Updating the Hottest Questions of MLB Spring Training Week 5
If the exhibition slate were a trip around the bases, we'd just be hitting the bag at second—still a couple of 90-foot sprints away from Opening Day, but a lot closer than when we started.
And while the scores of these Cactus and Grapefruit League contests don't matter, there's still plenty of consequential stuff going on between—and outside—the lines.
In this week's edition of "hottest questions," we've got an aging home run king flexing his muscles, a young Philadelphia Phillies slugger with a scalding bat, a void in Chicago White Sox camp, a Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder on the comeback trail and a Boston Red Sox third baseman on the outs with the media.
Stretch those hammies, run a few sprints on the back field and step up to the plate when ready.
Could Barry Bonds Still Play?
In 2007, his final big league season, Barry Bonds hit 28 home runs and paced MLB with a .480 on-base percentage. Strip away the performance-enhancing-drug distractions, and it is absolutely preposterous that no one gave him a job the following year, even when he offered to play for the league minimum.
Flash forward nearly a decade, and Bonds is in Miami Marlins camp as a hitting coach. And he can still wallop the bejesus out of a baseball.
As you've probably heard, Bonds took part in a little competitive batting practice session with some of the Marlins' young hitters and wound up launching more long balls than any of them, including Giancarlo Stanton, according to Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald.
Which begs the question: Could Bonds, at age 51, still contribute in the batter's box?
Trim as he looks, it's a near-certainty Bonds' legs couldn't withstand the defensive rigors of the outfield or any other position. But as a left-handed power bat off the bench or a designated hitter when Miami plays interleague games in American League parks?
It sounds crazy on its face. On the other hand, these are the Marlins, who do crazy for a living. Would giving a few at-bats to the all-time home run king really be nuttier than, say, firing your skipper and replacing him with a general manager with zero professional coaching experience?
This almost certainly won't happen, because hitting coaches who've passed the half-century mark don't get their names penciled onto lineup cards. It'd be absurd.
Then again, South Beach is where absurd spends the summer. So stay tuned.
Is Maikel Franco About to Go Supernova?
It's easy to get caught up in the gears of the spring hype machine. Big numbers in Florida and Arizona often evaporate once the games start to count.
But it's been impossible to watch Maikel Franco set the Grapefruit League ablaze and not imagine huge things for the Philadelphia Phillies' young third baseman.
Franco enjoyed a breakout 2015 season that saw him hit 14 home runs with an .840 OPS before a wrist injury put him on the shelf.
Now, the 23-year-old is leading all spring swingers with six home runs. Again, it's March. Sprinkle on the grains of salt and serve with a side of caveats.
It's tough not to feel excited, though, particularly if you're a Phillies fan searching for kernels of hope amidst a painful, protracted rebuild.
Speaking of which: The biggest impediment to Franco's truly breaking out in 2016 could be the lack of protection he'll have in the Phillies lineup. He might be capable of cracking 30-40 home runs, but why would opposing pitchers give him the chance?
I had a scout predict to me that if he plays 130 games this year, he will hit 35 home runs. I kinda laughed at first, but I then I went back and took another look at his season last year. He got called up in May, took a little time to settle in, but then from June 1st on, this was his slash line: .302/.368/.537/.905. This was in almost 300 plate appearances. That would basically make him Jose Abreu. In fact, Giancarlo Stanton's career OPS is .909, and Maikel Franco was .905 from June 1 on last year.
Jose Abreu with a dusting of Stanton? That should inspire a few smiles in the City of Brotherly Love.
Will the Adam LaRoche Controversy Doom the White Sox?
The Chicago White Sox lost 86 games last season and came into spring as long shots in a crowded AL Central.
But there was enough talent to wonder if Chicago could redeem itself and claw into the postseason picture. Now, the club is threatening to implode before a single meaningful game is played.
In case you missed the controversy: After the White Sox and executive vice president Ken Williams informed veteran Adam LaRoche that his 14-year-old son wasn't welcome in the clubhouse on a regular basis, LaRoche opted to retire.
That, in turn, led to players' threatening to boycott a Cactus League contest, per Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune. And, according to Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan, there were "F-bombs aplenty" during a meeting between Williams and LaRoche's disgruntled teammates.
Some of this will blow over eventually. In a recent text message, Williams proclaimed, "I'm done with this," per Sullivan.
But spring is supposed to be about fostering hope and building camaraderie. Instead, the White Sox are without their designated hitter and backup first baseman and trying, with limited success, to wipe away the bad vibes.
Is Yasiel Puig Primed for a Comeback?
After a season marred by injury and inconsistency and an offseason tainted by an alleged physical altercation outside a Florida bar, it's easy to forget that Yasiel Puig is pretty good at baseball.
The brash Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder reminded us all of that fact Wednesday by clubbing his first home run of the spring. While it might have been a coincidence, the dinger came just hours after MLB announced it wouldn't take disciplinary action against Puig for the bar incident.
The league, Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times reported, "limited its investigation to the allegation that Puig hit his sister" but found no evidence to support that claim.
"I'm happy with the results of the investigation," Puig said through an interpreter, per Shaikin, adding, "I don't have a side to the story."
New York Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman, of course, was recently suspended 30 games under baseball's domestic violence rules. Now, Puig can rest assured he'll avoid such punishment.
And, possibly, he can get back to being the player who electrified the league as a ball-of-energy rookie in 2013.
For all his ups and downs, Puig is still just 25 years old. When he's right, he's a legit five-tool talent capable of carrying an offense.
FanGraphs foretells a .281/.356/.482 slash line with 21 home runs, and the other projection systems essentially agree.
That would be a nice bounce-back, and the Dodgers would undoubtedly take it. But if Puig can push his ceiling even higher, it'd go a long way toward smoothing over Los Angeles' pitching concerns and propelling the club to a fourth consecutive division crown.
Is Pablo Sandoval Too Sensitive for Boston?
The good news? A reporter used the word "thin" to describe Pablo Sandoval.
The bad news? The reporter was referring to the Boston Red Sox third baseman's skin, not his waistline.
Sandoval, ESPN.com's Scott Lauber reported, didn't take kindly to a question about his defense and slammed his bat on a clubhouse table during a brief, heated "confrontation."
The incident, Lauber opined, showed Sandoval "has remarkably thin skin for someone entering his ninth big-league season."
The Kung Fu Panda, Lauber continued, can be "hypersensitive, be it about his struggle to control his weight or his wretched 2015 season, and outwardly emotional, a combination that generally doesn't play well in a market like Boston."
That's been the narrative since Sandoval left the relatively laid-back confines of San Francisco and bolted for a five-year, $95 million payday in Beantown, then proceeded to play more like a scrub than a star.
And it's going to continue, and escalate, unless he produces.
It could still happen. Sandoval doesn't turn 30 until August, and he showed a penchant for big moments during his glory days with the Giants, posting a .344 average in 39 postseason games.
If the revamped Red Sox can get back to the playoffs and Sandoval works his October magic, suddenly the scrutiny will melt away.
Until then, his relationship with the media isn't likely to get any healthier.
All statistics current as of March 17 and courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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