Spring training is a young man’s game. While experienced vets tend to take it easy as they ramp up for the games that actually mean something, the younger guys seize the opportunity and dominate March. If they don’t, they might not see their big league team again until next March.
Guys like Domonic Brown, Kyle Blanks, Christian Yelich, and Brandon Maurer are using their spring to try to establish themselves as Major League caliber players while others like Jeff Francis and Phillip Humber are just trying to prove they aren’t as bad as they seem. Let’s take a look at who’s catching fire this week.
Justin Upton (ATL): 14/48, .292 BA, .942 OPS, 4 HR, 15 RBI, 7 R, 1 SB
After finally getting traded following years of speculation, Upton seems to be fitting right in with Atlanta and is leading the league with 15 RBI this spring. Last year the 25-year-old only had 67 RBI but put up 88 in 2011.
Billy Butler (KC): 16/49, .327 BA, .839 OPS, 1 HR, 14 RBI, 10 R
Butler is tied for second in the league with 14 RBI despite only hitting one home run. While the run production is still good, the Royals have to hope he finds his power stroke soon after hitting a career-high 29 homers in 2012.
Ryan Howard (PHI): 19/60, .317 BA, .972 OPS, 5 HR, 14 RBI, 11 R
Howard has been atop the spring leaders since week one and continues to roll as he hopes to right his career after an injury-addled 2012 in which he hit just 14 homers and drove in 56 while batting a career-low .219.
Domonic Brown (PHI): 25/63, .397 BA, 6 HR, 12 RBI, 21 R
Brown is a former top prospect who has failed to achieve any of his potential in his first two years with the Phillies, putting up a career .236 BA with just 12 HR and 58 RBI in 147 games. He currently leads the league with six homers and 21 runs and if the spring is any indication that he’s found his power stroke he could be in for a breakout season.
Kyle Blanks (SD): 17/48, .354 BA, 1.054 OPS, 2 HR, 12 RBI, 14 R, 9 BB
Blanks is another former top prospect who hasn’t been able to translate his talent into the big league level but is putting up good numbers all around and is consistently getting one base with 17 hits, four doubles, a triple, two homers, and nine walks.
Mike Morse (SEA): 13/39, .333 BA, 1.285 OPS, 6 HR, 11 RBI, 10 R, 3 2B
Morse hasn’t lost a beat after moving from Washington to Seattle in the offseason and is currently tied with Domonic Brown for the league-lead in homers. Morse missed 60 games last season and only hit 18 home runs but he put up 31 homers and 95 RBI in 2011.
Christian Yelich (FLA): 16/42, .381 BA, 1.327 OPS, 5 HR, 13 RBI, 13 R
Yelich is the 13th top prospect in the league entering 2013 after putting up a .322 BA and .892 OPS in 241 minor league games. The former first-round pick seems to have a great shot to make the very young Miami club despite only playing in single-A ball thus far. He projects as a 20 HR, 30 SB guy with a great swing.
Honorable Mentions: Max Ramirez (.389 BA, 2 HR, 14 RBI), Jason Castro (.462, 5 HR, 11 RBI), Juan Fancisco (.353, 5 HR, 11 RBI), Freddie Freeman (.327, 5 HR, 11 RBI), Yasiel Puig (.500, 3 HR 10 RBI, 4 SB), Jeff Baker (.449, 1 HR, 7 RBI, 11 R), Alex Gordon (.477, 3 HR, 10 RBI)
Jon Niese (NYM): 12.2 IP, 0.71 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 7 SO, 5 BB
The Mets’ Opening Day starter is off to a good start in spring as he enters a big season that could establish him as one of the better starters in baseball or relegate him to Mike Pelfrey level. Last season looked very promising as he went 13-9 with a 3.40 ERA and 1.17 WHIP.
Jon Lester (BOS): 20 IP, 0.90 ERA, 0.50 WHIP, 16 SO, 4 BB
While Niese hopes to break through, Lester is hoping to reestablish himself as one of the best starters in the American League. After going 65-32 with a 3.33 ERA and 1.24 WHIP between 2008 and 2011, Lester looked rough going 9-14 with a 4.82 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, and 25 homers allowed.
Brandon Maurer (SEA): 15 IP, 1.20 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 15 SO, 5 BB
Maurer is a very good looking prospect in the Mariners organization which has been much better at producing good pitchers of late. Last season in the minors, Maurer went 9-2 with a 3.20 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, and 7.6 SO/9.
Julio Teheran (ATL): 20 IP, 1.35 ERA, 0.65 WHIP, 25 SO, 6 BB
Teheran has been on fire this spring and his 25 strikeouts are second only to Stephen Strasburg‘s 26. Teheran will definitely be starting this season for the Braves despite putting up a 5.08 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, and 10 H/9 in the minors last season.
Jeff Francis (COL): 18.1 IP, 1.96 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 10 SO, 2 BB
Despite putting up a 5.58 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, and 11.5 H/9 in 2012, Francis is a lock to make the Rockies cringe-worthy rotation again this season. While spring training stats can give you hope with guys like Teheran, Maurer, and Niese – we pretty much know what Francis is capable of (4.86 career ERA, 1.44 career WHIP).
Alex Cobb (TB): 19.1 IP, 2.33 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 24 SO, 2 BB
It’s hard to see the Rays missing James Shields or Wade Davis with guys like Cobb in the rotation. The 25-year-old has a career 3.07 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, and 8 SO/9 in the minors and looked solid going 11-9 with a 4.03 ERA and 1.25 WHIP in 23 starts for the Rays last season.
With the World Baseball Classic over, everyone is back with their teams and plenty of young guys will be sent down sooner than later to make room as we near Opening Day. Hopefully guys like Brandon Maurer and Christian Yelich have proven to their teams that they are good enough to stay. If anyone needs a spark it’s the Mariners and Marlins.