Looking for Breakout Players Based on Spring Training Stats
How many analysts, writers, and fans predicted Jose Bautista's breakout season last year? Well, I know of one. That's right, John Dewan, the owner of Baseball Info Solutions, cited Bautista as the No. 1 potential breakout player based on his 2010 spring training slugging percentage near .900, which was almost .500 higher than his career norm.
How did Bautista, who sported a career line of .238/.329/.400 with 59 HR in 2038 plate appearances prior to last season, hit in 2010? Try .260/.378/.617 while leading the majors in home runs with 54 and total bases with 351.
While Dewan admits that a player's spring stats, for the most part, are "not predictive of regular season success," a study he performed a few years ago found that "extremely good spring training numbers often indicated that a breakout season was on the way. In the study, about two-thirds of hitters who had spring slugging percentages at least .200 higher than their career total went on to best their career average that season."
Who could follow in Bautista's footsteps in 2011? My guess is that nobody will come close to matching what he did last year. Nonetheless, if you're looking for a relative unknown to break out this year, you might consider the following ten candidates based on their spring training slugging percentages.
Note: Used with permission from John Dewan's Stat of the Week®, www.statoftheweek.com.
Jake Fox leads all players with nine homers this spring, including six in his last 28 at-bats. The 28-year-old has jacked 18 HR in a three-year career covering 467 plate appearances. His outstanding spring has likely earned him a spot on the Baltimore Orioles roster as the primary backup to catcher Matt Wieters and first baseman Derrek Lee.
Patrick Sullivan covered Kila Ka'aihue for Baseball Analysts last month. Ka'aihue, who turns 27 on Tuesday, has hit .429 and gone yard five times this spring. He hit .319/.463/.598 in Triple-A last year prior to being called up to the Kansas City Royals. He struggled in August but finished strongly by hitting .274/.361/.548 with six HR in 84 AB in September. He is slated to alternate with Billy Butler at first base and DH this season.
Center fielders Coco Crisp, Rajai Davis, and Carlos Gomez, and shortstop Alcides Escobar are more known for their speed and defense than their slugging. However, it should be pointed out that Crisp hit 15 HR in 2004 and 16 in 2005 when he was an up and coming star for the Cleveland Indians. After four disappointing seasons in which Crisp managed to hit just 24 HR, the switch hitter found his power stroke again last year when he produced eight four baggers in 75 games for the Oakland A's.
Chris Davis, Travis Buck, George Kottaras, and Melky Cabrera have all been highly regarded prospects at one time or another. Davis slugged a combined 38 homers in 736 plate appearances as a 22-year-old rookie and 23-year-old sophomore in 2008 and 2009. The lefthanded power hitter slumped badly for the Texas Rangers at the outset of the 2010 season and was sent to Oklahoma City (Triple-A) where he generated a line of .327/.383/.520 with 31 doubles and 14 home runs in fewer than 400 AB.
Buck was selected by the A's with the 36th overall pick in the 2005 draft and proceeded to hit .288/.377/.474 during his rookie season in 2007. However, the 27-year-old outfielder never came close to duplicating those results in 2008-2010 and was non-tendered last December. He signed a minor-league deal with the Indians with an invitation to spring training and has made the most of it by hitting .420/.453/.760 with five doubles and four home runs in 50 at-bats.
Kottaras has bounced around from the San Diego Padres organization (2003-2006) to the Boston Red Sox (2006-2009) to the Milwaukee Brewers (2010). He received more playing time than ever last year and cranked nine homers in 250 plate appearances. Kottaras and Wil Nieves are in a battle to serve as catcher Jonathan Lucroy's primary backup.
While it seems as if Cabrera has been around forever, he is only 26 years old despite amassing more than 2,600 plate appearances over the past five seasons. He reportedly dropped 15 pounds during the offseason and the six-footer is now down to 200. The slim and trim center fielder has raked to the tune of .490 with five doubles and two home runs in 51 at-bats this spring.