Spring training statistics are, quite simply, meaningless. Year after year, it has been proven that there is very little correlation between spring training success or failure and regular-season success or failure.
This is not exactly news, of course, and it's entirely explainable. Pitchers in spring training are often working on improving or learning a certain pitch, tweaking their delivery or just building arm strength. Meanwhile, big league hitters are often facing minor league pitchers who don't have the same command or advanced repertoire as their major league brethren, which results in a lot of hittable pitches.
However, there are times when you can learn something from spring play. For instance, if a pitcher is not learning or improving a pitch as expected, it can be a bad omen. If a hitter is working on staying back or showing patience and seems to be doing better, it can be a good sign. It's just a matter of knowing what to look for and when to look.
We've seen a lot of fine performances and lot of doozies this spring (see: Giants starting pitchers). Here's my take on several relevant storylines, whether you can believe them or not.
What to believe
Excuse the pun, but this kid has been the big story at Rockies camp. With all the great young shortstops in baseball, this 23-year-old has slid somewhat under the radar as he has moved up the chain, but if he earns the Rockies' starting shortstop job and does what he's capable of, he'll be a legit NL Rookie of the Year candidate.
Story was a first-round pick for the Rockies, the 45th player taken overall in the June 2011 draft, and it all came together for him last season. Across Double- and Triple-A, he posted a .279/.350/.514 line, with 70 extra-base hits (40 doubles, 10 triples, 20 homers), 80 RBIs and 22 steals. As a shortstop, he has above-average range to his right and a strong enough arm to throw players out while on his knees. He probably wouldn't have been given a legitimate chance to make the Rockies this spring, had it not been for Jose Reyes being placed on administrative leave, but there's a real possibility that Story keeps the job even when Reyes is ready to return. In this scenario, Story's spring numbers might be inflated, but he is proving he can hit big league pitching nonetheless.
It was a bizarre offseason for the Dodgers, complete with a Cy Young candidate leaving (Zack Greinke), an agreement negated (Hisashi Iwakuma) and a trade backed out of (Aroldis Chapman). But the Dodgers did make a strong signing when they inked this Japanese right-hander to a guaranteed eight-year, $25 million deal that could include an additional $81.2 million in incentives (based on games started and innings pitched).
Many scouts compared Maeda to St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Mike Leake. The early returns suggest those comparisons are accurate and Maeda will become a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter for the Dodgers. He might not have overpowering stuff, but he really knows how to pitch. He throws to both sides of the plate, changes the eye level of hitters and adeptly adds or subtracts velocity on his pitches.
Maeda, 27, posted a 97-67 record, 2.39 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in eight years with the Hiroshima Carp of the Japan Central League. I doubt he'll match those numbers in the States, but I believe he'll be a solid innings-eater for the Dodgers this year and beyond.
3. Tyler White, 1B
Spring OPS: 1.045
Most of the top-prospect lists -- and player evaluations in the baseball industry, in general -- don't properly recognize or grade a player whose best tool is his bat, unless that player also has good speed or above-average power. But let's face it: Some players don't have speed or power, but they can flat-out hit while playing adequate defense somewhere. These players are often overlooked in the draft or coming up through the minors, and this Astros prospect fits that mold.
White was the Astros' 33rd-round selection in the 2013 draft out of Western Carolina University, and since being drafted, all he has done is rake. In three minor league seasons, ranging from rookie ball to Triple-A, his slash line is an impressive .311/.422/.489 in 1,249 plate appearances, and he has displayed modest power (14 homers last season). His hit tool might be his only above-average tool, but it is indeed special. There's nothing in the strike zone that he can't hit, and he's very disciplined at the plate, with an ability to draw walks and lay off nasty off-speed pitches outside the zone. He makes loud, line-drive contract and is in line to win the Astros' everyday first base job. If he does, he's a legit AL Rookie of the Year candidate. Believe in the bat.
Now two years removed from Tommy John surgery, Corbin is looking like the same pitcher who posted a 14-8 record, 3.41 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in 2013. He has posted good numbers, but more importantly, his stuff looks like what we saw in 2013. A healthy Corbin pitching well behind Greinke and Shelby Miller in the Diamondbacks' rotation would greatly boost Arizona's chances of getting back to the postseason.
Taylor got his feet wet last year while filling in for injured outfielders Jayson Werth and Denard Span and amassing 511 plate appearances for the Nats. The results were mixed: He hit 14 homers, stole 16 bases and showed great range and a good arm in the outfield, but he struck out 158 times and had just a .282 OBP.
With that year of experience and maturity under his belt, he looks like a new man this spring. Not only has he been tearing up Grapefruit League pitching, but he is also showing that he is the best defensive center fielder and left fielder. He has clearly outplayed the veteran Werth and should be given the chance to play every day. His power (20-homer potential) and speed (30-steal potential) combo would fit well toward the bottom of the Nats' lineup, with hope that his K rate will decrease and his OBP will increase as he continues to mature.
Nicasio, 29, has always had a big arm and overpowering stuff, but he has never consistently shown the command or control it takes to be successful in the major leagues. It maybe hasn't helped that he came up with the Rockies and posted a 5.03 ERA in 88 outings (69 starts) in four seasons with them, including a 5.23 ERA at hitters paradise Coors Field. Still, he has shown signs of life after being traded to the Dodgers in November 2014. He put up a respectable 3.86 ERA with 68 Ks in 58 2/3 innings while pitching mostly out of the bullpen (one start) for L.A. in 2015. His WHIP (1.56) was inflated by a high walk rate, but the stuff was there.
Now with the Pirates, Nicasio is under the tutelage of Bucs pitching coach Ray Searage, who has made some tweaks to Nicasio's delivery. The results have been staggering -- not just that Nicasio hasn't allowed an earned run in 15 innings but also that he has 24 Ks and just five walks. Normally, I would shake off numbers such as this, but I learned long ago to not underestimate the genius of Searage. He has had a lot of success with reclamation projects, and Nicasio looks to be his next.