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Monday, January 27, 2020

10 MLB players off to a hot start in spring training

Hunter Pence speech

You can’t always draw much from spring training statistics. The hitters are usually ahead of the pitchers, and the star players are generally more focused on working on process and physical fitness than actually getting results. The sample sizes are small, and there are plenty of reasons a good spring isn’t a solid indicator of a good season to come.

That said, there are guys who are fighting for roster spots and looking to impress managers and coaches, and teams do factor in spring training performances when making key roster decisions. It’s far from irrelevant, and it can certainly set players off on the right foot for a strong year ahead. Here are ten players who are impressing so far in spring training.

10) Jacob deGrom, P, Mets

The biggest name on the list, deGrom looks like his usual strong self in spring training. That’s not nothing, as many pitchers in particular use spring to test out pitches and work on things without really worrying too much about the results. deGrom is doing that, but he’s getting results anyway to the tune of 15 strikeouts and just two walks in 12 innings. He looks poised for another excellent season, and the Mets should probably get that contract extension done or face the consequences.

9) Brandon Lowe, 2B, Rays

Lowe flashed a bit of pop in a cameo for the Rays in 2018, and he’s really turning things up a notch in spring. He has become an RBI machine, driving in 13 runs with 13 hits in ten games. Overall, that’s good for a .448 average and an OBP of an even .500. Six of his 13 hits have been doubles as well, and two more of them have been home runs. He’s absolutely smashing the ball right now, and the Rays must like what they see.

8) Domingo Santana, OF, Mariners

Once a highly-touted prospect, Santana lost his starting job with the Milwaukee Brewers last season, was demoted to the minors, and was then traded to the Seattle Mariners during the offseason. The Mariners may be the ones who reap the rewards. Santana is hitting .455 with a .520 OBP in nine spring games so far, with four of his ten hits being home runs. He looks likely to make the team and may well be playing himself into a bigger role than initially anticipated.

7) Jack Flaherty, P, Cardinals

The Cardinals’ rising young right-hander is leading all pitchers in strikeouts this spring, having fanned 19 in 13 innings. That’s pretty much a continuation of his strikeout-filled first season, in which he collected 182 in 151 innings. Flaherty has been solid in other departments as well — his 2.77 ERA in those 13 innings is pretty solid-looking. Flaherty certainly looks to have the stuff and mentality to take another step forward this season.

6) Ryan McMahon, 1B, Rockies

Not necessarily a lock for the Colorado roster at the start of spring, McMahon is really giving the Rockies something to think about as he spends his spring training raking. In 14 games, he’s homered twice, doubled four times, and added a triple. Overall, he’s hitting an impressive .406 with a .472 on-base percentage. His impressive spring is definitely leading to a roster crunch for Colorado, but if you have to have a problem, that’s a good one to have.

5) Sandy Alcantara, P, Marlins

Alcantara looks to be pitching his way into Miami’s rotation. He has 14 strikeouts in 12 innings, and he’s given up just two runs over that span. Opponents have hit just .154 against him, a continuation of the nasty stuff he flashed at the MLB level in 2018. The one major issue that Alcantara still faces is control. He walked a lot in the big leagues last year, and he’s walked 10 in 12 innings this spring. That has to improve, but it’s the only blemish on an excellent statline.

4) Lewis Brinson, OF, Marlins

The key prize for Miami in the Christian Yelich trade, Brinson did not look ready for the Marlins last year, hitting .199 on the season. He looks like he’s going to right that wrong this spring. His five home runs lead all players this spring, and he’s complementing that power with a .393 average and a .433 OBP. Brinson is still only 24 and by no means a bust yet. His very good spring will be very encouraging to the Marlins.

3) Jesus Luzardo, P, Athletics

Luzardo wasn’t seen as likely to make the rotation at the start of spring, but he’s making it tough for Oakland to deny him a spot. In just 9.2 innings, he’s struck out 15 batters while walking four. Opponents are hitting .176 against him, and his ERA is just 0.93. A consensus top-15 prospect in all of baseball, Luzardo dominated both A and Double-A ball last season, but struggled in Triple-A. He may end up flying past that if he keeps pitching like this.

2) Hunter Pence, OF, Rangers

Pence turns 36 in April and he looked washed up last season in San Francisco, batting .226 with no power. He joined Texas on a minor league deal, overhauled his swing, and appears to have found something. Pence has the best OPS of all qualified hitters this spring, with a .400 average and a .486 OBP. He’s also hitting for power, with three home runs and four doubles combining for more than half of his 12 hits. He even has four stolen bases. There may be something left in this bat after all.

1) Peter Alonso, 1B, Mets

Forget about service time. Alonso is making himself very, very difficult to ignore in Florida. The top Mets prospect is smashing the baseball through 11 games, with four doubles, three home runs, and six RBIs. He’s hitting for average, too, at .406. All of it was enough for Red Sox manager Alex Cora to dub him “probably the best hitter in Florida right now.” It’s high praise, and there are going to be a lot of angry, frustrated Mets fans if he’s not brought north with the ballclub.



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