Spring Training Stock Watch 3/22: Who’s Rising and Who’s Falling
(Photo by Patrick Gorski/Icon Sportswire)
Spring training is a lot like life; it’s long, full of people you don’t know, and ultimately meaningless. But just like life, spring training is punctuated by moments of great joy and unimaginable sorrow, and there’s no telling what each new day may bring. Amen, let’s take a look at some baseball players.
Brandon Belt (1B, San Francisco Giants)
.400/.491/1.224, 3 HR, 8 K, 8 BB (45 at-bats)
Every year, two little Brandon Belts hang out on my shoulders while I draft. This year, the evil Brandon Belt was whispering, “Hey man, career-high ISO last year, big improvement in whiff rate. And have you peeped how much hard contact I make?” And the good Brandon Belt was all like, “Come on, dude, I’m Brandon Belt. You know how this will end.” Belt has gone 5-for-11 with two doubles since Monday and is putting together a really nice spring. But I’ve been fooled by the evil Brandon Belt before.
I got yelled at on Reddit for not mentioning Amir Garrett yet, so I’m including him here more for the sake of my emotional well-being than anything else. Garrett threw four shutout innings this past Sunday, allowing just one hit, and has apparently tweaked his mechanics to get some of his old velocity back; there are reports that he’s been hitting 97 from the left side. He hasn’t thrown more than 26 pitches in any of his outings this spring, which may signify that the Reds intend to use him in the pen. However it is worth noting that he’s thrown 75 of his 91 pitches this spring for strikes, so the lack of pitches may speak more to how economical he’s been. It seems like Garrett, Sal Romano, and Tyler Mahle are all in competition for the final two Cincinnati rotation spots, so Garrett’s next outing may be worth a watch.
Mike Zunino (C, Seattle Mariners)
.389/.463/.833, 5 HR, 11 SO, 4 BB (36 at-bats)
Does Mike Zunino have a nickname yet? Can it be “The Big Zucchini”? Not just because Zunino sounds similar to zucchini, but also because Zunino and zucchini are both green on the outside, underrated, and pair well with pasta. No, I don’t know what I’m talking about either. Zunino exploded this past week, going 8-for-10 with four home runs. Three of those homers came this past Wednesday when he racked up 13 total bases against the Brewers. There’s never been any doubt about the power, it’s really just a question of whether he can keep the strikeouts at a level where they won’t crater his batting average. Those who rolled the dice on The Big Zucchini as their catcher in drafts should be pretty hyped right now.
Leonys Martin (OF, Detroit Tigers)
.327/.389/.571, 3 HR, 11 K, 4 BB, 3 SB (49 at-bats)
The Detroit Tigers roster has been a great source of discovery and wonder for me this year. Every time I look at the team I learn something new. Ron Gardenhire’s their manager? News to me! Leonys Martin still plays baseball? Who knew! In fact, Martin not only still plays baseball, but he’s penciled in as Detroit’s leadoff hitter this year. Martin stole over 30 bases in 2013 and 2014 and flashed a little power in 2016 when he went yard 15 times with the Mariners. 2017 was a lost year for Martin, but considering his good spring, premium lineup spot, and Gardenhire’s remarks about wanting Leonys to be aggressive on the basepaths, Martin may be a great value this year, especially since most people (see: me) have forgotten he exists.
Jeurys Familia (RP, New York Mets)
6.43 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 1K, 3 BB, 2 HR (7 innings pitched)
All of the damage against Familia this spring came in one bad outing against Washington where he gave up five earned runs. That’s easy enough to overlook. It’s harder, however, to look past the lack of strikeouts and the spotty command he’s shown thus far. When Familia returned last season after having a blood clot removed from his shoulder, his control was nowhere to be found, and so far this spring that’s still been the case. He’s being discounted in drafts, but there’s a reason for it–there’s lots of risk here.
Rougned Odor (2B, Texas Rangers)
.167/.245/.229, 0 HR, 16 K, 5 BB, 1 SB (48 at-bats)
Odor stunk last year, and though many were hoping he could sniff out a bounceback this season, his performance this spring hasn’t passed the smell test. Sorry for the puns, I’m a child. In all seriousness, Odor’s strikeout rate has steadily risen over the past three seasons, and last year it came back to bite him big time. He’s still just 24 years old, and a poor spring doesn’t mean much, but it would be nice to see some signs that he’s working on making more contact at some point.
Gonzalez had one of the best seasons of his career last year, though the peripherals suggested a good amount of luck was involved, particularly his 81.6% strand rate and .258 BABIP. This past Wednesday he allowed eight runs (four earned) against Houston, and the lack of strikeouts so far is a bit concerning. Few are expecting a repeat performance from Gio this year, but a stronger outing in his next start would be a sweet medicine for the troubled minds of Gonzalez owners.
Greg Bird (1B, New York Yankees)
.167/.286/.250, 1 HR, 15 K, 7 BB (48 at-bats)
I know Greg Bird is supposed to be amazing, but hear me out: what if he’s not? I know, it’s blasphemy. But that short porch in right field can only smooth over so many warts, and Bird has had a bit of a strikeout issue during both his stints in the majors. Am I overreacting to a small, meaningless sample? Of course. Could he easily overcome the strikeouts by continuing to hit the ball really, really hard? Yes. Is asking yourself questions the best way of making a point? No, not really. Does that mean I’ll stop? Never. Bird hit his first home run of the spring this past Sunday, so perhaps he’s just shaking off the rust.