Bleacher Report's All-Spring Training Team Through 2 Weeks of Play
Ah, spring training. It's that time of year when you can look out and see both baseball's biggest stars and randos from the minors putting up big numbers.
Let's say we take a moment to honor players from both walks of life?
Spring training games have been going on for a couple weeks now, so we have a good idea of which players are grabbing the exhibition season by the horns. Let's honor the best of the best at each position from the American League and the National League.
Guidelines? Only two. One, obviously, is that production matters. The second is that sample sizes do, too. There's nothing but small sample sizes out there now, but the bigger the better.
And now for a disclaimer: There's a very, very good chance that the performances we're about to look at will mean nothing in the long run. But, we'll do our best to contextualize them anyway.
Catcher: Gary Sanchez and Travis d'Arnaud
American League: Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees
Gary Sanchez only managed a 1.053 OPS and 20 home runs in 53 games last year, so who could have seen this coming?
Sarcasm aside, it's a positive that Sanchez is raking now after struggling with a .396 OPS last spring. The 24-year-old seems to have found his groove, which bodes well for his first full major league season in 2017.
And he hasn't just been impressive at the plate. Sanchez has also made some impressive throws, including a particularly impressive toss that cut down the speedy Anthony Gose.
"He was [clocked at] 1.9 [seconds] from his knees, are you kidding me?"’ one scout told George A. King III of the New York Post. "Gose got a good jump. I looked at another scout and said, 'What the hell is going on?'"
National League: Travis d'Arnaud, New York Mets
After he managed just a .629 OPS in an injury-marred 2016 season, the New York Mets are getting a glimpse at a new and improved Travis d'Arnaud. The 28-year-old showed up to camp with new hitting mechanics.
"I'm able to see the ball longer and not have to cheat to get to certain pitches," d’Arnaud told John Harper of the New York Daily News. "I've shortened the swing up so it's more direct and I don't have to overcommit too soon."
The Mets got just a .607 OPS out of their catchers last year, so they can be forgiven if the noise that d'Arnaud's new swing is producing has them feeling giddy.
First Base: Greg Bird and Brock Stassi
American League: Greg Bird, New York Yankees
When the Yankees signed Chris Carter, it seemed like they were bringing on a Plan B in case Greg Bird was slow to recover from right shoulder surgery that sidelined him for all of 2016.
So much for that. Bird, 24, has looked every bit like he did when he established himself as a rising star in 2015, posting an .871 OPS and slugging 11 homers in 46 major league games.
"I have not seen anything that leads me to believe he is not 100 percent, which is really good," Yankees skipper Joe Girardi told King.
No kidding. The Yankees thought they found their long-term answer at first base two years ago. Bird's spring suggests the answer still applies.
National League: Brock Stassi, Philadelphia Phillies
Raise your hands if you'd heard of Brock Stassi before this spring.
OK, most of you are probably liars.
Stassi began his pro career as a 33rd-round pick back in 2011. He mostly struggled in his first few seasons and has yet to be rated as one of the Philadelphia Phillies' top prospects.
Things are looking up for the 27-year-old, however. He's posted an OPS over .800 at Double-A and Triple-A over the last two seasons, and he now has a chance to crack the big club's roster as a platoon partner for Tommy Joseph at first base.
Second Base: Michael Martinez and Tony Renda
American League: Michael Martinez, Cleveland Indians
That's right. Michael Martinez isn't just the guy who made the last out in the 2016 World Series anymore. Now he's a 2017 Two-Weeks-In Spring Training All-Star!
There's no arguing with the numbers. They exist. Whether they'll matter is the real question. Martinez is in camp with the Cleveland Indians as a non-roster invitee. Erik Gonzalez is on their 40-man roster as a candidate to be their utility infielder and is having a strong spring of his own.
Still, Martinez's spring is a reminder that he's a solid piece of organizational depth. The 34-year-old has done some of his best work with Cleveland's Triple-A affiliate in the last two seasons.
National League: Tony Renda, Cincinnati Reds
It's not the same as no longer being known for making the final out in the World Series, but Tony Renda is now no longer known as one of the throw-ins in the 2015 trade that sent Aroldis Chapman to the Yankees.
And in fairness to Renda, he's not a complete stranger to the radar. The 26-year-old was a second-round pick of the Washington Nationals in 2012 and went on to be rated by Baseball America as one of their better prospects. He finally made his major league debut last year.
That likely won't be Renda's last stint in The Show. He's not going to supplant Jose Peraza as the club's everyday second baseman, but his ability to play other positions gives the Reds plenty of excuses to call on him at some point.
Third Base: Jose Ramirez and Patrick Wisdom
American League: Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Indians
Truthfully? It's slim pickings among American League third basemen. But it's certainly interesting to see Jose Ramirez putting up numbers this big.
It may seem the next logical step for him to take after what he did in 2016. He didn't get the attention of fellow Cleveland Indians stars like Francisco Lindor or Jason Kipnis. But Ramirez had a heck of a year, hitting .313 with 11 homers and 22 steals while playing solid defense at multiple positions.
Because Ramirez, 24, had looked nothing like that in 2014 or 2015, his 2016 season does raise suspicions. Until he can do better, having a hot spring is a good way for him to push back at such suspicions.
National League: Patrick Wisdom, St. Louis Cardinals
If having a pun-friendly name was a tool, Patrick Wisdom would surely get an 80 grade.
As it is, he's doing a good job of showing off his plus power this spring. He's struggled to be consistent in the minors since the Cardinals took him with the No. 52 overall pick in 2012, hitting just .237 with a .308 OBP. But he's flashed his pop here and there, thrice hitting double-digit homers.
After struggling with a .677 OPS as a 24-year-old at Triple-A Memphis last season, Wisdom is at a point in his career where he needs to show the St. Louis Cardinals something. What he's doing now is a solid start.
Shortstop: Tim Anderson and Cristhian Adames
American League: Tim Anderson, Chicago White Sox
Behold: Tim Anderson living up to his billing as a rising star.
His rookie breakthrough went under the radar last year, but it was legit. Anderson had a solid .738 OPS with nine homers and 10 steals in 99 games. He also earned some impressive ratings with his defense.
Odds are the 23-year-old's bat isn't this good. But the White Sox like what they see.
"That man can hit," hitting coach Todd Steverson told MLB.com's Scott Merkin. "In my opinion, an up-and-coming star at some point. If not this year, it's coming, in terms of hanging that star behind his name."
National League: Cristhian Adames, Colorado Rockies
Trevor Story is going to be the Rockies' everyday shortstop in 2017, and he's doing A-OK this spring with three dingers in just seven games.
But since it'll be Cristhian Adames' job to back up Story and play wherever else he might be needed, it doesn't hurt his cause that he's showing he can hit a bit. After all, it's something he hasn't done much of in the majors, as he's managed just a .582 OPS in 154 games.
It's long been suspected that Adames, 25, will have to earn his living with his glove. But with this spring following closely on the heels of a 2015 season in which he had an .800 OPS at Triple-A...well, maybe?
Left Field: Andrew Benintendi and Jose Osuna
American League: Andrew Benintendi, Boston Red Sox
Like Kris Bryant and Corey Seager before him, Andrew Benintendi is a No. 1 prospect who seems incapable of not showing off.
Some of this is his natural talent at work. With six of his nine hits going for extra bases, Benintendi is also showing off the bulk he put on over the offseason (he's up to 185 pounds). And he's adjusted his approach, to boot.
"I think these first few games that was what I was trying to work on the most, seeing a lot of pitches," the 22-year-old said last week, via Jen McCaffrey of MassLive.com. "Now I'm trying to be more aggressive. Starting to click a little bit."
The Boston Red Sox are entrusting the rookie with some big responsibilities in 2017, such as their everyday left field gig and possibly a spot in the middle of their batting order. They can take his spring as a sign as the latest sign that he's ready for it all.
National League: Jose Osuna, Pittsburgh Pirates
As a guy who's bounced around between left field, right field and first base in the Pittsburgh Pirates system, Jose Osuna is a hard one to classify. But since left field might be his best position, here he is.
Meanwhile, there are those numbers. In an interview with Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Osuna credits winter ball with getting him ready for spring training. He came into camp ready to show off the underlying talent that's always been there.
With just a .770 career OPS to his name, that doesn't really show in his minor league track record. But Baseball America wrote in 2015 that Osuna had "about as much power potential as anyone in the system." Perhaps this is the start of the 24-year-old tapping into that.
Center Field: Bradley Zimmer and Keon Broxton
American League: Bradley Zimmer, Cleveland Indians
There are AL center fielders with better numbers than Bradley Zimmer this spring. But none have logged as many at-bats as he has. And arguably, none of their performances are as encouraging.
Although Zimmer, 24, is widely considered a top prospect, he raised a big red flag last year. He managed a solid .790 OPS at Double-A and Triple-A, but struck out in 30.7 percent of his plate appearances.
Armed with a new swing, Zimmer has struck out only four times this spring. While that doesn't mean his whiff problem is in the past just yet, it'll do for a sign that he's trending in that direction.
If he does, expect to see him patrolling center field in Cleveland at some point this year.
National League: Keon Broxton, Milwaukee Brewers
This is only a surprise for people who missed out on Keon Broxton's coming out party last summer.
After falling flat in an early stint with the Milwaukee Brewers, Broxton reappeared after the All-Star break and posted a .937 OPS with eight homers and 16 stolen bases in 46 games. On average, he was hitting the ball harder than all hitters not named Nelson Cruz and Miguel Cabrera.
This gave the 26-year-old the look of a big-time breakout candidate for 2017. It's nice to see him living up to that in spring training.
Right Field: Mitch Haniger and Jabari Blash
American League: Mitch Haniger, Seattle Mariners
The headliners in the big trade between the Seattle Mariners and Arizona Diamondbacks last winter were Jean Segura and Taijuan Walker. But for the Mariners, Haniger wasn't a mere throw-in.
Although he only put up a .713 OPS in his first taste of the majors last year, Haniger has crushed minor league pitching over the last two years. He had an .883 OPS and 13 homers in 2015 and a .999 OPS with 25 homers in 2016.
What the 26-year-old is doing now is in line with those performances. If he keeps it up, he'll be counted among the biggest steals of the offseason.
National League: Jabari Blash, San Diego Padres
It's a bummer for Jabari Blash that the San Diego Padres already have another up-and-coming slugger (Hunter Renfroe) slated to play in right field for them every day in 2017.
The Padres did get an up-close look at Blash last year, however, as he finally debuted six years after the Mariners drafted him in 2010. What he's doing this spring isn't out of line with his minor league record. He had a .929 OPS at Triple-A last year and owns an .861 OPS and 123 homers for his career.
Now 27 years old, Blash has reached the put-up-or-shut-up stage of his career. He's picked a good moment to start putting up. He's not on their 40-man roster, but the Padres could remember his spring performance when they need an outfielder this summer.
Starting Pitcher: Kyle Kendrick and Clayton Kershaw
American League: Kyle Kendrick, Boston Red Sox
Kyle Kendrick had some solid years in Philadelphia way back when, but he all but fell off the radar in 2016. He was pitching in the Los Angeles Angels system, and not particularly well.
Kendrick's results this spring are partially skewed by his latest outing, in which he pitched four hitless and scoreless innings. But he's still one of two pitchers in the AL who has logged as many as nine innings and has the other (Lucas Giolito) beat in strikeouts, walks and hits allowed.
Adding to the intrigue of Kendrick's spring is how important he now seems. The Red Sox entered spring training not needing him. With David Price's elbow now barking, Kendrick might be needed after all.
National League: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
How is Clayton Kershaw pitching so well this spring? Well, for starters, he's literally Clayton Kershaw. That tends to be conducive to pitching like Clayton Kershaw.
But more to the point, he's healthy. After he missed a good chunk of last season with a bad back, that's not something to take for granted.
"I feel good physically and feel like the ball is coming out OK, so I think I'm where I need to be,"Kershaw told MLB.com's Ken Gurnick. "Results really don't matter, but I guess it's good to see how hitters react to certain pitches, and if you're not giving up hits, that's a good thing."
If Kershaw is indeed back to normal, the Los Angeles Dodgers can expect the usual in 2017. You know, just another Cy Young-caliber season that further cements him as the best pitcher in the world.
Relief Pitcher: Jaime Schultz and Sam Tuivailala
American League: Jaime Schultz, Tampa Bay Rays
Although Jaime Schultz has been a starter for almost his entire minor league career, what he's doing now is a strong hint of what he would be capable of doing in the Tampa Bay Rays bullpen.
It's no accident that he's struck out 11.3 batters per nine innings in the minors. Schultz's fastball operates in the mid-to-high 90s, and he has a power curveball to boot. As noted by Baseball America, the 25-year-old has a profile similar to Cody Allen.
Which is good, because Schultz doesn't look cut out for starting. He stands at just 5'10" and 200 pounds. He's also had trouble with his control, walking 5.3 batters per nine innings in the minors.
If this spring is any indication, the Rays will be glad when they finally move him to the bullpen.
National League: Sam Tuivailala, St. Louis Cardinals
The St. Louis Cardinals know Sam Tuivailala. They're the ones who drafted him in the third round of the 2010 draft, and he's had stints with the big club in each of the last three seasons.
All the while, they've known he can throw hard. He sits in the mid-to-high 90s with his heat, which has been a helpful tool in racking up a rate of 12.8 strikeouts per nine innings in the minors.
What the 24-year-old has struggled with is his control. He's walked 4.9 batters per nine innings in the minors. In light of that, easily the best part of his dominant spring is that he's issued only two walks.
If this is him turning a corner, the Cardinals bullpen may be about to welcome a dominant arm.