MLB Spring Training 2018: Highlighting Most Impressive Pitchers and Hitters

Spring training stats don't mean much in the grand scheme of things.

Still, that doesn't stop baseball fans from poring over them in anticipation of Opening Day after a long, cold offseason.

So we will do the same.

With the 2018 season set to get underway March 29, let's take a quick look at some of the most impressive performances at the plate and on the mound this spring.

The goal was to highlight players with something to prove who could use their strong preseasons as a springboard for the year ahead.

             

Hitters

2B Jason Kipnis, Cleveland Indians
Stats: 18-for-38, 2 2B, 1 3B, 6 HR, 12 RBI, 10 R

It's been a decidedly different spring for Jason Kipnis, who was battling a shoulder injury at this time last year and never seemed to get to 100 percent on his way to posting an 81 OPS+ and just 0.4 WAR.

Still in his prime, at 31 and one year removed from a 4.2 WAR season wherein he had a 109 OPS+ with 41 doubles, 23 home runs and 82 RBI, he looks like a leading candidate for AL Comeback Player of the Year honors.

           

3B Matt Davidson, Chicago White Sox
Stats: 19-for-56, 3 2B, 1 3B, 4 HR, 18 RBI, 8 R

The good: Matt Davidson hit 26 home runs last season.

The bad: Pretty much everything else. His .220/.260/.452 batting line included a brutal 165-19 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and coupled with his poor defense, he was a minus-0.9 WAR player.

So while the above stats are impressive, the most telling number might be his eight walks in 64 plate appearances. It's a small sample size, but he's clearly working on making the necessary adjustments.

         

1B Dan Vogelbach, Seattle Mariners
Stats: 18-for-45, 6 2B, 5 HR, 11 RBI, 8 R

Heading into spring training last year, Dan Vogelbach appeared to be ticketed for at least a share of the starting first base job in Seattle.

Instead, he hit just .228 with 19 strikeouts in 64 plate appearances and was optioned to Triple-A, where he spent all but 16 games of the season.

With offseason-addition Ryon Healy recovering from surgery to remove a bone spur from his right hand, it looks like Vogelbach will get the Opening Day start thanks to his strong spring.

             

C/1B Blake Swihart, Boston Red Sox
Stats: 14-for-52, 7 2B, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 7 R

Blake Swihart is out of minor league options, so this was a make-or-break spring for him with the Boston Red Sox.

The former top prospect has not developed into the franchise catcher he was expected to be, but he's still just 25, and he's made his case for a spot on the Opening Day roster.

           

Pitchers

LHP Blake Snell, Tampa Bay Rays
Stats: 11.2 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 19 K, 1.54 ERA, .146 BAA

With Alex Cobb departing in free agency and Jake Odorizzi's trade to the Minnesota Twins, the Rays are counting on Blake Snell taking a step forward this season.

The left-hander has shown flashes at the MLB level, going 5-7 with a 4.04 ERA, 1.33 WHIP and 119 strikeouts in 129.1 innings last season.

However, he's struggled to pitch deep into games, and his 4.1 BB/9 rate has been part of the problem. With improved command, he has the stuff to emerge as a legitimate No. 2 starter behind ace Chris Archer.

          

LHP Marco Gonzales, Seattle Mariners
Stats: 16.1 IP, 10 H, 2 ER, 6 BB, 13 K, 1.10 ERA, .185 BAA

It was surprising, to say the least, that the Mariners didn't make a notable starting pitching addition this offseason, especially considering the wheeler-dealer mentality of general manager Jerry Dipoto.

Among other things, that was a show of faith in Marco Gonzales' ability to hold down a spot in the rotation despite his 6.08 ERA in 40 big league innings last season.

The Mariners gave up power-hitting prospect Tyler O'Neill to acquire the former first-round pick from the St. Louis Cardinals last summer, and he would provide a huge boon to their playoff chances if he can emerge as a reliable option every fifth day.

             

RHP Fernando Romero, Minnesota Twins
Stats: 8.0 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 8 K, 0.00 ERA, .000 BAA

Fernando Romero has already been optioned to Double-A, so he won't be part of the Twins' Opening Day roster.

However, his spotless spring performance has provided plenty of reason for optimism that he will be ready to make an impact in the big leagues at some point in 2018.

The No. 68 prospect in baseball, according to MLB.com, Romero went 11-9 with a 3.53 ERA and 120 strikeouts in 125 innings in a full season at Double-A last year. The 23-year-old could join Jose Berrios atop the Twins' rotation in short order.

            

RHP Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets
Stats: 20.0 IP, 15 H, 3 ER, 6 BB, 23 K, 1.35 ERA, .205 BAA

A partially torn lat muscle ended Noah Syndergaard's season after just seven starts in 2017, so a strong showing this spring provided some reassurance he's ready to return to his pre-injury form.

That includes a brilliant 2016, when he went 14-9 with a 2.60 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 218 strikeouts in 183.2 innings to finish eighth in NL Cy Young voting.

              

Regular season stats courtesy of Baseball Reference. Spring stats via MLB.com.

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Explaining the MLB Pace-of-Play and Pitch Clock Rule Changes for 2018 Season

With an ongoing focus being placed on the length of MLB games, there will be a handful of new pace-of-play rules that go into effect during the 2018 season.

Despite the recent emphasis on speeding things up, the average MLB game actually climbed to an all-time high of three hours, five minutes and 11 seconds, according to Sports Illustrated.

That was up nearly four-and-a-half minutes from the 2016 season.

With Opening Day approaching on March 29, let's take a quick run through the new rules that will be implemented during the upcoming season.

          

Mound Visits

The Rule: "Mound visits without a pitching change shall be limited to six per team, per nine innings. For any extra innings played, each club shall be entitled to one additional non-pitching change mound visit per inning."

The rule includes managers, coaches and players, so for the sake of reaching those six visits, a catcher coming out to discuss how to attack a hitter and a pitching coach trotting out from the dugout to talk strategy will count the same.

This will have a bigger impact on some teams than others. For example, Chicago Cubs catcher Willson Contreras is notorious for his excessive trips to the mound and it sounds like he has no intention of changing his approach.

"If they said there are six mound visits, what about if there is a tight or extra-inning game and you have to go there?" Contreras told reporters. "They can't say anything about that. It's my team, and we just care about winning. If they fine me (for) the seventh mound visit, I'll pay the price."

No word yet on what the punishment would be for a repeat offender.

There will be some exceptions that don't count as official mound visits, with Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com providing a concise list: 

• If the visit is made due to an injury (or potential injury) to the pitcher
• If the pitcher and position player interact between batters without relocating
• If a position player goes to the mound to clean his spikes in rainy conditions
• If the visit is made immediately after the announcement of an offensive substitution

On paper, this looks like the most effective move the commissioner's office has made thus far toward speeding things up.

        

Break Timer

The Rule: "The timer will count down from 2:05 for breaks in locally televised championship season games, from 2:25 for breaks in nationally televised championship season games, and from 2:55 for tie-breaker and postseason games."

This rule has been on the books since 2016, but it's being enforced differently this season, as David Adler of MLB.com explained:

"The difference now is that at the 25-second mark, the umpire will signal for the final warmup pitch and the pitcher must throw it before the clock hits 20. The batter will be announced at the 20-second mark and the pitcher must begin his windup to throw the first pitch of the inning within the five seconds before the clock hits zero."

Adhering more closely to the break-time limit could conceivably save 20 seconds or so each half inning, saving a few minutes overall each game.

        

Pitch Clock

Despite talk of implementing a pitch clock that monitors the time pitchers take between pitches, no such move has been made for the 2018 season.

As for the possibility of the rule taking effect in 2019, Castrovince wrote: "It's still possible. The Commissioner's Office will monitor how much these changes impact the average time and the pace of games, and it is still possible that the pitch clock is imposed, with or without agreement from the MLB Players' Association, in future seasons."

This will continue to be a tough sell to the MLBPA as pitchers are creatures of habit.

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MLB Position Power Rankings 2018: B/R’s Top 30 Starting Pitchers

After last season's offensive explosion, having reliable starting pitching has become even more vital in the hunt for a World Series title.

With that in mind, we have set out to identify the top 30 starting pitchers in the league heading into the 2018 season.

For fantasy baseball fans, think of this as a big board of the position if the entire league were doing a redraft for one all-or-nothing season in 2018.

Someone like Jon Gray has more upside than Zack Greinke going forward, but is he going to be better this coming year?

Let's find out.

               

Previous Top 30 series entries: Catchers, First Basemen, Second Basemen, Shortstops, Third Basemen, Outfielders

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MLB Spring Training 2018: Latest Rumors and Injury News

Spring training is drawing to a close and Opening Day is now just a few short days away. The 2018 MLB season is almost here, folks.

With that in mind, now seems like as good a time as any for a quick rundown of the latest rumors and speculation surrounding the market's top free agents, as well as any notable injury news that could have an impact on Opening Day rosters.

So let's dive right in.

            

Top Remaining Free Agents

One of the free-agent market's top starters in Alex Cobb finally found a new home on Tuesday when he signed a four-year, $57 million deal with the Baltimore Orioles, according to Bruce Levine of 670 The Score.

Here's a look at some other notable players who remain unemployed and the latest rumors/speculation on where they might land:

                

1B Mark Reynolds

The 34-year-old slugger played his way into a role last season after signing a minor league pact with the Colorado Rockies. The end result was a 105 OPS+ with 30 home runs and 97 RBI, though his power-centric game resulted in just 0.9 WAR.

The Rockies have "remained in contact" with Reynolds, according to Jon Morosi of MLB Network, as he'd serve as valuable insurance for rookie Ryan McMahon.

The Orioles have also been linked to Reynolds, though only loosely, with Roch Kubatko of MASNsports writing: "The Orioles appear set at the infield corners and right-handed designated hitter, assuming Davis has avoided a serious injury, but Reynolds intrigues because, well, he's out there."

At this point, waiting to sign until an injury opens up a spot might be his best course of action. Think James Loney joining the New York Mets in 2016.

            

OF Jose Bautista

This might be the end of the road for Joey Bats.

The 37-year-old posted a dismal 76 OPS+ with 23 home runs and 65 RBI in 686 plate appearances on his way to minus-1.7 WAR last season for the Toronto Blue Jays while earning a hefty $18 million.

News has been sparse surrounding the six-time All-Star, though Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports did offer up this nugget at the beginning of March: "Jose Bautista had a couple seven-figure offers (probably $1 million, or just over), but he didn’t think they were commensurate with his value. So he may retire."

However, it didn't sound like retirement was on the table when Bautista talked to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, saying: "Right now I'm just considering my options, and it depends on two criteria. That's winning and making sure that my family's in a good situation."

We shall see if he does, in fact, continue on in 2018.

           

RP Greg Holland

MLBTradeRumors predicted a four-year, $50 million deal for Greg Holland, while Heyman had him pegged for a four-year, $64 million pact.

So what happened?

Plenty of high-leverage relievers have cashed in this offseason, even in a slow-moving market, so it's hard to blame the circumstances of the winter.

The 32-year-old returned from Tommy John surgery last season and saved an NL-high 41 games for the Colorado Rockies.

However, he ran out of gas with a 7.58 ERA and three blown saves in 11 chances over the final two months of the season.

The Atlanta Braves and Arizona Diamondbacks are two teams who have recently kicked the tires on Holland, according to Heyman, who also lists the Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers as speculative fits.

Other Free Agents of Note: 1B Adam Lind, 1B/OF Brandon Moss, SS J.J. Hardy, OF Melky Cabrera, OF Andre Ethier, OF Jayson Werth, SP Scott Feldman, SP Matt Garza, SP John Lackey, SP Jake Peavy, RP Joe Blanton, RP Jason Grilli, RP Drew Storen.

         

Injury News

1B Yuli Gurriel, HOU: Gurriel underwent hamate bone surgery on his left hand in February, and he could be back a few weeks after the start of the regular season. The versatile Marwin Gonzalez will likely be the everyday first baseman until he returns, opening up playing time in the outfield for Derek Fisher and Jake Marisnick.

2B Dustin Pedroia, BOS: Still recovering from October knee surgery, Pedroia is not expected to be back until May at the earliest. Re-signing Eduardo Nunez gives the club a solid everyday option until Pedroia returns, at which time Nunez will return to the super-utility role he's thrived in the past few seasons.

3B Martin Prado, MIA: Prado saw his 2017 season end when he underwent surgery on his right knee, and he had a flare up in that same knee on March 13. That should open the door for prospect Brian Anderson to break camp as the starting third baseman. The 24-year-old is hitting .286/.388/.667 with four home runs in 49 plate appearances this spring.

SS Jorge Polanco, MIN: While he isn't hurt, Polanco will be missing from the Twins lineup for the foreseeable future after he was given an 80-game PED suspension. Utility man Eduardo Escobar would appear to be the most likely in-house replacement, while veteran Erick Aybar is also in camp as a non-roster invitee, and he could now find his way onto the roster as well.

SP Danny Salazar, CLE: The talented but oft-injured Salazar has been experiencing shoulder inflammation this spring, and it will likely mean an early trip to the DL. Salazar was battling with Josh Tomlin and Mike Clevinger for the final two spots in the Cleveland rotation, so his injury just brings some clarity to that situation for the time being.

SP Ervin Santana, MIN: Santana underwent surgery on his right middle finger in February, and he has not yet begun a throwing program, per Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press. The Twins went out an acquired Jake Odorizzi and Lance Lynn to fill out the rotation, and those two will join Jose Berrios and Kyle Gibson as the team hopes to go with a four-man rotation until Santana returns.

3B Justin Turner, LAD: Turner suffered a fractured left wrist when he was hit by a pitch on March 19. Per Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, he won't need surgery, but the injury will still sideline him for a handful of weeks. Expect the Dodgers to slide Logan Forsythe over to third base, with some combination of Chase Utley, Kike Hernandez and Chris Taylor manning second base.

Other Notable Players Expected to Open on the DLRP Zach Britton (BAL), OF Michael Conforto (NYM), SP Anthony DeSclafani (CIN), OF Ben Gamel (SEA), SP Luiz Gohara (ATL), SP Jimmy Nelson (MIL), SP Carlos Rodon (CWS), DH Mark Trumbo (BAL), SS Troy Tulowitzki (TOR), SP Jason Vargas (NYM), C Stephen Vogt (MIL)

             

All regular-season stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, while injury news comes via MLB.com.

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