Cactus and Grapefruit League games are inclusive affairs, especially early in Spring Training as players ease their way toward Opening Day.Established big leaguers might start a game, but all sorts appear in these soon-to-be-forgotten box scores. There are veteran non-roster invitees fighting for a chance, prospects trying to establish themselves,
Cactus and Grapefruit League games are inclusive affairs, especially early in Spring Training as players ease their way toward Opening Day.
Established big leaguers might start a game, but all sorts appear in these soon-to-be-forgotten box scores. There are veteran non-roster invitees fighting for a chance, prospects trying to establish themselves, and run-of-the-mill Minor Leaguers enjoying a day in big league camp. Many wear jersey numbers usually seen on football players, and many won't ever actually play in the Majors.
This complicates the already difficult task of making evaluations based on Spring Training results, but fortunately, Baseball-Reference.com's Opponent Quality (OQ) stat helps simplify things. Each opponent a batter or pitcher faces is assigned an OQ score based on the levels at which he played in 2017, with a range of 1-10, as follows:
10 -- MLB
8 -- Triple-A
7 -- Double-A
5 -- Class A Advanced
4 -- Full-season Class A
1.5-3 -- Class A Short-Season and Rookie level
1 -- Opposing batter is a pitcher
To have an OQ of 10, a player must have spent the entirety of last season in the Majors. Of course, where a player spent the previous year is not a perfect indicator of his current talent level, and other considerations can come into play. For example, a veteran pitcher might be working on refining certain pitches more than he is focusing on getting outs.
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Still, it's worth factoring in a player's OQ score, rather than simply viewing his Spring Training numbers in a vacuum. For context, there were 556 hitters who had taken at least 15 Cactus or Grapefruit League plate appearances through Wednesday. Among those, the highest collective OQ score was 8.8, belonging to Jose Abreu, Jay Bruce and Freddie Freeman. The lowest was 5.1, belonging to Rockies Minor Leaguer Sam Hilliard.
With OQ scores in mind, here is a look at five players who have made a splash early this spring:
Ronald Acuna, OF, Braves
Spring stats: 11-for-28 (.393), 1 HR, 4 RBIs, .969 OPS
OQ score: 6.5
MLB Pipeline's No. 2 overall prospect already has shown he can hit Minor League pitching, which he did with increasing ferocity across three levels last year, culminating with a .940 OPS at Triple-A Gwinnett. So it should be little surprise that he entered Thursday as one of eight players with at least 11 hits this spring, while facing competition that has resembled something a little shy of Double-A caliber. His OQ score aside, Acuna actually has collected 10 of his 11 knocks against pitchers who logged Major League service time in 2017. That includes the Yankees' Masahiro Tanaka, who served up a home run to Acuna last Friday.
Miguel Andujar, 3B, Yankees
Spring stats: 8-for-26 (.308), 4 HRs, 8 RBIs, 1.154 OPS
OQ score: 6.4
There are plenty of reasons to believe in the 23-year-old, a hard-hitting, highly touted prospect who could become the Yankees' third baseman as soon as this year. But his spring slugging, which included four homers over his first five games, shouldn't necessarily be one of them. Andujar's OQ score ranks close to the bottom 10 percent among hitters with at least 15 plate appearances this spring, and just one of his big flies has come off a pitcher who saw action in more than one big league game last year (the Phillies' Nick Pivetta).
Kyle Jensen, 1B/OF, Giants
Spring stats: 6-for-13 (.462), 7 BBs, 5 HRs, 9 RBIs, 2.265 OPS
OQ score: 6.9
The 29-year-old has smashed 178 Minor League homers, but he has just 17 MLB games under his belt, with the 2016 D-backs. His '17 campaign consisted of six games with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in Japan. That makes Jensen a long shot in San Francisco, but his early spring performance has to be opening some eyes -- especially for a club that was starved for power last year. The caveat is that Jensen's opponent quality has been roughly Double-A level, and three of his homers have come against pitchers who toiled in the Minors in '17. However, Jensen smacked his past two big flies against big leaguers Homer Bailey and Tony Barnette.
Jason Kipnis, 2B, Indians
Spring stats: 9-for-20 (.450), 6 HRs, 12 RBIs, 1.800 OPS
OQ score: 8.5
The two-time All-Star saw his performance dip significantly during an injury-marred age-30 season, as he batted just .232/.291/.414 in 90 games. That was good for an 81 OPS+, compared with his career mark of 110 entering the year. So this spring has represented a welcome resurgence, especially since it comes paired with renewed good health. Even better, Kipnis' OQ score ranks in the top 10 percent. Even though none of the six pitchers he has taken deep would qualify as stars, five were big leaguers in 2017, and the lone exception (the A's Chris Bassitt) pitched in the Majors in '16 before undergoing Tommy John surgery.
Garrett Richards, RHP, Angels
Spring stats: 3 GS, 9 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 12 K
OQ score: 8.4
The most important thing is that Richards has not encountered any arm problems after making just six starts in each of the past two seasons. As the right-hander said after dominating the Dodgers on Wednesday, "I know what I'm capable of doing if I stay healthy." Richards owns a 3.06 ERA in 70 outings going back to 2014, but it's still encouraging to see that all of the missed time hasn't left him rusty. He entered Thursday as one of five pitchers with at least a dozen strikeouts this spring, and of the 26 hitters he has faced, just four did not play in the Majors in '17. His past two outings have pitted him against Cubs and Dodgers lineups that looked pretty similar to the real things, with Richards testing himself against the likes of Kristopher Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Cody Bellinger.
Andrew Simon is a research analyst for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.