An Early Look At Spring’s Top Performers


It’s been a reasonably successful Spring Training for the Nationals in Viera, FL this year, as far as Spring Trainings go. Their record is all but irrelevant, as games are often full of prospects and vets on minor league deals. The main indicator of Spring Training success is a lack of major injuries, and the Nats have been fortunate enough in that area thus far. While games may be meaningless, the one part of Spring Training that can have some significance is individual performance. While these numbers may not necessarily signify anything, they can give us clues about how a player might produce in the regular season. For example, Mike Morse had a monstrous Spring Training in 2011, which served as a prelude to his breakout 2011 season. With that in mind, we’ll see which players are making their marks in the Grapefruit League.

Among the offensive statistics, two players who could not be more different distinguish themselves. The first is the newly-extended Ryan Zimmerman, hitting a torrid .500/.550/1.125 in 16 at bats. Obviously these numbers are untenable, but Zim is clearly tearing the cover off the ball right now. He looks to be in tip-top shape and could be gearing up for a career year.

The other player is Corey Brown, hitting .412/.412/.647 in 17 at bats. Brown is a middling prospect who came over from Oakland as an afterthought in the Josh Willingham trade, and has generally not been regarded as a top prospect. Despite his humble beginnings, Brown obviously impressed in Spring Training, making enough of an impact to inspire the support of coaches. Brown was optioned to AAA as a part of the first round of the team’s Spring Training cuts, but when third base coach Bo Porter heard that Brown was going to be taken off the Spring Training roster, he begged manager Davey Johnson to keep him. Porter was not the only coach who made note of Brown’s play, however. When asked about Brown, Johnson said: “If he keeps doing the things I think he’s capable of doing… We don’t have to look for a centerfielder.”

In addition to noting these players, no Spring Training article would be complete without mention of Bryce Harper. Harper has hit middlingly, posting a .313/.389/.313 line in 16 ABs. That is a nice batting average but a the low OBP and slugging percentage. He has only walked twice as compared to 5 Ks, and all five of his hits are singles. He has played exceptionally for a 19-year-old, but his power outage and high strikeout totals, combined with his recent mild injury, mean he will all but certainly head back to the minors to start this year.

Among pitchers, the two players with the highest IP totals present the two most interesting statistics. At one extreme, new signee Edwin Jackson has thrown to a 1.93 ERA, allowing 2 ER in 9.1 IP. With an opposing batting average of .242 and a WHIP of 1.29, E-Jax looks to be holding up quite well with his new team.

At the other end of the spectrum, however, is Stephen Strasburg’s grisly 7.45 ERA in 9.2 IP. While these numbers may seem alarming, there is little cause for concern. Strasburg is indeed coming off major surgery, but demonstrated quite well at the end of 2011 that he is capable of returning to his pre-surgery ability. His WHIP of 1.45 is not extremely high, and he has still struck out 6 batters while only walking 3. Strasburg may not be in midseason form, but his struggles are nothing to worry about.

Spring Training is a time spent mainly on evaluating prospects and veterans on minor league deals, whom are all fighting for a few spots on the 25-man roster. For most players with secure spots, Spring Training is a time to get used to playing baseball again after a few months off. The numbers that players produce are almost entirely meaningless, but taking note of them can potentially tell us if a player has found his groove before the upcoming season, and are interesting to investigate regardless.