Interesting Spring Performances, Part Two: The AL

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 AL crew:

Brian Roberts, Bal: Well, well, look who?s healthy and playing for a change. Roberts? .313/.377/.458 line is nice, but the more important number is the 48 at-bats he?s been on the field for. Of course he put together an almost identical line in the spring of 2011 (.359/.435/.538 in 39 at-bats) and that turned into yet another lost regular season, so don?t get your hopes too high. Still, second base is thin enough (especially in AL-only leagues) that Roberts might just be your best endgame upside play.

Jackie Bradley, Bos: BREAKING! MUST CREDIT! News flash: Jackie Bradley is having a pretty good spring. .444/.523/.667 is impressive for a kid with half a season of Double-A under his belt, but the 8:8 BB:K ratio is also outstanding. The Red Sox are currently looking for a plausible excuse to send him to Triple-A but the best they?ve been able to come up with are Jonny Gomes and Ryan Sweeney, and nobody in Boston is gonna buy that for long. Arbitration concerns might delay Bradley?s debut for a bit, but he looks he?ll be patrolling the Monster and hitting near the top of the Sox lineup for the foreseeable future.

Allen Webster, Bos: Picked up from the Dodgers in the Great Salary Dump of Oh-Twelve, Webster showed an improved K rate at Double-A last year and carried that over into the spring, popping a 14:1 K:BB ratio in 11 innings. The Red Sox don't have a lot of obvious openings on their pitching staff but also don?t have a lot of reinforcements in the system, so while Webster will probably have to bide his time at Triple-A if and when injuries hit the staff he could be the first guy to get a call.

Simon Castro, Chi: The former Padres farmhand got jettisoned to the White Sox a couple of years ago, and has only a half-decent half-season at Double-A since to retain even a shred of prospect status. He got a little look in camp this year and actually pitched really well though, racking up a 9:1 K:BB ratio in seven innings, and the Chicago cupboard is basically empty when it comes to high minors arms. If Castro shows anything at all this season, he could be the first guy called up to fill a rotation hole simply by default, and as every Simpsons fan knows default is the two sweetest words in the English language.

Jeff Keppinger, Chi: Now, Keppinger is barely more interesting than Mark DeRosa as a ballplayer, it's true, but what he's got that DeRosa doesn't have is a boda fide starting gig. Brent Morel flamed out again and Conor Gillaspie didn't show a whole lot either, which makes Keppinger, his .462/.543/.590 spring line and his ridiculous 7:0 BB:K ratio the last man standing for the ChiSox at the hot corner. He won't do a whole lot at the plate, but he should hit for a good average and score some runs, and might even pop for double digit home runs with US Cellular as his home park.

Lonnie Chisenhall, Cle: Remember when young Lonnie was a shiny 21-year-old holding his head high at Double-A? Good times. He's now just another guy with 400 mediocre major league at-bats under his belt, but after slapping around spring pitching to the tune of .412/.475/.725 with a 7:8 BB:K ratio he might finally be ready to show what he can really do. Or he might be Gordon Beckham's unsightly third base doppelganger and never live up to expectations. How much is it going to cost you to find out?

Scott Kazmir, Cle: No, seriously. Stop laughing. I fully realize that it's been five years since Kazmir put up useful fantasy numbers. Five years! What a surprise. Five years of injuries and wildness and drinking milkshakes cold and long and cops kneeling and kissing the feet of priests... wait, went off on a Bowie tangent there. Sorry. Anyway, Kazmir killed it this spring, posting a 13:1 K:BB ratio in 13 innings. One walk! One! That in itself in an awesome achievement for Kazmir, even if it doesn't actually count for squadoosh. Look, the Indians know that it's a crazy long shot for him to keep it up, but if he flames out they'll just cut him loose and call up somebody younger (although not much younger, he isn't even 30 yet), and Kazmir will think of ma and want to get back there... sorry. My brain hurts a lot.

Rick Porcello, Det: I have to admit, I don't know what to make of this one at all. Heading into the season I swore that no matter what, I'd have nothing to do with Porcello. A groundball pitcher in front of that Tigers infield defense... no thanks. Then he goes out and ditches his crappy slider, replacing it with the curveball he stopped using in the minors back when he was a hotshot prospect who never struck out as many batters as people expected, and all hell breaks loose. A 21:0 K:BB in 24 innings suddenly gives hope that maybe he won't be relying on the four butchers behind him quite so much because he's finally found that out pitch he lacked. I'm still not going to touch him unless it's as a fungible and easily cuttable reserve pick, but at least he's forced me to think twice about dismissing him, which is a major accomplishment.

BONUS! Brayan Villarreal, Det: The following players routinely come up in discussions of the Tigers closer situation: Bruce Rondon, Al Alburquerque, Phil Coke, and Joaquin Benoit. Guess who's name doesn't come up? Brayan Villarreal. Guess who had arguably the best statistical spring of the five of them? Brayan Villarreal, he of the 14:3 K:BB ratio in 12 innings. To be fair, none of them did badly, and all of them (except for Coke) struck out better than a batter an inning, so he wasn't head and shoulders better than the rest. It's still kind of cruel to ignore him though. I mean, Phil Coke? He's gotta be a better late round closer dart than Phil Coke, right?

Jason Castro, Hou: Hitting well in the spring and getting everyone all hot and bothered over his offensive potential isn't Castro's problem. His .342/.405/.789 line, with five homers in 38 at-bats, is just a couple of desert long balls better than last year's .364/.383/.477 line. No, Castro's problem is staying healthy once the regular season begins and carrying that spring momentum forward. Will he pull it off this year? Do the Astros have any choice but to let him try?

Mike Moustakas, KC: Man, does anybody in the AL have an established third baseman? (Offer void in Detroit, Arlington and Tampa). Moustakas got pushed through the minors pretty quickly by the Royals and has paid for it at the major league level the last two years, but a .419/.455/.726 spring line gives some hope that he might finally be getting the hang of things. He's young, he's hip, he's got upside, and he's not Jeff Keppinger or Mark DeRosa. I'm sold.

Darin Mastroianni, Min: Yeah, I know, Aaron Hicks and his .379/.419/.682 line are the new hotness, as he's already been named the starter and is all prospecty and actually put together a solid season at Double-A in 2012 after years of being all projection and no cattle, or whatever. He's also struck out 15 times (against six walks) in 66 spring at-bats and, late bloomer or no, I just don't trust him to have suddenly put it all together. Enter Mastroianni and his own solid .324/.372/.459 spring, with seven steals in eight tries. If Hicks falters badly enough to get demoted, Mastroianni falls into a boatload of playing time. For that matter, if Chris Parmalee doesn't show much in right field, Mastroianni might fall into that boat anyway. Plus, after Denard Span and Ben Revere, he's a much better fit for the Twins' littler ball heritage. My gut says to zag while everyone else zigs here, which means Hicks will probably go all poor man's Mike Trout on us (which would be, what, Ray Lankford? Cesar Cedeno?), but if you don't trust your gut you might as well just go home.

David Aardsma, NY: This time next year, some poor sucker is going to get stuck trying to fill the biggest closer cleats of all time. It's been widely assumed that David Robertson will be that sucker but Robertson had his chance to take over as the lead horse in the bullpen last year and spit the bit, allowing Rafael Soriano to seize the job, not suck at it and then make tons of money in free agency. Aardsma, on the other hand, was a pretty good closer for the Mariners before undergoing Tommy John surgery, and quietly has a 7:1 K:BB ratio in seven innings this spring. If it comes to betting on who the Yankees hand the ball to in 2014's ninth innings... well, I'm probably betting they throw money at a free agent. But if they don't, I'm picking the guy with 69 career saves over the guy with five.

Eric Sogard, Oak: So the A's trade for one brittle middle infielder with some pop in Jed Lowrie, sign another middle infielder from Japan in Hiroyuki Nakajima, and who goes out and tears it up in spring training? Little Eric Sogard, whose .500/.558/.739 line in 46 at-bats with twice as many walks as strikeouts (6:3) is kind of hard to ignore. The club really wants to make Scott Sizemore their starter at second base, but he's basically sucked this spring and it's not like Sogard hasn't hit in the minors (his worst batting average since 2008 is .294). In fact, he's the OBP threat at the top of the lineup that Coco Crisp will never be. If only the A's were a club that recognized the value of getting on base... oh, wait.

Brandon Maurer, Sea: The Mariners' pitching depth chart is crawling with uber-prospects, so it stands to reason that the guy you've never heard of is the one to win a rotation spot this spring. Maurer bounced back from a couple of injury-plagued years to make 24 effective starts at Double-A in 2012, and then posted a 22:6 K:BB ratio in 20 spring innings. Will he be as good as Taijuan Walker or Danny Hultzen in the long run? Probably not. Does that matter at your draft table this year? Nope.

Leslie Anderson, TB: Anderson is never going to be a great first baseman. He's basically the Cuban Mark Grace, making solid, regular contact with a bit of power, as his career .297/.337/.430 line over two-plus Triple-A seasons attests. I want to make this very clear: he's not a future superstar. But in the name of all that is good and holy, the Rays are opening the season with James Loney at the top of their depth chart at first. James Loney! Anderson hit .396/.420/.583 this spring. His spring SLG is more than double Loney's. I don't care how slick Loney's glove is, this is a travesty. To think he escaped an oppressive island regime just to be buried behind James Loney... it makes me ill. Call The Hague! Have Springsteen stage a benefit show! Free Leslie Anderson! Free Leslie Anderson!


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