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Everything seems rosier in spring training.
Maybe not the roses themselves, which tend to bloom six weeks later, but on the baseball diamond, everything that went wrong before suddenly seems like it could go right.
Take Dansby Swanson, NL rookie of the year favorite a year ago who ended up hitting .232 and earning a return trip to the minors. On Sunday, he hit a towering home run off Max Scherzer, of all people, which is something he'll need to do to measure up in today's offensive environment. And after the game, he made vague reference to some changes he made.
"Let's just say self-awareness," he said. "I fine-tuned some things during the offseason, stuff I believe in and stuff I believe will pay huge dividends moving forward."
It seems plausible. I want to believe him. I don't really have to because he's going for next to nothing in Fantasy Baseball drafts, but it doesn't change the fact that, for players with upside, spring is often the first glimpse of a breakthrough.
So keep watching.
One weekend into this thing, Dominic Smith is already bumbling away his chance at a starting job. It started with him showing up late for the first game, prompting his removal from the lineup, and then, after saying his sorrys, he strained his quad in his spring debut Saturday.
"There's no real concern," Smith told MLB.com. "It shouldn't be that big of a deal."
It wouldn't be if the Mets were fully on board with him, but they're already looking for an excuse to hand the job to retread Adrian Gonzalez ( of spring training) after Smith went the all-or-nothing route in a late-season call-up last year. None of it's what anyone wants to see from a former first-round pick -- the long-awaited first baseman of the future -- who hit .330 with a .905 OPS at Triple-A as Vegas last year.
Forgotten, but not gone
If the first returns of spring training are any indication, this year could finally be the year for Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow, two former prospects with enormous strikeout potential who have so far been thwarted by command issues.
Snell already began making strides late last year, changing where he stood on the rubber to prevent him from throwing across his body, and the result was a 2.62 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings. Sunday's performance was in the same vein: He struck out four in two perfect innings.
Glasnow's line wasn't quite as impressive -- he allowed two runs on two hits with no walks and two strikeouts in two innings -- but the reviews were glowing. His fastball hit triple-digits, and he was throwing everything for strikes.
"It's as good as I've seen him, probably ever," said Jacob Stallings, his catcher for the day.
Glasnow had a 1.97 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and 12.8 strikeouts per nine innings in his final 10 starts at Triple-A last year, but because he isn't assured a job this spring, he's being completely overlooked on Draft Day.
Speaking of not being assured a job, Collin McHugh has virtually no chance after the Astros' gluttonous pursuit of pitching landed them Gerrit Cole this offseason. But he dominated in his spring debut Saturday against the Braves, striking out five in two shutout innings, and manager A.J. Hinch at least pretended there might be an opening for the 30-year-old righty.
"Coming out of the gate, throwing that kind of strikes and putting away hitters, I was very impressed," Hinch told MLB.com. "It's nice to have him healthy going into the spring. That's a very valuable guy."
But what are they going to do, bump Charlie Morton? They've already banished Brad Peacock to the bullpen. Maybe it would have never come to this point if McHugh hadn't missed the first 3 1/2 months last season with an elbow impingement, but he looked good down the stretch, even debuting a slider with big swing-and-miss potential.
Here's hoping for a trade.
Behind the Candelario
One player who hasn't gotten enough attention in this era of infield oversaturation is Jeimer Candelario, who hit .326 with two home runs, seven doubles and an .871 OPS in 26 games after taking over as the Tigers' primary third baseman late last season.
He made his presence known Saturday and Sunday, going a combined 3 for 3 for with a home run, two doubles and a walk.
He won't lead the position in home runs, but he could approach 20. And most of all, he'll get on base, doing so at a .404 clip in those 26 games last season after consistently posting high walk rates in the minors.
Calling him a poor man's Eugenio Suarez doesn't sound too far off and may even sell his batting average potential a little short.
Right side of the Roark
Tanner Roark is one of those pitchers who nobody really wants when he's good or bad -- and he's a fair amount of both.
Last year was decidedly bad, at least until his final 13 starts when he had a 3.73 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings. But he seems to have figured out what went wrong, possibly because of what went wrong in 2015, another bad year. He plans to stand sideways on the rubber to avoid rocking back too much during his delivery, which is something he'd rather not have to obsess over.
"When you think [too much], you suck," Roark told MLB.com. "So I just go out there, you know what you need to do, and focus on the things that you need to do. Most of the time it's just the small, little things that you need to do that will fix everything else."
Roark posted a sub-3.00 ERA in both 2014 and 2016, so even though his peripherals are less than exciting, he has proven himself twice over. And more outings like Saturday's, in which he allowed no runs on one hit with three strikeouts in two innings, will go a long way to earning him some bidders, especially since he's good for a consistent six-plus innings in an environment where so few pitchers are.