Spring training stats are, at best, hard to interpret. Drawing an accurate conclusion from Cactus League stats is so difficult it may as well be impossible. The situation becomes worse when we consider minor league players who generally receive less playing time than the guys preparing for a major league season. Writing an entire article about prospects based on little more than Spring statistics is a really bad idea.
Unfortunately, it is the middle of March. We are weeks away from having any meaningful data about the Cubs’ prospects, and Spring Training numbers are what we have to work with. As the saying goes, when life hands you lemons…
… make life take the lemons back! Demand to see life’s manager! Make life rue the day it thought it could give you lemons!
I really hope someone here got that reference.
Anyhow, even though Spring statistics are generally unreliable and nearly meaningless, I think we can squeeze a little information out of them. At worst, it is never a bad thing to keep an eye on the future of the franchise, even if we can’t be sure what that eye is telling us.
If there is any one fact we can establish from Spring statistics, it might just be this: the Cubs’ young catchers came to camp ready to compete for a job. When Geovany Soto went down to an early strain, the battle for backup catcher was quite suddenly thrust into the spotlight. Welington Castillo and Steve Clevenger quickly turned that battle into a two man race, and what a race it is. Through six games (12 ABs), Clevenger has an OPS of 1.133. Castillo isn’t too far behind, with an OPS of 0.941 in 8 games (17 ABs). Both have one home run. Clevenger is the more patient hitter, so I am not surprised to see that he has already collected a pair of walks.
It is still too early declare a winner here, but Castillo should be regarded as the favorite. Clevenger has yet to spend a full season in Triple A, and Castillo has nothing left to prove at that level. In tournament speak, this is a 7 vs 10 match-up with Castillo as the higher seed. Even so, don’t be surprised if Clevenger and his left handed swing pull the upset. (Note from Brett: I see Clevenger as the favorite thanks to what appears to be a slightly more polished approach behind the plate, and a left-handed bat. It’s close, though, as Luke says.)
Not only has Junior Lake proven to be surprisingly tall and in possession of surprisingly good defense at shortstop, he also has put together a very surprising stat line. Through Wednesday’s games, Lake had reached base three times (Brett: and he ended up homering on Thursday). Two of those came via walks. He has made good use of his time on the base paths, however, picking up two steals and scoring twice. In a nut shell, that is going to be Lake game. On the one hand we will see plenty of extra base hits and steals, and on the other hand we will see lots of strike outs (four so far this spring). He will be equal parts exciting and frustrating to watch.
I want to come back to those two walks. Alone, that data point means nothing. The sample is so small that these numbers fade into statistical irrelevance. However, that data point does not stand alone. When we look at numbers across the team, the data is hinting at an underlying story that I think we should keep an eye on as this season progresses.
We know that the new Cubs’ new regime are going to emphasis getting on base, and that drawing walks is a significant part of that strategy. We also know that the Cubs have a handful of players in camp who are not, by any means, known for their plate discipline or their ability to draw walks. Junior Lake is a perfect example, and he already has two walks this Spring. Josh Vitters is another great example. He has also collected two walks and just ten at bats. Blake DeWitt posted an OBP of .305 in 2011. He has three walks in eleven at bats. Joe Mather has a career OBP of .283. He also has two walks in fifteen at bats.
This is exactly the sort of results we would expect to see if the Cubs were now stressing plate discipline and the player were responding. I am not calling this a trend yet, but it is a story line that is worth keeping an eye on. It could be that we are seeing four separate statistical flukes that are all trending in the same direction. Or it could be that the change in organizational emphasis is already starting to pay dividends. The regular season will tell the real story.
The bulk of the attention in the Spring has focused on the starting rotation or on the second left handed reliever in the bullpen, but there is one more pitching question we need to watch. Can Lendy Castillo stick in the majors?
Lendy Castillo was a Rule 5 Draft selection by the Cubs this year. That means the Cubs need to keep him on the 25-man roster or risk losing him back to the Phillies. In many cases this would not be that big of a deal, but Castillo is an exception. Even though Castillo has five years in the minors, he has only been pitching since 2010. In his entire professional career, he has pitched only 111 innings. That lack of experience will make it more difficult for the Cubs to keep him in the majors, and yet his success despite that lack of experience is a powerful indicator of how much promise this guy has. Baseball America ranked him 8th among the Cubs deep pool of right handed relief prospects, ahead of better known pitchers such as Aaron Kurcz (now departed for the Red Sox) and Blake Parker. If the Cubs can keep him around, Castillo could easily evolve into a very good late inning reliever.
But can they keep him on the roster all season (without playing games with the disabled list)? The early results look good. In five innings this spring, Castillo has given up just one hit while walking three and striking out four. Those aren’t bad numbers for a middle reliever. His spring WHIP of 0.800 is an encouraging sign. If he continues to enjoy this sort of success in the Cactus League, I strongly suspect the Cubs will take him north with the team. It remains to be seen if he can stay successful as opposing hitters learn how to work against his stuff, but at this stage there is reason for optimism.
Once again, Spring Training numbers are so hard to interpret accurately that they are often useless. Nevertheless, when the calendar says March and the regular season is weeks away, it never hurts to keep an eye on those stats.