Spring Training is a weird place to look for anything meaningful in baseball. Sure, guys like Brett Gardner, Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran will face opposing pitchers and technically follow the rules of the game but so much of spring training is based around repetition and practice than actual competition.
Here is an easy to follow guide as to what matters and what’s more about enjoying slightly less expensive baseball in March with a chance to watch future potential stars:
Focus on Things Like:
- The younger guys. When a scout says something like they did on Sunday in that Julio Mateo has “a rare skill set” and raves about his reaction time, arm strength, footwork and speed, it’s worth noting. Will it translate to Mateo advancing into AA and AAA and eventually translating his skills into a Lorenzo Cain type of player in the majors? That remains to be seen.
- Who is pitching and when. This is especially important towards the end of spring. Joe Girardi would never admit it but if Ivan Nova is removed from the spring rotation and Masahiro Tanaka is lined up for Opening Day, he’s probably indicating two very important pieces of information.
- How long a prospect remains on the roster. Aaron Judge is likely staying throughout the entire spring because he’s tapping on the door of the majors. But guys in A ball who stay longer are probably being kept up for a specific reason. Look for Mateo and James Kaprielian to be those guys this spring.
- The radar gun. Especially with older pitchers. Pitchers don’t usually mail it in with their velocity and there is no switch from late March to early April. We’ve seen enough Michael Pineda, Tanaka and Sabathia performances in the spring to know sometimes if a pitcher lacks velocity in spring, it may not return in the summer.
- Pitch selection. A lot of spring training isn’t about results, it’s about comfort. Nathan Eovaldi feeling like he’s in mid summer form isn’t as vital as whether or not he’s locating his split finger pitch. That’s the pitch that essentially lowered his ERA by two runs per game the second half of his season in 2015.
- Health. Gardner and Tanaka are already behind, Eovaldi is taking a couple of days off with a slight strain in his groin. Ivan Nova looks great early, Slade Heathcott is on the field, but Mason Williams won’t be. Seeing where these guys end up in a few weeks health-wise could determine final roster spots, early season trades and potentially how the team will perform to start the year.
- Defense. How Castro and Rob Refsnyder look at third base or in the outfield or at second base will go a long way to a person like Joe Girardi when it comes time to assemble his depth and make his roster selections.
Ignore Things Like:
- Statistics. A lot of guys are getting comfortable seeing pitches, testing the strike zone, or paying particular attention to defense. Starlin Castro might struggle offensively this spring because he’s trying to learn second and third. Chase Headley might be focusing heavily on his footwork at third. Spring is a time to compartmentalize and in most cases, not worry about the stats.
- Anecdotes. Yes, Michael Pineda may look great, Mark Teixeira may have cut yet another “bad” nutrient out of his diet, Alex Rodriguez may feel more at peace and Sabathia may feel like his weight is where he wants it…But ultimately, a lot of these things are optimistic thinking, temporary or have no correlation to on field results. Pay attention to performance and repetition and not audio bytes.
- Game results. Maybe the least consequential thing of all. Teams put in their “fringe” players at different times, use multiple starters who otherwise would never act as “relievers” and sometimes even use split squads. The outcome of the game, when it doesn’t end in a tie, still doesn’t matter.
- Players you’ve never heard of putting on a show. A few years ago Bronson Sardinha stole spring with amazing statistics. He never made it to the majors for the Yankees. Last year, Ramon Flores and Stephen Drew were second and third in RBI. This year, neither one is with the organization. Two years ago Adonis Garcia lead the team in OBP with more than one at bat. He plays for the Braves in a rebuilding effort now. Don’t put too much stock in spring training heroes.
- Players taking time off. Especially older ones. Players will start later than others, may miss extended time for something mundane or may not play back to back days. Mariano Rivera was famous for this. If a younger player gets hurt it could impact his stability, but if Beltran or A-Rod miss time because they felt “sore”, don’t put too much stock into its long term repercussions.