Buying or Selling MLB Players Turning Heads at Spring Training
Exhibition statistics don't matter, except when they do.
It's the annual paradox of spring, and it's as befuddling as it is unavoidable.
Every year, a handful of untested or under-the-radar players put up gaudy numbers in the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues. Some translate that success to the regular season, some don't.
Hindsight is the only true arbiter, but let's pick 10 players who have turned heads this spring and decide if we're buying or selling on their long-term prospects.
Talent and track record matter, but inevitably this involves a dash of gut feeling. It's nice when the stats tell the story, but in the exhibition slate, they don't.
Except, of course, when they do.
Sam Tuivailala, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals
Drafted as a shortstop by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2010, Sam Tuivailala was converted to pitching and has flashed legitimate strikeout stuff at every level.
He's also suffered from erratic command and owns a 5.47 ERA in 28 big league appearances spread over three seasons.
This spring, the 24-year-old right-hander is making a strong case for a bullpen spot. Through five innings, he's allowed three hits and no earned runs with two walks and an eye-popping 11 strikeouts.
Tuivailala's fastball sits in the high 90s and can hit triple digits. Here's a clip of him knocking the glove off catcher Cody Stanley's hand in 2015.
At the same time, this spring sample is too small to declare his control problems a thing of the past. He's issued 108 walks in 200 career MiLB innings and another 16 in 24.2 MLB frames.
It makes sense given his relatively recent conversion to the mound. But Cardinals fans hoping he can step in immediately as a reliable, bat-missing reliever should temper their expectations and root for him to get some more seasoning at Triple-A.
Jose Osuna, 1B/LF, Pittsburgh Pirates
Jose Osuna doesn't trail the hype of other Pittsburgh Pirates prospects such as Tyler Glasnow and Josh Bell.
He's generated heat this spring, however, going 10-for-20 with a double, four home runs and eight RBI.
The 24-year old was added to the Bucs 40-man roster in November and credits his exhibition showing to a stint in winter ball, per Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The Pirates outfield is crowded, and first base belongs to Bell. Osuna's clearest path to a big league roster spot is as a role player who can man multiple positions and earn more playing time if he keeps raking.
Osuna, who signed as an international free agent out of Venezuela in 2009, has worked his way slowly through the Pirates system. Now, he's poised to make an impact.
So far, his skipper likes what he's seen.
"He's shown strength in the batter's box," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said, per Brink. "He's shown versatility on the defensive side. He's been a cerebral player, he's been a solid baserunner. Defensively, he's got actions that work."
Mitch Haniger, RF, Seattle Mariners
Mitch Haniger hit 25 home runs with a .999 OPS between Double-A and Triple-A last season and came into camp as the favorite to win the Seattle Mariners' right-field job.
Through nine spring games, Haniger is hitting .400 with a 1.243 OPS and a pair of home runs.
The 26-year-old has been through three organizations since making his professional debut in 2012, bouncing from the Milwaukee Brewers to the Arizona Diamondbacks before heading to the Mariners in a November trade.
He earned minor league player of the year honors with the D-Backs in 2016, hitting .321 with 25 home runs. Now, he can translate that success to the brightest stage.
"He has a plan every time he's in the outfield, on the bases or in the batter's box," Mariners manager Scott Servais said, per Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times. "He's getting an opportunity to play here. He's worked for it his whole life and we’re going to give it to him and let him run."
Haniger won't have to haul the load in Seattle amid veteran offensive anchors Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager. He's an intriguing piece, however, and seems ready to prove it.
Tyler Moore, 1B, Miami Marlins
A non-roster invitee for the Miami Marlins, Tyler Moore has made a dent in the Grapefruit League.
In 17 spring at-bats, the 30-year-old boasts a 1.271 OPS with three home runs. He's swinging his way into the conversation for a 25-man roster spot.
"Moore fits the right-handed-hitting first-base option, and he's played some left field in games," MLB.com's Joe Frisaro noted. "If the Marlins go with a fifth bench player, Moore could be the choice."
Don't expect the second coming of Giancarlo Stanton or even Justin Bour, though. In 649 big league plate appearances with the Washington Nationals, Moore owns a .228/.281/.401 slash line.
Barring an unexpected twist, fringe reserve is his ceiling.
Jaime Schultz, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays
Jaime Schultz rose through the Tampa Bay Rays system as a starter, but he's impressed this spring out of the pen.
In four superlative relief innings, the 25-year-old has struck out nine of 16 batters while yielding two hits and no earned runs.
Like Tuivailala, he's wobbled with his command. He reduced his walks per nine innings from 6.0 in 2015 at Double-A to 4.7 in 2016 at Triple-A. That's still unsustainably high, but it's trending in the right direction.
"We've heard he's pretty comfortable in any role, and we're probably going to find out more as we get deeper into spring training how comfortable he is," said Rays manager Kevin Cash, per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. "We'll have a decision to make which way we're going to go, whether he's in the bullpen or as a starter."
Schultz, Topkin noted, was a closer in college at High Point University. He won't take that role away from incumbent Alex Colome, but he could force himself into the bullpen mix with more dominant appearances.
Keon Broxton, CF, Milwaukee Brewers
Through eight exhibition games, Keon Broxton is 9-for-23 with a double, a triple and two home runs, good for a .391 average and 1.245 OPS.
It's a continuation of the success he enjoyed after the All-Star break in 2016, when he posted a .937 OPS with eight home runs for the rebuilding Crew.
A third-round pick in 2009, the 26-year-old has never topped any prospect rankings. He struggled in his first stint with the Brewers last season.
Then, as Todd Rosiak of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported, "he made a crucial adjustment to his batting stance—dropping his hands to waist level and then raising them as the pitcher released the ball."
Time will tell if that adjustment propels Broxton to lasting success. Based on his results dating back to last season and continuing through the Cactus League, signs point to "yes."
Tyler Beede, RHP, San Francisco Giants
Veteran Matt Cain is the San Francisco Giants ostensible fifth starter, though he owns a 7.36 ERA this spring and hasn't been consistently effective for years.
Rookie Ty Blach, who impressed down he stretch last season and in the playoffs for San Francisco, is probably the next man up.
Add Tyler Beede to the discussion.
The Giants top prospect, according to MLB.com, Beede has twirled six innings in the Cactus League without allowing an earned run.
Even before that, the 23-year-old had the eye of the team's brass.
"This guy is gonna be in the big leagues before we blink our eye," said vice president of baseball operations Brian Sabean in mid-February on KNBR 680 (via CSN Bay Area).
Sabean has overseen the rise of many homegrown Giants studs, including Cain, Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner. Considering Beede has posted a solid 3.32 ERA across 287 minor league innings, there's no reason to doubt the word of S.F.'s seasoned executive.
Koda Glover, RHP, Washington Nationals
The Washington Nationals are searching for answers in the bullpen.
They lost closer Mark Melancon to free agency and whiffed on all the winter's premier free-agent and trade targets.
Enter Koda Glover.
The 23-year-old has tossed three spotless innings this spring, yielding just one hit and striking out seven. That stands in stark contrast to the 11 earned runs he coughed up in 19.2 innings with the Nats last season, though he battled a hip injury, as Pete Kerzel of MASNSports.com noted.
"Last year, he might not have been using all his pitches," said manager Dusty Baker, per Kerzel. "You know, you fall back on your No. 1, his fastball. But he has something to keep guys off his fastball—good slider, good changeup, good cutters. Good command of all."
Shawn Kelley, Blake Treinen and Joe Blanton are also in the running for closing duties. Glover, though, is looking more and more like a plausible ninth-inning answer for the defending NL East champs.
Charlie Morton, RHP, Houston Astros
After signing a two-year, $14 million contract with the Houston Astros over the winter, Charlie Morton has thrown like a rotation anchor this spring.
The 33-year-old has tossed five scoreless innings in the Cactus League while giving up one hit and two walks and striking out five.
That's a great sign for a team that added multiple offensive pieces but did little to bolster a starting corps that posted a 4.37 ERA in 2016.
Can Morton really be a savior?
He's added some zip to his fastball, which typically sits in the low 90s but has touched the upper 90s in exhibition action, per Jake Kaplan of the Houston Chronicle. Whether he can sustain that over a 162-game grind at his age is another matter.
In 893 big league innings, Morton owns a 4.54 ERA and pedestrian 1.87 strikeout to walk ratio. If you believe in dramatic mid-30s reinventions, bully for you. I'm putting on my skeptical hat and tapping Morton as a back-of-the-rotation talent.
Greg Bird, 1B, New York Yankees
Greg Bird debuted with the New York Yankees in 2015 and posted a .261/.343/.529 line with 11 home runs in 46 games. Then he missed all of last season after undergoing shoulder surgery.
The 24-year-old shook off the cobwebs in the Arizona Fall League and has come into spring swinging, going 7-for-18 with two doubles, three home runs and five RBI.
New York signed Chris Carter, who led the NL with 41 home runs last season and could compete for time at first base, especially against left-handers.
The Yanks are in the midst of a youth movement, however, and Bird should get every opportunity to earn at-bats.
"We'll have to see," said manager Joe Girardi, per George A. King III of the New York Post. "He's a really good player, Greg Bird. Chris Carter had a really good year. Things have a way of ironing themselves out."
There may be bumps in the road for Bird. His output in the Grapefruit League, though, indicates he's ready to pick up where he left off.