You're going to tell me spring statistics aren't worth a warm bucket of pine tar, aren't you? You're going to remind me I should not get worked up by anything that has happened in Florida or Arizona the past couple weeks.Truth is, spring performances do matter on a bunch of
You're going to tell me spring statistics aren't worth a warm bucket of pine tar, aren't you? You're going to remind me I should not get worked up by anything that has happened in Florida or Arizona the past couple weeks.
Truth is, spring performances do matter on a bunch of levels. Maybe they're not important in evaluating Michael Trout or Max Scherzer. But for some teams, we've already learned plenty this spring.
There's plenty more to learn, but just based on what we've seen already, we're able to see how the 2018 season could play out differently for a few teams.
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Let's look at five teams most likely to surprise:
This is what happens when you load up your farm system with talent. Winning is pretty much inevitable. For the Braves, it's now about the timing. Given how good Ronald Acuna Jr., Danny Santana and Ozzie Albies have looked this spring, given that the retooled starting rotation has a 1.60 ERA, given that there's lots more talent on the way and a tremendous baseball man in charge (Alex Anthopoulos), it's easy to envision this being a fun baseball summer in Atlanta.
And they haven't even signed Jacob Arrieta and/or Alex Cobb yet. Perhaps no team should be taking a hard look at doing just that than the Padres. The signing of free-agent first baseman Eric Hosmer was an indication that San Diego believed it was capable of turning a big corner in 2018, and these early weeks of Spring Training have reinforced that notion. The Padres have hit 25 home runs in 15 games, with breakout candidate Austin Hedges leading the way with four. They've got the highest OBP in the spring (.373) and are tied for fourth with 14 stolen bases. This is an organization with lots of pitching depth, too. However, that depth includes mostly young pitchers, and in a spring with so many superlatives, one veteran to put at the front of the rotation would be huge.
Rangers starters have a 3.15 ERA this spring, and now they've added Timothy Lincecum to the back of the bullpen. Starting and bullpen quality and depth are the only question marks about a team picked to finish no higher than fourth in the American League West. They're constructing a rotation from a bunch of guys trying for career rebirths. All have been quality starters at points in their career. So far, Bartolo Colon, Matt Moore and Doug Fister have allowed two earned runs in 12 1/3 innings. And Matt Bush -- a key experiment to track this spring -- looks capable of making the transition to starting.
Yes, there will be some questions, even with Mike Moustakas returning to third base. But not as many areas as you might think, and numbers aside, this spring has given the Royals optimism that this reconstruction will not take as long as originally thought. There are enough veteran arms in the rotation, with enough kids competing for jobs, to make it interesting. And there are still important pieces from the 2015 championship team. Beyond that, there's a winning culture, beginning with general manager Dayton Moore and extending down to clubhouse leader Salvador Perez. Those things matter, and in a season when young players will be sprinkled into the mix, Moustakas' return could be important.
We're not sure exactly what they're doing. That is, we're not sure how the pieces are going to fit together. Color us skeptical about the notion of a four-man rotation. But the Rays definitely are not doing a dramatic teardown. Otherwise, they would have traded Chris Archer and Alex Colome and not signed Carlos Gomez. Despite all the changes, Tampa Bay still has a solid pitching staff and plenty of interesting offensive pieces. Are they good enough to win the AL East? Probably not. Are the Rays good enough to make things interesting in the AL Wild Card race? Possibly.
Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.