12.2 innings pitched)
Chris Paddack has yet to pitch in a regular season Major League Baseball game. However, if he pitches the same way he has in the minors and now in spring training, he will be a very good major league pitcher. This past year in the minors, Paddack struck out 120 batters while walking just eight for a ridiculous 15 K/BB ratio. After displaying a similar level of success this spring, he seems to have done more than enough to crack the Padres’ starting rotation to start the year. His innings will surely be limited throughout the season, but the 23-year-old could still end up having a very solid rookie campaign.
1.50 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 10 K, 1 BB, 1 HR (12.0 innings pitched)
Over the past couple years, Brad Peacock has been used in just about every way possible by the Astros. He’s started a number of games, come out of the bullpen for both short and long relief, and he’s even gotten a few saves. This year, he seems to have maximized his fantasy value, winning the fifth and final spot in Houston’s starting rotation over Josh James. Part of this decision was thanks to James suffering a quad injury, but Peacock has certainly done enough to deserve the job regardless. After striking out 96 batters in 65 innings this past season, Peacock should have plenty of fantasy relevance pitching behind the Astros’ high-octane offense.
Joc Pederson (OF, Los Angeles Dodgers)
.167/.250/.476, 3 HR, 16 K, 5 BB (42 at-bats)
Joc Pederson has had a pretty typical spring training by his standards, showing some power while hitting for a low average. However, this lackluster spring performance may not be enough to hold off 22-year-old Alex Verdugo from taking his starting spot in the outfield. Now that Pederson is dealing with a back issue, it is entirely possible that Verdugo starts the season as the Dodgers’ starting left fielder. Even when Pederson returns, he may not have much playing time available if Verdugo takes this opportunity and runs with it.
6.23 ERA, 1.85 WHIP, 6 K, 1 BB, 0 HR (4.1 innings pitched)
Archie Bradley entered the spring as the early favorite to be named the Diamondbacks’ closer over Greg Holland and Yoshihisa Hirano. However, he has not pitched well enough to take the job in his limited innings thus far. On top of his subpar performance, he is also dealing with a stiff neck that kept him out of game action for a few days. Meanwhile, Hirano has yet to allow a run this spring and is doing everything in his power to win the job. It is still very possible that Torey Lovullo does decide to name Bradley his closer, but the situation has arguably become less clear as the month has progressed. This is still a situation to watch as the final week of spring training concludes.
8.84 ERA, 1.91 WHIP, 18 K, 8 BB, 6 HR (18.1 innings pitched)
Expected by many to potentially have a breakout season this past year, Lucas Giolito did just the opposite, posting a league-worst 6.13 ERA while giving up an American League-leading 90 walks. Following a season like that, I doubt too many people are intrigued by him this year, but some people might see a potential bounce-back year for the 24-year-old former first-round pick. After this spring, however, it is very clear that he has yet to figure things out on the big-league level. Maybe he will turn things around at some point in the future, but it won’t be this year.
(Photo by Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire)