OpinionApril 3, 2012

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Spring Fling: Take It For What It’s Worth

By Brendan Horton

We all know that in 2012 Spring Training games and their associated stats are meaningless; except when they aren’t. Sure, many players use these pre-season exhibitions to test out a new pitch or approach, or to plunk a former teammate, but occasionally we’ll retroactively look back and see a breakout star who had a sexy spring. So, all that said, here are a few interesting tidbits that stick out from the spring to hold us over for the next few days before the games start counting…

- The big knock on Dee Gordon from all of his critics (myself included) is that, in short, he can’t hit. And that if he’s batting .270 instead of .300, as many are predicting, he does not possess the skills to get on base enough to put forth the stolen base totals or run totals that many drafting him are hoping for and expecting. Well, not only has he swiped 11 bags (four CS) this spring, he’s done it batting .390 over the course of 59 at bats. Add to that that he’s scored more runs than games he’s played in. Take it for what it’s worth.

- Hosmermania has done nothing but build up steam this spring. The 22 year-old leads all players with 29 RBIs, hitting at a .419 clip with a 1.186 OPS. Even more impressively, he’s stolen four bases without being gunned down a single time, so those hoping for a 30/15 Votto-esque season from Hosmer should worry not. The young man has done nothing in the entirety of his professional baseball career to make anybody do anything other than have huge expectations for him. Take it for what it’s worth.

- Names that appear atop the home run leaderboard this spring: Matt Hague (seven, battling for a spot on the Pirates 25-man roster), and a bevy of names with six apiece, including some names you’d expect and others you wouldn’t. While its encouraging to see Dan Uggla wasting no time finding his power stroke in hope to avoid a repeat of what was the first four months of his 2011 campaign, Alfonso Soriano seems strangely out of place having also belted six long balls — is this his attempt to lure in fantasy owners who have written him off for good so he can burn them one last time? Other notables with six blasts this March include 2011 breakout 1B Freddie Freeman, post-hype sleeper candidate Mat Gamel (though batting just .246 and striking out twice as much as he’s walking), former World Series hero Cody Ross (who may just be earning his way into a starting gig in RF in Beantown), Ryan Raburn, Brennan Boesch and Shelley Duncan. Again, while it’s likely none of these names reach fantasy relevancy in standard leagues in 2012, it’s still nice to see who’s swinging a hot bat for the time being. Take it for what it’s worth.

- It’s tough to believe that, after posting a Spring ERA of 1.31 in 20.2 innings with 19 Ks, Wade LeBlanc couldn’t crack the Miami rotation. He was optioned down to Triple-A New Orleans, presumably to wait for an Anibal Sanchez injury or a Carlos Zambrano meltdown. He’s gone long overlooked in the doldrums of San Diego but could ultimately end up being a name we’re all talking about this season. Take it for what it’s worth.

- There’s a lot of debate over who is going to get the first crack to close games for the Kansas City Royals and Washington Nationals, but maybe there shouldn’t be. Greg Holland leads the AL in saves this spring with three, while Henry Rodriguez leads the NL with thre of his own. There isn’t a single other name on the list who stands a real chance at locking down saves this season, but the fact that these two guys’ respective teams have trotted them out there in the ninth with their own closers being sidelined should be somewhat telling. What they do next week if and when the ball is turned over to them is an entirely different story, though if I had to speculate on these two situations, these are the two guys I’d be turning to with my fingers crossed. Take it for what it’s worth.

- The top of the strikeout list shows three names that come as no surprise: Zack Greinke, Roy Halladay and Justin Verlander. Business as usual for the reigning AL MVP as well as Doc, and encouraging for Greinke owners who are expecting a repeat of his own AL Cy Young campaign from a few seasons ago. However, two names that stick out as guys who have both been pegged as huge breakout candidates, as well as tremendous bust possibles: Cory Luebke and Francisco Liriano. Liriano isn’t too far removed from his excellent 2010, but you won’t see too many people who owned him in 2011 buying into this and running out to draft and/or trade for Frankie. It’s been a long few seasons of filth, injury, and disappointment for Liriano and his owners, and this is a season where he could revisit that nastiness we’ve all seen, if his mechanics are worked out. Luebke has been pegged by some as a must own, and others as a guy who will do nothing but disappoint, pointing to his bullpen stint as an unfair stat imbalancer (there’s no way that’s a word, but I’m sticking with it), despite him carrying his success over to starting last season in all facets. Luebke has fanned 25 batters in 20.1 spring innings, which is highly impressive no matter who you are or where you’re pitching, and highly exciting for owners worried about his K/9 falling into the 7.0 range. Unfortunately, Luebke has also given up far too many hits (26), walks (6) and runs (13) to have a full line of sexiness for the spring, but we’ll see how that translates when he gets to make half his starts in the friendly confines of Petco Park beginning in just a few short days. Take it for what it’s worth.

- How about some impressive K/BB spring figures? Chris Sale’s 22/2 is about as impressive as you could have hoped for from a guy converting from relief to starting. Vance “Vance Revolution” Worley has been almost as impressive, sporting a 21/2 line, making Philadelphia’s rotation look that much more unfair. And right there with them is former top prospect Brian Matusz, with a 22/3 spring effort. What makes Sale stick out from the other two, though, is that he’s put considerably fewer men on base via hits than they have. Matusz’s upside is unfortunately limited by the division that he plays in, but Worley and Sale are two guys I wanted on my team before their spring performances, and only more so now. Take it for what it’s worth.

Brendan Horton is one of a growing number of fantasy experts who write for the Cafe. You can catch up with Brendan in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of bigh0rt.
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