10 biggest surprises of Spring Training

March 24th, 2018

We turn now to things we didn't see coming this spring, which is one of the best things about Spring Training. These come in all shapes and sizes, from teams we think will be good and those we're certain will be good.
As for these surprises carrying over into the regular season, well, stay tuned. Here now are 10 things we didn't see coming:
1. The Giants were baseball's second-worst offense in 2017. They've been its second best this spring.
Only the Indians have scored more runs. Only the Royals have a higher slugging percentage. While it's impossible to know how much of this spring success will spill into the regular season, it's the start the Giants hoped for. First baseman has had a tremendous spring, and rookie center fielder has opened eyes. Right fielder appears to be capable of a dramatic bounceback.

2. The Braves may have pieced together a solid rotation.
While the play of kid center fielder has given Braves fans a welcome dose of optimism, almost as encouraging this spring has been a rotation that has baseball's second-best ERA (3.24) this spring. Right-hander has pitched like a true ace, while young starters Mike Foltynewicz and have been excellent. Veteran , acquired from the Dodgers, has added quality depth.

3. has reinvented himself as a super-utility player for the Red Sox.
Swihart began Spring Training buried on the catching depth chart, out of options and a long-shot to even make the team. Instead of accepting that fate, he has convinced new Red Sox manager Alex Cora that he can play all over the place, which Swihart has done -- catcher, first base, third base and left field. His 10 extra-base hits and .846 OPS seem to have locked up a spot on the Opening Day roster.

4. Mariners lefty looks exactly like the ace the Cardinals once projected him to be.
Gonzales is finally healthy after pitching in just 12 Major League games the past three seasons. As he told reporters this spring, "I don't think I've seen the real me yet." Maybe we're seeing that Gonzales during a spring in which he has allowed four earned runs in six starts (21 1/3 innings). Gonzales is Seattle's No. 4 starter, but he could be a difference-maker in the M's quest to close the gap on the Astros in the American League West.

5. Detroit's is 39, but he's playing like he's 29.
Some wondered if the Tigers would even bring Martinez back regardless of the $18 million he'll make this season. That tells you how bad last season went. But he poured himself into a grueling offseason conditioning program, and finally healthy, he has had a tremendous spring: three doubles, five homers, .987 OPS.

6. seems to be forcing the Reds to find a spot for him in their rotation.
If the Reds have five starters better than this 23-year-old right-hander, they're in great shape. Mahle wasn't penciled into manager Bryan Price's projected rotation, but he has made a nice case for himself this spring: 0.66 WHIP, 2.75 ERA and no home runs allowed in 19 2/3 innings. He's a true power arm with a 94 mph fastball and 84 mph slider.

7. Kansas City's is starting to look like the player he was long ago projected to be.
Soler is a reminder that young players -- even young stars -- don't come with timetables or guarantees. It's hard to remember there was a time when the Cubs thought he'd be an overnight sensation. Soler is 26 now, and if the Royals were ever inclined to give up on him, he has convinced them otherwise with a spring in which he has homered six times, stole two bases and compiled a .937 OPS.

8. The Orioles might just have a competitive rotation after all.
Dan Duquette showed again why he's so good at his job. To add three veteran starters -- , Chris Tillman and Alex Cobb -- since the start of Spring Training is a tribute to a veteran baseball man with a relentless work ethic and a creative mind. This is still no sure thing. and need to make progress, and Tillman is coming off a tough season. But a rotation that once looked like a disaster has a chance to be competitive in the AL East.

9. has had an excellent spring, and that's good for the Cardinals and for all of baseball.
This spring has offered hope that the 36-year-old right-hander can still pitch at a high level after a season in which his elbow ached and his ERA soared to a career-high 5.11. With his elbow sound, he's throwing his curve from multiple angles and locations. One of baseball's great citizens, Wainwright knows he has far more yesterdays than tomorrows, but he has offered us all hope that he's got another good run left in him.

10. can too play first base.
Things looked a little shaky when he used an outfielder's glove for his first appearance at a position the Brewers need him to play to make room for an outfield of , and . Just a few days ago, Braun said he wasn't "remotely comfortable" at first. But he seems to be getting there day by day, moving easily, snagging throws out of the door and giving manager Craig Counsell the opportunity to stack right-handed hitters against certain lefty starters.