Beware the Strong Spring: Potential Busts

Last year around this time I was sitting and watching a Royals spring training game and absolutely beaming with sheer delight every time either Eric Hosmer or Lorenzo Cain came to bat. I had just finished drafting in my primary keeper league and after holding over Hosmer from a rookie season of deliciousness, added his teammate to the mix for a reasonable sum of six bid dollars. The two of them were going off last spring. Batting averages consistently over .400, home runs, stolen bases, Hosmer was working in the outfield ready to add dual-eligibility to his resume and it was fixin’ to be one helluva season. But then the season opened and….well….you know. Cain got hurt and hit the DL within the first week and Hosmer went from super-stud to super-dud in a matter of minutes. Obviously you can’t predict injuries, but there were some warning signs with Hosmer that I guess I chose to overlook given the way he was playing at the time. So with that, I decided to look at some of the hot springs that may entice you to draft, but should probably be left alone for the season.

Justin Smoak, 1B SEA — Between just turning 26-years old and batting .434 with eight doubles and four home runs, Smoak looks like like a no-brainer candidate for the breakout we were all looking for years ago. Add to it the fences moving in at Safeco and Smoak’s .341 September last season and we’ve got a power-hitting first baseman for cheap this year, right? Maybe. But maybe not. Most dismiss the spring totals for obvious reasons and before you go pointing to September, remember that not only were the Mariners out of it by that point, but 17 of their 26 games were against teams who were either out of it as well or in the midst of a major tailspin as the season was winding down. The competition was certainly not as fierce as it was back in previous three months where Smoak couldn’t find his way to hit above the Mendoza line. It would be one thing to say that he was up there hacking away in his younger years and is now maturing as a hitter, but he’s actually not. His swing rate outside the zone is actually better than league average. He’s just not making any sort of clean contact and he’s not seeing an inkling of love from the BABIP luck dragons. If things don’t shape up for him early this year we could be looking at the end as the Mariners have plenty of roster flexibility now that they can put Kendrys Morales at first.

Leonys Martin, OF TEX — When Ron Washington began to endorse Martin as his starting center fielder, there seemed to be something disingenuous about it. It was no secret that the Rangers weren’t ready to go into the season with Martin as their starting center fielder, but when negotiations failed to put Michael Bourn into a Texas uniform, it was fairly late in the game and the Rangers were going to have to fill the hole in-house now. So Washington had his choice between Martin, Craig Gentry, or Julio Borbon. Hmmm. Which gem to get behind? The rookie having a hot spring? The 29-year old who has yet to prove he is anything but a reserve outfielder? Or how about the one-time center fielder of the future who has failed to grab a hold of the job the past two years? It seemed like he was picking the lesser of three evils  and figured he’d go with the potential upside with the veteran as a fallback option. But while Martin is batting .350 with six extra-base hits this spring, he’s still striking out 20-percent of the time and has been caught stealing more times than he’s been successful. He’s young and has potential, but there are still plenty of flaws in his game. He may be walking in with the job, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him give way to a platoon with Gentry before the month of May is even half over.

Dishonorable Mention: Juan Francisco, Brandon Crawford, Peter Bourjos

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Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over 10 years on a variety of websites. In addition to his work here, you can also find him at his site, RotobuzzGuy.com, Fantasy Alarm, RotoWire and Mock Draft Central. Follow him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy or for more direct questions or comments, email him at rotobuzzguy@gmail.com

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Wobatus
Guest
Wobatus

Justin Smoak’s extra base hits in September were all against contending teams in crucial games, other than his double October 2 against the Angels’ Dan Haren (pitching for his contract).

9/1 double against Ervin Santana (who was bad last year butgot the w with a 4-hitter this game)
9/15 homer against Ranger Tanner Schepper
9/16 homer against Ranger Matt Harrison
9/18 double against Oriole Wei-Yin Chen
9/21 double against Ranger Martin Perez
9/22 double against Ranger Matt Harrison
9/25 2 homers against Angels Zack Greinke and Scott Downs
9/26 homer against Angel CJ Wilson
10/1 double against Angel Garrett Richards (Angels eliminated from playoffs)
10/2 double against Angel Dan Haren

So his September damage was almost entirely against team’s fighting for their playoff lives or playoff positioning,mostly against decent to good pitching. Haren (4.00 xfip), Harrison (4.13), Wilson (4.10), Greinke (3.22), Downs (3.81), Chen (4.34).

Still a small sample. And yes, Spring Training stats with a dollop of salt, but his stats are of a huge order of magnitude over his regular season performance (and even his prior springs). And it’s still a small sample.

But I wouldn’t discount entirely the idea that he could be a post-prospect hype breakout candidate.

gump
Guest
gump

weird to use xfip when smoak is hitting hr’s

Wobatus
Guest
Wobatus

It was just a quick look at the quality of the pitchers he was facing. I guess I could use fip. Several of them looked better by e.r.a. as opposed to xfip (Wilson, Harrison, Chen, Downs).

OaktownSteve
Guest
OaktownSteve

I think Smoak is an excellent example of where you need blend qualitative analysis with quantatative. To a man, Mariner coaching staff and his teammates are raving about him. And there are specific mechanical fixes that can be pointed to as having made an impact. It’s one thing if a player doesn’t change anything and just happens to hit on a good result over a small sample size. That feels like luck. But when there is a lot of supporting annecdotal, qualitative stuff to point to, then you start to pay more attention.

Wobatus
Guest
Wobatus

And his September results were after he was sent down to the minors and supposedly had some changes to his swing. To say that his September results were against poor competition and 17 of 26 games were against teams that were out of it or in a tailspin (as if that means anything) ignores that almost all his damage was in games against teams fighting for playoff spots and against quality major leaguers.

Ender
Member
Ender

Could be, but last year they all raved about Francoeur in KC too and see where that got us?

He ended 2011 super hot too but that was with a bad K/BB rate. I think the most positive aspect of his game was the 1:1 K:BB rate in September. That shows real growth at the plate usually.

Wobatus
Guest
Wobatus

Smoak always had good walk rates in the minors and above 10% in the majors. Frenchy never walked.

philosofool
Member
Member
philosofool

I could see Smoak breaking out, but let’s look carefully at his skill set.

He’s a count worker with okay contact skills. This limits his batting average to about .275 even with a good bit of home runs.

He’s one of the slowest runners in baseball. 0 SB.

Even with some improvements and the fences coming in, the M’s offense will probably be below average. Runs and RBIs just aren’t flowing out of his environment.

He’s a first baseman, the deepest position in baseball.

Even with a nice improvement as a player, I am not sure I can see Smoak being a very productive fantasy player.

Wobatus
Guest
Wobatus

Well, you got this one right thus far it seems.