You say spring training stats don't matter, and you're right ... mostly.
But don't tell that to Anthony Volpe, the 21-year-old who was brought in merely to push fellow shortstop Oswald Peraza but then "kicked the door in," in the words of manager Aaron Boone, and won the job for himself. He'll now be the youngest player to start a season opener for the Yankees since another shortstop you may have heard of, Derek Jeter.
"The obvious exclamation point here is: Anthony Volpe came into camp and took this position," GM Brian Cashman said. So yes, these spring training stats mattered:
So did the ones put up by 20-year-old Jordan Walker. The Cardinals were more open to bringing him on board from the beginning, but he seemed to clinch it with a couple headline-grabbing performances early in camp. Though the production has slipped in more recent days, the exit velocities are still coming in hot, and the Cardinals made the decision official Saturday.
"To get to the big leagues, yes, you've got to be able to hit, but when things get tough and you face adversity and people start to question your ability, can you cancel out the noise and keep doing your job? I think he has that ability," manager Oliver Marmol said.
Clearly, Walker and Volpe are the biggest "winners" of spring training. To claim anyone else would be disingenuous. In fact, they're such big winners that listing them alongside lesser names wouldn't do them justice, so I'm giving them special distinction here at the top.
Walker's ADP had been approaching the top 100 in the weeks leading up to this announcement. I now rank him 84th overall, and I think it's a close call between him and fellow rookie third baseman Gunnar Henderson (especially since Walker will actually be playing the outfield and soon gain eligibility there, too). He's the big upside play, the best bet among rookies to be "this year's Julio Rodriguez," but of course, that's a difficult bar for any 20-year-old to clear.
As recently as last week, Volpe's ADP was still outside the top 200 with Peraza being such an obvious favorite, but now I have him just outside my top 100 and in the same shortstop tier as Dansby Swanson, Xander Bogaerts, Carlos Correa and Willy Adames, among others. Despite his 21 years of age, I think the floor is fairly high because the plate discipline is so good and the stolen bases so plentiful. He had 50 in the minors last year and is a perfect 5 for 5 on stolen bases this spring.
Chances are you've heard plenty about Walker and Volpe already, so I'll stop there and pivot to some other spring winners (and losers) who may not have come across your radar.
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CIN Cincinnati • #51 • Age: 25
Already armed with a cutter that regularly tops triple digits, Graham Ashcraft altered his slider grip this spring, and the whiffs that were lacking during his rookie season have come pouring in.
Alec Bohm 1B
PHI Philadelphia • #28 • Age: 26
Adding 10-15 pounds of muscle this offseason has helped Alec Bohm turn on pitches quicker, and it might be the key to unlocking the natural power revealed in his exit velocities. His hit tool is already plus, as evidenced by his 98th percentile xBA last year.
Matthew Boyd SP
DET Detroit • #48 • Age: 32
The former strikeout artist (238 in 2019) has come back from flexor tendon surgery with a new and improved changeup, which should help keep hitters off the fastball while his slider continues to pile up whiffs.
ARI Arizona • #7 • Age: 22
The multi-talented rookie has found a way to sparkle even while going homerless and has flown up draft boards as a result. It's to the point where you can't count on him lasting to Round 6 in a five-outfielder league.
Reid Detmers SP
LAA L.A. Angels • #48 • Age: 23
Reid Detmers picked up 3 mph on his slider after being sent down midseason and looked like a changed pitcher after returning. Word has it the slider is up another 3 mph this spring, and the same is true for his fastball.
Jake Fraley LF
CIN Cincinnati • #27 • Age: 28
If we needed confirmation in the legitimacy of Jake Fraley's .295 batting average, 11 homers and .903 OPS in 53 games after returning from a knee injury last year, we got it, along with some reassurance he'll return to his base-stealing roots.
Josiah Gray SP
WAS Washington • #40 • Age: 25
After serving up a league-high 38 home runs last year, Josiah Gray has kept everything in the park this spring, and it may not be just happenstance. He's been relying more and more on a cutter to keep hitters off the fastball that got walloped last season.
Darick Hall 1B
PHI Philadelphia • #24 • Age: 27
If there's a silver lining to Rhys Hoskins' injury, it's that his heir apparent was already pushing for a job. Improved selectivity has helped Darick Hall cut down on his strikeouts without undermining his light-tower power.
PIT Pittsburgh • #13 • Age: 26
Like Alec Bohm, Ke'Bryan Hayes has been turning on the ball better this spring, helping him to get more power out of his premium exit velocities. Manager Derek Shelton credits improved timing for helping him pull the ball in the air.
Mitch Keller SP
PIT Pittsburgh • #23 • Age: 27
Yet another for whom adding a cutter may be the key to rounding out his arsenal, Mitch Keller threw the pitch 42 percent of the time in his latest spring start. It was responsible for six of his 12 whiffs (on just 77 pitches).
TOR Toronto • #16 • Age: 31
It's not clear what exactly has changed for Yusei Kikuchi -- manager John Schneider mentioned something about "revamping his arm swing" -- but his whiff rate has been off the charts, too good to ignore for someone who has long teased us with his talent.
ARI Arizona • #30 • Age: 33
The Diamondbacks may say they're going with a closer committee to begin the year, but the way Scott McGough looked this spring, it's only a matter of time before he claims the role he filled in Japan the past two years.
MIL Milwaukee • #5 • Age: 24
Garrett Mitchell didn't need to assure us of his speed, which is ample, but the power production, even while missing time with a hamstring injury, offers hope he's not a one-trick pony. A Cedric Mullins-like outcome seems plausible.
COL Colorado • #44 • Age: 24
The Rockies brought in a veteran retread to compete at third base, as they're wont to do, but even they seem to be acknowledging Elehuris Montero has earned the job over Mike Moustakas with his performance this spring. He also hit .310 with 15 homers in just 65 minor-league games last year.
LAA L.A. Angels • #6 • Age: 33
After two injury-plagued seasons, the one-time stud was on the verge of being forgotten in Fantasy, even with third base being so scarce. His spring has been loud enough to earn him a second look.
SF San Francisco • #2 • Age: 25
What makes Blake Sabol so interesting is that he plays a position where part-timers can still thrive and multi-faceted contributors are few and far between. The Giants like his bat so much that he'll likely play some outfield and DH.
NYY N.Y. Yankees • #36 • Age: 27
Clarke Schmidt has made himself an integral part of the Yankees rotation amid a rash of injuries this spring. While the results have been inconsistent from start to start, the high points resonate given the high spin rates on his pitches.
ATL Atlanta • #45 • Age: 24
This spot could just as easily go to Dylan Dodd, but Jared Shuster seems the more likely of the rookie left-handers to stick in the rotation even after Kyle Wright returns. His changeup is a legitimate weapon, and the rest of his arsenal plays up because of how well he hides the ball.
Edmundo Sosa 3B
PHI Philadelphia • #33 • Age: 27
Edmundo Sosa worked with hitting coach Kevin Long to shorten up his swing, and the power has played up this spring. The Phillies were talking about giving him near-everyday at-bats all over the diamond even before the Rhys Hoskins injury, but it should be all the easier now.
Brice Turang 2B
MIL Milwaukee • Age: 23
While Joey Wiemer and Sal Frelick also made a push for a roster spot, it's Brice Turang who will join the Brewers on Opening Day, serving as their primary second baseman. A Thairo Estrada-like outcome is one to dream on for him, perhaps with even a little more speed.
A few other winners: Jose Barrero, SS, CIN; Justin Dirden, OF, HOU; Dylan Dodd, SP, ATL; Christian Encarnacion-Strand, 3B, CIN; Lucas Giolito, SP, CHW; Riley Greene, OF, DET; Edouard Julien, 2B, MIN; Jarred Kelenic, OF, SEA; Trevor Larnach, OF, MIN; Gabriel Moreno, C, ARI; Mike Moustakas, 1B/3B, COL; Hayden Wesneski, SP, CHC; Joey Wiemer, OF, MIL
Jose Berrios SP
TOR Toronto • #17 • Age: 29
Jose Berrios did nothing to relieve concerns following a miserable 2022, allowing tons of hard contact even when he managed to keep runs off the board. The numbers look worse when you factor in a disastrous start for Team Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic.
LAA L.A. Angels • #53 • Age: 30
GM Perry Minasian declared Carlos Estevez the favorite to close at the start of camp, but the former Rockies reliever struggled so much, particularly with control, that he may not even be in the mix for saves now.
STL St. Louis • #22 • Age: 27
Like Berrios, Jack Flaherty's spring only added to the perception that his career is in free fall, capped with him being on the wrong end of a 24-1 debacle against the Astros.
ATL Atlanta • #18 • Age: 22
The presumptive favorite for Dansby Swanson's old job may have simply been a victim of roster finagling with the Braves wanting to keep Ehire Adrianza in the organization, but now it's not even clear he'd get the first call over Braden Shewmake when the need arises.
BAL Baltimore • #30 • Age: 23
The Orioles all but declared Grayson Rodriguez their fifth starter at the start of camp, but his performance this spring was so underwhelming that they had little choice but to send the consensus top pitching prospect down. "I wasn't expecting this, and we were hoping that he would show up as a better version of himself than I think we got here," GM Mike Elias said.
A few other losers: Ian Anderson, SP, ATL; Drey Jameson, SP, ARI; Alex Kirilloff, OF, MIN; Oswald Peraza, SS, NYY; Trevor Rogers, SP, MIA