10 Early Spring Training Phenoms We Should Not Take Seriously
A hot start to spring training does not mean a strong finish or a productive regular season.
Statistics can be deceptive when it comes to exhibition games. Early on, a majority of teams only play their projected starters for a handful of innings. For the rest of the game, minor leaguers take the field.
Now it’s fair to compare a minor league batter's numbers to a minor league pitcher or a major league batter to a major league pitcher, but you can’t intertwine them—especially if the players aren’t predictable.
If Miguel Cabrera goes 25-for-30 this spring against all players without major league experience, one would still assume he’d have a very productive year. But if Danny Worth, who isn’t likely to make the Detroit Tigers’ Opening Day roster, goes 25-for-30, you’d probably assume something is up.
Here are 10 players who have been on fire, but who you shouldn’t read much into.
Shane Robinson, St. Louis Cardinals
Shane Robinson will break camp as one of the outfielders the St. Louis Cardinals have on their 25-man roster. But that was pretty safe to say before spring training.
Robinson is a relatively good player to have on the bench in late game situations. He has decent speed and a good glove. He’s not much of a threat on offense, and yet, he’s had a crazy offensive spurt the last week or so.
Robinson has played in four spring training games thus far, going 7-for-11 with three extra-base hits, including a home run, and six RBI. He’s also drawn three walks and has yet to strike out. But Robinson is still a bench player and would be on nearly every Major League Baseball team.
The young outfielder still needs some seasoning in the minor leagues. He’s never been that great of a hitter, but has been taking some good hacks against non-competitive pitching. That’s probably because he’s more of a very good minor leaguer than a good major leaguer.
Justin Germano, Toronto Blue Jays
Over the last three seasons, Justin Germano has been one of the best pitchers in baseball. But he’s only one of the best pitchers in baseball during spring training as he’s one of the worst once Opening Day rolls around.
In 2011, Germano didn’t allow a run in nine innings of exhibition work. Last season, he only threw three innings, but didn’t allow a run again. This year, he’s thrown four scoreless innings. He also hasn’t walked anyone the last three spring trainings.
Over the last three regular seasons, though, Germano is 2-14 and has allowed 69 earned runs in 117.2 innings for a 5.28 ERA. That’s pretty close to his career ERA of 5.27, which he’s established over the course of his seven-year career.
Also, the Toronto Blue Jays are all set with starting pitchers, so no matter how well Germano pitches, he’s not making the team—unless they feel he’s a reliable reliever. I think it’s much more likely he starts the year in Triple-A, though.
Ryan Raburn, Cleveland Indians
The Cleveland Indians are basically having open tryouts this spring for spots on the bench and Ryan Raburn is in that mix. Over the course of his career, he’s never played that big of a role and isn’t expected to even if he makes the Indians 25-man roster.
Thigh issues plagued Raburn’s 2012 campaign with the Detroit Tigers, the team he’s played for his entire career for up until this season. He has fair power, a bad glove and an inconsistent bat. But that never stopped the Tigers from giving him time. He surpassed 100 games with them three times in his seven-year career there.
Raburn is another player who excels during spring training. He’s hit 10 home runs in 41 spring training games the last two seasons, driving in 31 runs and scoring 19 times. He’s off to an even quicker start this year, hitting three long balls in his first six games while hitting at a .615 clip.
Raburn can hit all he wants during these exhibition games, but even the Indians have to know that his numbers aren’t going to translate. He’ll probably end up hitting around 400 points lower during the regular season.
Liam Hendriks, Minnesota Twins
Somehow, the Minnesota Twins plan on giving Liam Hendriks a spot in the starting rotation. How or why this is happening, I have no idea. Nothing about Hendriks would have me optimistic about a positive season.
Not even a hot start to the spring, even though that’s what he’s currently having. Through five innings of work thus far, Hendriks has allowed one run on six hits while striking out two and walking one. For those trying to do the math, even though it’s a small sample size, that’s an ERA of 1.80.
Hendriks was rather impressive last spring as well, posting a 2.84 ERA in 25.1 innings. But that didn’t transfer to the regular season. In 16 starts, he went 1-8 with a 5.59 ERA in 85.1 innings. So why would Minnesota think that he’d do much better this time around?
Obviously, they’re seeing something that I’m not. He isn’t overpowering at all and clearly doesn’t have the ability to sit down big league hitters. He’s doing it in the spring, but won’t in the fall.
Collin Cowgill, New York Mets
There are a ton of outfielders in the running to land a spot on the New York Mets’ Opening Day roster and potentially even in the starting lineup. There’s no sense of reality in New York and the Mets are just going to throw whoever out there.
One of the players New York could end up starting is Collin Cowgill. Cowgill, who only has two years of major league experience, is a good fielder, but an unproven hitter. He has only had 216 plate appearances in the big leagues, hitting at a .255 career clip with two home runs and 18 runs and RBI.
Cowgill was a relatively good hitter in the minor leagues and even showed some power at times and he seems to showing off that ability this spring. In 11 at-bats thus far, Cowgill has six hits including three for extra bases. He’s stolen a pair of bases and also walked twice.
Even if Cowgill makes the team, there’s no way he keeps hitting so consistently. The Mets play in an extremely difficult division with a handful of dominant pitchers—and there’s no room for an under-seasoned outfielder to succeed.
Clay Hensley, Cincinnati Reds
After Clay Hensley’s dream of being a big league starting pitcher came to an end in 2007 with the San Diego Padres, he had to hold his own as a reliever to stay in the majors. Since that transition to the bullpen, he hasn’t been very impressive.
Over the last five seasons—spending all of 2009 in the minors while the Miami Marlins tried starting him one last try—Hensley has been an eye sore. In three of his last four big league years, he’s finished with an ERA above 4.60 and has topped 5.00 twice.
After a disappointing 2012 campaign with the World Champion San Francisco Giants, Hensley will attempt a bounce back season with the Cincinnati Reds. So far so good for him, too, as he’s yet to allow a run in 4.1 innings this spring. He’s only given up one hit and has struck out three.
If Hensley continues to pitch well, there still isn’t a spot for him in the Reds’ bullpen. Cincinnati has a bunch of talented relievers and could add another should Aroldis Chapman not work out as a starting pitcher. Hensley can do all he wants, but he shouldn’t get his hopes up.
Leslie Anderson, Tampa Bay Rays
Leslie Anderson has never made it to the show, but he’s trying to show the Tampa Bay Rays that he belongs there in 2013. Anderson has played in the Rays’ minor league system the last three seasons, but has yet to get the anticipated call.
Anderson played for his home of Cuba in the last World Baseball Classic, but didn’t hit too well. He’s held his own in the minor leagues, though, and hit 14 home runs with a .309 batting average in Triple-A last season. The year prior he hit 13 long balls at a .277 clip.
But can Anderson be effective with the Rays at the major league level? He’s had a solid spring so far, going 7-for-13 with three extra-base hits and seven RBI through six games. But that doesn’t necessarily tell the entire story. He hasn’t faced big league pitchers in midseason form yet and there’s no guarantee he’ll get the opportunity to either.
It would be rather surprising if Anderson were to make the Rays’ 25-man roster come Opening Day. Tampa Bay already has James Loney slotted as the starting first baseman and Shelly Duncan is expected to back him up. Luke Scott can play first as well. There just isn’t a spot for Anderson for now.
Zach Stewart, Chicago White Sox
Zach Stewart is not a pitcher who deserves a spot on a 25-man roster no matter what he does this spring. He has been in 33 games in his short major league career and has been terrible in nearly all of them.
Stewart has been on the move frequently in his short career, but seems to always end up back with the Chicago White Sox. They’ll be the ones giving him another shot in 2013, his third stint with the club. Over the course of his entire career, though, he’s allowed 78 earned runs in 103 innings for an ERA of 6.82.
A 6.82 ERA isn’t pretty no matter which way you shape it. But this spring, he’s yet to allow a run in 4.2 innings, which is better than nothing. He’s allowed three hits and struck out five batters without allowing a walk.
If Stewart can continue to pitch well, he’s still a long shot to make the White Sox’s team come Opening Day. He’s really made things difficult on himself and he’s paying for it now and will continue to pay for it in the future.
Domonic Brown, Philadelphia Phillies
Has Domonic Brown finally found what he’s been missing? Spring training numbers would say yes, but I’m not so sure just yet. Brown has struggled each opportunity he’s been given by the Philadelphia Phillies, so why is this year any different?
In three seasons with the Phillies, totaling 147 games, Brown has been a non-factor on both sides of the ball. He hasn’t hit well and he hasn’t played outfield particularly well either. In nearly 500 plate appearances, Brown is hitting around .235 with 12 home runs and just under 60 RBI.
Those types of numbers aren’t going to cut it, especially for someone who was expected to be the future of the team. Brown is no longer the future, but is still looking to make an impact. This spring, he’s 5-for-12 with two home runs, three RBI and three walks. Not bad, right?
But to say that Brown’s spring training hot steak will last the entire spring and into the season would be ill-advised. There’s always the chance that he’s finally confident enough of a hitter to contribute, but then there’s also the chance that these six games have been a fluke.
David Phelps, New York Yankees
Heading into spring training, the New York Yankees were going to give the fifth starter job to either David Phelps or Ivan Nova. But with Phil Hughes likely to miss the start of the season due to injury, now both will start the year in the rotation.
Phelps established himself as a spot-starter with the Yankees last season, starting 11 games out of 33 total appearances. In total, he went 4-4 with a 3.34 ERA in 99.2 innings of work. He struggled with his command at times, but does have the ability to strike out a sizeable number of batters out.
In the minors, Phelps was primarily a starting pitcher and had only made one relief appearance. Now getting the chance to start full-time, Phelps is showing the Yankees that they’re making a smart choice for this season. He’s yet to allow a run in five innings of spring ball, but has given up five hits and hasn’t struck out or walked many.
So what does this say about the young right-hander? Well, it says that we haven’t seen him enough. He’s done fine in the minors as a starter and fine in the majors as a reliever. What happens when you combine the two? The regular season will tell for sure, but I wouldn’t expect much.