5 MLB stars who have struggled in spring training
Having a good or bad spring training isn’t necessarily a sign of things to come. Spring training is, after all, little more than a tune-up. Pitchers spend parts of spring tinkering with pitches and not operating like they would in a meaningful game, while hitters are trying to find their swing after a long winter away from facing live, competitive pitching.
That said, there are players with a point to prove who have not had the strong springs they probably would have liked to.
Here are five players who have shown some worrisome signs as they prepare for the season ahead.
1) Matt Harvey, New York Mets
Let’s get this out of the way: Harvey looked better in his most recent outing. He touched 97 on the radar gun and seemed to be on the right track toward getting towards midseason form. It’s impossible, however, to ignore what he was doing earlier in spring.
Harvey has spent most of March getting shelled, his fastball sitting in the 92-93 range. After his first four starts, his ERA was 7.30. Even now, his mark of 23 hits allowed in 18.1 innings pitched is really discouraging.
It wasn’t so much the numbers that were troubling as it was that velocity drop. Even in his struggle-filled 2016, he averaged 94.5 MPH on his fastball. It would be unfair to ignore the fact that Harvey is coming off shoulder surgery, which may have been a factor in his spring struggles — but that’s all the more reason to watch him closely and be a bit concerned by his progress.
2) Matt Kemp, Atlanta Braves
Kemp seemed to have something of a renaissance in late 2016 after a season and a half of mediocrity with the San Diego Padres. Kemp was dealt to the Atlanta Braves on July 30 and promptly closed out the season by hitting 12 home runs in 56 games down the stretch.
Unfortunately, Kemp has spent the spring looking more like the San Diego version of himself.
He has yet to homer in spring and is hitting just .218. The team has told him to get in better shape, which he has, but at least in spring, his numbers haven’t improved at all. It’s not the end of the world, but the lack of power is particularly alarming.
3) Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants
Once the Giants’ ace, Cain has spent what should have been the prime years of his career regressing. Injuries, including an elbow surgery, have limited him to just 240 innings since the start of 2014. Last year, his ERA ballooned to 5.64, and he was completely left off the Giants’ playoff roster. He entered spring having to battle for a spot in the rotation.
He certainly isn’t earning it.
Cain’s spring ERA sits at 7.82, and he’s allowed 37 hits and 22 earned runs in 25.1 innings. In all honestly, he hasn’t appeared to be any better than he has over the past two to three seasons, when he’s been extremely ineffective as a pitcher.
Even if Cain makes the team, the Giants would be wise to avoid relying on him too much. His best days seem to be behind him, and his spring training only seems to confirm that.
4) Jorge Soler, Kansas City Royals
Soler has power and athleticism, but has never put it together at the big league level. When the Chicago Cubs had the opportunity to trade him to Kansas City for Wade Davis, they jumped at it, and Soler’s spring numbers are making the Cubs look smarter and smarter.
The outfielder has just seven hits in 49 at bats this spring, and while two of them were homers, there has been little else to write home about. He’s hitting just .143 with a .254 on-base percentage. What’s worse is he’s struck out in a whole 37 percent of his at bats.
It’s worth noting that Soler put up similar numbers last spring with the Cubs, but he went on to hit .238 in bit-part duty. The Royals will doubtlessly be looking for more from him and will hope he recovers from an oblique injury that landed him on the DL Monday.
The early returns on Soler aren’t promising.
5) Zack Greinke, Arizona Diamondbacks
Greinke has a point to prove in 2017. After the Diamondbacks invested over $200 million in him last offseason, he posted a pedestrian 4.37 ERA for an Arizona team that fell well short of expectations.
Greinke’s second spring with the Diamondbacks got off to a rather inauspicious start. His fastball was failing to touch 90 MPH early in camp, which the pitcher himself admitted was “not ideal.” It has since ticked up toward 91-92 MPH, more in line with where it was during the regular season last year.
Still, Greinke’s spring got off to a slow start, and it wasn’t really until his March 23 start that he really started to look like he was putting it together. He has posted a 5.06 ERA and 1.50 WHIP in 10.2 innings this spring.
The ace is under added scrutiny thanks to his high-dollar contract and struggles in 2016, and concerns will linger into the regular season. But if there is one thing about Greinke’s spring that may comfort the Diamondbacks, it’s that Greinke had similar spring numbers in 2013 and 2014 before he went on to have spectacular regular seasons for the Dodgers. Also, he was great last year in the spring and then got off to a rough regular season start for the D-backs, so maybe the opposite will happen this year.