Interesting Spring Performances, Part One: The NL

As spring training ambles nonchalantly towards the finish line, it's always fun to take a look at spring stats to see who really jumps off the page and might be making some kind of statement or other.

Now this being spring training, caveats abound. The sample sizes are tiny. The quality of competition, defense and field conditions are erratic at best. More often than not pitchers aren't particularly trying to get anybody out. And did I mention the sample sizes are tiny? But even with all that, it's human nature to try and tease some kind of signal out of all that noise, so what the hell. If a club has an opening, or a plausible path to an opening, then a big spring can allow an otherwise unheralded player to seize a role. And every once in a blue moon some guy comes along and puts up ridiculous numbers and turns out to be Albert Pujols and not all the other guys who put up ridiculous spring training numbers in 2001.

Since there are 15 players in each league now, I've sifted through and listed 30 interesting players (15 AL, 15 NL) who did interesting things this spring. Note that I said 'interesting'. Clayton Kershaw striking out a lot of guys is not interesting, it's expected. And fascist (contractually required Bull Durham joke - check). Mark DeRosa is not interesting as a fantasy player no matter how well he's hitting, although I'm sure that doesn't reflect on him as a person. Also note that I didn't pick one player per team, because some clubs had excruciatingly boring spring trainings (coughCubscough).

Here's the NL crew:

Adam Eaton, Ari: Poor, poor Adam Eaton. He goes out and hits .390/.403/.542, becomes everybody's trendy darling, shoots up draft boards and then hurts his elbow to sideline him for at least the first month of the season. For the record, though, there were indications he wasn't going to set the world on fire even if he hadn't gotten hurt. One walk in 59 spring at-bats isn't exactly leadoff material, nor is three steals in seven tries. If you were hell-bent on landing him, the injury might be a blessing in disguise.

Evan Gattis, Atl: If you don't know who Evan Gattis is, he's basically the Kwai Chang Caine of baseball. He gave up a college scholarship to try and get his head straight, went to junior college and injured his knee, then quit the game and wandered the west trying to find himself and probably solving crimes or something. He finally picked up a bat again in 2010 and this time it stuck, and he got drafted by the Braves and tore it up in the minors last year. He's still tearing it up, hitting .388/.404/.796 this spring, and with Brian McCann starting the season the shelf he might win a bench spot as a backup catcher and utility masher (a role that might become more common in the NL now that interleague play is scattered all across the schedule). Yeah, the zero walks and 13 K's aren't good, but if you aren't rooting for him to make the club (and/or his life story to become a Ryan Gosling vehicle) then you just have no soul at all, no sirree.

Julio Teheran, Atl: 35 strikeouts against nine walks in 26 spring innings. That, folks, is how you force your way into a major league rotation. Teheran was the Braves' best pitching prospect headed into last year but had a bumpy ride which, after the fact, got attributed to mechanical issues which he's since cleared up. He's done nothing this spring to prove that theory wrong, and with a spot open thanks to Brandon Beachy's Tommy John surgery Teheran has stepped up big-time. He might falter again of course, but he also might win Rookie of the Year.

Devin Mesoraco, Cin: Ah, the life of a youngster under the baleful eye of Dusty Baker. Mesoraco got his first crack at the majors last year and struggled, but he struggled in his first look at Triple-A in 2010 as well and that turned out pretty well the following year. His .406/.472/.688 line this spring, as well as a strong 2:3 BB:K ratio in 32 at-bats, hints that 2013 might turn out pretty well too, except that the Reds went out and got Miguel Olivo to caddy for the reliably vanilla Ryan Hanigan in case Dusty decides he don't trust no damn kids behind the damn plate. Mesoraco should probably still beat out Olivo for a roster spot but unless he hits like Johnny Bench right out of the gate (or, better, wears a Bench retro jersey to try and fool Dusty) playing time could be hard to come by. Still, as an upside play in deep two-catchers leagues, he's probably one of your best bets.

Rex Brothers, Col: His name makes him sound like the chief surgeon on a hospital-themed soap opera ("Rex, I'm having your baby!"), but he's actually a former first round pick and the duly annointed Rockies Closer of the Future. Rafael Betancourt is their Closer of the Right This Second, but hands up anyone who thinks a) Betancourt will stay healthy all year, b) Betancourt will stay effective all year, and c) Betancourt won't get dealt for something vaguely prospect-like at the deadline if the a) and b) parlays come through. Brothers' 11:2 K:BB ratio in seven spring innings (to go along with a 0.00 ERA and just five hits and two walks allowed) just reinforce that he's ready for the job, and really the only thing that might stop him from getting the closer gig in Betancourt's absence is that the Rockies might try Matt Belisle instead.

Yasiel Puig, LA: Suddenly Yoenis Cespedes doesn't look so special, does he? The 21-year-old Puig fled Cuba, signed a big deal with the Dodgers, didn't look out of place in High-A at the end of last year and was assumed to be ticketed for Double-A this season. Then he goes out and hits .527/.509/.855 in his first spring training, and the Dodgers secretly start hoping maybe Carl Crawford doesn't recover so quick after all. Alas, Crawford's elbow looks like he'll be fine for Opening Day, and with three pricey, veteran outfielders on the roster El Naturale will probably have to bide his time in the minors before getting a chance to show what he's really made of. That OBP is no typo, by the way. Puig's got a 0:10 BB:K ratio in 55 spring at-bats, which is fine when you're putting up video game numbers every time you swing the bat but might be a bit of a problem over the long haul. Then again his plate discipline wasn't an issue in the minors last year, so maybe this is more a case of a player seeing beachballs than something Puig needs to work on a lot.

A.J. Ramos, Mia: Steve Cishek is the closer for the Marlins and has been plenty effective the last couple of years, but in Miami being effective just paints a big trade bullseye on your back. Ramos is actually a year older than Cishek but is just now getting to the majors after striking out everything in sight the last couple of years at High-A and Double-A. His 11:0 K:BB ratio in eight spring innings is more of the same, and if Cishek for whatever reason ends up out of the saves picture then Ramos seems like the kind of high octane arm to become the Marlins' next tradable asset. Umm, I mean closer.

Christian Yelich, Mia: While the Marlins sort out a bunch of fringy riff-raff to man their non-Stanton outfield spots, their top hitting prospect scorched the spring to the tune of .364/.451/.818 and an impressive 6:7 BB:K ratio. Another organization worried about quaint, antiquated notions like fan loyalty and winning ballgames might think about giving Yelich a job this April, but since he was only in High-A last year the club will send him to Double-A and wait long enough before calling him up to save a year on his arbitration clock. Assuming they don't just wait until mid-season 2014, of course.

BONUS PLAYER! Speaking of Giancarlo Stanton, he's hitting .379/.472/.655. That's not the interesting part though; it's his 6:2 BB:K ratio in 29 at-bats, and 10:5 ratio in 46 at-bats including his work in the WBC, that gets you wondering what kind of numbers he might put up if his strikeouts drop into the double digits...

Khris Davis, Mil: The Brewers' attrition at first base has left them looking at giving the position to Alex Gonzalez because, hey, moving an aging shortstop to first base worked with Ernie Banks that one time, right? It's a terrible idea, but until Corey Hart gets healthy the team didn't really see any other options. Davis, who's yet another bat-first Brewers prospect, hit .294/.345/.667 in 51 at-bats with six home runs and did his best to give them that other option. He might still end up back in Triple-A to begin the season, and Hart should be back sometime in May anyway, but if Davis does win a bench spot and Gonzalez shockingly proves not to be the answer at first base there could be an opening for the kid.

Matt Harvey, NYM: Harvey's hardly a secret, which makes him somewhat less interesting, but racking up a 29:7 K:BB ratio in 23.1 spring innings the first time you know you have a job locked up does wonders for cementing your status as the next big thing. If you miss out on one of the big seven elite starters, Harvey's a very nice consolation prize.

Domonic Brown, Phi: He's basically had a full season worth of at-bats over three seasons now with disappointing results, but busting out for a .368/.429/.671 spring and launching seven home runs in 76 at-bats nicely fans those last dying embers of his prospect status. Plus, having Delmon Young as your main competition for playing time pretty much guarantees that you'll get a chance at some point to run with a starting job. Brown might just be a late bloomer, or he might never meet the expectations created by his minor league performance, but either way it's still fairly cheap to find out if this is the year he finally does something useful.

Jonathan Galvez, SD: Everyone knows the story by now. The Padres need a second baseman, so in comes one of their top prospects to hit the cover off the ball this spring and seize the job... wait, no, that was Jedd Gyorko, and his .283/.306/.517 line is actually kind of limp next to Galvez's .375/.409/.550 performance. So why is Gyorko breaking camp as a starter while Galvez has to go ride buses some more? Well, Gyorko's already proven himself against Triple-A pitching while Galvez had some injury issues that cut into his counting stats at Double-A last year (although his slash line was still solid). If Chase Headley's own injuries force Gyorko back over to third base though, and Galvez continues hitting well in the minors, the Padres might find themselves with two rookies on their infield this season.

Brandon Belt, SF: Pretty much everything I said about Domonic Brown applies to Belt, except that he actually hit OK in the majors last year, has even less competition for playing time than Brown does, and his .433/.460/.900 (yes, NINE HUNDRED) spring line is even more impressive. Heck, he's hit as many home runs this spring as he did in the entire 2012 regular season. Brown might be the mayor of Posthypesleeperville, but Belt is the governor of the state of New Posthypesleepershire. I mean, what are the Giants going to do to deny him a starting spot this year, trade for Justin Morneau? Wait, I probably shouldn't give Brian Sabean ideas. Scratch that.

Michael Wacha, StL: Wacha seems to be good at this pitching thing. 40:4 K:BB ratio in 21 innings across three levels in his pro debut last year, then 15:1 in 11.2 spring innings, is about as dominant as you can get. The Cardinals haven't yet decided whether they want him in the rotation or bullpen long-term, but between Jason Motte's suddenly-balky elbow and an unsettled fifth starter spot there could be plenty of openings for St. Louis' latest high-K wunderkind. Plus his name sounds like the noise you make when you're flailing in the air after watching a really cool martial arts flick, which has to count for something.

Anthony Rendon, Was: Rendon pounded out a .375/.412/.875 line in 32 at-bats during stints of not being on the DL this spring, and assuming he can keep that up (the not being on the DL part, I mean) he'll probably force the Nationals to figure out a way to add him to the lineup much as they did with Bryce Harper last year. It may not be that hard, actually. Denard Span has his own history of failing to stay healthy to fall back on, and Danny Espinosa's left shoulder could cause him problems all year. This could be one of those problems that has a way of resolving itself.


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