Buying or Selling Biggest Breakout Spring Training Stars for 2019 MLB Season
Spring training is often a time of illusion, especially for players who are trying to make a major league team or establish themselves as potential building blocks.
Players who dominate in the spring can often be explained away: They were competing against lower-level guys much of the time, and when they matched up against top competition, those players were merely working to get themselves in shape.
Success can be fleeting and false. However, what about the truly great prospect or up-and-coming player who happens to perform well in the spring and has what it takes to produce during the 2019 regular season?
We looked at several breakout stars this spring and made recommendations on buying or selling for the upcoming year in baseball.
CF Victor Robles, Washington Nationals
Spring stats: .340/.452/.540, 2 HR, 10 RBI
Robles was thought of as the top prospect in the Nationals' organization until Juan Soto blew everybody away with his remarkable rookie year in 2018.
However, Robles is a future star, and he has dominated in the spring. That should just be a taste of what he will do in the regular season.
Robles had a left elbow injury last season, and that kept him from advancing. However, he is healthy now, and his spring numbers are an indication of his ability. If he has problems with his hitting, he should remain in the lineup because of his fielding skills and speed.
He is a five-tool player who should challenge for National League Rookie of the Year honors, but Washington manager Dave Martinez does not want to burden Robles with high expectations just yet.
"I talked to Robles already about just getting on base, taking his walks, bunting, whatever you can do to get on base," he said, per Blake Finney of Federal Baseball. "The biggest thing for me is playing good defense and running the bases hard."
P Chris Paddack, San Diego Padres
Spring stats: 12.2 innings, 2.13 ERA, 20 strikeouts, .250 opponents' batting average, 1.18 WHIP
The numbers are outstanding, and they are made that much better because it's the first time Paddack has faced big league hitters in his career.
Paddack was highly thought of as spring training started because he had arguably the best changeup in the minors to go along with a plus fastball. He has also shown an improved curveball.
He has worked hard to improve that pitch, telling AJ Cassavell of MLB.com, "I told myself going into the offseason that for me to be able to break with this team and for me to compete at the big league level, I need a third pitch."
However, Paddack is not experienced.
Yes, he has good minor league numbers, but he'll need to prove he can get professional hitters out when he doesn't have his best stuff. He was pitching at the High-A level less than a year ago, after all.
2B Ryan McMahon, Colorado Rockies
Spring stats: .439/.476/.789, 3 HR, 14 RBI
McMahon has had a dominant spring for the Rockies, and he is going to get his opportunity to show that he belongs in the major leagues.
He made an impression last year when he hit game-winning home runs in back-to-back games against the Los Angeles Dodgers in August.
McMahon has had a problem with strikeouts in the past, striking out more than 31 percent of the time in his 202 plate appearances last year. However, he has made an adjustment in his hand position, and he appears to be making progress.
McMahon has impressed manager Bud Black.
"Last year, there were some hits that you might say aren't the quality of this year," Black said, per Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post. "Now he's ripping the ball. He's taking big, aggressive swings, and the ball is coming off his bat hot. He's hitting it to all fields. It's been impressive."
Black is buying, and so are we.
CF Byron Buxton, Minnesota Twins
Spring stats: .444/.488./.861, 4 HR, 15 RBI, 4 SB
Is this the year that Buxton—drafted second overall in 2012—finally turns his unique skill set and talent into consistent production? The Twins certainly hope so, and they have seen a nice turnaround this spring.
However, Buxton has had multiple opportunities to show what he can do when it counts, and he has been a major disappointment with a career slash line of .230/.285/.387 with 28 home runs and 340 strikeouts in 979 at-bats.
Buxton is confident as the season approaches, telling Jim Souhan of the Star-Tribune: "Right now I feel like I'm the best player. As long as that's my mindset and that's in me, it doesn't matter what anybody else thinks."
Still, this is a sell for now.
P Jack Flaherty, St. Louis Cardinals
Spring stats: 5G, 17 IP, 2.12 ERA, 22 strikeouts, three walks
Flaherty did a lot of good as a rookie last season, though the team went just 11-17 in his starts.
He has the tools with a fastball in the 92 to 94 mph range, a slider that looks like a cutter and a strong downward motion curveball. His changeup was so-so last season, and while that pitch is not a bread-and-butter out pitch yet, he has made an improvement.
Every pitch Flaherty throws seems to have a purpose, and he has cut down on his walk rate after averaging 3.52 bases on balls per nine innings.
Flaherty had a 3.34 ERA last year, and he believes he has made progress this spring.
"It was a good day," Flaherty said after a performance last week, per Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "The best part of it is coming out and feeling good after getting up and down six times and getting my pitch count up there. It's always good to feel strong after that. Feel like I'm in a good spot. I was able to work on some things."
Flaherty's spring performance has been sharp, and his confidence is high.