Pedro Alvarez! Game tying pinch-hit double! In the ninth inning!
That was certainly an awesome thing to see, but it’s also utterly meaningless during Spring Training. I’ll be excited if Alvarez can hold his own with the big boys in Bradenton this year, but if he can’t I’m certainly not heading for the closest ledge. Of course that begs the question, what does matter in spring training? It’s not really how most of the guys on the big league club play, unless they do something really awful and raise a red flag. Adam LaRoche hits well every spring training and tanks every April. But there are a few things to keep an eye on that might have a bearing on what Pirate team takes the field when the season starts.
I’m not trying to ruin anyone’s enjoyment of spring training. I certainly enjoyed the hell out of Alvarez’s hit and I hope he does it again. But at the same time, I’m also trying to figure out what performances actually mean something.
One thing to keep an eye on in certainly Don Veal. I think he’s going north with the club either way, but if he can throw strikes with decent results I think it might be a good sign he’s not a wasted roster spot. Similarly, if someone like Chris Bootcheck is performing surprisingly well, someone you expect to see in the pen might not be there. The team has a lot of arms in camp competing for bullpen spots, and that’s not an accident.
I’m slower to evaluate starting pitchers under what I like to call “The Ryan Vogelsong Corollary.” I guess there’s a chance that someone like Dan McCutchen or Jimmy Barthmaier will blow the doors off of camp and steal a spot, but I think the team is much more inclined to watch them pitch in AAA before making that decision. In fact, for as much talk about rotation competition this spring, I’ll be awfully surprised to see anyone other than Duke, Ohlendorf, Gorzelanny, Snell, and Maholm in the rotation come April. Jeff Karstens will have a chance to pick off one of the first two that I named, but it won’t be easy.
Position players? I guess the team will only go north with one of Jeff Salazar and Craig Monroe and Jason Jaramillo and Robinzon Diaz are in a straight up competition for the backup catching slot, but beyond that everything is pretty set.
Spring training just isn’t all that meaningful as a predictor. Some pitchers get shelled because they’re only throwing fastballs while some can’t throw strikes because they’re working on a different pitch. Hitters are subject to those tinkerings and they’re working on stuff of their own. It’s awesome that baseball is back and any good performance is more welcome to see than a bad one, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s meaningful.