(Photo by Juan DeLeon/Icon Sportswire)
People say spring training stats are meaningless. People also say fidget spinners are dead, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop trying to fidget spin my way into the hearts and minds of the nation’s youth. Yes, spring training statistics involve small samples from players that are shaking off the rust of a long offseason. Yes, the level of competition players are facing isn’t exactly the best; budding superstars like Tim Tebow and Billy Crystal are oftentimes matched up against players in the low minors who might not ever sniff the big leagues. However, there is useful information to be gleaned from what goes on in spring training. Players on the fringes can often parlay an excellent spring performance into a roster spot, or even a full-time job. And occasionally the reverberations of spring training happenings can be felt well into the season.
Our spring training stock watch will evaluate players like the soulless commodities they are, reviewing performances from the week prior and noting the potential impacts going forward. Mark Weston covered some notable spring performances in his piece yesterday, so let’s take a look at some other players who have seen their stock rise and fall over the first few weeks of spring.
In the first half of 2017, Snell posted a 4.85 ERA, 1.32 K/BB, and 1.21 HR/9. In the second half he became a totally different pitcher, posting a 3.49 ERA, 2.96 K/BB, and 0.93 HR/9. The hope is that Snell can carry those second-half gains over into 2018. The early returns are extremely encouraging, especially in terms of the improved control he’s been displaying. Snell’s stuff was never in question; it was always his ability to consistently throw strikes that held him back. If he keeps this up over the coming weeks, it could be a sign of an impending breakout.
Andujar had himself an excellent year in 2017 in the minors, posting a .315/.352/.498 line with 16 home runs in 522 plate appearances. The question was if he could take that power to the next level, and with four home runs over his first 26 spring at-bats, he’s certainly making the case that he can. The Yankees trading for Brandon Drury, who can play both second base and third base, has essentially pitted Andujar and Gleyber Torres against one another for a starting role with the team. Based on his performance so far, Andujar has the leg up and could return a lot of value hitting in that stacked New York Yankees lineup.
The centerpiece of Pittsburgh’s return in the Gerrit Cole trade, Moran has a clear path to playing time now that he’s finally on a team that isn’t filled with good players. Moran tweaked his entire batting stance last year in the minors, adding a much-needed power element to his game. What was remarkable about the change was that Moran not only more than doubled his ISO, from .109 in 2016 to .235 in 2017, but he did it while actually improving his contact rate. Moran hasn’t flashed any of that newfound power yet this spring, but he’s certainly hitting well enough in the early going. There’s breakout potential here, so he’s a player worth keeping an eye on in the coming weeks.
Like Moran and Andujar, Nimmo is a player who has flashed some interesting tools, finally has an opportunity at the MLB level, and is looking to take that next big step forward. Nimmo’s standout skill last year was a Joey Votto-like 15.3% walk rate over 215 plate appearances with the Mets. The problem was he paired that with hardly any power or speed, and posted a bloated 27.9% strikeout rate. That said, there were some encouraging signs in his peripherals; he sprayed the ball to all fields, hit a ton of line drives, and made hard contact at a 35% clip. The question is if those peripherals can translate to more power in 2018. His two home runs over his first 21 at-bats is a good sign. Nimmo has also been hitting at the top of the order a lot in the early going, signifying that the Mets may be toying with the idea of plugging his elite on-base skills into their leadoff spot. He’s currently penciled in as the strong side of a platoon with Juan Lagares in center field, but he could run away with the job if he proves himself this spring. It’s a longshot, but there’s potential for a deep league sleeper here, especially for those playing in OBP leagues.
Tyler Glasnow? More like Tyler I’ll-pass-now, am I right? Sorry, I’ll work on that one. There’s only so many times you can fall for the “he fixed the kink that was holding him back and will immediately ascend to greatness” storyline. Glasnow attempted to speed up his delivery after a rough early going last season and saw positive results in the minors. He then got immediately destroyed upon returning to the Pirates rotation at the end of the year. A good spring training might have made him an interesting flier, as the tools all appear to be there, but things have gotten off to another bumpy start.
Miles Mikolas had a very successful three-year stint in Japan, and returns stateside coming off arguably his best year with the Yomiuri Giants wherein he posted a 2.25 ERA, 0.984 WHIP, 9.0 K/9, and an incredible 8.13 K/BB ratio. While nobody is expecting him to repeat those numbers with the Cardinals this year, Mikolas has been pegged as a potential sleeper in drafts this season. However, he’s been lit up thus far, and the Cardinals have some initial concerns about the movement on his four-seamer. He’s clearly still tinkering, as all pitchers are wont to do during spring training, but a strong performance right out of the gate would have done a lot to quiet any doubts that his performance in Japan won’t be able to translate to the majors.
I’m one of the few people out there who has argued that Cole Hamels is still capable of putting together a very good season in 2018. So far this spring, Hamels has made me look like a very, very silly boy. To be fair, Hamels has a career spring training ERA of 5.05, so this may be par for the course. However, one year removed from allowing a career-high 36% hard contact rate, it would be nice to see some signs that last year was more of an injury-related lost year than a harbinger of things to come. The “it’s only 6 innings” caveat obviously applies, but Hamels is a pitcher whose performance I’ll be watching closely leading up to Opening Day.
Though he once appeared to be a budding superstar, Soler has all but faded into oblivion over the past few years thanks to his inability to make consistent contact. Still, Ned Yost says Soler will likely accumulate over 500 at-bats between right field and DH, and he only recently turned 26 years old. He’s also in the #bestshapeofhislife, having lost 20 pounds in the offseason, and has been tinkering with his swing. In other words, he’s the walking embodiment of every cliche spring training headline out there. The problem is he’s still whiffing far too much, striking out in over a third of his plate appearances thus far. It’s still very early, and the power and plate discipline so far are encouraging, but it sure would be nice to see some signs that all the supposed swing changes he’s implemented are paying off.