Thursday, March 08, 2007

Spring Stars

One of the fun things to watch in the Spring is the determination of some players to make a roster. For me, it's not a Yankees thing. It's more universal. It's no guarantee that a guy who tears up Spring Training is going to produce in the regular season, but it is a good indicator if there's also some prior history. Last season, the A's Mark Ellis was goofy good in the Spring, but he fell apart as soon as the games counted and one had to wonder if he'd just had a short hot spell and reverted to the norm. On the other hand, we saw the Reds' Encarnacion blow through camp and carry his success over throughout the regular season. The Yanks have a few guys of their own trying to get a roster spot, or guarantee their place in line when the time comes, but for the most part the roster is decided. It's the other teams, with more holes, that interest me. With no further ado, here's my list of guys turning heads so far in camp:

Hunter Pence (Astros OF)

Holy Roger Clemens, Batman. This guy is leading all hitters in Total Bases and is mixing it up with a variety of hits. Singles, doubles, triples, and a home run. He is sporting a nice .750/.786/1.147 batting line over 14 plate appearances, and is looking to break in the Astros outfield in 2007. They were such a bad offensive club that you have to believe this soon-to-be 24 year old is 2 weeks away from a Major League position. According to CBS Sportsline "In three minor league seasons, Pence is hitting .302 with 67 homers and 222 RBI. At Double-A Corpus Christi last season, Pence had 28 home runs and 95 RBI." Good luck, kid.

Brad Eldred (Pirates 1B)

The Bucs had both Sean Casey and Craig Wilson on their roster last season before sending them off at the trade deadline. Eldred is hoping to win a job at the ripening age of 26.5 and has come out of the box swinging. In 4 games and 12 plate appearances, he has 5 hits. 4 of those 5 hits have left the yard. The problem with Eldred is that he's never been able to consistently hold his value at any level, and while he's always showed very good pop in his bat, he has proved very capable of running hot and cold. I don't like him to continue this pace for the rest of Spring Training, let alone the regular season, but he is after a job and you have to admire his timing at the very least.

Josh Hamilton (Reds CF)

You have to feel good for this kid. Yeah, he got fooled by a Mariano change up in the last game, but he's done just about everything else right since being reinstated to baseball. His debilitating drug addiction is well documented, but we all like second chances after all, especially when there's some genius lurking in the darkness behind all the troubles. Hamilton has never been a lights out minor league producer, but the talent is something that has had scouts after him for years. One has to wonder how much his drug problems led to his uneven play. For now, he's off to a fast start for the Reds and has people talking about Ken Griffey, Jr. making the permanent move to RF. In the season when he turns 26 Hamilton will get his chance. To date he has produced a .563/.611/.875 line over 18 plate appearances. Here's to those second chances. Keep it going Josh.

Ryan Braun (Brewers 3B)

Look out Corey Koskie. Here comes 23 year old Ryan Braun. Doug Melvin has his cheap replacement at the hot corner if he's prepared to hand the job over. Braun is a classic Athletics prospect (in the Brewers system) with a track record of good OBP, nice pop in his bat, and it appears as though he runs very well. This Spring he's only appeared in 2 games, but what a 2 games it's been!!! In his first go around he managed a 4-5 with a 3-run shot and a grand slam for 7 RBIs. The next game he put up a 2-5 outing with a walk and a run batted in. Keep an eye on him, especially if he gets the starting nod. Fantasy baseball fans will see good things from this guy late in the draft if they're willing to take a gamble.

Josh Phelps (Yankees 1B)

I know there are other hot players out there, but this position battle is a hometown one. Phelps has a leg up on Andy Phillips, as much for Phillps family misfortunes as his own bat, but the hitting can't hurt. The former BP poster boy has never had a really full opportunity to show his stuff, and he probably won't get it with the Yankees either given the 1B logjam, but if he can mash left handed pitching and play solid defense we might just see a very successful platoon. At this point in Spring Training it's worth comparing Phelps to Mientkiewicz to see who is producing more. (This is a loaded analysis, as we all know the answer to this already.)

4 for 8
2 walks
1 K
1 run
1 HR

0 for 9
2 walks
1 K
0 runs

If Phelps can even play a marginally good first base, I'd rather see him in there everyday that Mientkiewicz, but it won't happen. Minky is virtually guaranteed the starting job even though we're super left handed and Phelps is potentially the better player. Torre will stick with Mientkiewicz and platoon the guys. It's not going to be easy getting used to this situation, especially if the lefty takes an 0-fer the Spring, and the righty is hot.

In the end, any of these guys may follow through for a breakout season, and any one of them could thud. It happens. I predict that Pence will be solid, Eldred will be below league average, Hamilton will be good in 2007 and very good in 2008, Braun will be a big story in Milwaukee, and Phelps will successfully platoon with Mientkiewicz, but see fewer at bats than he should.


Nathan said...

Braun is on the Brewers, not the A's!

Braun is being talked about as the opening day starter because Corey Koskie got injured.

george said...

JOSH PHELPS is the better offensive hitter with alot more pop, younger player, as well as being a bigger and more athletic player. Why should Phillips get a spot, he’s older, smaller, less athletic, and has less pop. Give Phelps a chance b/c he is the better choice hands down. We need Phelps to give offense. He’ll do a better job defensively than Giambi and from the way things are going Mikentiwitz, however u say his name has no offense, so to balance that out, Phelps should stay at 1st.

RollingWave said...

Always take ST numbers with a giant grain of salt, Phelps have been abandoned by 5 teams over 2 year, unless he changed something dramatic, there is little reason to belive he is somehow now a good player while sucking for most of the last 2 year.

Mike Plugh said...

Doh! See how much I know. Braun the Brewer. Should be a good addition to that club. Bet Billy Beane wishes he had him.

george said...

Brain Bruney was abandoned and he has been wonders for us. Same can be said for Chacon, or Rasner, and they performed well for us. Sometimes give a guy a chance who can perform and you'll be pleasently suprised

Paul™ said...

I am a little late, Mike, but just wanted to note that I loved the Donald Babcock story.

I am hoping for Part 2 when Granny goes to Donald's final spring training game and is attacked by a rogue seagull.

RollingWave said...

George : yes, but Chacon also turned right back to his old self after that and Bruney's season last year was loaded with danger (insane walk rate) that he's very unlikely to repeat such feats without taking a big step foward on control.

And in the same sense. any random player can suddenly have a flukey good year or two, so how is Phelps any more likely to do that than Phillips? because of a couple games of ST? you might want to check out who was the best player in last year's ST. (Abraham Nunez1!! let's sign him up!!)

Paul™ said...

Moments after I wrote my comment I read that Dietmar Falsch was scratched from his start in tonight's game.


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