Spring is the best time of the year in my opinion. Since I live in Indiana, I've been punished with three harsh months of freezing weather. Finally, the snow has all melted and I can wear shorts again. Spring is definitely great for sports too. Everyone and their brothers are filling out their brackets for NCAA basketball and we are in the final stretch before the playoffs start in the NBA but...
...nothing compares to baseball season.
The official baseball season starts in just a few weeks, but we can already satiate our baseball cravings with spring training games. Usually there is nothing to see with the annual studs like Albert Pujols and Joe Mauer. As long as they are healthy, you can pretty much throw their spring stats out the window. There are however, guys out there trying to make a name for themselves and guys trying to prove something. Let me tell you about five guys that stick out to me this spring:
I have not only jumped on the Kevin Slowey bandwagon, but I'm now riding shotgun and singing Kumbaya. Look, I know Kevin Slowey has disappointed in previous seasons. He also has battled injuries, which can be understandable. Slowey is all but injured this spring. He has pitched three different times this spring for a combined 8 IP, 2 H, 1 BB and 8 K.
The kid has electric stuff, and we'd be completely naive to not take notice of what he is doing this spring. Slowey might give up a few more hits than you'd like, but his control puts even my ex-girlfriend to shame. In 317 IP for his career, he has only 50 BB while punching out 245 hitters. A 5:1 K/BB ratio utterly screams out to me...there is no way I'm passing Slowey up on draft day.
While everyone is looking at guys like Michael Bourn, Nyjer Morgan and Rajai Davis for their cheap frills and thrills, I'm looking in the bargain bin at Carlos Gomez for my stolen bases. Gomez has already shown us his speed (47 SB the last two seasons) but he has trouble getting on base. On top of that, he really couldn't get anything going last year because he wasn't playing every day. Now that he is with Milwaukee, I'm seeing every-day at-bats for him. With that, I see him hitting closer to .280 with the potential to steal anywhere from 35-45 bases. No one drafted Bourn, Morgan and Davis last year and they became some of the better stolen base options. Gomez is in that boat, only a year late.
Thank you Sean Rodriguez for helping me win my spring training fantasy league (what else am I supposed to do in the spring when I'm losing my fantasy basketball league?). Your league leading 5 HR this spring are great, but add in your .433 average on 30 AB and a stolen base sprinkled on top and I think we have our leading 2010 Ben Zobrist Award candidate. He has played a few seasons in the minors and each season he has shown a very sweet power stroke (in 2006 and 2009, he hit 29 and 30 HR respectively).
So why hasn't he already hit the big leagues like a bat out of hell? Well for one, he is only 24 years old. Secondly, he was never really given a chance with the Angels. Last season he was dealt to the Rays for strike-throwing Scott Kazmir, and I fully expect Joe Maddon to give him a chance to start opening day and shine brighter than he ever has. There is a lot to like about Rodriguez here, he has great power and he won't hurt your average (he actually hit .300 a couple years in the minors). He can steal you some bases and he will be eligible at multiple positions throughout the season. This guy will be a great late round buy for your team.
Normally I wouldn't be trying to sell you on a first or second round pick like David Wright, but it doesn't take a scientist to tell you that Wright had a down year last year. Between losing all his All-Star caliber teammates to injury and then getting beaned in the head himself, he really had no hope to produce like he's accustomed to. People are saying Citi Field saps the power right out of hitters but I'm here to tell you that it isn't as bad as you think. Think about it for a second...do you really think Daniel Murphy will ever lead his team with 12 HR ever again? David Wright was trying to over-compensate early in the season when his teammates went down and that is why we saw a spike in strikeouts for him. On top of that, no one was on base for him when he went up to bat, so he was a three-hole hitter who turned into a table-setter.
Now in spring training, Wright has 3 HR in only 23 AB. Usually with studs like Wright, spring training stats can be ignored. In his case though, he is out to prove to all of baseball that he didn't magically lose his power stroke. Given that Jose Reyes is healthy enough to get on base and Jason Bay plays the full season, 20 HR is a modest projection for Wright. I expect him to hit .320 with 30 HR and 20 SB. These are great numbers especially at 3B this year, given there are only about 8 guys in the 3B pool that I'd want on my team.
I'm sure I'm not surprising anyone when I talk about Jason Heyward, but I just thought I'd throw in my two cents about him. First off, his patience at the plate has been very impressive (9 BB to only 3 K). He has hit .440 so far in spring and we all know he can go yard on any given pitch. With the way Heyward has been raking this spring, there is no way in hell that he doesn't break camp. Given that this is Bobby Cox's last year as manager for the Braves, I expect that he will want to have a full season to develop Heyward. We all know Cox has a history of developing some great young talents like Chipper Jones, Tommy Hanson and Andruw Jones, and I expect Cox to go all in on Heyward. I mean, who else would he let start at RF? Eric Hinkse? Matt Diaz? Jordan Freaking Schafer? Puh-lease!
I'm expecting stats from Heyward along the lines of .290/20/70/70/15, but I'm being modest here to save face. Heyward is still very young at 20 years old, but so was Albert Pujols in his first major league season where he hit 37 HR. Look, I'm not saying Heyward is the next Pujols, but it's hard to argue with the kid's talent. Pujols might have hit a grand slam and turned an unassisted triple play in his first game in the minors, but I don't think he hit a Coca-Cola truck in the parking lot and subsequently broke the sunroof of Atlanta Braves' assistant GM Bruce Manno's car in the same lot during batting practice. Ultimately what I'm trying to say here is that you should raise up Heyward on your draft board to about the 12th round or spend about $10 on him. It's a risk worth taking in my opinion.