Bleacher Report's All-Spring Training Team
For going on four weeks now, you’ve had an annual adage pounded into your psyche.
Don’t put too much stock into spring training numbers. They do not reflect future performance.
But future performance is what we care about, which is why we always get sucked into spring training stats, good and bad. We want to believe a strong spring equals a strong regular season. And we panic if a certain player can’t hit a lick or get out minor leaguers during March.
It’s the yearly challenge for all baseball fans and analysts, and sometimes players themselves.
So instead of scolding you for being excited about gaudy spring training performances, let us join in. Let’s dig into the hot players, though not too deep, and come up with the best of the best during the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues.
Here it is: your position-by-position Bleacher Report All-Spring Training Team.
Starting Pitcher: Taijuan Walker, Seattle Mariners
Taijuan Walker has been a prospect on the brink of stardom for a few seasons now, but this spring he is showing why he will be a key piece of the Mariners rotation.
In 18 spring innings, Walker has not allowed a run, has struck out 19, and hitters are batting just .103 against him.
“I feel like I’m where I want to be,” Walker told reporters after his Thursday start.
He is also where the Mariners want him to be, which is slotting himself into what could develop into the American League’s best rotation.
Catcher: Tony Sanchez, Pittsburgh Pirates
When the Pirates drafted Tony Sanchez fourth overall in 2009, behind No. 1 pick Stephen Strasburg and well ahead of Mike Trout (No. 25), they saw him as a future superstar who played a premium position. He never developed into the offensive player the Pirates hoped for, but still the team promoted him to the majors in 2013 and 2014 even though there was little playing time to be had on a contending team that featured Russell Martin as one of its stars.
With Martin gone to his native land of Canada for 2015, catcher is a tenuous position in Pittsburgh as Francisco Cervelli holds the starter's spot. For now.
Sanchez has lit up the Grapefruit League with a raunchy .452/.528/.903 line (14-for-31, four walks), a 1.431 OPS and three home runs. Those numbers, to hear Sanchez tell it, are a product of a serious case of motivation brought on by the Pirates trading for Cervelli in November. It was the third consecutive offseason the franchise brought in a major league catcher, bypassing a permanent promotion for Sanchez.
“Every year they bring somebody new in, it's my own fault,” Sanchez told Stephen J. Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “It's because I haven't produced behind the plate, haven't been dependable. I can't blame anybody else but myself.”
This year, because of his spring performance and partially because backup catcher Chris Stewart could miss a couple of weeks with a hamstring injury, Sanchez just might break camp with the big league club.
First Base: Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox
Jose Abreu has certainly had a wonderful spring training, and he earns this spot with the help of the Los Angeles Angels’ first basemen canceling each other out in the vote—Albert Pujols, C.J. Cron and Efren Navarro are all having strong springs.
That is not meant to slight Abreu, the reigning American League Rookie of the Year. He is hitting .479/.490/.625 with a 1.115 OPS, a home run and seven RBI in 48 at-bats. He has also struck out just six times.
That is quite the contrast from Abreu’s rookie spring when he hit .286/.298/.482 with a .780 OPS in 56 at-bats. That was clearly no indication of how he would perform in the regular season as he became an All-Star, won the Silver Slugger Award and finished fourth in MVP voting aside from the Rookie of the Year honor.
Second Base: Dee Gordon, Miami Marlins
The Los Angeles Dodgers were seen as selling high on Dee Gordon despite the fact that he managed only a 101 OPS-plus last season and so-so defense. If that was “high” for Gordon, it would not bode well for the Marlins, who acquired him believing he could be a productive second baseman for years to come.
Gordon is hoping to take another step offensively and defensively in his second season at second base. This spring he has done so with the bat, hitting .325/.352/.462 with three doubles and two triples.
What is just as impressive, and maybe more telling of what he can really contribute during the season, is that Gordon is 7-for-9 in stolen bases, a 78 percent success rate. Last season Gordon led the league with 64 steals, getting caught 19 times. If he can duplicate that success, or better it, his speed will continue to be a major asset.
Shortstop: Wilmer Flores, New York Mets
The Mets spent the winter in the market for a new shortstop, and all the while they left Wilmer Flores to wonder exactly where he fit into the club’s future plans.
In the end the Mets ended up sticking with what they have, which is a split position with Flores and Ruben Tejada trying to earn the permanent spot. So far this spring, Flores has outperformed Tejada, who got the bulk of the innings at shortstop last year.
Flores, 23, entered Sunday hitting .333/.353/.563 with a .915 OPS, five doubles, two homers and nine RBI. Despite a suspect glove, Flores’ performance this month has led him to become the likely Opening Day shortstop.
We should also note an honorable mention at this position. Houston Astros prospect Carlos Correa is hitting .341/.372/.512 with an .884 OPS in 41 at-bats.
Third Base: Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies
Nolan Arenado already has a strong reputation as a slick fielder, and last season his bat started to catch up. That trend has continued this spring as he has put up a .948 OPS with five doubles, four home runs and 11 RBI.
Houston’s Luis Valbuena actually has a better slash line, but Arenado has more homers, RBI and runs scored. Plus Arenado is the better fielder and has not made an error in 10 more total chances than Valbuena, who also has not made an error.
New San Diego Padres third baseman Will Middlebrooks has also had a strong offensive spring, posting a .911 OPS in 45 at-bats.
Oh, and please hold for Kris Bryant's position on this team.
Center Field: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
The reigning American League MVP has not taken this spring training off. Mike Trout has continued to pound the baseball to the tune of a ridiculous .468/.527/.851 slash line with a 1.378 OPS, four home runs, two doubles, two triples, seven walks and 14 RBI.
Trout put up a great spring last year also, hitting .414/.460/.828 with a 1.288 OPS and six home runs.
Trout is already heralded as the best position player in the game, and his spring is looking like a precursor to what could be another MVP campaign That would be ideal for the Angels, a team that won 98 games last season but was swept out of the postseason by the Kansas City Royals.
Left Field: J.D. Martinez, Detroit Tigers
The Tigers called up J.D. Martinez in late April last season, and he surprisingly ended up being one of their biggest contributors.
This year he has his spot set, and his production in the Grapefruit League is more proof why that is a good idea. Martinez is hitting .358/.452/.717 with a 1.169 OPS, five homers, four doubles, seven walks and 11 RBI.
That is quite a change from last year, his first with the Tigers, when he batted .167/.250/.222 with one double and no home runs in 18 spring at-bats. That poor production led to Martinez starting the year at Triple-A Toledo, where he got off to a hot start before his MLB season debut on April 21.
This year Martinez won’t sneak up on anyone, including his own franchise. He is expected to be a critical piece of Detroit’s lineup, and he is already performing like it.
Right Field: Brennan Boesch, Cincinnati Reds
The Reds have a full outfield with Marlon Byrd, Billy Hamilton and Jay Bruce, so Brennan Boesch is not competing for a starting job this spring training. Instead he is playing to prove he can be the power bat the Reds need coming off the bench.
He also gives the Reds a guy who can fill in at all three outfield spots and possibly first base.
“[Boesch] certainly can help us. There's no doubt about it," Reds manager Bryan Price said earlier this month, per John Fay of The Cincinnati Enquirer. “We have a situation here where we need depth, bench depth, someone who could step in if we need help in the outfield or first base.”
Boesch is hitting .385/.370/.673 with a 1.043 OPS, four home runs, three doubles and 14 RBI in 52 at-bats.
Designated Hitter: Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs
Kris Bryant is obviously not a DH, but he has been about the best hitter in Arizona or Florida.
The Cubs prospect leads all spring hitters with nine home runs, to go with a 1.175 slugging percentage and a 1.652 OPS. He also has a .425 average and .477 OBP.
Of course he is doing all of this with a cloud hanging over his head, the one that says the Cubs are likely to send him to the minors for a few weeks in order to gain an extra year of control before Bryant can hit free agency. He is asked about it almost daily, yet he has brushed off the distraction to prove he belongs in the big leagues.
Relief Pitcher: Andy Oliver, Philadelphia Phillies
Finding a pitcher to fill this spot is difficult because there are different ways to rate relievers. But regardless of how you like to judge a relief pitcher, Andy Oliver’s numbers in the Grapefruit League cannot be ignored.
He has pitched 10 innings—Milwaukee’s Rob Wooten has the most relief spring innings with 14.1—and struck out an incredible 18 hitters. He has allowed two runs, five hits and has a 1.80 ERA.
Oliver has not pitched in the majors since 2011, but his spring outings might be enough to land him a spot on the Phillies’ Opening Day roster.