The unfortunate hiatus imposed on many facets of life (baseball and otherwise) by the coronavirus outbreak can lead stat-nerds to analyze numbers anywhere they can find them -- even in the one place everyone knows not to look: Spring Training.
The notion that Spring Training stats are meaningless doesn’t need much explanation. Last year, Robinson Canó captured the spring “batting title” in his first month as a Met, and then he struggled to his worst season in more than a decade.
But, when placed in the proper context, maybe spring performances can carry at least an ounce of significance. Last year at this time, this author picked nine noteworthy stat lines from camp and, despite all odds, many of those players went on to make a mark in 2019. So, while it remains unknown when games will start again, it’s time to give this another shot. Here are the stat lines that are hard to ignore from Cactus and Grapefruit League action.
Franmil Reyes, Indians
Spring line: .444/.483/1.148, 5 HRs, 4 2B in 27 AB
Reyes’ power is no longer hiding in the rough after a 37-homer 2019, but Indians fans probably wanted more than the 10 homers and .468 slugging he put up over his final two months in Cleveland. This is a guy who put up elite numbers in average exit velocity and hard-hit rate last year, and someone who could win a homer crown in the very near future. That guy certainly showed up to camp, and he could be a difference-maker for an Indians team looking to take back the American League Central.
Bo Bichette, Blue Jays
Spring line: .290/.371/.774, 4 HRs, 1 2B and 1 3B in 31 AB
Remember when Bichette came up to the Majors last August and did nothing but crush extra-base hits? Well, Bichette did his best this spring to show that was far from a fluke. We know that power runs in the family; Bichette’s father, Dante, clubbed 274 homers in the big leagues. And Bo’s 43.5% hard-hit rate, if carried over a full season, would have put him around the 75th percentile of full-time hitters in 2019. Plenty of optimism remains for Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in Year 2, but sleep on Bichette at your own risk.
Jesus Luzardo, Athletics
Spring line: 1.08 ERA, 13 K's and 1 BB in 8.1 IP
Blazing heat, filthy secondary pitches and overflowing confidence were on display in each of Luzardo’s three dominant spring outings, merely continuing the promise Oakland’s top prospect (and MLB’s No. 12 overall prospect) showed when he was called up last September. At 22, Luzardo looks more than capable of battling big league lineups -- and overwhelming them on days when he has everything going. Fellow lefty A.J. Puk looked just as impressive before he strained his shoulder.
Dylan Carlson, Cardinals
Spring line: .313/.436/.469, 6 BB in 32 AB
The 21-year-old Carlson has long been way ahead of the curve in terms of his age, and that was true again this spring when St. Louis’ top prospect (MLB’s No. 17 overall) stepped in against Major League pitching. Carlson reached base in eight straight plate appearances at one point and ran the bases well too, showing off the all-around game that netted him the Double-A Texas League’s MVP Award last year at age 20. The Cardinals have a ton of players battling for outfield spots, but it might be hard for St. Louis to keep Carlson in the Minors much longer.
Eduardo Rodriguez, Red Sox
Spring line: 1.64 ERA, 20 K's and 1 BB in 11 IP
One of Red Sox fans’ last Spring Training memories was Rodriguez punching out 10 Rays on the day interim manager Ron Roenicke all but announced him as Boston’s Opening Day starter. Rodriguez already “broke out” last year, when he went 19-6, struck out 213 hitters and finished sixth in AL Cy Young Award voting. But with Chris Sale out for the season, the Red Sox sure could use Rodriguez pitching like an ace. Cutting down walks the way he did in camp could be one of the final pieces for E-Rod; he issued 75 free bags in 2019, the most in the AL.
Dylan Bundy, Angels
Spring line: 1.59 ERA, 16 K's and 1 BB in 11.1 IP
It’s no secret that the Angels’ rotation has to improve for them to contend. That’s what makes the strong spring submitted by Bundy, their offseason acquisition, notable. Bundy has always had swing-and-miss stuff, but homers hurt him, along with the rest of the Orioles’ staff, over the past two seasons. He focused on command alongside new pitching coach Mickey Callaway this spring, and he coughed up just one dinger across 39 batters faced.
Kyle Wright, Braves
Spring line: 2.03 ERA, 0.75 WHIP in 13.1 IP
Maybe Atlanta’s No. 4 prospect (MLB’s No. 52) and fifth overall pick from the 2017 MLB Draft is ready to cash in on all that promise. The command issues that plagued Wright in his first tastes of the big leagues were erased this spring, and his stuff was jumping out of his hand.
“He's more ready for this fight than he was a year ago," manager Brian Snitker told reporters. While Cole Hamels and the resurgent Félix Hernández might stand in the way of Wright capturing the Braves’ fifth rotation spot, this could be the year he starts making an impact at the Major League level.
J.A. Happ, Yankees
Spring line: 1.38 ERA, 16 K's and 1 BB in 13 IP
Happ was the subject of winter trade rumors after a tough 2019, but the Yankees need quality innings from him now that Luis Severino is out for the year. The veteran Happ spent the offseason retooling the way his body rotates toward home plate, as reported by The Athletic’s Lindsey Adler (subscription required), and his adjustments already appeared to add more zip and ride to the fastball -- a big deal for a heater-heavy pitcher like Happ.
Honorable mention goes here to two of Happ’s potential rotation-mates -- Jonathan Loaisiga (0.40 WHIP, 14/1 K/BB rate) and Jordan Montgomery (14/1 K/BB rate in 11 IP) for looking equally impressive in camp.
Chris Davis, Orioles
Spring line: .467/.615/1.067, 3 HRs, 3 K's in 15 AB
Can Davis actually carry this into the regular season? Who knows, but Crush deserves mention here as the feel-good story of early camp. Davis nearly retired this winter after he couldn’t buy a hit over the past two years, and then just about everything found grass -- or outfield seats -- in Sarasota this spring. The Orioles don’t figure to contend in 2020, but Davis would be a major storyline if he suddenly gets back to clubbing dingers.