March Madness is in full swing, while the NHL and NBA regular-season games this month take on greater significance in a condensed season. With so much going on, sports fans should be forgiven if they struggled to keep up with the minutiae of Spring Training.
But fear not, because I have summarized the biggest stories you need to know before your draft takes place.
First off, Spring Training stats mostly don’t matter. The sample sizes are too small to be significant, and the varying level of competition is a major factor in players having good or bad springs. If we look back on the last set of full Spring Training data (2019), Jung Ho Kang led the Majors in home runs while Nate Orf and Hunter Pence were among those who were tied for the stolen-base lead. Trevor Bauer and Robbie Ray tied for second in strikeouts before having forgettable campaigns. That being said, there are sometimes valuable statistical nuggets.
Here are a few that I have noticed:
Who's shined, who's stumbled?
· Trevor Rogers is having a nice spring with a 19:4 K:BB ratio and is someone to keep an eye on now that he has locked up Miami’s last rotation spot.
· Even compared to his lofty expectations, Jacob deGrom has been ridiculously good. He has separated from Gerrit Cole and Shane Bieber at the top of pitcher rankings.
· Tigers stud prospect Casey Mize doesn’t look ready (10 walks in 14 innings). He shouldn’t be drafted.
· Ty France is turning plenty of heads (1.211 OPS) and has a starting spot locked up. He posted an eye-popping 1.247 OPS in Triple-A in 2019 and is quickly becoming one of my favorite late-round sleepers.
· For those in deep leagues, Rule 5 draft pick Akil Baddoo is excelling (1.188 OPS) and has the power-speed mix that fantasy managers covet. He should make the Detroit Tigers and could work his way into a significant role.
· Bobby Dalbec looks successful on the surface (1.253 OPS) but has a 6:18 BB:K ratio that suggests he is the same player we previously expected to produce plenty of power but a low batting mark.
· Scott Kingery is looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2020 season but has produced a .455 OPS and failed to beat out Odubel Herrera for the CF job.
· Victor Robles has been hitting well (.944 OPS), stealing bases (four), and getting chances to hit leadoff. Onlookers are excited.
· Josh Rojas has become a popular sleeper. He is hitting well this spring (.929 OPS), has a versatile skill set (23 HR, 33 SB in the Minors in 2019), and could find regular work on a D-backs team that has room at 2B and OF.
There are arguably more unsettled bullpens at this point in March than ever before. Here are the Spring Training developments you should know:
· Mark Melancon looks good on the surface (2.25 ERA) but his 4:5 K:BB ratio is terrible. Drew Pomeranz is battling forearm tightness, leaving Emilio Pagan as possibly the best closer option in San Diego.
· Although most onlookers assumed Joakim Soria would be the D-backs closer, he hasn’t been special in Spring Training and manager Torey Luvollo has yet to name a stopper. Stefan Crichton is a sleeper who I like.
· Richard Rodriguez is being drafted on the expectation of being the Pirates closer, even though Derek Shelton keeps saying he isn’t so sure. Kyle Crick is having a nice spring and could be their guy.
· Hunter Harvey was expected to be Baltimore’s closer but will now miss roughly half the season with an oblique strain. Tanner Scott now belongs atop a muddled picture.
· In Boston, Matt Barnes and Adam Ottavino have both held serve. This one is too close to call.
· In Philly, Hector Neris and Archie Bradley have both put their best foot forward in a wide-open closer competition. Unfortunately, Jose Alvarado and Brandon Kintzler have also fared well, giving manager Joe Girardi even more options.
· Craig Kimbrel isn’t walking everyone, but they are getting on base and coming around to score anyways. The Cubs don’t have any real alternatives, so he will get a chance to work through this. Fantasy managers, however, may want to avoid him.
· Daniel Bard was recently named the Rockies closer — if you enjoy the thrill ride of watching your relievers make half their appearances at Coors Field.
· Sometimes things make too much sense not to happen, and I’m getting that feeling about Jake McGee in San Francisco. He has the best resume in the bullpen and has been great this spring. I think he gets the first save chance.
See You Soon (Injured players)
Injuries are always a big part of Spring Training. The following players should open the season on the IL.
· Eloy Jimenez will miss most or all of the season with a ruptured pectoral tendon.
· Zac Gallen has a hairline stress fracture in his forearm. My best guess is that he returns in June.
· George Springer is battling an oblique injury. The Blue Jays are being optimistic, but the typical timeline for this injury would result in a season-opening IL stint.
· Sticking with the Blue Jays, Kirby Yates will miss the entire season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Jordan Romano is now a top-15 reliever and Rafael Dolis may also get save chances.
· Rays reliever Nick Anderson will miss at least half the season with an elbow injury, which takes one name out of the hat when they randomly choose a closer each game.
· Kole Calhoun underwent knee surgery in early March. He is taking batting practice and hopes to be back by the end of April.
· A back injury will keep Sonny Gray from taking his first rotation turn, but he should be active by mid-April.
· Framber Valdez suffered a fractured ring finger that was initially feared to be season-ending. But surgery is now not recommended and he should be back in May or June.
· Carlos Carrasco is recovering from a hamstring strain and will likely make his Mets debut in May.
· Austin Nola is dealing with a fractured finger and will likely open the season with a brief IL stint.
· The Cardinals rotation depth will be tested, as Miles Mikolas (shoulder) and Kwang Hyun Kim (back) are uncertain for the first rotation turn.
· Coveted Blue Jays prospect Nate Pearson is dealing with a groin injury and will open the season on the IL.
Well, I think that covers the biggest topics. Best of luck with your last-minute drafts, Opening Day will be here before we know it!