(Photo By Daniel Bartel/Icon Sportswire)
Though it lasted just over a month, this year’s spring training was filled with memorable moments that I look back on fondly as I write this. Like, remember that time when Madison Bumgarner and Justin Turner had hands that were still fully intact? Man, those were the days. As spring training draws to a close, let’s take one last look at some good and bad performances and speculate irresponsibly about what they might mean.
The year is 2016. Teenagers aren’t addicted to eating laundry detergent, Tom Petty is still alive, and Miguel Cabrera is still good. It was a simpler, better time in many ways, and Miggy is trying to get back there. This past week he went 8-for-16 with two home runs, and though he was having a strong spring prior, the recent power surge is especially encouraging, as many feared that recurring back and lower body injuries might rob him of that facet of his game as he approaches his 35th birthday. It looks like Cabrera might be rounding into form just as Opening Day approaches.
Baseball made Wilmer Flores cry. Flores has been looking to return the favor ever since, and if you listen closely, every time he swings the bat you can hear him yell, “I’m not crying, baseball, you’re crying!” Flores quietly had a very solid year last season. He had always crushed lefties, but 2017 was the first year he started holding his own against righties as well. He also posted a career-best 35.4% hard contact rate, way up from his previous high of 28.8%. The ghost of Adrian Gonzalez is still haunting first base at Citi Field, but Mets manager Mickey Callaway has already stated he’d like Flores to get at-bats there against lefties and righties, and he could prove to be a nice asset for fantasy owners in deep leagues that need some cheap power.
All Ketel Marte does is hit. I mean that as both a good and bad thing, because he’s hardly flashed any power or speed this spring; he’s just been racking up hits. He went 5-for-10 this past week, and with Steven Souza on the shelf to start the year and Chris Owings likely soaking up those outfield starts, Marte has the second base job all to himself. He’s flashed some speed in the minors, always had good contact ability, and even managed to hit a career-high 11 home runs between the majors and minors last year. If he can carry his hot spring into the regular season, we could see a mini-breakout this year, with modest contributions across the board and dual shortstop/second base eligibility in most leagues.
Oh come on now, Ian Kennedy’s not that bad. He could be useful this year, potentially. He can strike guys out… and stuff. Alright, Ian, that’s all that $20 you slipped me is gonna buy you. In all seriousness, Kennedy has had a pretty good spring, and is just one year removed from being a solid back-end starter. The strikeouts have generally managed to keep him relevant, even when he’s struggled, and in years where he keeps his HR/9 below 1.0 he’s even been, dare I say it, good? In that sense, he’s trending in the right direction, and could be ready to supply another one of his trademark out-of-nowhere serviceable seasons.
Is it possible for a player’s stock to fall if their stock was already so low that it was practically grazing the Earth’s molten core? In drafts Rodney’s like the last guy left after everybody has finished picking teams for dodgeball; nobody actually wants him, but he’s gotta end up somewhere. If you’re the unlucky owner who felt obligated to draft him, his spring performance isn’t going to inspire much confidence in a solid return on your investment. He’s allowed runs in five of his eight appearances, and this past Sunday he allowed three earned runs and two homers in just one inning. He’s a closer in the same sense that a hot dog is a sandwich–only technically.
Edwin Encarnacion (1B/DH, Cleveland Indians)
.180/.241/.300, 2 HR, 21 K, 3 BB (50 at-bats)
Edwin Encarnacion and Nelson Cruz have been pulling the same routine for years now, continuing to put up numbers year in and year out while everyone waits for some sign that their age is finally catching up to them. Maybe Encarnacion will dab on his haters once again this year, but his spring is providing some cause for concern, particularly the 40%+ strikeout rate and lack of walks. Encarnacion did get off to a slow start last year before having himself a vintage season, but spring training isn’t for nuanced analysis, it’s for emotional overreaction, so stay far away from Edwin this year.
Paxton had arguably his best outing of the spring this past Sunday, allowing two earned runs over five innings. Unfortunately, he allowed another two homers, bringing his spring total to five. Health has been the main stumbling block for Paxton to this point, and Scott Servais seemed relieved just to get Paxton through spring training in one piece, but Paxton has been missing his spots quite a bit over the past month. It’s likely nothing to really worry about, but that’s also probably what people think when they experience the first symptoms of a horrible disease.
Davis has been in a deep slump for the past couple weeks, notching just one hit over his last 23 at-bats. Considering how hard Davis hits the ball, and how prone he is to the strikeout, he’s always going to be feast or famine. That said, he shares more than just a name with Chris Davis; their contact rates, hard contact percentages, and strikeout rates have been eerily similar over the past few years. It’s worked out real well for Khris, but not so much Chris. Just your daily reminder that the baseball gods are fickle, and nothing is sacred. Also that the universe probably only allows one (C/K)hris Davis to succeed at a time; which will it be this year?