Hype or hyperbole? 7 spring declarations

March 10th, 2021

In the name of health and safety, you can limit Spring Training attendance, you can restrict Spring Training restaurant dining, you can even shorten Spring Training games.

But block Spring Training hyperbole? Never!

This is the time of year for high hopes and dauntless declarations, and we would never seek to stop them. What we can do, however, is add a measured perspective, where possible. So let’s take a look at some things we’ve seen and heard from Florida and Arizona and determine whether they are overreactions or appropriate reactions.

1) “I feel really good about not having restrictions.” -- Angels RHP/DH

Once again, Shohei Ohtani is the story of Spring Training. He’s healthy enough to resume the two-way role, he looks strong and fit and, simply, great. He hit 100 mph from the mound and crushed a homer over the batter’s eye from the plate. It is impossible not to fall in love with the idea of what that could mean in the regular season, and Angels manager Joe Maddon has made it clear he doesn’t want to have “Shohei Rules” that would limit the impact Ohtani can make on the team’s playoff hopes.

But we have to pump the breaks on this “no restrictions” stuff just a little bit, OK? Because of injuries, Ohtani has thrown 79 2/3 innings over the past four years, including his final year in the Japanese Pacific League. That’s it. It doesn’t inspire confidence that the Angels are going to be able to reliably ride him once a week in a six-man rotation for the duration of the season. And the idea of starting him at DH the day before or after his starts sounds fun until you actually try it for six months. The mental and physical preparation that would take is too much to ask of even a fantastically fit Ohtani.

We all want to see the two-way thing happen. Aside from a brief flicker in early 2018, it hasn’t worked so far. Here’s hoping it works in 2021. But even if it does, the Angels are going to have to be careful not to overdo it.

Verdict: Let’s restrict this talk of no restrictions. As much as we love Ohtani, the renewed hype is a bit of an overreaction.

2) “Gary is a guy that can go out there and win [the American League] MVP [Award]. -- Yankees RF on C

To hear Yankees fans tell it last season, the three letters most associated with Sánchez were not “MVP” but “DFA.” Many wanted him gone. And there was genuine curiosity in the industry as to whether the Yankees would even tender him a contract in the offseason.

But placing a roughly $6 million bet on a Sánchez bounceback always made more sense than letting him walk or trading him for a bag of balls. And two homers and two thrown-out baserunners in the Grapefruit League are early rewards for the work he’s done on his swing and his catching stance. Sánchez’s hard-hit and barrel percentages last year were among the best in baseball, and he hit 34 homers with an .841 OPS and 118 OPS+ in the last true, full season. So it’s not at all hard to envision a comeback campaign.

MVP, though? That’s a stretch for several reasons, not the least of which is the fact that only 16 catchers have won the MVP (none since Buster Posey took the NL honor in 2012). Considering Sánchez was worth minus-4 defensive runs saved last season, his improvement would have to be pretty stark to accrue the kind of Wins Above Replacement mark that sways MVP voters these days.

Verdict: We’re going to overrule the Judge on this one. But the improved sentiment surrounding Sánchez is justified. He will be a valuable player (just not the most valuable player).

3) “I think the sky’s the limit for the guy.” -- Reds C on RHP

In his first pitching appearance since 2018 (because of Tommy John surgery), Greene threw a fastball clocked at 103 mph. Needless to say, it garnered attention. New health plus new season plus neat heat is the perfect recipe for reaction and, perhaps, overreaction.

Granted, that first outing didn’t go particularly well for Greene. The inning was cut short after he had thrown 30 pitches and given up three runs. But considering the circumstances of the second overall pick from the 2017 Draft facing big league hitters in his first appearance in nearly 1,000 days, the results are irrelevant and the optimism is earned. Greene has a long, long way to go in terms of refining his secondary offerings and making the most of that blazing fastball, but, at 21 years old and healed, he has time.

Verdict: Greene is still green, but this is an appropriate reaction.

4) “I have no doubt that he’s going to be a huge contributor to us.” -- Cubs OF on 2B

The 23-year-old Hoerner has been a human hit machine in the Cactus League, with a 9-for-13 showing as of this writing. That fits the high-contact profile that helped make him the 24th overall pick in the 2018 Draft, and it could help him nail down the Cubs’ starting second base job after serving in more of a utility role in his first “full” season last year.

With just 375 prior plate appearances in the Minors, Hoerner was forced to learn on the fly last year. While his defense was excellent, his relative offensive inexperience showed with a .222/.312/.259 slash in 126 plate appearances.

But this spring, Hoerner has not only been making contact but scorching the ball, with four of those nine hits going for extra bases. He’s battling veteran Eric Sogard right now, but we’re going to say Hoerner will, indeed, be an important piece for a Cubs club in transition.

Verdict: Sound the Hoern and tell the world this is not an overreaction.

5) “I don’t have any doubt he’s ready to play in the Majors and help us at this level.” -- White Sox 1B José Abreu on 1B/DH

More Chicago Hope (sans Mandy Patinkin). We identified Vaughn as the Sox’s most interesting player heading into Spring Training, and he’s only gotten, um, interestinger. Remember: Vaughn was the third overall pick in the Draft less than two years ago. He’s had just 245 plate appearances in the Minors and none above A-ball. So, yes, we’re paying more than the usual amount of attention to Vaughn’s 1.016 OPS through 18 trips to the plate in the Cactus League. Considering he’s vying to be the South Siders' starting DH, these results do matter.

As to whether they are indicative of future performance, well, we’ll defer to Arizona’s large track record of prior, overinflated outcomes. His four walks, though, are reflective of his reputation at the University of California and the low Minors for not chasing out of the zone -- a skill that would serve him well should he indeed make this transition as soon as Opening Day.

Verdict: Vaughn has the bat speed, strength and smarts to have a fantastic big league career. But it’s asking an awful lot of him to be ready right away. We’ll label this an overreaction for now.

6) “I’m feeling dangerous… I’m ready to make history and ready to drive in 130 steaks.” -- Mets 1B

Alonso actually said this to the New York Post just prior to the start of Spring Training, so it technically wasn’t a “reaction.” (For those wondering, Mets broadcaster Keith Hernandez refers to RBIs as “Ribeye Steaks.”)

Alonso inspired a lot of strong reactions when he hit a grand slam on March 4. After all, that was one more homer than Alonso hit in 14 games last spring. And though Spring Training was cut short and the season was delayed, that drought did prove a precursor to a mostly disappointing sophomore season in which Alonso’s .817 OPS was 124 points lower than in 2019.

But in several notable ways, Alonso really wasn’t much different in 2020 than he was in 2019:


2019: 26.4
2020: 25.5


2019: 10.4
2020: 10.0

Hard-hit rate

2019: 42.9
2020: 41.2

Alonso faced the shift much more frequently in 2020 (42.9% of plate appearances, per Statcast) than he did in 2019 (15.8%), and that’s just something he’s going to have to live with as a pull hitter. But it’s the quality of contact that makes Alonso “dangerous,” and that did not materially change last year.

Verdict: While “130 steaks” is an obvious exaggeration, all we are saying is give Pete a chance.

7) “We’re going to be a tough team to play against.” -- Royals 3B

The Royals stormed to the top of the Cactus League standings this month (7-3), and now nobody is talking about their 9-12 record in the Cactus League last year. (Of course, nobody was talking about it before, either.) The early success escalates the optimism for a team that was surprisingly aggressive over the winter, with Carlos Santana, Andrew Benintendi and Mike Minor among their additions.

The projections aren’t as kind to the Royals as the meaningless, shortened spring games have been. FanGraphs pegs them to a .476 winning percentage. But either would be a marked improvement on Kansas City’s .433 mark last season and .364 in 2019. The Royals should be a stout defensive team, they’ve likely improved their ability to get on base with Santana and perhaps Benintendi, and they have some power arms in the bullpen. This raises their own floor and, by extension, that of their oft-critiqued division. That’s all anybody can reasonably ask at this point.

Verdict: Frankly, we’re just happy to hear about these Royals and not those other royals. So this is only the most mild of overreactions.