Panning for gold using spring stats, hitter edition

You’ve probably heard a hundred times this month alone: spring training statistics don’t mean anything. Too many times a player has had a monster spring only to completely flop during the season (do Aaron Hicks or Jackie Bradley circa 2013 ring a bell?). Still, in disbelief we all watched Julio Teheran‘s monster spring last year, and he humiliated batters and baserunners throughout his rookie campaign.

Ultimately, spring stats do tell a story, albeit a short or biased one. But if you know where to look — that is, if you know the stats on which to focus your attention — you can maybe decipher which spring performances are legit and which are not.

Dee Gordon, LAD 2B
Important stats: 12 for 42 (.286 BA), 9 SB, 8 K
Why they’re important: Well, holy smokes. Look at those steals. We’ve always known he’s fast, but wow. Also, he has struck out in only 19 percent of at-bats, which certainly isn’t the worst thing in the world. What I’m looking for here is if he can hold his own at the plate, even if it’s just for a month or two, and right now he’s hitting .286 — nothing spectacular, but not miserable, either. Oh, and did I mention he has four triples already?  Gordon isn’t a top-10 second baseman, but handcuff him to Alexander Guerrero (or simply jump ship when Guerrero finally gets the call) and this could be a great draft strategy.

Billy Hamilton, CIN CF
Important stats: 10 for 33 (.303 BA), 9 SB, 4 K, 6 BB
Why they’re important: Not only is Hamilton stealing bases at an unfathomable rate, he is also barely striking out (only 12 percent of at-bats have ended in a K) and has actually walked more times than he has struck out. Everyone and their mothers were worried Hamilton would be overpowered at the plate. Don’t get caught in the hype, I hear them saying. Yet I can’t help myself. If he keeps putting the bat on the ball the way he’s doing, he will get on base, he will steal, and he will score runs.

Billy Burns, OAK LF
Important stats: 8 SB, 13 K in 52 AB
Why they’re important: OK, maybe I was little too obvious when I sorted MLB.com’s spring training stats by stolen bases. Burns is getting way more hype than anyone in spring training right now, or at least it seems that way. He’s effectively blocked in the A’s outfield, but his speed, plate discipline and glove-work will fast-track him to the majors. Unfortunately, 25 percent of at-bats are ending in strikeouts, so he may be overmatched. No skin off our backs, though, especially if he doesn’t start this year in the majors.

Other stolen base leaders who are legitimate fantasy options: Jarrod Dyson (6 SB) and Rajai Davis (5 SB). I’ve raved about Davis’ fantasy value before.

Mike Moustakas, KC 3B
Important stats: 17 for 35 (.486 BA), 4 HR, 4 K, 6 BB
Why they’re important: Moustakas has been mostly a letdown during his major league career. He’s crushing home runs right now and has walked more than he’s struck out, and people are starting to be optimistic about the guy. I’m hesitant, and I would still leave him undrafted in standard mixed leagues, but he could be worth an extra couple of dollars in AL-only leagues. I’ll watch his name as the season progresses, though. He’s worth following if you’re picking a risky or injury-prone third base asset such as Ryan Zimmerman or Aramis Ramirez.

Brad Miller, SEA SS
Important stats: 14 for 34 (.412 BA), 2 3B, 4 HR, 1 SB
Why they’re important: Guys… are you serious. I cannot love this guy any more. And he’s still hitting triples!!! It’s not a fluke, people. I think Miller is the second coming of Ian Desmond.

Jason Heyward, ATL RF
Important stats: 14 for 40 (.350 BA), 3 HR, 1 SB
Why they’re important: …Jason Heyward? Is that really you?

Javier Baez, CHC SS
Important stats: .297/.297/.703, 4 HR, 1 SB, 11 K, 0 BB
Why they’re important: Is Baez even a real person? The split between his slugging and on-base percentages is impossibly large. Meanwhile, zero walks and 11 K’s in 37 at-bats. This kid is going to be amazing, if not occasionally frustrating at first.

Other business-as-usual home run hitters: Russell Martin (kind of — he had a huge spring last year, too, if I remember correctly), Hunter Pence (4 HR), Giancarlo Stanton (4 HR), Jose Bautista (3 HR), Miguel Cabrera (3 HR), Chris Davis (3 HR), Andrew McCutchen (3 HR).

Nick Castellanos, DET 3B (formerly LF)
Important stats: 18 for 45 (.400 BA), 7 2B, 2 HR, 2 SB, 16 RBI
Why they’re important: Castellanos is a highly touted prospect with very little major-league exposure with which we can form solid opinions about him. But nine multi-base hits in 45 at-bats, plus a pair of bombs and swipes, makes it look like this kid is the real deal, regardless of his sort of lackluster minor-league stats. Don’t get too enamored with the RBI total, but clearly he’s not afraid of so-called clutch situations, either.

Dustin Ackley, SEA LF (formerly 2B)
Important stats: .432/.462/.703, 1 HR, 6 K in 37 AB
Why they’re important: Maybe the former No. 2 pick can recoup some of his losses. He had a somewhat strong showing in the latter half of 2013. It will be interesting to see if it carries over. As the Magic 8-Ball might say, “All signs point to yes.” Or something like that.

As for players who scare me right now, Corey Hart is batting .129/.250/.161 with 16 strikeouts in 31 at-bats; B.J. Upton is batting .297/.366/.351 but with 14 strikeouts in 37 at-bats, an unsustainable rate for that batting average; and Domonic Brown is batting a miserable .171/.326/.229 with 12 strikeouts in 35 at-bats, albeit with eight walks.

Do your own research, form your own opinions. This is just a sampling of the many names that are shining bright or falling flat. And, of course, it’s simply too risky to make a decision on such a small sample size. But it never hurts to remember a name or two.

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