As the season quickly approaches, we find ourselves with three weeks worth of spring training stats. Although analyzing spring training performance can be tricky, 15-plus games is a significant sample size, roughly 10 percent of a full MLB season.
Let’s take a look at some interesting spring training trends and what they mean for fantasy baseball owners.
Javier Baez, Cubs: Baez, the ninth overall pick in the 2011 draft and Baseball Prospectus’ No. 4 prospect in the nation, won’t start the season in the majors but he’ll be there soon enough. Yasiel Puig and Wil Myers didn’t start 2013 in the majors and still produced very strong fantasy numbers and Baez can, too.
In a league where power is at a premium, Baez is packing serious pop. He hit five homers with a .310 batting average this spring before being assigned Saturday to the Cubs’ minor league camp. He will start the season at Triple-A Iowa so he can get more seasoning at shortstop.
Last season, in his first 54 games at Double-A, Baez blasted 20 home runs to give him 37 on the season. Baez has hit 53 home runs in 215 minor league games while posting a .286 batting average and .903 OPS. Look for Baez to be a midseason sleeper and be sure to put him on your waiver wire watch list.
Jose Bautista, Blue Jays: After hitting 97 home runs between 2010 and 2011, Bautista has only 55 homers over his last two seasons. That largely has been the result of injury, which have caused Joey Bats to play in just 210 out of a possible 324 games since 2012. He’s as healthy as ever this spring and already has hit five home runs in just 39 at-bats while batting .359. It’s never possible to predict injury but Bautista has a strong shot at 35-plus home runs this year if he can play 130-plus games.
Mike Moustakas, Royals: Last season was a down year for Moose after he hit 20 home runs and drove in 73 in 2012. With four home runs, 16 RBI, a .450 batting average, and 1.396 OPS through 17 spring games, Moustakas looks to be on pace to recapture some of that 2012 magic. The batting average is never going to be pretty, but 20-plus home runs is certainly not out of the question in the third baseman’s fourth season.
Billy Hamilton, Reds: Hamilton can flat-out steal. In 14 spring games, the rookie is batting .325 with nine stolen bases. After being called up in September last season, he swiped 13 bags (and was caught just once) while batting .368. Hamilton stole 75 bases in 123 Triple-A games last season, 155 bases in 132 High-A and Double-A games the year before, and 103 bases in Single-A in 2011. In other words, the guy is a serial base robber with massive fantasy potential. How many steals can we reasonably expect from Hamilton in 2014? That really depends on how he holds up offensively but 60 swipes seems to be almost a given. FantasyPros’ consensus projections have him stealing 61. Our XN projections have him at 60 as well. Beyond that, the sky is the limit, but it’s hard to reasonably expect much more than 60-70 in his first season.
Zack Wheeler, Mets: Through four spring starts, Wheeler posted a 1.69 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, and 10 K/3 BB over 16 innings. Last season’s 3.42 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, and 7.6 K/9 don’t inspire a ton of hype but when you look at what Wheeler did after his first two weeks in the league, he actually looks like a huge sleeper for 2014. After struggling and giving up nine runs in two starts against the White Sox and Nationals, Wheeler posted a 2.85 ERA and 7.7 K/9 over his next 79 innings. While the WHIP is not likely to fall below 1.30, Wheeler certainly has the potential to put up a low-3 ERA and strike out close to eight batters per nine innings.
Madison Bumgarner, Giants: We already know Madison Bumgarner is a great pitcher. He owns a 3.08 career ERA and improved even more last year to post a career-best 2.77 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, and 8.9 K/9. This spring, he has thrown 17 scoreless innings while striking out 16 and walking just two. This guy has Clayton Kershaw-like potential this year, don’t miss out on someone who’s guaranteed to pitch 200 innings, post a low-3 ERA or better, and strikeout 190-plus just because he may be on a bad team.