Spring Training is Baseball’s “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” The rosters are made up and the results don’t matter...unless, of course, they do.
No, the wins and losses in spring hold zero indication of the outcome of meaningful games, and half of the runs scored in some lopsided games are scored or given up by people you won’t see for another few years.
We hang on them, though, for two reasons: 1) We’ve been so starved for action after six months of baseball famine, and 2) the excitement of the storylines of past redemption and future possibility. Those who make an impact, no matter the level of professional experience, open eyes in front offices. Catch a few breaks, and avoid others, and maybe you can find the role best suited for you.
Here’s where we find the Rangers. Spring Training isn’t to see how many hits Adrian Beltre or Elvis Andrus get, or how many Cole Hamels prevents. In fact, there are a lot of spots on the 25-man roster already cemented – Beltre and Andrus, Odor and Gallo, DeShields and Mazara, Hamels and Perez, Claudio, Diekman, Barnette, Kela – but while there are players that are, barring injury, going to make the Opening Day roster, their roles are uncertain.
Will Mike Minor pitch every fifth day or whenever the phone rings? If Texas doesn’t want Robinson Chirinos catching for more than four days in a row, who’s catching the other three days? Is Drew Robinson an everyday left fielder or an every other day, around the diamond player?
Those are the things we look at in Spring Training. Saturday marked the start of four weeks of auditions. Some showed promise, some showed…that they exist to eventually break your heart (overreaction).
At the plate:
- The first hit of the game - and the Rangers' season - was off of Jurickson Profar’s bat. Sure, you may say, one hit on the first day of Spring Training, but an opposite field hit for someone who needs to show some consistency with a stick is certainly a spark. Profar is out of options, giving him the edge over some of the other candidates for a bench spot; the fact that we have to talk about Profar being out of options as an edge over the other candidates for a bench spot, however, is the concerning thing.
- For my money, nothing’s prettier offensively than a hit-and-run that works. For a 29-year old looking to gain any kind of leverage in securing a backup catcher spot, Brett Nicholas must have thought moving Drew Robinson an extra 90 feet looked especially good. The fact that it resulted in a run one play later probably made it sweeter.
On the mound:
- The Rangers tabbed…Clayton Blackburn? to start the 2018 Spring Training opener. Clayton Blackburn was acquired from San Francisco last April for Frandy de la Rosa. He has seven seasons of minor league experience and doesn’t really want to make it an eighth. Blackburn’s an outside of outside chance to make a six-man rotation (that has Doug Fister, Mike Minor, Matt Moore and Jesse Chavez in camp on Major League deals), but he’s just the kind of “next man up” candidate that a team like the Rangers is bound to need. Two innings of two-hit, shutout ball will help that cause.
- Connor Sadzeck, who started with more than an outside chance of adding to the power-arm contingent in the Major League bullpen, would probably like a mulligan on his 2018 debut outing. The power was all there, as Sadzeck hit 99 at least twice officially…without recording an out. Power and speed work for a pitcher when there’s control and movement, and when a power swing meets a power arm and connects, there can certainly be a lot of movement out of the yard. So went Anthony Rizzo (HR), Willson Contreras (HR), and Sadzeck (out of the game). But, again, it’s the first day of Spring Training.
In the field:
- Whereas Brett Nicholas can be proud of his aforementioned hit-and-run, he didn’t have a sterling day behind the plate, allowing a passed ball. Then again, Juan Centeno, who replaced him later in the game, didn’t have a great outing either. He allowed a stolen base and had an errant throw on a pickoff attempt, which resulted in a run. Backup catchers, go back to start.
- Delino Deshields didn’t have a plethora of opportunities in center field, but handled what was given to him nicely. He made a diving catch that sure looked pretty, but that’s not exactly something on which to judge a great, or even good, center fielder. Then again, the first day of Spring Training is a starting point, not a judging ground.
On the bench:
- Sure-handed glove Hanser Alberto, another candidate to make the team as a utility bench player, alongside Ryan Rua, Robinson and Profar, had such a promising start. After a single in his second at-bat, Alberto had to be taken out of the game due to a “pinching” feeling in his hamstring. Sure, blame it on the cold weather, but if Alberto is being taken out as a “preventative” measure in the first game of Spring Training, that means he’s got more than just a fighting chance, which means if he’s being taken out in the first game of Spring Training then…well, it’s not great.
Those are just a few of the stories that will be unraveled as we progress over the next 31 days. Just remember, fans, an 0-for-3 game with an error in Spring Training doesn’t mean much; an 0-for-42 spring with several unmade plays and blunders in Spring Training could mean everything if you're looking to earn a job.
Who do you think will walk away with the utility infield job for the Rangers out of spring? Share your prediction with Matt on Twitter @FisherWritesMLB.