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Spring training is much better for getting first looks at familiar faces in new places than it is for carrying out serious analysis of players’ performances.
Nonetheless, how about we split the difference and dish out some mid-spring grades for the biggest acquisitions of the 2017-18 Major League Baseball offseason?
Please note that this will not include Jake Arrieta, who just signed with the Philadelphia Phillies on Monday. Otherwise, the grades are based on the numbers that each player has put up, as well as on any positives and negatives that show outside the box score.
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Ben Margot/Associated Press
Why lump Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen together?
Because with their best years now squarely in their respective pasts, they have more name value than star power at this juncture. They’re more interesting as a package deal than as individuals on their new team, the San Francisco Giants.
If either player has a right to take issue with this introduction, it’s Longoria. He provided enough offense (e.g., a .737 OPS and 20 home runs) and defense to be worth 3.6 wins above replacement in 2017. Now he’s hitting well this spring, tallying a .983 OPS with a homer.
For his part, McCutchen is batting .278 with a .381 on-base percentage. Decent enough, but he hasn’t yet given the Giants a taste of the power that produced 28 homers in 2017. All five of his hits are singles.
And while Longoria gets to keep playing third base, McCutchen once again finds himself getting used to right field. Starling Marte’s suspension forced the Pittsburgh Pirates to abandon McCutchen’s transition from center to right in 2017. His inexperience there showed itself early in camp.
As individuals, Longoria gets an A and McCutchen gets a C. Put them together to get…
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Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press
The Milwaukee Brewers might have raised a few eyebrows when they signed Lorenzo Cain for five years and $80 million, but he earned it.
Between 2014 and 2017, Cain produced more WAR than all but three other outfielders. His glove is his best asset, though his legs and bat are plenty good in their own right.
The 31-year-old’s bat has been more than plenty good in 10 games this spring, as it’s produced a .481 average and a 1.130 OPS. That’s pretty good for a guy who’s largely indifferent to putting up numbers during the exhibition season.
“What I’ve learned is the spring is nothing like the season,” Cain told Todd Rosiak of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “I just try to get my work in and make sure I’m ready for the season. That’s my main focus. If I hit .200 or .400, it doesn’t really matter to me.”
Elsewhere, Cain’s glove looks about as ready for the season as his bat. He made a nifty, decidedly Cain-like play against the Seattle Mariners on March 2 when he traveled a long way to make a catch on the warning track.
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Matt York/Associated Press
Before the Brewers made a big splash by signing Cain, they made an even bigger splash when they acquired Christian Yelich in a trade with the Miami Marlins.
He cost them four prospects, including well-regarded outfielders Lewis Brinson and Monte Harrison. And for good reason. Yelich is an excellent pure hitter with some power and speed. And he’s only 26 years old.
He’s hit just .280 this spring, yet the more important number is his .455 OBP. He’s boosted it with six walks in 33 plate appearances, which could be an early indication that he’s ready to build on last year’s career-best walk rate.
A pair of doubles are Yelich’s only extra-base hits, but one of those proves that his bat control is alive and well. The double that he sliced to left field against the Colorado Rockies on March 3 probably won’t be the last one of those he hits this year.
While the numbers are good, something seemingly even better is the impression that Yelich has made.
“In the time I’ve seen him so far he’s even better than I thought he was,” said former MVP Ryan Braun, according to Rosiak. “I think he has a chance to be in the running for the MVP this year — I think he’s that good.”
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Jeff Roberson/Associated Press
The career-high 37 homers that Marcell Ozuna launched in 2017 are presumably a big part of why the St. Louis Cardinals sought him out in a blockbuster trade with the Marlins.
On March 1, the 27-year-old gave the Cardinals an indication that the power that produced all those long balls is still there. He absolutely destroyed an Adalberto Mejia fastball for his first homer of the spring.
To date, however, that remains Ozuna’s only spring homer.
His other numbers don’t jump off the page either. He’s come to the plate 36 times and has managed just a .625 OPS. He’s also struck out 13 times
All those whiffs calls to mind what Ozuna used to be like before he got his strikeout rate down below the league average in 2016. And while the lack of specific data makes it hard to say so with any certainty, but it could portend a departure from the more focused approach that led to his 2017 outbreak.
In any event, it’s hard to chalk the first half of spring up as a success for the newest Cardinal slugger.
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With Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers already in their starting rotation, the Houston Astros didn’t need to add Gerrit Cole for their title defense.
Yet, they did anyway. And it’s looking like a dandy of a move early on.
The 27-year-old right-hander has logged 12.1 innings in four starts this spring, in which he’s allowed two runs on 10 hits. He’s struck out 15, including seven in his most recent trip to the hill against the New York Mets on Tuesday.
One nit to pick is that Cole has been on the wild side. He’s walked five and has also hit a couple batters. That’s not the greatest look on a guy who’s typically sharp with his control.
Cole is also known for his live arm, however, and that appears to be just fine. After sitting at 96 mph in 2017, his fastball has already climbed as high as 100 mph this spring.
“It’s pretty early for that, but he ranks pretty high up there in starter velocity,” said Astros manager A.J. Hinch, per Brian McTaggart of MLB.com. “It doesn’t surprise me. I tend to want him to hold that in his tank until closer to the season, but he’s got quite an arm.”
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Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press
The San Diego Padres aren’t normally a big player in free agency. So, it qualifies as a surprise that, at eight years and $144 million, they submitted the winning bid for Eric Hosmer.
The deal has its defenders. Among them is Ned Yost, who managed Hosmer for seven years with the Kansas City Royals.
“They’re getting a winner,” Yost told Bob Nightengale of USA Today. “I have seen very few players like him that are complete personality-wise, maturity-wise and leadership-wise.”
Because the Padres are in the middle of a rebuild, it may be a while before Hosmer has an opportunity to live up to his reputation. In the meantime, it would sure help push things forward if he put up some numbers.
So far, so not good. Hosmer does have a home run this spring, but he’s hitting just .161 with a .452 OPS even despite that. He’s struck out eight times and has yet to draw a walk.
This is a mere fluke in light of the career-best .882 OPS that Hosmer put up in 2017. But in light of his total offensive track record, this is just the latest stop on a wildly inconsistent ride.
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The Boston Red Sox signed J.D. Martinez because they needed his power in a lineup that produced an American League-low 168 homers in 2017.
Fresh off blasting 45 homers in only 119 games last season, Martinez collected his first of the spring on March 6. And he connected off of a former Cy Young Award winner, to boot.
There’s just one catch: It was in a “controlled” game against Red Sox minor leaguers.
OK, fine, make that two catches: The Cy Young winner was Rick Porcello.
Take that away, and there’s not much to see regarding the 30-year-old’s first spring with his new team. He didn’t sign until February 26, and he’s played in only three Grapefruit League games since then. In those, he’s 3-for-8 with a double.
This isn’t so little to ignore completely, a la Arrieta and the Phillies. However, it’s not enough for a full grade either.
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Matt York/Associated Press
It cost the Chicago Cubs $126 million over six years to land Yu Darvish as a free agent. This spring, all he’s given them in return is a 5.06 ERA in two outings.
Look a little closer, however, and his spring doesn’t look so bad.
The 31-year-old righty hasn’t had his best command but he’s had little trouble missing bats. He’s faced 22 batters and struck out nine of them.
Those nine punchouts haven’t come against spring training randos, either. Among Darvish’s victims are Corey Seager, Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig and all three of the Oakland Athletics’ Matts: Olson, Chapman and Joyce.
“I think right now I’m really where I should be,” Darvish told reporters after his outing against Oakland, according to Gordon Wittenmeyer of the Chicago Sun-Times. “All of my pitches, fastball, changeup, cutters, those were all [good]. I usually have trouble with one pitch that needs work [in March], but at this point, everything seems very good.”
Darvish is tasked with helping to repair a Cubs rotation that went from a league-best 2.96 ERA in 2016 to a much lesser 4.05 ERA in 2017. Thus far, he’s on track to do his part.
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Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press
In theory, Shohei Ohtani is the perfect baseball player. His arm is strong. His bat is powerful. And he’s ready and willing to put both to work for the Los Angeles Angels.
In practice, he’s raised questions about how able he is to put both to work.
The 23-year-old Japanese phenom has been most visible at the plate, where he’s logged 21 plate appearances in seven Cactus League games. But all he has to show for it are two singles and three walks. He’s struck out six times, including once on a nasty curveball from Clayton Kershaw.
These growing pains would be forgivable if Ohtani was dominating on the mound, which is supposed to be his real forte. Alas, he hasn’t done that either.
His one and only Cactus League start didn’t go well, as the Brewers got to him for a pair of runs in an inning and a third on February 24.
Ohtani has only pitched in two unofficial games since then. He struck out eight Brewers in one of them. In the other, he got lit up for six runs in three innings by the Tijuana Toros of the Mexican League. According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, his fastball was mostly in the low 90s.
It’s way too early to call Ohtani a bust. It’s not, however, too early to say there have been better first impressions than this.
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Lynne Sladky/Associated Press
Giancarlo Stanton was at the center of the biggest move of the winter when the Marlins traded him to the New York Yankees in December.
In adding him, the Yankees added a guy who hit 59 homers in 2017 to an offense that produced an MLB-high 241 homers without him. They got a glimpse of what the extra power will look like when Stanton launched his first homer of the spring on March 10.
As far as positives go, that’s pretty much it.
Stanton’s .829 OPS confirms that he hasn’t had a bad spring. But it comes with just a .259 average and .310 OBP. His approach hasn’t been too sharp, as he’s struck out nine times and walked only once.
The 28-year-old has also raised doubts about whether he’s ready to add time in left field to his projected duties as a right fielder and designated hitter. He looked the part of a guy who hadn’t played left field since he was in the minor leagues when he debuted there for the Yankees on March 8, as he had some problems with reads that resulted in base hits.
Call it a hunch, but the reigning National League MVP will probably prove that he’s still an amazing baseball player in the long run. For now, though, he’s leaving something to be desired.