Spring Training games have officially begun, so it is time for a weekly series. Every week during Spring Training, I will be going over five observations from that week. This week will be unique because I was there in person to see all the games.
This piece will focus solely on the games from February 25th – March 4th.
So let’s get into the five observations from the first week of Spring Training.
Henderson is A Blast to Watch Play Defense
When discussing Gunnar Henderson being the best prospect in baseball, it usually comes down to his offensive potential. His bat is great, but when his defense is brought up, it usually is met with a take of, “he will never be able to stick at short.” Gunnar has been tapped as a third baseman, but don’t let this fool you. He is elite defensively at both third and short. He had a bit of a delay due to a wrist injury but got into game action on Tuesday, February 28th, and boy, did he flash. He made a dazzling diving stop at third and started a beautiful double play by stepping on third and then throwing to second. He then made an excellent play on a slowly hit grounder.
After resting for a day, Gunnar appeared in Lakeland against the Tigers, where he got some action at short. He made every play hit to him, but he had Cal Ripken Jr.-type play in the hole ranging toward the 6-4 hole no man’s land that a lot of shortstops can’t get to, and he snagged it and threw the runner out on the run effortlessly. Unfortunately, I can’t find any video, which stinks because it was a gorgeous play.
For the second inning in a row, Gunnar turns two. #DefensiveClinic #Birdland pic.twitter.com/EwlAygM0pe
— Florida Prospect Report (@FLProspectPod) March 4, 2023
Gunnar then appeared on Saturday against the Braves and made another great double play at third. This man, Gunnar Henderson, does not look like a guy who has to be moved off of short; he looks like an elite defensive third baseman and shortstop. He should not be blocked by any current major leaguer and should start every day on the left side.
Vavra and Kjerstad Look Ready to Prove the Doubters Wrong
If you had Terrin Vavra and Heston Kjerstad looking like the best players on your 2023 Orioles Bingo card, text me the Lottery numbers. Vavra must have gotten a message that he is on a very short leash because he has been on a tear. He is hitting .545/.583/.1.091 with a home run, and he has been playing all over the field, making great plays. Kjerstad has been even better, having a hit in nearly every game he has played and having two bombs of his own. With this hot spring, Vavra seems like a lock to make the roster, and Kjerstad seems like a lock to start in Bowie this year. It makes a heart swell seeing these guys rise above their situations and put themselves in the best possible start this spring.
The Starters Look Awesome So Far
While nothing is set in stone, the Opening Day rotation is going to look something like this.
If this is the plan, sign me up because all five of these guys have looked good. In their 19 innings, these five only given up four runs combined. Small sample sizes, still early, but these guys all looked good. Kremer and Bradish’s velocities were up at least two MPH compared to last year, and both look to continue improving. Bradish looks awesome right now and looks like a high-end number two. Rodriguez is the best out of all of these guys. His stuff was insane against the Tigers, and he had every pitch working perfectly.
This rotation’s success last year has people wondering if it can be done again, and it looks like early on, it can.
While Prospects Shine, Veterans Fade
Prospects create excitement, but veterans also need time to shine in Spring Training. Unfortunately, two pitchers and one position player aren’t helping their cases.
Let’s start with the first Pitcher, Joey Krehbiel. During the trip, I saw over thirty pitchers throw on the mound, and he had the worst stuff out of them all. Straight fastball with little to no velocity, a change-up barely touching 75 MPH, and a breaking pitch that doesn’t move. He has given up four home runs in 1.2 Innings. He wasn’t fooling anyone and currently has an ERA of 47.00. We can’t overreact too much on Spring Training numbers, but he was so awful that he honestly shouldn’t make the team or be in the Triple-A bullpen.
Bryan Baker is another pitcher looking awful right now. His pitches are just getting annihilated. Both 2022 bullpen pieces are fumbling hard right now because Dillon Tate is injured, and someone needs to step up, and you would hope these guys could do it. These two are getting outperformed by rookies and Rule V picks right now.
One player that needs to be discussed is Jorge Mateo. His speed and defense will keep him on the roster, but his bat looks awful. His plate discipline and vision are on another level of bad. There has been some discourse over Mateo and whether or not he is a starter or should be moved to the bench or traded. There is a time and a place for that answer; he can’t be playing like this and expect to get over 120 at-bats with this team. Mateo has prospects like Joey Ortiz breathing down his neck this Spring, and it will be a test to see how much hi speed will carry him if he can’t hit.
The Pitch Clock is Awesome
The Pitch Clock is one of the many rules the MLB is trying out and has caused tons of debate. Personally, though, I love it. The games moved quickly, and I was only at the games for at most two and a half hours. It seems fans will either love it or hate it. Some people like being at the park for over three hours and being able to take into the park without worrying about missing any action. This is fine, but I like the pace at which the games are moving now. If any fans are worried about the hitter’s or pitcher’s infractions, it won’t affect the players in the season; they are happening a ton now because they aren’t used to it. It took minor leaguers four to five weeks before they adjusted. Spring Training lasts four to five weeks, so the players will adapt.
Fans who like a longer game to relax, take in the ballpark, and not miss the action while getting beverages or going to the bathroom are getting the short end of the stick, and I empathize. To many though, the game’s pace will be much better.
What will I observe this week as some players head off to the World Baseball Classic? Come back in a few days for the answers!