Should we be buying into big spring training performances, assuming they will translate to success in the regular season? Generally I don’t put much stock in it, considering the unknown level of competition players are facing. Are there exceptions to the rule, though? Let’s take a look at some of the bigger performances from spring training and try to determine their value heading into the regular season.
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Buying or Bust
Buying – Anthony Rendon – Los Angeles Angels
It’s easy to forget that Rendon was once among the elite players in the game. He parlayed his success in Washington into a 7-year, $245 million contract. Since landing in Los Angeles he simply hasn’t been the same player. Injuries and the COVID-shortened season have limited him to no more than 58 games in each of the past three years. Over the past two, he hasn’t hit over .240. So can we really believe in his stunning spring performance (.500 with 2 HR and 9 RBI over 36 AB)?
There are a lot of good signs, including 6 K vs. 5 BB and adding 5 doubles. At his best Rendon was a low-strikeout (15.6% career strikeout rate) and doubles machine (he had at least 38 doubles from 2016 through 2019).
His 2022 ended prematurely due to a wrist injury, which required surgery. The fact that he showed no ill effects from the injury is promising, since it easily could have impacted his power. As long as he can stay healthy, and that’s a major question, there’s a lot to like. Now is the time to buy, before it’s too late.
Monitor – Trevor Larnach – Minnesota Twins
Larnach has struggled at the highest level the past two seasons, hitting .226 with 12 HR over 481 PA. Strikeouts have been the biggest issue, with a 33.5% strikeout rate courtesy of a 15.9% SwStr%. He’s been a different hitter this spring, though, hitting .351 with 4 HR over 37 AB. He’s likely parlayed that into a starting role in the outfield, at least on the favorable side of a platoon.
Before we get too excited, let’s take a look at who he homered against:
- Matt Wisler
- Mitch Keller
- Tanner Houck
- Kyle Wright
While there are some good names there, none of them pitched well this spring. Larnach didn’t add many doubles (2 doubles) and only drew 3 walks. There’s some upside, if he can carve out a full-time role, as there is some power in his bat. That said, he’s more of a player to monitor as opposed to one to buy into today.
Buying – Ezequiel Duran – Texas Rangers
Is there room for him to play? That’s the big question facing Duran, though it’s easy to envision him forcing his way into AB at third base (should Josh Jung struggle) or designated hitter. He certainly took advantage of the opportunity given to him this spring. Over 57 AB he hit .357 with 3 HR and 15 RBI, adding 7 doubles and 2 triples.
The key question facing Duran is whether or not he can discover more patience at the plate. During his MLB debut in ’22, he posted a 42.1% O-Swing%, leading to just a 5.5% walk rate. Strikeouts are always going to be part of his game, but there’s also power and speed that can’t be ignored (he totaled 21 HR and 18 SB between Double-A, Triple-A, and the Majors last season). He’s always been known as a player with 20/20 potential, especially with the bigger bases now being used.
Can he maintain the strikeout rate he showed this spring (8 K)? That we can’t answer, yet. However, the upside is too high to ignore. Duran is definitely one to buy and find out if he puts it all together. If he’s hot, he’s going to get more than enough AB to be productive.
Ignore – Patrick Wisdom – Chicago Cubs
Wisdom hit 25 HR over 534 PA last season, so after seeing him hit 3 HR this spring it’s easy to get excited. Now consider that he’s locked into what should be an improved lineup? How about his 90.7 average exit velocity and average HR distance of 407 feet in 2022? It’s easy to envision another big season.
Of course, that would be ignoring his 34.3% strikeout rate from 2022. That number came courtesy of a 16.1% SwStr%, something that’s consistently been an issue in the Majors (17.0% for his career). This spring that trend has continued, with 15 K over 39 AB.
Sure there’s power, but at what price? He feels too much like Joey Gallo to get excited and buy into for 2023.
Ignore – Nolan Gorman – St. Louis Cardinals
Remember him? The former top prospect had fallen off the map, until he took full advantage of the chances given to him this spring. Over 52 AB he hit .288 with 4 HR and 13 RBI. That catches our eye, but there are some worrisome notes to mention:
- 1 – The number of additional extra-base hits he had
- 19 – The number of times he struck out
- 4 (Alex Colome, Edwin Uceta, David Robertson and Dean Kremer) – The pitchers Gorman homered against
Barring injuries Gorman likely will be limited to DH duties, and as part of a platoon. While he hit 14 HR in the Majors last season, not one came against a left-handed pitcher. He also struggled with swings and misses, with a 16.0% SwStr% (after posting a 16.8% mark at Triple-A).
With the playing time questions coupled with the likelihood of a low batting average, is there really a reason to buy?
Sources – Fangraphs, Baseball Savant, MLB.com