It is great to see the second week of spring training games wrapping up. As much as I would like to spend the entire five weeks seeing the Cactus and Grapefruit League contests in person, the plentiful action available via MLB.TV and its various supported boxes and apps often make it possible to watch multiple games each day.
With live games, we have been able to leave behind some of the most common and tired storylines of the first two weeks of any major league camp.
With no games yet to write about, scribes first look for physical changes in players as they arrive at spring training. That leads to the invariable “best shape of his career” articles.
The problem is that these narratives can backfire. If the player struggles during the regular season, the weight change can be the first thing that is blamed, whether fair and accurate or not.
The interesting thing is that it can work either way. In media second-guessing mode, a struggling player who was initially praised for losing weight can later be accused of lacking the stamina necessary to get through the long season.
Here is a current example. Lance Lynn could now appropriately be called Lance Thin. The 6-foot-5 right-hander reported to Cardinals camp 40 pounds lighter than last season. Interestingly, Lynn was removed from the rotation briefly in the second half of 2012. Was it poor conditioning or will he pay for the weight loss in the heat of July and August 2013?
On the other side of the coin, we have the player who gained muscle over the winter to help him maintain his edge over the six-month season. Beware! If his numbers don’t look good later, he will be criticized for having lost his speed and agility because of the extra pounds.
As you likely know already, the most prominent player in this category in 2013 is Mike Trout. The growth of the Angels phenom to 240 pounds has been analyzed and re-analyzed. Though there has been less reaction to date, Washington’s Bryce Harper is among others who also added weight over the winter.
My message to these players is that if you stand out, you had better be ready to deliver or you will take the heat.
By the second week of camp, the storylines progress to who is mentoring whom. The canny veteran who might lose his job to the kid ignores the inherent risks and takes the young man under his wing. You can pretty much take one of these articles from city A and reuse it in city B by only changing the player and team names.
Now that games have been with us for awhile, what is it with all the workout jerseys being used in Cactus and Grapefruit games? As far as I have seen this year, the Cardinals are the only team using their standard regular season uniforms.
I get the merchandizing opportunity for clubs, but I still don’t care for it. For example, seeing the Dodgers with blue jerseys and white armpit-to-waist stripes doesn’t do it for me. I love their classic look.
The Astros are taking this concept a step further (or a step too far) with their rainbow under the arm look. Houston has changed its uniform colors so many times over the years, such that a lot of underarm space is required to show even a slice of them all.
Speaking of Houston, new manager Bo Porter elicited some praise as well as some “high school” reactions when he decided to keep the team’s players names off the back of their spring jerseys – until they earn it.
Seems to me that the woeful Astros should be doing everything they can to help their suffering fans learn the names of their mostly-anonymous players. It would also help the fantasy player tuning in.
In all fairness, the ‘Stros are not alone in this puzzling practice. It isn’t just struggling teams, either.
The Angels may televise the most spring games of any club, yet their players’ names are nowhere to be found. If Arte Moreno can afford Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton in consecutive winters, he could certainly spring for some names for his player’s jerseys, couldn’t he?
Speaking of tuning in, I am a big proponent of seeing as many games as your time allows prior to your March drafts. It is one thing to read box scores and player capsules after the fact. It is another to hear the local broadcasters talking about players.
The most important thing to look for is not stats. Those who dismiss spring results as being completely worthless are probably closer to reality than those who attach any real significance to them.
I am looking for clues to potential winners and losers in playing time battles and roster spots. The latter is especially important in single-league formats, where just about every 25-man player is rostered. Of course, this will become easier after the World Baseball Classic is over. Then rosters will be at full strength and cuts of the pretenders will pile up.
Besides, all things considered, what better sound could there be than the soothing voice of Vin Scully calling a game from Arizona?
Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 14-year history. Though he is the only one to remember or care, he also finished second in each of the two subsequent seasons. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.