It’s an annual tradition at this point. With two weeks of Spring Training in the books, the exciting young prospects are mostly cut, the superstars are going through the motions, and most everyone just wants the regular season to get underway. With little else to focus on then, the number of stories focusing on potential breakout performers increases exponentially, most of which are based off a ridiculously impressive, but ridiculously small sample size of Spring Training statistics. Deciphering which ones are for real (think Giancarlo Stanton’s 2010 showing, Evan Longoria in 2008, or even Yasiel Puig just last spring), and identifying the frauds masquerading momentarily at the top of the statistical leaderboards (Jake Fox being the classic example, with Aaron Hicks running him close in 2013) is therefore always a fun game to play in the dog days of March – and something I’ll be engaging in over the weekend. Today, I’ve looked at this Spring Training’s batting leaders (as of 2PM PST at least), in which I found a few names of interest; can any of them actually make much of an impact in the regular season though?
Guess what you guys? Mike Moustakas is hammering Spring Training pitching! The former No. 2 overall draft pick must finally be ready to live up to the promise that led Baseball America to rank him the 9th best prospect in all of baseball! Let’s go Royals!
If only it were as simple as such a #HotSportsTake… Yes, the man known as Moose is crushing right now – leading the Cactus League with 4 home runs and batting .500/.559/1.036 – but the Royals third baseman did exactly the same last spring, not that it led to anything close to a breakout; after smoking 13 extra-base hits on his way to a .394 average (and 16 RBIzzzz), the once-heralded prospect had himself a stinker of a season, struggling to a .233/.287/.364 line – good(?) for not only a 77 OPS+, but a ton of speculation regarding his future with the Royals.
His statistics so far are undeniably a small sample mirage, but there are encouraging signs beyond the numbers. After swallowing his pride and going to Venezuela in order to play under Kansas City’s hitting coach Pedro Grifol at the Cardenales de Lara club, the 25-year old has radically altered his approach; not only has Moustakas widened his batting stance, but according to Royals legend George Brett, has finally realized (after being one of the most shifted-against players last year) that purely being a pull hitter won’t bring him the success necessary to keep his job. As such, he’s made a concerted effort to hit the ball to all fields so far this spring. Perhaps more importantly so far though, the left-hander has an even strikeout to walk ratio, suggesting that maybe in 2014, we’ll finally see a more mature Moustakas flourish. With recent signing Danny Valencia breathing down his neck for playing time should he falter, the Royals’ leash is certainly shorter on Moustakas should he again fail to translate his spring success into regular season production.
Placing not far behind Moustakas in Spring Training OPS (1.257) is a career journeyman by the name of Miguel Cabrera. Horrible by defensive metrics, Cabrera will need to continue eating pitchers for breakfast to stick with Detro… Of course, I’m kidding. Does this guy ever not hit though, like, just for a game or two, strictly for fun, sometime?
Ranked as the No. 23 prospect in the San Diego Padres organization according to the Baseball America Prospect Handbook for 2014, 25-year old Tommy Medica is making a strong case to start the year in the Padres lineup. After hitting .296/.372/.582 with 18 homers in 280 at-bats for Double-A San Antonio in 2013, Medica put up a .290/.380/.449 slash line in his 69 at-bat September cameo with the Padres, and so far hasn’t let up his assault this spring; through 35 at-bats, Medica has crushed at a .429/.459/.686 clip, a performance leading Bleacher Report to dub him the Padres’ “Next Face of the Franchise.” Somewhere out there, Austin Hedges just cussed out the internet.
The fact is that despite all his hitting, the Padres have nowhere to currently play the defensively-fringy Medica; at his preferred first base, there’s already Yonder Alonso, whom barring injury should remain at the position. With Cameron Maybin out, the Padres are experimenting with Medica at a corner outfield spot just to get him in the lineup – despite already having Will Venable, Carlos Quentin, Chris Denorfia and Seth Smith duking it out for the two available spots. Additionally, it will take much more significant time than occasional Spring Training play for the former catcher to adequately adjust to roaming Petco Park’s spacious ground. So while his sustained performance may warrant a space on the San Diego 25 man roster, Medica will likely end up in Triple-A in order to accrue some outfield reps. Frankly, I’d be surprised if he becomes more than a bench player this year – still, not bad for a system’s No. 23 prospect.
Staying in the Cactus League, Colorado have quite the battle on their hands for the outfield spot vacated by Dexter Fowler this past offseason. With Carlos Gonzalez and Michael Cuddyer occupying two of three outfield slots, Brandon Barnes, Drew Stubbs, Charlie Blackmon, and Corey Dickerson are all fighting for the final role – with varying amounts of success.
The favorite for the job, Stubbs, is a known commodity at this point, no matter what his spring .333 average and .391 OBP say; he’s a career .239 hitter, while his on-base percentage continues to barely scrape over .300 year after year – as a long-time Reds fan, I can tell you now the Rockies will be looking to be rid of him by June – leaving the other three contenders.
After being tripped up by the Spring Training hurdle for the last couple of years, Charlie Blackmon has again faltered so far – at least in comparison to his positional competition. Brandon Barnes, acquired from Houston in the Fowler trade, currently ranks 6th in batting average (.414) and can boast a .934 OPS, while Corey Dickerson can point to a similarly impressive .355/.364/.581 slash line. Barnes, who had a 69 OPS+ in a season and change with the Astros is no doubt a fraud. Dickerson’s performance on the other hand, after he hit .371 with an OPS of 1.046 in Colorado Springs last year, should be considered more bonafide than Bonifacio. He might begin the season in the Minors again, but given both Stubbs’ propensity to underwhelm, and the fragility of both CarGo and Cuddyer, could quickly become a fixture at Coors Field. At just 24-years old too, his impressive Spring Training display could actually be indicative of a breakout to come.
In between watching Oregon take on USC, tomorrow I’ll be writing more of the same. Check back soon for more regarding the leading hitters of spring!