As we tumble into spring, eagerly refreshing our Twitter timelines for blurry cellphone shots of pitchers pitching and catchers catching, it is important to take a moment and review the things that might get overlooked in the sheer joy of “Baseball!”
First, spring training is nothing but a small sample size. Joey Gallo, first round draft pick in 2012, hit .400 with an OBP of .571 in spring training in 2013. He played in 4 games and had 5 at-bats. Adrian Beltre had a .265 average in spring training, and finished 2013 with the highest mark on the team, .315. Nothing done in Arizona can be taken too seriously. Yes, problems might first appear there, such as Cody Buckel’s wildness that continued into the 2013 season. However, if Jurickson Profar and his shoulder don’t hit at a level above what he hit last season, don’t immediately throw in the towel and bemoan trading Ian Kinsler.
Second, pay attention to what comes from the back fields. Perhaps the biggest name, Rougned Odor, is in major league camp, in front of the cameras there, but the cellphone video of Jairo Beras might be the most you see of him unless you live in the area of whichever minor league team on which he ends up playing. Twitter accounts to follow, if you aren’t already, are Lone Star Ball’s @tepidp and the Newberg Report’s @scottrlucas, as they’ll have a good amount of on-the-scene coverage.
There are, however, some things you can start getting a hold on in these short weeks. Where current minor-league-contract holder Colby Lewis is, for one, as he could be a potential asset for the major league club if he’s back to his old self. Several of the lower minors sluggers might have made adjustments to their swings, including notables Joey Gallo and Lewis Brinson. We’ll see bullpens and games from Cody Buckel, Matt West, Kevin Matthews, and others, and while sample sizes may be small, it should be enough to start grasping where these pitchers are after injury. All three of those pitchers missed the majority of 2013, and could work their way back onto the prospect maps with strong 2014 seasons. Rougned Odor will get to spend at least the beginning of the spring facing down major league pitching, and will show a larger audience a glimpse of his skills and personality.
As far as minor league free agent acquisitions, two big names to watch are Justin Knapp and Daniel Bard. Knapp is an un-retiree at just 23, after a blown-out shoulder ended his career temporarily in 2010. He had a big fastball before the injury, to go with a solid curveball and a changeup that could have been an average pitch with development. Baseball America ranked him 64th amongst all prospects after the 2009 season, during which Knapp was the headliner of the trade that sent Cliff Lee from Cleveland to Philadelphia. If Knapp regains his form and his velocity has indeed climbed back into the 90s, he could prove to be a valuable acquisition. Daniel Bard will be coming off that most Texas of injuries, thoracic outlet surgery. Bard was a dominant reliever when he first debuted with Boston, but multiple attempts to convert him to starter were nearly disastrous. Though currently on a minor league deal, Bard could be a bullpen weapon once he finishes recovering from his surgery. Also of note is former outfielder Che-Hsuan Lin, a minor-league veteran whom the Rangers signed with the intent to convert him to a pitcher. Lin had two perfect relief appearances with Houston’s triple-A club last season, and will try to capitalize on his strong arm this season.
Above all, spring training heralds the return of the summer sport, and a break from the mostly bleak days of winter. To end on a cliche, it’s time to play ball.
Kate Morrison is a recent Baylor graduate currently working as a freelance writer. She likes minor league ballparks, music and the nickname 'Roogie.' That last one will be explained in due time. You can follow her on Twitter at @unlikelyfanatic.