Dynasty: Key Numbers For Five Young Players In Spring Training
While spring training statistics can be noisy for veteran players who are building back up and pacing themselves for a long season, the same does not hold for young players who are not established in MLB or who are working to reach a new level.
With that in mind, the following young players stood out in spring training for their dominance as they chased a brighter MLB tomorrow.
Guardians outfielder Steven Kwan is a throwback player. In an age of record strikeout rates, the 24-year-old navigated 34 spring plate appearances without striking out—and he did so while hitting .469 with two doubles, two walks and a stolen base.
That earned him a spot on Cleveland’s Opening Day roster.
Kwan’s performance was fluky in the sense that perfection in baseball is rare, but it wasn’t fluky in the sense that he is supreme bat handler. Last season, Kwan led all qualified full-season minor leaguers by swinging and missing at just 2.6% of pitches he saw. Even more impressive was that Kwan got to more power than ever before with 12 home runs and a .527 slugging percentage.
5.5 runs above average
Tigers lefthander Tarik Skubal looked sharp all spring as he prepared for a critical third MLB season, this time with the higher stakes associated with Detroit playing for a postseason berth. The 25-year-old logged 13.2 innings over four starts, striking out 21, walking three, allowing no home runs and pitching to a 1.32 ERA.
That was good for a 0.97 FIP, which when scaled to Skubal’s workload produced a spring training-best 5.5 runs above average. If Skubal can carry this success into the season, then he and Eduardo Rodriguez and Casey Mize could form the core of an emerging young rotation.
Some other young, less-established starters who stood out in terms of FIP-based RAA were the Pirates’ Mitch Keller (3.3), the Rangers’ Spencer Howard (2.5), the Angels’ Jose Suarez (24) and the Braves’ Kyle Wright (2.4).
Angels lefthander Reid Detmers faced 22 batters in spring training. He struck out 11 of them and walked none, for a strikeout rate-to-walk rate differential of 50% that ranked second among starters who faced at least 20 batters. The 22-year-old made the Angels’ rotation and is poised for a breakthrough season.
Other starters in their early 20s who ranked top 10 in K-BB% with at least 20 batters faced were the Rays’ Shane McClanahan (32.1%), the Tigers’ Tarik Skubal (31.6%) and the Mariners’ Matt Brash (30.3%).
6 home runs
The Pirates’ Diego Castillo blasted six home runs in Grapefruit League action to help pave the way to his MLB debut after he made Pittsburgh’s Opening Day roster. Castillo hit the same number of spring homers as Rafael Devers and Bryce Harper, while batting .371 with 12 RBIs in 14 games. The 24-year-old split his time between third base, shortstop, second base and right field.
The Pirates picked up Castillo and Hoy Park last July when they dealt reliever Clay Holmes to the Yankees. Castillo was in the midst of a career year at Double-A. He finished the season with 19 home runs after hitting eight total in his first five pro seasons. Castillo is ready now to fill in wherever he is needed on the Pirates’ infield.
Some other standout isolated slugging percentages among unproven players in their early 20s: the Royals’ Kyle Isbel (.484), the Giants’ Joey Bart (.455), the Twins’ Trevor Larnach (.412) and the Giants’ Arquimedes Gamboa (.409).
Young Rockies shortstop prospect Ezequiel Tovar entered the season with a reputation for excellent defense and questionable offensive upside. That scouting report can go straight into the recycling bin after the 20-year-old Venezuelan hit .550 with three home runs and only one strikeout in 20 spring at-bats.
His offensive production translated to a 300 OPS+ that made him 200% more productive than the average Cactus League hitter. Just four hitters who batted at least 20 times managed a higher OPS+ in spring than Tovar.
While Tovar will have to tone down his aggressive hitting approach, he has demonstrated a new level of offensive production that when combined with his advanced glove makes him the Rockies’ shortstop of the future.
Other younger, less established players in their early 20s who posted high OPS+ marks this spring include the Pirates’ Diego Castillo (229), the Orioles’ Yusniel Diaz (229), the Phillies’ Mickey Moniak (228) and Micker Adolfo of the White Sox (217). Mariners uber-prospect Julio Rodriguez turned in a 216.
Top 25 Young Pitchers
The following 26-and-under pitchers had the highest totals of FIP-based runs above average.
Top 25 Young Hitters
The following 26-and-under position players had the highest totals of wOBA-based runs above average.