Guess what I’m going to do today? I’ll give you a moment to think. Got something? Nope, you’re wrong. And you should feel bad about yourself for that terrible guess.
I’m going to do something I very rarely do: remember something I said I was going to do, and then actually do it. I know, I know. You just can’t believe it. But it’s true! We’re going to revisit the spring surprise game this year, and actually name winners. I think this should probably get me back above 50/50 in terms of remembering to complete the process over the years I’ve been doing spring surprises, but I won’t guarantee it.
We’ll go to the pitching side first, which is where we have a fairly easy call to make as to the suprisingest pitcher on the staff. There were several solid candidates, including Jack Flaherty at the point he was whiffing nine batters in four innings and all, but in the end the pitcher who did the most in camp to up his profile and create lots of buzz around himself isn’t tough to pick. It’s Dakota Hudson, who carried a sub-2.00 ERA all the way through spring training and, more importantly, showed significant improvement over 2018 in his ability to work within the strike zone and not put hitters on via the free pass.
Of course, as I’m typing this I’m currently watching Dakota Hudson get knocked around for three homers in four innings by the Brewers, which is much more worrisome for Hudson than it might be for other pitchers. One of the real hallmarks of Hudson’s success moving up the minor league ladder and into the big leagues has been a remarkable ability to avoid giving up the long ball, which is partially due to him running very high ground ball rates most of the time and partially due to him simply not giving up a ton of really dangerous, hard contact. Dakota Hudson allowing dingers is a scary proposition. On the other hand, he’s also run up five strikeouts in four innings, and has yet to give up a walk. So the spring training peripheral improvements seem to be sticking so far!
Whoops, just walked Travis Shaw.
Oh, struck out Yasmani Grandal!
Hmm. Kind of a mixed bag here. I’ll take a 6:1 strikeout to walk ratio; Dakota Hudson doing that is a scary proposition, but for opposing teams. The homers? That’s scary for the Cardinals.
Anyhow— oh, wait. He just walked Mike Moustakas. And now he’s out of the game. Well that took a turn for the worse. Shit.
Anyhow, Dakota Hudson catching fire in spring training means he made partial winners of -DaveJ-, awpierce (though pierce actually picked two pitchers, so his Chasen Shreve selection knocks him out of the hitter-side competition), David Greenjeans, and Frank is Dead. Congratulations to all partial winners.
On the hitting side, things are much more complicated. It was a fairly odd spring training, really, as there basically wasn’t a single hitter who came out and just lid the world on fire by bashing baseballs into the stratosphere. We ended up, instead, with sort of a group effort of solid performances, a couple of which raised guys’ profiles and maybe caught some attention, but no bolts from the blue who changed our perception of them entirely.
Basically, Tyler O’Neill did some serious slugging early on, and was probably the leader in the surprise competition at a certain point, but ultimately he didn’t have such a phenomenal spring that I feel great about naming him the solo winner here. Rangel Ravelo made a very solid impression by coming in, playing more than many might have expected, and looking very ready to go all Jose Martinezy on the National League just as soon as an opportunity arises in the Cardinal lineup. (Which, you know, may want to look elsewhere, Rangel...) The bad news on Ravelo is he suffered a rib cage/oblique injury in the middle of March, and thus wasn’t really able to capitalise on that early momentum.
Tommy Edman showed up and made some noise, hitting well (including with a bit of power), while looking plenty competent playing multiple positions on the infield. A .903 OPS is very good, but not otherworldly, and Edman did that while facing competition somewhere between Double and Triple A overall, according to B-Ref’s metric for spring training opposition. Still, that kind of production from a guy capable of handling the toughest (non-catching) positions on the field certainly grabs some attention. The downside? As intriguing as Edman might be, the Cardinals already have multiple players of a similar bent, with Yairo Munoz, Drew Robinson, and Jedd Gyorko all falling into that bucket of utility guys with some up-the-middle ability of varying degrees. There appears to be very little opportunity for someone with Edman’s profile to really push for a big league roster spot in 2019.
Finally, we have a player whose overall spring numbers were okay, but really no better than that. However, in terms of a guy for whom the narrative really took a jump, Dylan Carlson stands out as the player who maybe was mentioned the most by the coaches and broadcasters as making an impression. I’m obviously on board with this notion; I’ve been more or less driving the Dylan Carlson bandwagon since the day he was drafted, and I’m maybe looking forward to seeing if he breaks out this year in a big way more than just about any other minor league storyline. Even so, while Carlson did a very nice job of getting on base in camp — as he pretty much always does — the power still didn’t really show up much, and the buzz around him seemed to be more focused on what the coaching staff and others think is an imminent breakout season, rather than him ripping the cover off the ball this March.
And so, since I’m really struggling to come up with just one true surprisingest spring performance on the hitting side, I’m just going to split the difference and say that anyone who picked any of those four players can pretty much chalk it up as a win. I won’t list everyone who selected any of those four, simply as a matter of expediency. However, I will point out that Frank is Dead picked Tyler O’Neill and Dakota Hudson, both of whom got him into the winner’s circle, and so far as I can tell no one else had a winner on both sides. Thus, congratulations to our 2019 spring surprises game winner, Frank is Dead. But really, you’re all winners. I mean, you’re not all winners in the sense that you’re actually winners; Frank is the only real winner here. But in the sense that you all managed to find this website, um, you’re all winners to me? I don’t know. Encouragement is just not a native thing to my nature.