The best thing about spring training is the return of baseball. The anticipation of opening day and all the joy baseball brings with it.
The worst thing about spring training is, at roughly six weeks, it’s five weeks too long.
This year, the World Baseball Classic will at least bring early games with players anyone has actually heard of.
But the early exhibition game schedule is an endless parade of Double-A and Triple-A players, with the occasional major leaguer getting an at-bat. It’s hard to be invested in the outcome of these games when you have closers entering in the third inning, guys only throwing a breaking ball to get the feel of it, and generally games being played much differently than they will be played when it counts.
It’s not until the last week that we start seeing a semblance of a major league roster and a glimpse into what will be on the field when the actual 162 start.
It’s why spring stats mean nothing. Spring stats are bloated, skewed and inflated. Spring success ends the minute the real games begin.
A guy who is a lock for the rotation, for instance, can have a spring ERA of 108.00 and it won’t matter or be of any outward concern. “He’s just working on things” is the company line. “Ignore his stats,” they’ll say. “When the bell rings, he’ll be ready to go.”
If a hitter is targeted for Triple-A, it would take a pretty remarkable spring to change the destination on his ticket.
The reality is, spring training exists for about three players. That’s about how many roster spots are really up for grabs any given spring. In reality eight to ten players have a legitimate shot at three slots.
It’s not like Cole Hamels is out there pitching to win a roster spot. Or Adrian Beltre is hoping he plays well enough to impress the coaches and make the team.
Most of the 25-man roster is already set.
Barring injury, these eleven position players are on the roster for sure:
Beltre, Andrus, Odor, Napoli, Profar, Mazara, Gomez, Choo, Rua, Lucroy, Chirinos
Who makes the roster on the starting staff is pretty much indisputable as well:
Hamels, Darvish, Cashner (because, yes), Perez, Griffin (since Ross isn’t ready.)
And these relievers will make it:
Barnette, Dyson, Bush, Jeffress, Hauschild (because of Rule 5), Kela (maybe the only one not a lock).
So that’s eleven position players and eleven pitchers.
How many roster spots does that leave up for grabs?
This spring is to see if Josh Hamilton has anything left in the tank. And who between Jared Hoying and Delino DeShields will be the backup centerfielder. Those three are battling it out for the final spot in the bench.
For Joey Gallo, spring is to learn a new position. Barring some miracle, he isn’t making the team. He is, however, making himself more valuable for if he ever learns to make contact.
What chance does Hanser Alberto have with super utility man Jurickson Profar ahead of him?
With Diekman out, that leaves two open spots in the bullpen.
Alvarez, Claudio and Faulkner are left-handed. That gives them the upper hand. Yolander Mendez is too. He could be a dark horse. Gamboa is a knuckler, making him intriguing. Time has probably passed Chi Chi Gonzalez and Nick Martinez, who failed to take advantage of past opportunities. Scheppers, Tyler Wagner and Connor Sadzeck fill out the rest of the 40-man.
Which two relievers make the trip to Arlington April 3? That’s what the next six weeks are for. To keep on eye on relief pitchers.
Dear April 3, please hurry.