There’s kind of a nifty, albeit fairly superfluous blog post by Larry Stone this week looking at various examples of Mariners having good and not-so-good Spring Training numbers. I’m sure, if you wanted to take the time to really burrow down this rabbit hole, you could spend weeks sifting through the rubble of crushed dreams of erstwhile Mariners prospects who flamed out thanks to crappy springs and in spite of great springs. So many of us have this preconceived notion that Eric Wedge is basing his Opening Day Roster on how certain players do in Spring Training, when really there is so much more to it.
For a lot of these guys, their fates have already been decided. For the guys on the 40-man roster, there really isn’t a whole lot left to decide except for maybe a bench spot, a back-end-of-the-rotation spot, and a couple of bullpen spots. For everyone else, Spring Training is merely a showcase. Do well now, when the focus of Wedge and Jackie Z is at its most concentrated, and maybe someday later this season you’ll get a call up to the Bigs, when there’s a need. And there’s ALWAYS a need. No 25-man roster remains static throughout an entire 162-game season. There are injuries, there are major slumps, there are trades at the deadline, there are deaths in the family … there are SO MANY REASONS why a roster will change and evolve!
Nevertheless, it’s patently obvious that players HAVE “played their way” onto the Big League club thanks to a torrid Spring Training. Stats Geeks (and other fans, I suppose, who aren’t as in tune with the stats world) tend to loathe this phenomenon, especially when it comes to over-the-hill guys who have an amazing Spring, only to take a roster spot away from a high-level prospect with potential. Or, you know, Jason Bay. Should he have an amazing Spring, that is.
I understand the argument against focusing on Spring Training numbers. You’re playing, oftentimes, against low-level competition. It’s a small sample size. It’s in the warm Arizona (or Florida) sun, where the ball just jumps off the bat. It’s easy to get wrapped up in some of these numbers, when guys are batting .450 and seemingly everything their bat touches goes for extra bases. But, you have to let that shit go! You have to understand what’s waiting for these players right around the corner: April in Seattle, where home runs go to die.
It’s wonderful that Justin Smoak’s new approach at the plate is paying early dividends. But, how much can you honestly make of his performance when A) Eric Wedge has gone out and declared he will once again be our opening day first baseman, and B) these games are meaningless? Smoak is playing for nothing! Say what you will about Pete Carroll and his philosophies, but I buy-in 100% to the Always Compete mantra. Mariners leaders like Wedge and Jackie Z like to talk a good game about competing, and about how the kids aren’t going to have anything handed to them, but essentially: THEY ARE HAVING EVERYTHING HANDED TO THEM! Smoak and Ackley were God-awful last season, yet they are inked into the starting, everyday lineup. Montero had a mediocre, underwhelming rookie season, and his defense is suspect-at-best, yet he’s going to be our starting, almost-everyday catcher.
I’m not necessarily saying that they all need to be benched in favor of whoever else the Mariners have in camp this year, but they should at least have to fight for their jobs! And if someone legitimately beats them out, so be it.
Spring Training would be a lot more interesting if players ACTUALLY had to compete for their jobs. Maybe, instead of starting out their first couple weeks by throwing an inning or two, they have to arrive in Spring Training with their arms fully loaded and ready to go (FUCK IT! WE’LL DO IT LIVE!).
But, obviously, that’s not the way it is and it never will be. Still, that doesn’t mean Spring Training is entirely meaningless. There are those aforementioned roster battles: bench, back-end-of-the-rotation, bullpen. We’ve got veterans fighting for their baseball lives against young guys fighting just to break into the Majors full time. I know a lot of Mariners fans just want the team to go with Hultzen, Wells, Capps and Pryor, but, you know what I think? I think: let the best man win.
This is it, Casper Wells. Show us what you’ve got. Casper Wells vs. Jason Bay is the most hotly-debated position battle in this entire camp. By all accounts, Wells is the better player: way better on defense, has a lot more upside on offense. Bay is an old man with no future with this organization. But, guess what? That doesn’t mean dick right now. The pressure is turned up all the way on Casper Wells. How will he respond?
Those are the Spring Training numbers I’m interested in. If Casper Wells TRULY deserves to be on this Mariners team, then he needs to go out there and tear the cover off the ball this month. I don’t give a shit about sample sizes or level of competition or any of that right now. They both face the same challenge: they’ll likely get a similar number of at bats and opportunities in the outfield. They’re both playing against the same level of competition, in the same climate. So, what’s it going to be? Is Casper Wells going to go out and seize the day? Or, is he going to go out, bat .200, and be traded for a single-A prospect?
You want to see how guys respond to this type of pressure. It’ll ultimately inform us as to how they might perform when there is REAL pressure on the line. Like, playoffs-type pressure.
P.S. Wells is currently batting .125 (2 for 16), though both are for extra bases, and 5 strikeouts. Bay is currently batting .250 (1 for 4) with a home run, 2 walks, and 0 strikeouts. But, again, it’s early. They have a whole month to go.