Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Musing on Spring Performances

The Twins will wrap up their spring schedule down in Florida this week before heading back north and playing a pair of exhibition games against the Cardinals at Target Field over the weekend. This will be followed by a day off on Sunday, with the regular season officially getting underway in Los Angeles on Monday.

Between being out of town and breaking down the entire team position-by-position over the past few weeks, I haven't provided much commentary on what's happening in Grapefruit League play. So today, with the obvious caveat that spring training numbers are to be taken with a half of a grain of salt, I'll peruse some spring training performances and see if any useful insights can be gleaned.

* Yesterday I put out a tweet pointing out that Delmon Young currently leads the team with six extra-base hits this spring, which is an encouraging sign given that many are hoping that the left fielder can turn a corner and start hitting for power here in his age 24 season. As Aaron Gleeman quickly pointed out to me after I posted the tweet, though, Young also hit .361 with a .500 slugging percentage last spring before struggling once the regular season got underway.

No one doubts Young's innate ability, so it shouldn't come as any real surprise that he's been able to succeed in spring training against pitchers who are either rusty, not trying their hardest, not major-league caliber, or some combination of those things.

Ultimately, people are going to see what they want to see in the enigmatic outfielder. Is Young's strong spring a continuation of the improvement he showed late last year during the team's stretch run, or is it just another short-term fluke that won't translate into anything meaningful when the season starts? Unfortunately, I'd tend to lean toward the latter, but I'd love to be wrong.

* Jacque Jones won't be making the team out of spring training, but it's still tough not to be impressed with what he was able to accomplish at the Twins' camp. Given how long he'd been out of the majors and how dreadful the reports I'd received on him from various sources were, I half expected him to be unable to swing a bat. But Jones could certainly swing, as evidenced by his .364/.417/.625 hitting line. Unless another team swoops in to claim him, Jones will open the season in Rochester where he'll be just a phone call away from rejoining the Twins at Target Field. I'd love to see that happen.

* There were two key players I had serious concerns about entering spring training this year, based on injuries that had ended their 2009 seasons. One was Kevin Slowey and the other was Justin Morneau. Slowey has helped to ease my concerns by allowing just four runs on 15 hits over 20 innings while maintaining his pinpoint command, and while Morneau has batted just .184, he has homered twice and ripped three doubles. Since back injuries can really sap a player's power, that's the most important sign to me.

* Team leader in walks this spring? It's a tie between Denard Span and Orlando Hudson, who will be filling the first and second spots in the lineup this year. That's nice to see.

* At the outset of spring training, I had little doubt that Pat Neshek would be opening the season in the minors. He hadn't pitched in a major-league game since May of 2008 and spent all of last year rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, which would seemingly be an especially big deal for a pitcher with a quirky delivery like his. Yet, Neshek has been terrific this spring. In eight appearances, he has allowed only two runs on five hits over 8 2/3 innings while striking out 11 and walking three. Suddenly, Neshek is a very real candidate to sneak into a bullpen that is now somewhat lacking in right-handed power arms, and he could easily insert himself into the closer conversation.

* The fifth spot in the Twins' rotation is still being framed as an open competition between Francisco Liriano and Brian Duensing, but it seems pretty clear who Ron Gardenhire has in mind for the role. Four of Liriano's five appearances this spring have been starts, whereas Duensing has entered as a reliever in three of his four outings. Of course, Liriano also has the gaudy numbers backing him up; in 14 innings, he has fanned 22 batters while issuing only two walks. I'm withholding excitement on Liri-- OK, I can't even say it. I'm really, really excited about Liriano this year.

5 comments:

Leslie said...

It's all well and good that Liriano was great in the offseason and in spring training, but it will take me a long time until I become sold on him. Let's see him do this for three months before we can anoint him again.

Another thing. Why does ESPN call Mauer a "star? Joe is a fine player. He calls a good game, and he is good defensively. He throws runners out. He hit for power for one year. One year. Can he do this again this year before we call him a star? The star of the team is Justin Morneau not Joe Mauer.

Leslie said...

Also, the Twins are playing at Anaheim not in Los Angeles. Two different cities.

Jacob said...

Leslie,

Mauer was MVP last season, is on the cover of MLB The Show, just signed a 184 million bones contract, and is statistically some are arguing his last season was the best overall regular season performance by a catcher...well, ever.

Were you being sarcastic?

I will admit that his mentality and personality make it hard to accept him as a star but he most definately is.

toby said...

Hey Nick,

My favorite stat nugget of the spring: Delmon's GO/AO is 0.56. Last two years? 1.69 and 2.33. This is him not uselessly beating the ball into the ground PA after PA.

Picking up on your caveats, Delmon against spring training pitchers in all their permutations may be the rough equivalent of Delmon against Finesse pitchers in the regular season (he kills them). Like you, though, I really want to believe it's a sign of better things ahead and don't think it's totally unreasonable to believe he has to some extent turned a corner.

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