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These 9 spring stat lines shouldn't be ignored

@mattkellyMLB
March 16, 2019

Spring Training statistics, as a rule, should never be taken seriously. Last spring's standout performers, for example, included Jose Pirela, Cheslor Cuthbert and Carlos Asuaje. But while statistics this time of year can be cartoonish, perhaps there are lessons we can take away from players who either set new bars

Spring Training statistics, as a rule, should never be taken seriously. Last spring's standout performers, for example, included Jose Pirela, Cheslor Cuthbert and Carlos Asuaje.

But while statistics this time of year can be cartoonish, perhaps there are lessons we can take away from players who either set new bars last season, or are expected to do big things in the coming months. Here are nine spring stat lines that are hard to look past with less than two weeks before Opening Day.

Chris Paddack, Padres
Spring line: 2.13 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 37 percent strikeout rate

Those numbers are great by themselves. But considering that this is the first time Paddack has ever faced Major League hitters, they’re pretty eye-popping.

Paddack, MLB Pipeline’s No. 34 overall prospect, arrived at camp simply hoping for a spot in the Padres’ rotation, but he’s impressed so thoroughly that an Opening Day start is now very much in play. We knew Paddack had possibly the Minors’ best changeup to go with an excellent fastball, but even his curveball has shown improvement during his electric spring. That strikeout rate, currently up past the territory of the Scherzers, Sales and Verlanders of the world, likely won’t maintain in the regular season. But this rookie is showing he belongs.

Byron Buxton, Twins
Spring line: .423/.467/1.000, 4 HR, 4 K in 26 AB

Yes, this is far from the first time that Buxton has tantalized with a hot run at the plate. But Buxton’s world-class speed and the excitement he brings to any random midsummer game means we’ll ride this out for as long as necessary. Buxton is motivated after the Twins passed on calling him back up to the Majors last September. He’s taken ownership of his swing and eliminated his leg kick again. He’s added over 20 pounds of muscle. And, for the time being, he’s crushing baseballs without sacrificing too much contact.

Buxton’s mercurial history puts a big caveat on his spring performance, but remember: His incredible blend of speed and defense means he only has to make moderate improvements as a hitter to be a star again.

Pete Alonso, Mets
Spring line: .356/.396/.644, 3 HR, 8 K in 45 AB

Alonso’s competition with Dominic Smith is one of the best position battles across the game, with each first basemen putting his best foot forward this spring. Smith’s defense and value as a left-handed hitter could give him the leg up for Opening Day, and service time considerations might also keep Alonso in Triple-A Syracuse to start the year. But general manager Brodie Van Wagenen and manager Mickey Callaway insist they will put the best 25 players on the opening roster, and it’s hard to argue that Alonso isn’t one of them at this point.

Shane Bieber, Indians
Spring line: 0.64 ERA, 0.36 WHIP, .067 BA against across 4 GS

This line sticks out more than any other so far, and while this numbers are impossible for any pitcher to replicate come April, Bieber was already a trendy breakout pick entering camp. Bieber posted a top-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio as a rookie, so the core skills for any great pitcher are already there. If he progresses further, the Tribe’s embarrassment of riches in the rotation only gets deeper.

Ryan McMahon, Rockies
Spring line: .462/.511/.821, 2 HR, 5 K in 39 AB

You might recognize McMahon from the back-to-back game-winning home runs he hit against the Dodgers last August, but a .683 OPS and 31.7 percent strikeout rate across 202 plate appearances suggested he still had a lot to learn at the big league level. DJ LeMahieu is in pinstripes now, meaning McMahon is a prime candidate for playing time at second base along with two of Colorado’s top three prospects in Garrett Hampson and Brendan Rodgers.

Teammates and coaches have raved about the beauty of McMahon’s swing, and he made adjustments with his hand positioning last season that he hopes will carry over.

“Last year, there were some hits that you might say aren’t the quality of this year,” manager Bud Black told the Denver Post. “Now he’s ripping the ball. He’s taking big, aggressive swings and the ball is coming off his bat hot. He’s hitting it to all fields. It’s been impressive.”

McMahon’s league-best 1.332 OPS won’t carry over to the regular season, but he could take the lion’s share of at-bats at second if some of that plate discipline does.

Jack Flaherty, Cardinals
Spring line: 2.77 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 37.3 percent strikeout rate

Fresh off posting one of the best strikeout rates by any rookie in history, Flaherty looks ready to consolidate his status as the Cardinals’ emerging ace. Just ask the Phillies, who punched out seven straight times against Flaherty earlier this month. Miles Mikolas will get the ball for St. Louis’ opener, but Flaherty’s stock continues to rise.

Victor Robles, Nationals
Spring line: .353/.465/.559, 2 HR, 6 SB

The steals were expected from Robles, but this kind of power? That’s the all-around game that makes him MLB’s No. 4 prospect. Michael A. Taylor’s knee injury means Robles likely has a starting spot locked up, so he'll get plenty of plate appearances to lock in the progress he’s already made.

Christian Yelich, Brewers
Spring line: .481/.481/.963, 3 HR and 4 2B in 27 AB

Regression from the reigning National League MVP is one thing pretty much everyone in the sabermetric community agreed upon this offseason. As great as Yelich is, his 35 percent home run-per-fly ball ratio last year was one of the highest rates this century.

But that’s what makes Yelich’s power explosion this spring all the more intriguing. It’s a small sample, no doubt, but Yelich seemingly hasn’t dropped off at all from the torrid pace he set last year. Maybe all those dingers were for real?

Zack Wheeler, Mets
Spring line: 2.25 ERA, .186 BA against, 0.83 WHIP across four starts

The entire Mets rotation is humming this spring, with Jacob deGrom (15 strikeouts in 12 innings, 1.08 WHIP) and Noah Syndergaard (19 strikeouts on 14 1/3 innings, 1.88 ERA) doing what you would expect. But if Wheeler really can solidify the form that produced his second-half 1.86 ERA (third-best among MLB starters), the Amazins’ rotation could jump back to its level from 2015. Wheeler’s last 9 1/3 innings have featured zero runs, seven strikeouts and no walks.

“That’s a standard Zack Wheeler outing now,” Callaway said Thursday after Wheeler shut down the Cardinals for 5 1/3 innings. “He understands who he can be, what he is and what he’s all about.”

Who Wheeler is now is a confident righty with better mechanics and an out pitch in his slider that he wasn’t even 100 percent happy with in 2018. He also impressed none other than Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez last week. Workload will be a concern after Wheeler set a career high in innings last year, but the form he’s showing this spring looks like perhaps the best No. 3 starter in baseball.

Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.