Spring training is more or less over, and the Oakland A’s are back in the Bay Area. Their final exhibition games against the Giants technically count as Cactus League tilts, but in practical terms they’re done with the Arizona-based schedule that we think of when we picture March warmup baseball. The veterans are tuning up before the games start to matter, and a couple of youngsters and fringe guys are making one final push for the last roster spots. Most of all, everyone is just ready for the season to start already.
As the anticipation builds ahead of Opening Day, so does our curiosity. Who will play well? Who will disappoint? What new stars will emerge? Which rookies will pan out? The answers won’t come for months yet, but we’ve gotten our first brief looks over the last month of exhibition games.
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Now let's check out some spring stats.
5 awesome spring stat lines and what to make of them
What follows is a look at spring training stats. They were accrued in meaningless games against inconsistent competition. There’s a bowl of salt over there; ladle out as many grains as you see fit while you peruse these.
Yonder Alonso | 1B
2017 spring: 18-for-48, .375/.492/.667, 4 HR, 11 BB, 7 Ks
I’d like to begin Alonso’s section with an honorable mention for Trevor Plouffe. The third baseman is a veteran looking to bounce back, and so it’s great to see him post a 1.227 OPS in the spring, which in fact is even higher than Alonso’s.
But Alonso’s performance is more interesting to me because of the specific ways in which he thrived. Like Plouffe he hit for a high average, but Alonso also piled up walks and homers as well. The huge BB/K rate is nice to see from a guy whose game is based on OBP, especially when he struggled in that key department last year. But it’s the power that really gets my attention here.
Alonso isn’t known for his power, and he’s never hit double-digit homers in a season. Even in the lax atmosphere of the Cactus League, four round-trippers in around 60 plate appearances is impressive. I mean, purely from a physical standpoint, it’s noteworthy that he was able to use a bat to make that result happen.
And to really drive this point home (that’s a dinger pun), it turns out that this onslaught didn’t come out of nowhere. Over at FanGraphs, Eno Sarris reported that Alonso has made adjustments to his swing and approach to generate more fly balls. It’s one thing for a hitter to get BABIP-hot or to report to camp in the proverbial “best shape of his life,” but it’s another thing for him to make significant fundamental changes to his game and then markedly improve in exactly the way that would suggest those changes made a positive difference.
What to make of it: Cautious optimism. These are still spring training stats. Don’t look them directly in the eye lest ye be lost forever. But dang, it’s not like he’d be the first hitter, in Oakland or elsewhere, to add some loft to his swing and suddenly discover a hidden cache of dingers. Heck, that description isn’t even unique to this lineup. And he didn’t even give up his patience to do it. Can you imagine the Vogt-level fan favorite that the fun-loving, music-pumping, salsa-dancing Alonso would be if only he were good this year?
Ryon Healy | 1B
2017 spring: 15-for-56, .268/.306/.625, 5 HR, 4 BB, 13 Ks
Healy wrapped up with an 0-for-9 over his last few games, so his AVG/OBP aren’t anything special. But those dingers tho.
One of the biggest story lines entering 2017 is what Healy will do for an encore after his surprise breakout rookie season. Build on it and become a star? Settle in as a solid regular? Fall prey to a sophomore slump, if not a full flamout?
It’s questionable whether he’ll ever walk a lot, which means that to succeed he’ll need to hit for a high average and/or lots of power. He did both last year, with strong marks in average (.305) and isolated slugging (.219), and now he’s doubled down on the latter by leading the team in homers this spring.
What to make of it: Fleeting comfort. Sometimes the high-profile sophomore shows up to spring and hits .100 and you have to spend all month convincing yourself it doesn’t matter. And it doesn’t! But it’s still annoying to have to go through that song and dance. We got to spend all of March not worrying about Healy, and maybe even getting a bit excited about all that power. But what happens in Mesa stays in Mesa, and now that success is wiped clean as the real job starts April 3.
Franklin Barreto | SS
2017 spring: 13-for-27, .481/.500/.667, 1 HR, 1 BB, 7 Ks
One of the best parts about spring is seeing the top prospects in action. Barreto is the top prospect, so of course all eyes will be on him when he plays.
He got some run last year at age 20 but was generally overwhelmed, going 5-for-28 overall. This time around he fared much better, with over twice as many hits in the same number of plate appearances. He spent all of 2016 in the upper minors and also went to the Arizona Fall League, so in particular it’s nice to see all that experience pay off as he develops toward MLB.
What to make of it: Nothing much, just some fun. Barreto did most of this in the late innings against similar minor league competition, so let’s not get carried away. But, y’know, get a little bit hype.
Frankie Montas | RHP
2017 spring: 0.90 ERA, 10 ip, 11 Ks, 2 BB, 0 HR, 7 hits
The flamethrower keeps dominating in his brief assignments, so let’s look at the bigger picture. If you combine Montas’ brief 2016 season in the minors, his Arizona Fall League performance (including postseason), and these Cactus League stats, you get a total line of: 1.17 ERA, 46 ip, 47 Ks, 14 BB, 1 HR, 29 hits. Every one of those numbers is excellent.
What to make of it: Forget what we think — it might be enough to get him on the Opening Day roster in real life. Now that Raul Alcantara is in the starting rotation, the seventh spot in the bullpen is up for grabs and it’s hard to see anyone but Montas or Daniel Coulombe getting it. And the A’s have publicly discussed the possibility of carrying an eighth reliever, so maybe they’ll both make it.
Bobby Wahl | RHP
2017 spring: 5.06 ERA, 5⅓ ip, 10 Ks, 3 BB, 2 HR
This one might seem like an odd choice, since he gave up some runs (and specifically on homers). But I’m looking at his strikeout rate here, because that’s his key tool. The homers and walks could bring him down along the way, but that big K-rate is where it all begins for a guy whose game is based around throwing upper-90s and missing bats.
What to make of it: Nothing much, just some fun. It’s only a few innings in meaningless games, though it was encouraging to see him close out a save against the Cubs. His biggest concern is his health, which has been inconsistent throughout his career. But he’s on the 40-man roster and seems like a good bet to debut in Oakland this year, so in the meantime it’s good to see him doing the one thing he’s best at.
(If you feel swindled by Wahl’s inclusion and insist on a fifth truly “awesome” stat line, then go with Kendall Graveman, who posted a 2.29 ERA in five starts on the strength of a 16-to-3 K/BB rate. He was easily the most impressive starter on the staff.)
OK now look directly into this flashy light so that I can erase all the filthy spring stats from your memory. Real baseball starts on Monday!