Ah, Spring Training. Fresh-cut grass, sunshine, endless bounties of hot dogs – just a few things MLB Spring Training has and you don’t. This year’s iteration of preseason competition and practices has more than just ballpark food. Spring Training gives baseball teams the opportunity to fine-tune their rosters in preparation for the 162-game grind of the MLB season. Teams are testing out young studs, up-and-comers from 2017 and even a few football players. Here are some storylines to watch during the month of March before the first pitch is thrown on Opening Day.
Wait, did he just say football players? Yep – shockingly enough some of the biggest news from preseason baseball has come from players not famous for their skills on the diamond. Tim Tebow, Heisman winner and national champion for the University of Florida, has appeared in a few games for the New York Mets. Many in the baseball community have said that if he can replicate his decent play from the minors in 2017, he has a shot at playing a game or two in the majors. With a .100 batting average, though, Tebow hasn’t had a great spring training so far. Nevertheless, the fact that we are seeing this former NFL cult hero face athletes like three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, in a non-ironic context, is amusing.
Back to business: Spring Training is a time devoted centrally to the development of young players’ talent going into the season. Most teams are fairly set as far as who will be batting in the hearts of the batting orders and shoring up the pitching staffs (Giancarlo Stanton probably doesn’t have to prove himself to the Yankees). Organizations must use this time to develop talent that either has sat untouched in the minors or overseas.
Shohei Ohtani has garnered an enormous amount of attention and resources by the baseball community. Dubbed “Japan’s Babe Ruth” for his elite skills at the plate and on the mound, Ohtani provides the Los Angeles Angels with potentially indispensable gifts in a weak AL West division. He dominated in an exhibition game against the Milwaukee Brewers, striking out eight of 12 batters faced. Ohtani has only had two appearances in Spring Training competition, so it will be interesting to see how he develops his versatile skill set to MLB as the intensity increases in March.
Young studs who foreshadowed their potential during the 2017 season have been on display this Spring Training. Whit Merrifield, super-utility man for the Kansas City Royals and the American League leader in stolen bases last season, has dazzled so far with a .588 average and two triples. This is a good sign for the 2015 champs, who will continue their rebuilding campaign this season in the wake of a dramatic free agent exodus. Some other young studs who have impressed in recently have been Brandon Nimmo of the New York Mets, Cesar Puello of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Miguel Andujar of the Yankees.
Although early, it will be interesting to see how these narratives play out over the course of March for teams around the league. Spring Training is a valuable time to cultivate the farm (system) for franchises. Keep a look out for Ohtani and some of these young stars, because, before you know it, they will be the next Aaron Judges and Cody Bellingers of MLB. Except for Tebow.
Contact Theo Asher at [email protected]