JUPITER, Fl. (KMOV.com) -- As the rising daily temperatures and lengthening evening shadows signal camp’s end, it’s time to take stock of spring performances.
The overall tenor of the time in Jupiter is positive; there have been far more good camps for players than bad ones.
Some went as expected.
Dexter Fowler was as advertised as a leadoff man and captain of the outfield. His .500 OBP trails only one qualified hitter on the team (we’ll get to him shortly) and his interpersonal impact has been noticeable from the start.
Aledmys Diaz went right back to work at the plate (a .350 average, just five strikeouts) and appears stronger and more comfortable at short, especially with his throws across the diamond. Jhonny Peralta looks confident in the hot corner and fully recovered at the plate. Jedd Gyorko can still club baseballs as casually as he dresses.
But the past two months have, for a handful of players, been revelatory. In part one of a two-part breakdown, we take a look at three players trending upward.
1. Michael Wacha
Prior to Alex Reyes’ injury, Wacha was in troubled water. He lost his arbitration hearing, his health was a question mark and faced a fight for a rotation spot at best and a bullpen role at worst. His hinky shoulder had dragged him a long way from 2013 and the NLCS MVP performance was more of a fading memory than a harbinger of things to come.
After six impressive starts this spring, Wacha looks a lot more like the guy who dominated the Dodgers than anything we’ve seen in the past two seasons. After another rigorous offseason workout regimen, the musculature of his shoulder is strong. He can extend as he delivers pitches, which means the ball stays down in the zone. He can finish of breaking balls in a way he couldn’t last year, and his velocity is hard, heavy and low.
In 22 innings he’s walked five, struck out 18, and allowed five earned runs. His fastball/changeup combo looks as vicious as it did his rookie year, and his evolving curveball and cutter have proved credible against MLB hitters. He won’t know if he’s solved his shoulder until the season rolls on, but he couldn’t leave March looking any better than he does.
2. Greg Garcia
The most compelling thing about Garcia for most Cardinal fans this spring was the fact he is out of options. With his defensive versatility and his effectiveness as a pinch hitter (.348 avg, .966 OPS last year), the Cardinals weren’t about to let him reach waivers, making him a lock for a bench spot on the 25-man roster.
But Garcia swung himself closer to regular playing time than many expected. The 27-year-old has a .941 OPS, four doubles, a triple and an inside-the-park home run. He’s driven in nine and has scored eight times. The deeper the spring schedule gets, the more impossible to put away he becomes, even against the likes of Max Scherzer (2-for-2 with a double and a triple). He’s played strong defense at multiple positions and the manager likes his plate approach. If Kolten Wong opens the season inconsistent on offense, Garcia could find himself as a platoon member at second base.
1. Jose Martinez
The 28-year-old caught the team’s attention last season as a September call-up, most notably for having no fear of longtime Cardinal boogeyman Aroldis Chapman. With the fourth (and perhaps fifth) outfield spot up for grabs this spring, the door was cracked for Martinez to make his way onto the roster.
He responded with one of the best spring performances by any player in any camp. He’s hitting .378, and slugging twice that. His 13 RBIs are four more than the next closest Cardinal (Garcia). He’s competently played both the outfield and first base, and has flashed deceptive speed for a man his size. Short of driving the bus on spring road trips, there’s nothing more he could do to prove his worth.
The door of opportunity has splintered to pieces, replaced with an on ramp to the 25-man roster. He will open this season in the majors and could swing his way into St. Louis hearts before long.
After 18 months to fully recover from Tommy John surgery, Lance Lynn was in as good of shape as any pitcher who went under the knife can be for a normal season.
With Reyes out and Wacha’s longevity to be determined, the big righty is a critical piece of the St. Louis rotation. If his velocity was dramatically down, or the rust on his execution too thick to clear in 25 or so spring innings, the Cardinals would face a very rocky road.
But Lynn came back fully operational; with a few extra operations he can perform. His velocity has risen comfortably in each start, and his secondary pitches- taken out of circulation due to his elbow pain in 2015- have again gotten use.
Lynn is workhorse, and when healthy can dominate a lineup with his assortment of fastballs. Him being ready to rejoin the rotation without limits is tremendous for a team needing an innings eater capable of stopping a skid. Given he’s in the last year of his contract, don’t expect an pitch limit on the 29-year-old.
Matt Adams, now more small village than Big City, has found harmony in his swing. His new body allowed him to adjust his approach to leverage a stronger core, and he’s hit four homers while hitting .282. His ability to use more of the field is compelling, and him getting reps in left field means the Cardinals are considering the possibility his bat could, at some point, become too valuable to stash on the bench.