With less than one week until Opening Day on 1 April, we take a Bat Flips and Nerds look at the top performers in each position during Cactus and Grapefruit League play to give you the Spring Training All-Star Lineup.
Only one player, Yadier Molina, has averaged more than 1.84 plate appearances per game to register as a qualified hitter, so we have modified the minimum requirements for catcher.
Salvador Perez (KCR)
Coming off a career-year in 2020, the Royals’ talismanic catcher has continued this hot form into 2021. The 30-year-old has gone 12-for-30 with three homers and a 1.204 OPS.
The Royals just inked Perez to a four-year, $82 million deal, the largest in franchise history. A pretty gutsy move by the rebuilding club committing that much cash on a soon-to-be 31-year-old catcher.
Only three players have launched six homers during spring training, and two of them are vying for the first base job in Boston, Michael Chavis and Bobby Dalbec. However, the first baseman enjoying the best spring is …
Josh Bell (WSH)
Last season, the Nationals were the worst at first base of all 30 teams, so they plugged that hole with a significant acquisition of the long-term Pirates’ slugger. Bell has five homers and five doubles in 39 at-bats as part of a 1.354 OPS.
Worringly for Bell, a 91 wRC+ hitter against lefties, Nationals’ veteran slugger Ryan Zimmerman is also crushing it in spring. The 36-year-old has matched Bell with five homers but in just 19 at-bats.
Among second basemen to reach the qualifying criteria, we have a young man who is yet to make his Major League debut, but his possible inclusion in the Reds lineup has knock-on effects in their infield.
Jonathan India (CIN)
The former top-50 prospect looked to have no path to playing time in Cincinnati, but his sensational spring of 1.066 OPS with two homers and four doubles with a .333 AVG, has forced the Reds’ hand.
The much-publicised experiment of moving Eugenio Suarez to shortstop and Mike Moustakas to third base is to fit India’s bat in the lineup. This is despite the rookie only having played five games at second base during his minor league career.
We mentioned above about Dalbec and Chavis hitting six homers, well the third player of the trio is the Dodgers shortstop, who was recently described as one of the best two or three pure hitters in the game.
Corey Seager (LAD)
No doubles, triples or stolen bases, Seager is just hitting bombs or getting on-base. In 40 at-bats, he has six homers with five walks and a 1.269 OPS.
The 26-year-old was taken with the 18th pick of the 2012 draft, behind fellow shortstops Addison Russell (A’s) and Gavin Cecchini (Mets). Good work Dodgers!
The two best third basemen in spring training are both hoping for breakout seasons, yet come from completely different starting points. Ty France is 26 years old with 2299 plate appearances in the minors and 112 games at the Major League level. He has gone deep five times in spring in 42 at-bats with 1.211 OPS.
However the top ranked third baseman is …
Ke’Bryan Hayes (PIT)
The 24-year-old stormed onto the scene last year hitting .376 with five homers and an eye-watering 1.124 OPS in 24 games. In Grapefruit League play, Hayes has a 1.263 OPS with six doubles, two triples, a home run and two stolen bases in 40 at-bats.
There was muttering within baseball media after the Cubs non-tendered Kyle Schwarber only to sign a player with a very similar hitting profile, Joc Pederson. Both players sandwich the Cardinals’ Tyler O’Neill as the top performing left fielders, but it is Pederson who comes out best.
Joc Pederson (CHC)
It will be interesting to see how the 28-year-old performs now that he is away from the analytical spotlight of Los Angeles. The Cubs’ new arrival has 130 big league homers to his name in 748 games, yet he only hit .190 AVG last season.
So far in spring training, Pederson has gone 13-for-38 (.342 AVG) with five home runs and three doubles on his way to 1.225 OPS.
I so wanted to manipulate the data to get the third-ranked centre fielder onto this list. Sitting between the Nationals’ Victor Robles and the Marlins’ (that sounds weird) Starling Marte, is one of my favourite players, Jorge Mateo of the Padres. He is out-of-options and blocked for playing time, but I really think his power and speed combo could make him a star.
Austin Hays (BAL)
MLB lists Hays as the centre fielder, so that’s the information I must follow, but he is likely to spend most of his time in left for the Orioles, with Cedric Mullins patrolling centre.
In spring training, Hays has 1.019 OPS with two home runs and three doubles in 40 at-bats. He will be a good reason to watch Orioles games this year.
In the betting stakes for “Comeback Player of the Year” that I’m conducting in my head, I have the Orioles Trey Mancini first for bouncing back from colon cancer surgery, Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez, who missed all of 2020 after contracting COVID-19, second, and then the Mariners right fielder third.
Mitch Haniger (SEA)
Fingers-crossed that Haniger’s bad run of luck is behind him now. Ruptured testicle, torn core muscle and a ruptured disc have limited him to just 63 games since 2018.
He has found his rhythm in spring training with three homers, a triple and two doubles as part of .956 OPS in 40 at-bats.
It is difficult to settle on which pitcher has enjoyed the best spring. Kenta Maeda and Jacob deGrom both have sub 0.70 ERA. Sandy Alcantara and Lucas Giolito have the best figures from pitchers starting at least five games. Adam Wainwright has tossed the most innings (19 2/3), with an impressive sub-2.00 ERA. And Braves rotation contender, Huascar Ynoa, has the best strikeout rate.
Taking everything into consideration, there was really only one choice.
Jacob deGrom (NYM)
It doesn’t seem possible, but the two-times Cy Young Award winner is getting even better. There are reports that his velocity has increased, touching 102mph, even though he is now approaching his 33rd birthday.
In spring training, he has a strikeout rate of 13.83 SO/9 with 0.66 ERA and matching 0.66 WHIP. Only nine of the 50 batters he has faced have reached base.
We faced the same issues as above about determining the best pitcher given the limited data available. Cleveland’s James Karinchak is striking out batters for fun (18 strikeouts in eight innings), but has also allowed seven hits, four earned runs and given up six walks.
However, when the data spewed out the next guy as the relief pitcher to choose for the Spring Training All-Star team, I was as shocked as you.
Tyler Chatwood (TOR)
Starter-turned-reliever, the 31-year-old right-hander finished 2020 as an opener. Sometimes he is brilliant, and then others … well, just check out two consecutive starts last year
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In spring training he has been lights out. Over seven innings, he has allowed just one hit. No walks, no runs, just one hit … oh, and one hit batsman.
Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images
Before you go, make sure you check out the guys’ season preview which is still available on YouTube. Click on the photo below.
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