When the World Series crowns a champion my first thought is always to when the next season starts. To get from the end of one season to the beginning of the next we have the Hot Stove. Trades and free agent signings and an immense amount of rumors and gossip tide us over. Then we have spring training, which isn’t the same as the regular season but there is plenty to chew on to give us a flavor for the real thing that's on the way.
Spring training can be tricky, but it is interesting to analyze and pick apart. The position battles and hot and cold performances give us some insights into how our teams could be this season. The competition and the effort can be uneven and the stats can be misleading, but it's something. You always hear players say, "I got my work in." David Price can put in a successful day as he gets a feel for his breaking ball while the box score shows four hits, three runs and two bombs. Batters hit over .500 or under .200 for a two-week stretch and while we shouldn't think much of it, we as avid baseball fans can't ignore it either. That’s "putting their work in" for them, but we as fans sop it up like a sponge and pick apart the carcass.
Lets look at what we learned, know, didn't learn and don't know about the up coming season from what we have seen in spring training.
1. Not everybody is in the best shape of their careers.
Pablo Sandoval came to camp just as un-dedicated this year as he did the previous five or six. His performance had declined in three straight seasons in every meaningful category before he arrived in Boston and the decline continued in 2015. In 2016, he arrived at Spring training every bit as heavy and at third base every bit as bad as he was in his first season in Boston, leaving the door open for Travis Shaw to steal his job or at the very least half of his at bats.
2. The Clubhouse matters
The White Sox had what many thought was an amazing off-season in 2014-2015 and the result was a lackluster year. They came to camp this season after completing a great off season trade to acquire Todd Frazier and before they could get excited about their chances Adam LaRoche gets on his high horse, leaves $13 million dollars on the table and walks out the door, politely and backhandedly bashing management on his way.
The White Sox are better off without the overpaid .207 hitter who is so self centered that he thought it was a good idea to negotiate his sons presence in the clubhouse. As a result, tempers are flaring and feelings have been hurt before the team could even reacquaint itself with each other.
I understand wanting to spend time with your son and wanting to give him the experience of a life time like being a full time member of a major league clubhouse, but did it occur to LaRoche for even a moment that other players might not want to censor their behavior to accommodate a kid? We have come to find out that some players didn't like it and that they privately complained to ownership.
The Clubhouse is where the players spend the majority of their lives from April 3rd to October 2nd; it is their home because they are always away from home. Forcing them to censor their behavior and to be intruded upon by a teenager because one player wants his kid around all the time is the height of selfishness, but the upheaval and the anger surrounding this incident could derail them before they get going in 2016.
It isn't the kind of start you want to see if you're a White Sox fan. Clubhouse turmoil and players calling out management could create an "us against them" kind of bond, but more likely with controversy comes instability and more than likely another disappointing season.
3. Spring Training Stats don't matter
* Daniel Nava is batting .462 while Michael Taylor is batting .455.
* John Andreoli leads the Cubs with four home runs, Ervin Santana has an ERA of 1.13 and Juan Nicasio has a 0.00 ERA with 24 strikeouts in 15 innings pitched.
Breakouts and comebacks happen every spring and they also happen every season, but they rarely happen to the same player in the same calendar year. Pittsburgh Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage has had a Midas touch when it comes to getting something out of what seems like nothing so maybe Juan Nicasio can go wire to wire. It will be a great story if it happens. Dan Uggla went from being a Marlins Rule five draft pick to having a relatively successful career. Every camp has stories like theirs.
Here are some Players writing themselves an interesting narrative heading in to 2016.
Travis Shaw, 1B/3B Boston Red Sox
It looks like Shaw has earned a platoon at third base and its difficult to see how Big Panda and his oversized waistline, and oversized contract, finds full time at bats without a collapse from Shaw in Boston. Pablo Sandoval can't defend third base and he can't hit right handed in one of the best right-handed hitters parks in baseball. It's a nice story, Travis Shaw working his way from obscurity to possibly a major league starter on opening day, but it is more about how Sandoval has been one of the worst free agent signings of the last 20 years. With the bad potential comes the good for Travis Shaw.
Tyler Naquin, OF Cleveland Indians
Stats: 21 hits, 3 HRs - .467 BA
He was informed that he made the opening day roster, it looks like he will get the majority of at bats against right handed pitching in centerfield while Michael Brantley is out and if he continues to hit maybe full time at bats are possible too. Naquin lacks the hype and the tools of a blue chip prospect and with Bradley Zimmer not too far away it could be short lived, but spring 2016 has been a season to remember so far.
Maikel Franco, 3B Philadelphia Phillies
Stats: 17 Hits - 8 HR - 20 RBIs - .298 BA - 1.081 OPS - 10 SOs
Franco was both really good and really bad at the plate in 2015, but this spring he has been nothing short of the best player in baseball. Fantasy sports fans are so excited by the small sample size that you hear whispers about the possibility of Franco outperforming future star Kris Bryant in 2016. That's crazy talk of course, but it tells you something about the tall tale that Franco is creating for a Phillies team that doesn't have a lot to be excited about.
By the way, Vincent Velasquez will be their #5 starter and J.P. Crawford should be up as soon as Super-Two deadline day passes. It might be a few months but the Phillies could be interesting to check in on from time to time when the weather starts to heat up.
Joey Rickard, OF Baltimore Orioles
Stats: 21 hits - 53 at bats, .396 BA - 1.041 OPS - 1 HR - 5 SB
Reports have Rickard as the favorite to start the season in left field for the O's, which is saying something when you consider the hitters this team has on the roster. It's difficult to envision 400 at bats in 2016, but its nice to see a guy earn an opportunity and it looks like Buck Showalter is going to give it to him to start the season.
Steven Matz, SP New York Mets
Stats: 6.27 ERA - 1.45 WHIP - 11 BBs - 15 SO - 18.2 IP
I have always liked Matz's pure stuff and it is a tiny sample size, but when you add durability and injury concerns to a dreadfully bad spring it is difficult not to be discouraged about Matz in 2016. Bartolo Colon is going to give a team innings and possibly base hits and Zack Wheeler is due back mid-season. We have a long way to go, but my crystal ball has Steven Matz throwing nasty changeups and curveballs in Triple-A waiting for rosters to expand in September.
Jose Fernandez, SP Miami Marlins
Stats: 5.02 ERA - 1.19 WHIP - 7 BB - 17 SO- 14.1 IP
With advanced metrics becoming the norm the importance of ERA is being downplayed and it should be, especially its relevance in small sample sizes. A bad ERA in spring training means even less for great players, but it can impact their Average Draft Position in Fantasy leagues. If you are a player that hasn't drafted yet have no fear, take advantage of Fernandez's "struggles." Feel free to drop comments in your leagues message boards, throw out terms like "pitch count" and "innings limit" and "September shut down" and be sure you quote in big bold letters and numbers, 5.02 ERA.
Jean Segura, SS Arizona Diamondbacks
Stats: 27 Hits - 51 At Bats - .529 batting average- 1.312 OPS
Segura had a much better than expected breakout rookie season in 2013 that teed him up for the disappointments of 2014 and 2015 to follow.
It's interesting that an organization building for the future would trade a talented young shortstop under team control for three more years at cheap dollars. They do have Orlando Arcia on the horizon and they did receive pitching (Chase Anderson) along with an intriguing, high upside prospect (Isan Diaz) and Segura will start to become expensive in 2017 when he is arbitration eligible. It is a telling tale about what the Brewers thought of Segura and apparently how much the Diamondbacks disagree.
Fantasy players love Segura's contributions in stolen bases and the token home runs, but sabermetricians cringe at .289 and .281 OBP's and .614 and .616 OPS'. It is worth noting that while he is tearing the cover off the ball (21 singles, 2 doubles, 2 triples, 2 home runs) he isn't walking - two walks in 51 spring at bats. If I can speak like Yogi Berra for a minute, spring training numbers don't matter unless they do and two walks in 15 games is a sign that Segura hasn't changed his approach.
Another interesting fact, his main competitor for at bats is Nick Ahmed who is a better defender and is batting .418 with a 1.138 OPS, but there is reason for optimism if you're Segura. Ahmed hasn't walked a single time this spring either.
Trevor Story, SS Colorado Rockies
Stats: 5 HRs - .381 batting average - 1.339 OPS.
One of the worst stories in our culture is domestic violence and unfortunately Trevor Story is getting a good look because of it. That being said, Story has taken full advantage. He is the perfect player to finalize my column with, but I have to include a pun before I go so here it is; with the opportunity and the elevation in Colorado Trevor has a great chance to be one heck of a Story.
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Chris Mitchell is a contributing writer for BaseballAmerica.com, staff writer for RotoExperts.com and host of "A Podcast To Be Named Later" and "The RotoExperts Fantasy Sports Show," previously of the Fantasy Sports Network (FNTSY). You can find him on Twitter @CJMitch73.