Memorable Spring Training 1-Hit Wonders from the Past DecadeMarch 5, 2021
Memorable Spring Training 1-Hit Wonders from the Past Decade
It seems every year a handful of previously unknown players pop up all over the leaderboard for spring training statistics.
Of course, that production doesn't mean much in the grand scheme of things, but for guys on the fringe of the Opening Day roster, it could mean a ticket to The Show.
Looking back through the last decade, we've highlighted 10 of the most memorable spring training standouts who did little else of note during their baseball careers.
This is not meant to be a knock on any of these guys.
Instead, it's an opportunity to celebrate some forgotten players who, for one spring training at least, were outperforming the vast majority of the baseball world.
Who's ready to reminisce?
Brock Stassi, Philadelphia Phillies
Spring Stats: 68 PA, .306/.368/.645, 19 H, 8 XBH (6 HR), 17 RBI, 12 R
Fans may remember the emotional scene when Brock Stassi found out he had earned a spot on the Philadelphia Phillies roster after a stellar performance during spring training in 2017.
"A dream come true," Stassi told reporters, fighting back tears. "I made it to the big leagues and can finally say I'm a big leaguer. It's special."
His younger brother, Max Stassi, who is on the Los Angeles Angels, provided a detailed breakdown of the long, winding road Brock took to reach the majors.
A 33rd-round pick out of the University of Nevada-Reno, the odds were stacked against him from the start, but he endured to make his MLB debut on April 3, 2017, at age 27.
He hit .167/.278/.295 with two home runs in 90 plate appearances in his only MLB action, but it was a long journey fulfilled nonetheless.
Chris Marrero, San Francisco Giants
Spring Stats: 71 PA, .266/.338/.641, 9 XBH (7 HR), 14 RBI, 13 R
Chris Marrero was the No. 15 pick in the 2006 draft out of Monsignor Edward Pace High School in Miami Gardens, Florida.
He posted an .822 OPS with 25 doubles and 23 home runs in his first full year in the Washington Nationals system, and that sent him soaring to No. 27 on the Baseball America Top 100 list to begin the 2008 season.
With limited defensive versatility and veterans like Nick Johnson, Adam Dunn, Mike Morse and Adam LaRoche blocking his path at first base, Marrero played in just 39 MLB games with the Nationals before he was outrighted off the roster following the 2013 season.
After stints with the minor league affiliates of the Baltimore Orioles, Chicago White Sox and Boston Red Sox, he played his way back to the majors with a huge spring training for the San Francisco Giants in 2017.
The winner of a wide-open position battle for the starting left field job, he hit just .132/.171/.211 with one home run in 41 plate appearances before he returned to the minors.
The Giants eventually released him in May so he could pursue an opportunity in Japan.
Michael Choice, Texas Rangers
Stats: 70 PA, .369/.406/.708, 24 H, 11 XBH (5 HR), 17 RBI, 13 R
Michael Choice was the No. 10 pick in the 2010 draft following a stellar three-year run at the University of Texas, and it didn't take him long to establish himself as a budding star.
In his first full year in the minors, he was aggressively sent to High-A Stockton, where hit .285/.376/.542 with 28 doubles and 30 home runs. That earned him the No. 39 spot on the Baseball America Top 100 at the start of the 2012 season.
He steadily climbed the ladder, hitting well at every step, and he made his MLB debut Sept. 2, 2013.
Before the start of the 2014 season, he was traded to the Texas Rangers in a four-player deal that sent Craig Gentry and Josh Lindblom to Oakland. The deal looked like an immediate mistake for the Athletics when he lit the Cactus League on fire and won a spot on the Opening Day roster.
However, things never quite clicked, and he finished the year with a .182/.250/.320 line and nine home runs in 280 plate appearances.
He would play just one more MLB game, but he's found success in the KBO and Mexican League.
Brian Bogusevic, Chicago Cubs
Stats: 42 PA, .410/.452/.692, 16 H, 8 XBH (1 HR), 5 RBI, 5 R
Brian Bogusevic began his pro career as a pitcher after going 13-3 with a 3.25 ERA and 129 strikeouts in 130.1 innings as the Friday starter for Tulane in 2005.
The Houston Astros selected him with the No. 24 pick that year and used him exclusively as a pitcher in his first three professional seasons. He then moved into a two-way role in 2008 and eventually converted to a position player.
No stranger to swinging the bat, he also hit .330/.403/.493 in 653 plate appearances during his time on campus as one of the nation's best two-way players.
He made his MLB debut in 2010 and saw sporadic action as a backup outfielder for three seasons before he elected free agency after being outrighted off the 40-man roster following the 2012 season.
Signed to a minor league deal by the rebuilding Chicago Cubs, he posted a .410 average in 42 plate appearances, but he was passed over for an Opening Day roster spot in favor of the more versatile Dave Sappelt.
Eventually promoted in June, he hit .273/.323/.462 with 14 extra-base hits in 155 plate appearances for a 96-loss Cubs team before he was traded to the Florida Marlins for Justin Ruggiano the following offseason.
Luis Mendoza, Kansas City Royals
Stats: 6 GS, 4-0, 0.47 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 5 BB, 21 K, 19.1 IP
A pair of strong starts down the stretch in 2011 put Luis Mendoza squarely on the radar of the rebuilding Kansas City Royals when they arrived at camp in 2012.
After seeing spotty action with the Texas Rangers for three seasons, he appeared to be turning a corner when he dazzled in a pair of September starts during his second year in the Kansas City organization:
- Sept. 20: 7.0 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 3 K
- Sept. 25: 7.2 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 4 K
A strong spring won him the No. 4 starter spot to begin the 2012 season, and he quietly put together an effective campaign, going 8-10 with a 4.23 ERA and 104 strikeouts in 166 innings spanning 25 starts and five relief appearances.
The following season, he struggled to a 5.36 ERA in 94 innings, and that was his last year in the big leagues. He was still pitching in the Mexican League in 2020, and he has accumulated 2,669.1 professional innings over 19 seasons.
Matt Hague, Pittsburgh Pirates
Stats: 55 PA, .400/.400/.800, 22 H, 8 XBH (7 HR), 14 RBI, 10 R
Matt Hague steadily played his way up the organizational rankings for the Pittsburgh Pirates after they took him in the ninth round of the 2008 draft following his senior season at Oklahoma State.
He hit .309/.372/.457 with 37 doubles, 12 home runs and 75 RBI in 141 games at Triple-A in 2011. But he still faced an uphill battle in pushing his way onto the MLB roster the following spring, with Garrett Jones manning first base and Pedro Alvarez penciled in at the hot corner.
The biggest question regarding his offensive profile was whether he would hit for enough power to be an everyday corner infielder. So when he slugged seven home runs in 55 spring plate appearances, the Pirates took notice.
"It's been fun. I just came in here trying to accomplish some stuff, and I have. But at the same time, it's spring training. I'm trying to keep the confidence and momentum going into the season," Hague told reporters.
He did in fact break camp with a roster spot, making his MLB debut on April 7, 2012.
Used primarily as a pinch hitter and part-time first baseman, he hit .229/.270/.257 with zero home runs in 74 plate appearances before heading back to the minors. He played just 13 more games in the majors, wrapping up his big league career with Toronto in 2015.
Jake Fox, Baltimore Orioles
Stats: 78 PA, .297/.325/.797, 22 H, 17 XBH (10 HR), 15 RBI, 15 R
Jake Fox put together some extremely productive seasons in the Chicago Cubs' system, including a 2008 campaign when he hit .287/.364/.556 with 39 doubles, 31 home runs and 105 RBI in 134 games between Double-A and Triple-A.
The following year, he posted a 97 OPS+ with 11 home runs and 44 RBI in 241 plate appearances in his first extended MLB action, but that was his MLB peak.
The Cubs sent him to Oakland that offseason in a five-player deal that brought back reliever Jeff Gray, and Fox was traded again that June, this time joining the Baltimore Orioles.
Looking more and more like a Quad-A player heading into his age-28 season in 2011, he exploded for 10 home runs to lead all hitters during spring training.
That earned him a roster spot, and he saw time at catcher, first base and in left field with the O's, but the power surge failed to carry over.
He hit .246/.313/.443 for a 104 OPS+ with two home runs in 67 plate appearances. That was the last time he saw MLB action, though he did hang around in the upper levels of the minors and indy ball through the 2016 season.
Kila Ka'aihue, Kansas City Royals
Stats: 65 PA, .397/.462/.845, 23 H, 12 XBH (7 HR), 20 RBI, 15 R
It may seem like we're picking on the Kansas City Royals with a second inclusion.
In truth, we took it easy on them, since a strong case can be made for Bubba Starling, Brett Eibner and Frank Schwindel should all earn a spot as well.
There was simply no leaving Kila Ka'aihue off this list.
A 15th-round pick in the 2002 MLB draft, he put himself on the prospect radar with a huge season in the upper levels of the minors in 2008. He hit .314/.456/.628 with 37 home runs, 100 RBI and more walks (104) than strikeouts (67) in 124 games.
He made his MLB debut that September but took a step backward the following season and hit .217/.307/.394 with eight home runs and 24 RBI in 206 plate appearances in his first extended MLB action.
Despite those lackluster numbers, his huge spring in 2011 put him in the team's plans, and he was the starting first baseman and No. 5 hitter on Opening Day.
He saw everyday playing time through April but was hitting just .195 with a 69 OPS+ when he was optioned to the minors on May 5. In a corresponding move, top prospect Eric Hosmer was promoted to the majors, and just like that, the door closed on Ka'aihue in Kansas City.
After a few more seasons in the minors, he made his way to Japan, where he had two solid years with the Hiroshima Carp, but he failed to catch back on stateside.
Erick Almonte, Milwaukee Brewers
Stats: 80 PA, .416/.438/.636, 32 H, 10 XBH (3 HR), 13 RBI, 15 R
Erick Almonte began his pro career as a hyped part of the New York Yankees farm system.
The No. 7 prospect in the New York system in 2001 and the No. 8 prospect in 2002, according to Baseball America, he was presented with a golden opportunity to prove himself in 2003 when Derek Jeter suffered a separated shoulder on Opening Day, and he was handed the starting shortstop job in the future Hall of Famer's absence.
He hit .272/.337/.370 with seven extra-base hits in 28 games while Jeter was sidelined, but that wasn't enough to secure his place in the team's plans, and he was released the following March.
From there, he spent time with several different teams and a one-year stint in Japan before landing in Milwaukee at the start of the 2009 season. An organizational depth piece his first two years with the Brewers, he hit his way onto the Opening Day roster with an otherworldly spring in 2011.
At age 33, eight years after his brief everyday stint with the Yankees, he was back in the majors.
He went 3-for-29 with one home run in 16 games before heading back to the minors, but it was a well-earned return trip to the big leagues.
Kyle Blanks, San Diego Padres
Year: Entire career
Stats: 389 PA, .321/.401/.563, 46 XBH (15 HR), 62 RBI, 75 R
If a spring training Hall of Fame were suddenly established, Kyle Blanks would have a compelling case to be part of its inaugural class.
While others on this list had one dominant spring, Blanks put on a show multiple times as a member of the San Diego Padres organization:
- 2009: 82 PA, .319/.415/.580, 10 XBH (4 HR), 13 RBI
- 2010: 67 PA, .407/.478/.729, 12 XBH (2 HR), 16 RBI
- 2012: 44 PA, .325/.386/.475, 4 XBH (1 HR), 3 RBI
- 2013: 78 PA, .354/.436/.600, 9 XBH (3 HR), 14 RBI
The towering 6'6" slugger began the 2009 season as the No. 50 prospect in baseball, according to Baseball America, after he hit .325/.404/.514 with 20 home runs and 107 RBI in 132 games at Double-A the previous season.
His strong spring that year didn't earn him a spot on the Opening Day roster, but he did make his MLB debut in June, posting a 137 OPS+ with 10 home runs in 54 games.
Injuries and an increased strikeout rate against MLB pitching stood in the way of his building off that strong debut. But he seemed to provide a glimmer of hope each spring that the 30-homer season everyone was waiting for was finally coming.
All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and MLB.com.