Welcome to Spring Training, where the results don’t matter and the processes behind them likely don’t mean much. I mean, we’re obviously interested if something truly stands out, such as a change in a pitcher’s velocity or a noticeably different approach by a hitter. While it is nice to watch our favorite teams and players hit the field once again, Spring Training does little for fans other than whet someone’s appetite for the real thing. But there are always observations to note and discussions to be had, especially as various rule changes are implemented. Below are some of my early impressions that I’ve noticed so far from the comfort of my computer chair.
Early Impression No. 1 - Rule Changes
This year’s camp has rule changes galore to track, which will impact the game in meaningful ways for the foreseeable future. The pitch clock is one noticeable change to the major league level that has drawn plenty of reactions. Kyle Tucker, for instance, doesn’t sound like someone thrilled with the clock. It also cost the Braves an opportunity to potentially walk it off in the ninth inning — yes, a meaningless game — against the Red Sox. But game times, albeit in a small sample, are down. The Astros, for example, finished their game on Sunday in only two hours and six minutes. I am also curious to see the long-term effect on pitchers as it pertains to arm health. It is worth noting that Tyler Glasnow felt his torn UCL and eventual Tommy John surgery occurred due to the ban on foreign substances and the mid-season timing of the ban. Could we witness something similar for pitchers with the new pitch clock? I don’t have the recent data for the minor leagues readily available, but I do recall that the concern isn’t necessarily a new thing.
Bigger bases are also here and stolen base attempts are unsurprisingly on the rise. And don’t forget that infield shifts are now banned. These changes are going to take a while to get used to.
However, the Mets first hitter was lefthanded. No team in baseball shifted more against LHHs last season than the Astros. Here’s how they lined up with the shift banned pic.twitter.com/A0CzWFxqIm— Chandler Rome (@Chandler_Rome) February 25, 2023
I just wish that the “zombie” runner rule would go away, though.
Early Impression No. 2 - Center Field Job Is Up For Grabs?
With James Click no longer as the general manager, I was curious to see the organization’s approach to Jake Meyers, who was a favorite of the front office. Even Dusty Baker appeared to favor Meyers over Chas McCormick last season until his hand was forced due to the former’s struggles following his return from left shoulder surgery. Thus far, it appears as if the center field competition in place since 2021 will remain a story to follow in Spring Training, even following a season where McCormick posted a 114 wRC+ in 407 plate appearances with respectable defense en route to a title.
As Brown is not necessarily tethered to either Meyers or McCormick, I wonder if the Astros would eventually look externally again for center field help if production between the pair isn’t up to par, or what Brown and Baker consider adequate. But they’re giving Meyers every chance to follow up on his promising 2021 campaign, especially with a healthy offseason behind him now. McCormick may force the issue once again, but it is becoming increasingly clear that the organization is yet sold on him becoming a full-time regular in the outfield.
Early Impression No. 3 - Alex Bregman’s Price Tag Has Only Gone Up
Not necessarily related to Spring Training, but Manny Machado and the Padres agreed to an 11-year, $350 million extension over the weekend. Do you know who was probably thrilled about that news not named Machado? Probably Alex Bregman, who is scheduled to enter free agency following the 2024 season.
While Dana Brown has expressed his thoughts and optimism about having the veteran third baseman retire an Astro, like his teammate Jose Altuve, Bregman’s circumstances are a bit different. For one, Altuve will be entering his age-34 season when he is scheduled to hit free agency, also following the 2024 season, compared to Bregman, who will only be entering his age-30 season. Bregman will possibly have a couple more years in his prime before his eventual decline phase. Altuve could be on the precipice of his decline phase at the start of his next contract. While it is nice to hear Brown vocalize his desire to keep the franchise’s best players for the long term, it is much easier said than done. Barring something unforeseen at this time, odds feel high that Bregman’s next contract uses Machado’s as an appropriate comp.