Making Sense of the Spring Pt. 2

Spring training is awesome. It marks the dawn of a new season where every team has a chance, at least in theory, to reach October glory. Fans flock from across the nation to watch stars and prospects intertwine on fields that shine of green and smell of summer. As great as spring training is, the stats that it produces are, for the lack of a better word, crap. I’ll be checking in now and again on some spring action and try to make logical sense of the numbers, or lack thereof, which show up in the box scores each day.

From the games on 3/13…

Yu Darvish struggled with his control Tuesday, but all-in-all he still showed good movement on all of his pitches, even if he didn’t feel like he had his best stuff. Keep in mind that while Darvish posted excellent walk rates in Japan, he’ll be dealing with adjusting to the differences of pitching in the majors, including pitching every fifth day and throwing a larger ball.

Adam Wainwright went three scoreless innings while striking out three. The most important part of what I saw from the outing was the break on his hammer (curveball). That pitch has always been Wainwright’s bread and butter and yesterday it showed that terrific two-plane break that I remember seeing prior to his Tommy John surgery. As long as he doesn’t shy away from using that pitch due to his surgery – in other word’s, as long as he’s not blocked mentally — he should have an extremely successful comeback season.

Ryan Raburn has started off hot this spring, which hopefully helps him enter the regular season as Detroit’s starting 2B. Raburn was a big-time sleeper last season, but once again got off to a slow start and never achieved the playing time his fantasy owners were expecting him to get. His upside is 20-plus home runs at a thin fantasy position, but those bombs aren’t likely to be accompanied by a good AVG and he’ll have a short leash if he starts off slow.

Francisco Liriano didn’t have a banner day against the Blue Jays, but he did strike out five in three innings with no walks. As I mentioned in the last “Making Sense of the Spring” article, Liriano’s whiff rate was still fantastic last season, despite dealing with arm discomfort pretty much all season long. Given his current draft stock, I highly endorse using a later round pick on his upside.

Felix Doubront, vying for the fifth spot in Boston’s rotation, threw four shutout innings against the Yankees. The young lefty has been consistently rated as one of the Red Sox’ top prospects, but he has walked just over three per nine innings pitched in his minor league career. Last season, he dealt with a forearm injury as well as some hamstring issues. There is some upside to consider in AL-only formats should he win the fifth starter’s job, but there is more than a little risk as well.

David Freese has two home runs in his last two games. His talent and ability to hit the ball out of the yard to all fields is not the question. If he stays healthy, he’s a fantasy 3B stud. If not, which has been the case in his young career, then you’ll be heading to the waiver wire to find a replacement too often. Draft accordingly.

Chris Volstad has pitched well through his first six spring innings. His career numbers (4.19 career xFIP, 1.85 K/BB rate) suggest that he shouldn’t be trusted for fantasy purposes. However, he has always been able to generate ground balls at around a 50-percent clip and last season his walk rate improved to a career low 6.8%. If he can achieve both a high ground ball rate and a low walk rate while taking a step forward toward lowering his home run rate, he could surprise and help fantasy owners off of the waiver wire this season.

Bryan LeHair has not impressed thus far this spring, but he’s only 20 at-bats in. The Cubs are in a rebuilding mode, so rushing prospect Anthony Rizzo to the show is not a priority. LeHair has proven that he can hit the long ball – 25-plus home runs each of the last three minor league seasons, including 38 last season – but don’t count on him too much as a fantasy sleeper. I foresee him struggling against big-league lefties, which could lead to an early-season platoon situation.

Not from Tuesday, but…

Yoenis Cespedes hit his first home run with the A’s over the weekend. However, that shot came off of soft tossing Jeff Francis, who has a knack for allowing gopherballs. While Cespedes is certainly a long-term prospect for keeper leagues to target, keep expectations in check for 2012. He may not even break camp with the big club.