Spring training statistics can be horribly misleading. With so many young, inexperienced prospects in big league camp, it’s important that all numbers be analyzed within context. At the same time, it’s hard not to get excited when a prospect makes an immediate impact against superior competition.
Since the start of Cactus and Grapefruit League games early last week, more and more top-ranked prospects have opened eyes with their respective performances this spring in spite of limited opportunities. On the other hand, numerous highly touted prospects have gotten off to rough starts this year and will need to right the ship as the spring unfolds.
Here’s a look at some of the best and worst performances after the first week-plus of spring training games.
Javier Baez, SS, Chicago Cubs
Spring Training Stats: 5-for-12, 2 HR, 2B, 2 K
Baez has made the most of his extra playing time at shortstop this spring, dropping jaws with his performance on all sides of the ball while Starlin Castro nurses a strained hamstring. The 21-year-old is 5-for-9 over his last three contests, and he’s now homered in back-to-back games. And how about this play he made the other day?
Baez generates incredible bat speed, resulting in big power. He also has the ability to hit for average if he is able to develop more plate discipline. But he is a good bad-ball hitter and often finds a way to get his bat on the ball in spite of his aggressiveness.
Tommy La Stella, 2B, Atlanta Braves
Spring Training Stats: 7-for-18, 5 R, 2 2B, 4 BB, 2 K
La Stella has hit at every minor league stop since the Braves drafted him in 2011, including a .343/.422/.473 batting line with 27 extra-base hits and a 34-37 strikeout-to-walk rate last season in 81 games at Double-A Mississippi.
However, a slew of injuries have prevented the 25-year-old from playing more than 90 games in a single season. La Stella is considered a potential replacement for Dan Uggla at the keystone, so it’s not surprising the Braves are giving him an extended look this spring. He’s a pure left-handed hitter with advanced on-base skills, and it’s only a matter of time until he gets a look in the major leagues.
Gregory Polanco, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
Spring Training Stats: 5-for-15, 2 2B, HR, SB, 2 K
While Polanco is unlikely to make the Pirates’ Opening Day roster this year, save for an injury to one of the team’s outfielders, the 22-year-old has already proven this spring that he won’t require much time in the minor leagues.
After smoking a home run to right field against Yankees right-hander David Phelps for his first spring training hit, the toolsy outfielder has now hit safely in his last three games, going 4-for-8 with a stolen base and pair of doubles. Polanco is likely ticketed for Triple-A to begin the season; however, maintaining his current pace could force the organization to make a difficult decision later this month.
Billy Burns, OF, Oakland Athletics
Spring Training Stats: 7-for-24, 7 R, 7 SB, 4 BB, 6 K
If Billy Hamilton is baseball’s fastest player, then A’s outfielder Billy Burns is second. Last season, Burns, 24, was named the Nationals' Minor League Player of the Year after batting .315/.425/.383 with 96 runs scored, nine triples, 74 stolen bases in 81 attempts and a stellar 54-72 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 535 plate appearances between High-A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg.
Acquired by the A’s during the offseason in exchange for reliever Jerry Blevins, Burns has opened eyes this spring with his combination of on-base skills and elite speed, highlighted by a league-best seven stolen bases in nine games.
Nick Castellanos, 3B, Detroit Tigers
Spring Training Stats: 6-for-14, 2 2B, HR, 7 RBI, SB, K
The Tigers aren’t holding anything back this spring with Castellanos. Slated to begin the season as the team’s starting third baseman, the 22-year-old has been one of the hottest hitters on the planet over the last week-plus of spring games, with at least one hit in four of his five starts so far (half of his total hits have gone for extra bases) and a pair of multi-RBI performances.
Defensively, Castellanos will experience his share of hiccups this season at the hot corner, as the Tigers shifted him back to the position this spring after he served as an outfielder exclusively in 2013. Regardless, Castellanos' promising bat should always outweigh his shortcomings with the leather.
Archie Bradley, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
Spring Training Stats: 3 IP, H, 2 BB, 6 K (1 G)
Bradley, the sport’s top-ranked pitching prospect headed into the season, made his highly anticipated spring debut on Monday against the Rockies—and the 21-year-old did not disappoint. Besides tossing three scoreless frames, Bradley used his devastating fastball-curveball combination to strike out six batters in the outing, including Drew Stubbs (twice), Michael Cuddyer, Nolan Arenado and Carlos Gonzalez.
Even though Bradley is, without question, one of the Diamondbacks' five best starters headed into the season, he'll need to turn in a few more lights-out performances in order to make the Opening Day rotation.
Watch Bradley comment on his outing against the Rockies in the video below.
Xander Bogaerts, SS, Boston Red Sox
Spring Training Stats: 3-for-9, 2B, HR, 2 BB, K
After going hitless in his spring debut on Feb. 28, Bogaerts is 3-for-7 with a double, home run and two walks in his last three games. The 21-year-old’s dinger came on Wednesday against the Cardinals, and as you will see, it was an absolute bomb to straightaway left field.
If you're not excited about this kid's enormously bright future, then I suggest you immediately consult a physician.
New York Mets Pitching Prospects (Syndergaard, Montero, deGrom)
Spring Training Stats: 8 IP, 2 H, 10 K
The Mets’ collection of right-handed pitching prospects has been on display this spring, as Noah Syndergaard (2 IP, H, 2 K), Rafael Montero (2 IP, 2 K) and Jacob deGrom (4 IP, H, 6 K) have combined to throw eight shutout innings with two hits allowed and 10 strikeouts. We’ll be sure to keep a close eye on this trio as the rest of spring training unfolds.
Daniel Corcino, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
Spring Training Stats: 1.1 IP, 5 H, 8 ER, 5 BB, 3 K (2 G)
The Reds rushed Corcino to Triple-A last season based on the merits of his successful 2012 campaign at Double-A. As a result, the 23-year-old regressed considerably in the International League, registering an ugly 5.86 ERA and 90-73 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 129 innings. Specifically, the right-hander struggled to pound the strike zone with his fastball, which in turn made his secondary offerings less effective.
Unfortunately, Corcino’s spring debut on Feb. 27 against the Indians indicated that nothing has changed for the right-hander, as he allowed four earned runs on one hit and three walks and failed to complete a full inning (he recorded only two outs). Corcino's follow-up outing this week was equally terrible, as he once again last only two-thirds of an inning after giving up four more earned runs on four hits and two walks.
Kolten Wong, 2B, St. Louis Cardinals
Spring Training Stats: 0-for-10, 2 R, BB, 4 K
Kolten Wong had a disappointing showing in the major leagues last summer, batting .153/.194/.169 in 62 plate appearances spanning 32 games after a promotion in late August. Though the Cardinals still view the 23-year-old as their long-term second baseman, Wong’s struggles prompted the organization to sign veteran second baseman Mark Ellis during the offseason as a low-risk insurance plan.
Unfortunately, Wong hasn’t benefited from the fresh start this spring, as he’s yet to collect a hit through five games. However, the hits should start falling once he settles in at the dish and stops pressing.
Matt Purke, LHP, Washington Nationals
Spring Training Stats: 3.1 IP, 9 H, 7 ER, 3 BB, 3 K (2 G)
The Nationals selected Matt Purke in the third round of the 2011 draft after a promising but injury-plagued career at Texas Christian University, thereafter signing the left-hander to a four-year, $4.15 million major league contract. After logging only 15.1 innings in 2012, Purke, 23, took a step forward last season by posting a 3.80 ERA and 82-25 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 90 innings between both Class-A levels.
So far this spring, Purke has made two appearances out of the Nats’ bullpen, both of which have been rough. In his first outing, the southpaw surrendered four earned runs on four hits and two walks in 1.1 innings; on Wednesday he gave up three earned runs on five hits in two innings.
Despite all this, there’s a realistic chance Purke will see time in the major leagues this season, as it represents the final year of his contract.
Marcus Stroman, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays
Spring Training Stats: 2 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, BB, 3 K (1 G)
Marcus Stroman served a 50-game PED suspension to begin the 2013 season, but he blew past expectations following his return with an impressive showing in the Double-A rotation. Overall, he registered a 3.30 ERA and 129-27 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 111.2 innings.
As a result of his success last season, Stroman, 22, is one of several pitchers competing for a spot in the Blue Jays’ Opening Day rotation. In is spring debut on March 1, the right-hander allowed two earned runs on four hits and a walk in two innings. While it wasn’t a particularly clean outing, Stroman showcased his usual electric stuff en route to recording three strikeouts.
*All videos courtesy of MLB Advanced Media, MLB.com.