Of all the wonderful things about Spring Training -- the sunshine, the grass, the pleasing puzzlement at all the players you've never heard of in your favorite team's lineup by the seventh inning -- the best is the hope.As NBCSports.com reporter Craig Calcaterra loves to note, every player at Spring
Of all the wonderful things about Spring Training -- the sunshine, the grass, the pleasing puzzlement at all the players you've never heard of in your favorite team's lineup by the seventh inning -- the best is the hope.
As NBCSports.com reporter Craig Calcaterra loves to note, every player at Spring Training is in The Best Shape Of His Life, and, because nothing at camp actually counts, all non-injury news from Spring Training is inherently positive.
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If a player struggles in Spring Training games, it's because he's working on something that'll pay dividends in the regular season; if he's ripping the ball, he's discovered something that works and thus will carry it all the way through October. The beauty of Spring Training is that you can believe whatever happy thoughts you want, and you can't be proven wrong. It's not until that gnarled, knotty regular season starts when we find out the real truth.
There are few more dangerous rabbit holes to go down than looking up old Spring Training stats, But in the moment, when they are happening, they are absolutely intoxicating. After all, you are watching a player be amazing against pitchers or hitters wearing Major League uniforms, and the sun is shining, and everyone is so happy. Why can't they do the same thing in the regular season?
And the thing is … sometimes they do! Thus, today, as the players arrive and we prep for actual Spring Training games next week, we take a look at seven players who had incredible springs in 2018, and how, if at all, that spring transferred over to the regular season. Sometimes it's OK to get so excited … and sometimes it's a little silly.
Tyler Chatwood, Cubs
In the ever-expanding Cold War between the Cubs and the Cardinals, two low-key pitching signings were considered competing statements for those teams heading into last spring: The Cubs bet on Chatwood, and the Cardinals bet on an import from the Japanese Leagues named Miles Mikolas. Mikolas went out and got shelled in his first spring start, panicking everyone, while Chatwood was brilliant in the spring, with the Cubs winning four of his six starts while he held hitters to a .224 average. There was a warning sign in those stats, though: 11 walks in 21 2/3 innings. That would get much worse during the regular season, with a stunning 95 walks in 103 2/3 innings -- an impossible total to keep up and remain in the rotation. Chatwood still has two years to go on his deal, and he'll spend this spring fighting for the long-reliever spot.
J.D. Davis, Astros
The nice thing about spring is that reserves who usually can't break into the everyday lineup get a chance to play. Davis took full advantage of that last year with Houston, hitting .385 with five homers and getting steady playing time. That ended once the real games revved up and Alex Bregman took over, having the incredible season he did, so Davis got only 113 plate appearances, hitting .175 with only one homer. He was on fire in the Minors, though, hitting .342 and slugging .583. The Mets -- who don't have an Alex Bregman on their roster -- traded for Davis for depth, and they could end up playing him at first base. Also, he can pitch, too.
Enrique Hernández, Dodgers
With the Dodgers' crowded roster, every player has to feel like he has to hit in the spring to hold onto his job, but a utility guy like Hernandez, who had hit only .215 the year before, had to feel it particularly acutely. To make sure there was no doubt, he went off last spring, hitting .327 with four homers and playing nearly every position in the Cactus League. This success crossed over, too, with Hernandez having the best year of his career, including clubbing 21 homers. Now, the Dodgers aren't sure what they'd do without him.
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
If there was ever a pitcher who had nothing to prove at Spring Training, it is Kershaw. But heading into a contract year, he made it clear he was ready to go from the get-go, throwing 21 1/3 innings in six starts … and not giving up a single run. (He gave up only 12 hits, with four walks and 23 strikeouts.) Kershaw was still great during the regular season, at least starting out, even if he only had one win through June, but he did take a step back as the season wore on. Ironically, the time Kershaw looked the most like Kershaw last year was Spring Training.
Marcell Ozuna, Cardinals
St. Louis brought in Ozuna last offseason, fully convinced it had found the monster power hitter the club has been looking for since Albert Pujols left. Ozuna did little to disabuse the Cards of that idea, bashing four homers and hitting .356 in 22 Grapefruit League games. But once the real games started, the right shoulder issues that had bothered Ozuna became painfully apparent. While he wasn't terrible in 2018, he wasn't near the player the Cardinals thought they were getting. Ozuna had shoulder surgery right after last season, and he is expected to be ready for Opening Day. But while the Cardinals will be elated to see him mashing this spring, they haven't forgotten that he did the same thing last year … and the shoulder never really got better then, either.
Daniel Vogelbach, Mariners
Oh, boy, was Vogelbach ever a monster last spring. In 54 at-bats, he hit seven homers, better than a Ruthian rate, and he batted .407 with more walks (13) than strikeouts (11). But the Mariners only gave him a short run in the Majors last year, and he was a bit of a mess, hitting just .207 with four homers in 87 at-bats. It's not like it was just a spring thing: In Triple-A, Vogelbach slugged. 545 and hit .290. He is out of Minor League options this year, but he's also blocked on the big league roster by Edwin Encarnacion. If the Mariners trade Encarnacion -- and they're the Mariners, so a trade is always a good bet -- Vogelbach might finally get a chance to run free for a whole season and see if any of the spring and Minor League power can sustain itself. When he gets a hold of one, it's gorgeous.
Christian Yelich, Brewers
Coming into last season, Yelich was thought of as perhaps more of a future star than a current one: Brimming with potential, and certainly solid as he was, but the sort of player scouts envisioned turning into an MVP someday rather than a player who already was one. Well, he blasted through spring with a .484 OBP and immediately established himself as a player who was ready to make the leap. You may have noticed, once the season started … he made the leap
Will Leitch is a columnist for MLB.com.