Baseball season is finally here. Kind of. It's wonderful to know that in Florida and Arizona, MLB clubs are squaring off in spring training exhibitions. With the Ides of March not yet here, though, major-leaguers aren't necessarily filling up the lineup card. The St. Louis Cardinals' lineup on Wednesday is representative:
- Peter Bourjos, CF
- Kolten Wong, 2B
- Jhonny Peralta, SS
- Matt Adams, 1B
- Yadier Molina, C
- Randal Grichuk, DH
- Stephen Piscotty, RF
- Patrick Wisdom, 3B
- Tommy Pham, LF
Four projected opening-day starters, two likely bench players, and three minor-leaguers—one a top prospect in the St. Louis system, another likely too old and oft-injured to wear the prospect tag any longer, and the other a non-prospect.
The likely starters didn't take that many plate appearances. Bourjos led the way with five, Wong and Yadi each took three, with Peralta and Adams each taking just two PAs. The Cardinals as a team tallied 40 PAs on Wednesday. The primary position players accounted for 10 of those or 25%. Bourjos and Grichuk, two likely members of the St. Louis bench, notched nine PAs between them. Minor-leaguers accounted for a slim majority of the club's PAs against the Braves.
On the mound, the breakdown was similar. Marco Gonzales went four innings. He gave way to Sam Freeman (no sure thing to make the St. Louis bullpen on opening day and, thus, a possibility to be pitching in another organization come April), who was succeeded in turn by Marcus Hatley, Mitch Harris, Sam Tuivailala, and Miguel Socolovich. Not a lot of MLB-caliber pitching outside of Gonzales and maybe Freeman.
Not that I'm complaining. Being born and raised in a minor-league town, I love the intermingling of minor-leaguers with big-leaguers. It's part of the charm of spring training. Of course, the playing time minor-leaguers receive is another reason to ingest spring-training stats with a large grain of salt.
Take Gonzales's impressive line on Wednesday: 4 IP, 0 ER, 1 H, 3 SO, 1 BB. The southpaw put that together against the following lineup:
- Eric Young Jr., CF
- Jace Peterson, SS
- Freddie Freeman, 1B
- Chris Johnson, 3B
- Christian Bethancourt, DH
- Todd Cunningham, RF
- Zoilo Almonte, LF
- Phil Gosselin, 2B
- Braeden Schlehuber, C
Freeman, Johnson, Peterson, and Bethancourt are projected as starters, per the Atlanta Fangraphs depth chart. Young Jr. appears slotted for the Atlanta bench. As for Cunningham, Almonte, and Gosselin, none scream big-league hitter to me. I don't know what a Braeden Schlehuber is.
So while I'm glad Gonzales pitched well and impressed manager Mike Matheny (who was particularly enthusiastic about the southpaw's curveball, according to Rob Rains), the stat line itself is a little less impressive when one considers the lineup he faced.
Another example of positive spring developments needing some sodium is Randal Grichuk. The outfielder blasted a couple home runs last week. The MLB.com video highlights were fun to watch. I'll confess that I was quite pleased that Grichuk had gone yard once in each of his first two spring exhibitions. Then, over the weekend, I looked up the pitchers Grichuk had homered off of.
In the Washington game, Grichuk's dinger came off A.J. Cole, a righthander who has never pitched in the majors. But Cole is a bona fide prospect. Baseball America ranks him no. 91 in all of baseball, Baseball Prospectus places him 30th, and MLB.com 52nd. As far as homers off Triple-A pitchers go, one off Cole is impressive, especially given his handedness.
Against the Marlins, Grichuk swatted a homer off Adam Conley. Another Triple-A pitcher without any big-leaguer innings under his belt, Conley throws lefthanded. MLB.com rates him Miami's no. 8 prospect, but neither Baseball Americanor Baseball Prospectus included the southpaw in their respective top 10 lists. The consensus assessment of Conely seems to be that he is a fastball-changeup pitcher who needs to develop his breaking ball. As far as homers off Triple-A pitchers go, one off a non-prospect like Conley is not particularly impressive. Put otherwise: I'd hope a hitter with Grichuk's skills could run into a Conley offering and take it yard.
When considering players' spring performance—whether it be feats or stats—it's important to take the quality of competition into consideration, especially early in spring training.