Spring training is an exhausting experience for everyone involved. Fans want the season to start. Players and coaches want to avoid injuries, though they always happen at the most inopportune times.
Sometimes, though, there are valuable lessons that we can take away from these exhibition games. It's best not to read too much into every pitch, but looking at a new pitch that has been added or a change in swing/approach can help surmise that good things are going to happen.
Now that we have two full weeks of games to analyze, here are the biggest winners from spring training so far.
Mike Moustakas, 3B, Kansas City Royals
To say that Mike Moustakas had a bad 2013 season would be an understatement. He had the lowest slugging percentage (.364), second-lowest on-base percentage (.287) and third-lowest batting average (.233) among qualified third baseman.
Despite those struggles, there were reasons to be optimistic heading into 2014. First, some of Moustakas' misfortune last year can be chalked up to bad luck.
While he's never been the most patient hitter, Moose's strikeout rate actually dropped four percent from 2012 to 2013 (20.2 to 16.1) and line-drive percentage increased from 16.4 to 18.8, yet his batting average on balls in play went from .274 to .257.
All that appears to be ancient history, as Moustakas looks like a new man this spring. He's hitting a balmy .500/.559/1.036 with three doubles, four home runs and 14 RBIs.
As Corban Goble of Grantland.com noted, Moustakas took the bull by the horns during the offseason to ensure another season like 2013 doesn't happen again.
But give Moustakas this: He’s trying! Checking his ego at U.S. Customs, he spent 17 games with Cardenales de Lara in Venezuela’s winter league. “Improved attitude” seems like a mandatory phrase in every Moustakas write-up from spring training, where he’s become the Crash Davis of the Cactus League.
Just 26 years old, Moustakas is entering the phase of his career where his ability to hit for power has to start showing up in games consistently for the Royals to give him playing time, There's nothing to pick apart so far this spring.
That's good news for a Kansas City team that has very legitimate playoff aspirations in the American League.
Michael Pineda, RHP, New York Yankees
You remember Michael Pineda, right? He was the flame throwing right-hander who made the All-Star team and averaged 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings as a rookie in Seattle, then got traded to New York in a deal that sent Jesus Montero to the Mariners.
What looked like one of the great prospect-for-prospect deals in years has turned into a colossal bust. Montero hasn't hit at all and showed up to camp this year 40 pounds overweight.
Pineda, on the other hand, has spent two years battling injuries and is finally at a point where he can throw in games again. It's only been two outings covering 4.2 innings, but his results have been exciting.
Now 25 years old, Pineda has nine strikeouts and one walk in 4.2 innings. The report from his start against Baltimore on Thursday was encouraging, courtesy of the Newark Star-Ledger's Jorge Castillo.
Michael Pineda’s day is over with 2 on and 2 out in the 2nd. He threw 47 pitches and hit 92 mph a couple times.— Jorge Castillo (@jorgeccastillo) March 13, 2014
Which player is the most important to his team's success in 2014?
The velocity isn't where it was in his rookie season, when the fastball averaged 94.7 mph, but the results have still been inspiring.
CC Sabathia may have lost a lot of weight but is only hitting 88-89 with his fastball. Hiroki Kuroda got knocked around in his last spring appearance (3.2 IP, 10 hits, six runs).
Masahiro Tanaka could easily end up as New York's best starter by midseason, but the team will need someone else to step up in order to make the playoffs. Pineda has that potential, even if he's too volatile to depend on for 25-30 starts.
Don't buy all-in on Pineda yet, but the fact he's throwing well in games is a huge step in the right direction.
Ryan Braun, OF, Milwaukee Brewers
With the exception of Alex Rodriguez, no player had a more eventful (for all the wrong reasons) 2013 season than Ryan Braun. The 2011 NL MVP was in the midst of the worst year of his career—still excellent by almost anyone else's standards—with a .298/.372/.498 line in 61 games.
After Major League Baseball got information from Anthony Bosch about the Biogenesis clinic he ran in Florida, which named Ryan Braun as a client, the league suspended Milwaukee's All-Star down for the last 65 games of the year.
Braun remained quiet until the offseason, reportedly making amends with sample collector Dino Laurenzi over dinner and told Bob Nightengale of USA Today that he is strong and what people may yell doesn't bother him.
People may have something new to yell now, but it's really no different than anything I've gone though. I've never gone to Chicago and had them cheer for me. I've never gone to St. Louis and had them say, "I hope you do great.' Nobody's fans have ever cheered for the opposing team's best player.
That confidence is showing on the field this spring, where Braun homered in his first at-bat and hasn't let up since with a .571/.647/1.143 line.
He may have been a forgotten man in some circles, but Braun is going to have a monster year for the Brewers in 2014.
Note: Stats courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted.
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