Checking in on Spring Training Hitting Performances

It’s not wise to put too much stock in spring training performances. Having said that, there are games being played and stats being generated. Some guys are coming back from injuries, others are tinkering with mechanics and many are fighting for roster spots or playing time. With that in mind, a few players were of interest to me when combing over spring training stats.

Travis d’Arnaud – C – Mets – NFBC ADP: 287.53, Min: 181 and Max: 405
Last year, d’Arnaud’s bat cratered. His 130 wRC+ in 2015 took a nosedive to 74 in 2016, and his power deteriorated from a .218 ISO to .076. The backstop’s mechanics have been the source of scrutiny, and colleagues Gerald Schifman and Andrew Perpetua discussed the mechanics in great detail here and here. I won’t rehash what they’ve already thoroughly covered, but I’ll note that d’Arnaud is once again tinkering this spring. So far, so good in terms of results. In 23 plate appearances as of Wednesday night, he’s hitting .455/.478/.818 with two dingers, one walk and just one strikeout. You can view his first homer here and second here. You can also check out this video in which d’Arnaud briefly discusses his current hitting mechanics. The good showing in the spring is promising, and he’s a strong C2 target.

Gregory Bird – 1B – Yankees – NFBC ADP: 249.96, Min: 180 and Max: 354
Bird missed the entire 2016 season after undergoing surgery to repair a labrum tear in his right shoulder. He was healthy enough to play in the Arizona Fall League and showed off his patient approach with a 15.4% BB% in 78 plate appearances, but his power hadn’t bounced back yet (.138 ISO and one homer). Welcome back, thump. Bird’s tied for the spring training lead in homers with three of them in 21 plate appearances, and he’s added two doubles for good measure. Bird is slated to serve on the heavy side of a first base platoon for the Baby Bombers. If he had a poor showing in the spring, perhaps there would be some reason for concern about the additions of right-handed hitters Matt Holliday and Chris Carter. However, he’s hitting well and the leash should be plenty long. He’s currently the 19th first baseman off the board in NFBC drafts, and he’s a solid corner infield option.

ByungHo Park – 1B – Twins – NFBC ADP: 508.00, Min: 358 and Max: 668
The Twins outrighted Park off of the 40-man roster, and no team claimed him. That’s not typically how fantasy relevant seasons begin, but look no further than Tommy Joseph last season for the tale of a slugger clawing back onto a rebuilding team’s 40-man roster and helping fantasy squads. Park is battling for the designated hitter gig on the Twins, and his primary competition is Kennys Vargas. If the competition is truly open, Park almost certainly has a leg up on Vargas. The latter has only a single and three walks through his first 16 plate appearances this spring. Meanwhile, Park is hitting .400/.444/.867 with a pair of homers, a double, two walks and four strikeouts in 18 plate appearances. He noted he’s more comfortable this year after not knowing what was going on in his first year in MLB. Park worked on adjustments in South Korea during the offseason, and his hand is healthy after cutting his season short last year. He costs little more than a roster spot in most leagues with an ADP north of 500. If you’re searching for power in deep leagues, he could be worth a flier. If the spring continues to go smoothly, I’ll probably throw a buck at him in a 15-team mixed keeper league (15 keeper max, OBP and TB instead of AVG and HR). Gamers in shallower leagues can force Park to prove it during the regular season instead of investing even a buck or a last-round pick in him.

Byron Buxton – OF – Twins – NFBC ADP: 146.22, Min: 104 and Max: 212
This isn’t the first time I’ve chosen to write about Buxton this offseason. You can check out what I wrote about him previously here. Back in the first week in January when I wrote about Buxton, his NFBC ADP was 145.33 with a minimum selection of 104 and a max of 187. Interestingly, his ADP hasn’t shifted much — as you can see above — and his minimum pick remains the same. It’s likely an unexciting spring can be credited for Buxton’s ADP remaining mostly unchanged. If Buxton opened up the spring going nuts, the hype would have been out of control — which is silly. Instead, he’s having a ho hum spring hitting .267/.353/467 with zero homers and one steal in 17 plate appearances.

The lack of steals is of no concern, Buxton’s speed and tools aren’t the question. The question dogging Buxton — rightfully — is if he can make enough contact to succeed in The Show. Even when he started to flash his upside last September, he struck out in a staggering 33.6% of his plate appearances. This spring, he’s struck out only two times (11.8% K%) while walking twice. Also, while he hasn’t hit a fence clearer yet, he has recorded a couple doubles and has a .200 ISO thus far. Nothing he’s done this spring has dampened my optimism on chasing his upside. He’s not the cheapest of upside options and his contact issues will still be in question until he’s taking cuts in a meaningful game, but the lack of punch outs this spring is preferred to the alternative.

Eric Thames – OF – Brewers – NFBC ADP: 184.09, Min: 110 and Max: 306
Last year, Hyun Soo Kim hit .178/.224/.250 in 49 spring training plate appearances before hitting .302/.382/.420 with a 119 wRC+ in 346 plate appearances in the regular season. In 2015, Jung Ho Kang hit .200/.280/.444 with two homers and 17 strikeouts in 50 plate appearances in the spring before hitting .287/.355/.461 with a 129 wRC+, 15 homers, a 6.0% BB% and 21.2% K% in his first year in MLB. Kang followed up his strong first year with an even more impressive sophomore campaign (.255/.354/.513 with 21 homers, 9.7% BB%, 21.4% K% and 133 wRC+ in 370 plate appearances). Suffice to say, poor spring training showings weren’t the death knell for the careers of either player.

Thames, like Kim and Kang, is attempting to transition from starring in the KBO to doing damage with the stick in MLB. Also like the duo, he’s not making a big spring training splash transitioning to MLB from the KBO hitting just .167/.250/.222 with one extra-base hit (a double), two walks and six strikeouts in 20 plate appearances. Unlike the aforementioned duo, Thames has MLB experience (684 plate appearances) and isn’t tasked with making the same cultural adjustment. That’s not to say Thames doesn’t have to adjust to being back in the US after playing and living in South Korea the last three years, but I don’t imagine it’s nearly as stark an adjustment for a guy who’s lived most of his life here. In other words, there are parallels, but the situations aren’t identical. The point I’m ultimately trying to make is a sluggish spring isn’t reason to remove Thames from your draftable player pool. The lefty’s high strikeout rate through 20 plate appearances isn’t ideal, and his lack of homers isn’t either, but a hot spring would have almost certainly driven the cost of drafting him up. The 30-year-old raked in the KBO, and the projections are quite good for him. I continue to view him as a high-ish upside mid-round target.

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You can follow Josh on Twitter @bchad50.

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Any thoughts on what Jorge Soler has done so far? I had him as a very late-round semi-counting on him as a plug-in bench bat when one of my OFs have off days and am wondering whether I might need to draft a better bench bat than he!

OddBall Herrera
OddBall Herrera

The guy was once fawned over by every prospect list and scout in the game, he’s only 25 and he’s only really getting his first shot at regular ABs. Personally, I’d love to have him as a cheap 4th/5th outfielder no matter what his spring stats look like.