A week from tomorrow, the season officially begins. It will begin and end while I’m likely still asleep as first pitch is 3:10 a.m. Pacific Standard Time, but it will be fun to awaken to statistics that actually matter.
But with still a week to go, things can go right and wrong in a hurry, and while the news below may not be anything new to you, dedicated sports reader, it affects the third base landscape and thus I present it to you with my brief commentary.
Miguel Cabrera has indeed been playing third base despite the consensus opinion that it may very well make Doug Fister have a hissy fit. On Monday, Cabrera decided to try and field a hot grounder off the bat of Hunter Pence not with his glove, but with his face. The video is worth watching if only to see Max Scherzer get a bona fide case of the heebee-jeebees upon seeing the wound.
The news this morning is he has a small fracture under the eye and he received several stitches and will be re-evaluated in a week. At first blush, I can’t see this derailing the third base experiment heading into the season. But, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again here – he does not qualify at third base yet – and strange things can happen in Spring Training. Another liner off the noodle, and perhaps the Tigers decide to protect their slugger and let him DH the majority of the time? If you draft him as your every day third baseman and he doesn’t gain eligibility until June, you’re probably going to grow weary of having to watch Josh Donaldson man third for two months.
In other news you likely saw, David Wright has a pulled/torn/irritated (depending on source) muscle in his left side, but he’s received a cortisone shot and he took grounders in what was referred to as a “controlled fashion,” which must be in contrast to the wild gyrations that the Mets infield is used to. You don’t have to think back very far to see what a bum muscle in your side can do to a third baseman as this is pretty much the same sad tale we went through with Ryan Zimmerman, who played through the pain and then had to have surgery. I might be fanning the flames of panic here a little too thoroughly, but given Wright’s history for nagging injury and where we’ve seen these kinds of injuries wind up, I’m bumping Wright way, way down my original rankings. He can be a problem for someone else.
In Miami, there was growing concern that after posting a pretty terrific year in 2011, the acquisition of Jose Reyes would leave Emilio Bonifacio as the odd man out, or at least relegated to some kind of super utility role. While that super utility thing might still stick, it’s sounding increasingly likely that he’s going to be a permanent part of the batting order, and according to Ozzie Guillen (who would never change his mind, right?), he’s probably going to hit second in the lineup. So not only should you be able to rely on consistent at bats, but he’s going to be hitting after Jose Reyes and before Hanley Ramirez, which should be a pretty comfy place to be. I’m still not banking on another 41 stolen bases, but it’s likely that he’s going to score a goodly number of runs, he ought to hit for a decent enough average as he rarely lifts a fly ball anymore and you can probably take 25+ bags to the bank. His value is likely at shortstop for 2012, but his versatility might help you at third should disaster strike.
While we might preach that Spring statistics don’t matter – what we’re really saying is there’s nothing much to suggest Spring statistics predict regular season contributions. Spring stats might matter when you’re auditioning for a part, and it’s safe to say that someone forgot to tell Lonnie Chisenhall to break a leg. He has six hits in 26 at bats and none of them have gone for extra bases. Perhaps for motivation, they’ve even gone to using Jose Lopez as the starter at third base (who, by the way is hitting .417 with two doubles and two home runs). It’s certainly something to monitor as Chisenhall is pretty clearly the future at third base for the Indians, but if his struggles over the past few weeks have compelled the Cleveland brass to think he might benefit from some additional seasoning, he might find himself back at AAA for the time being.
On the other end of the position battle spectrum, Kyle Seager just continues to hit. He smacked his third spring home run yesterday and is hitting .314 overall. However, Michael Saunders is hitting even better for Seattle — and while you might wonder why the heck that matters — if Saunders is the every day center fielder to start the season, that likely puts Chone Figgins at third — or at least in the mix at third at a minimum. Chone Figgins at third obviously robs at bats from Seager. If you’re counting on Seager at all, this is a situation to monitor. Right now, Saunders has almost certainly won the job in center, so something’s gotta give in the infield (note: Figgins actually started at shortstop recently too).
And lastly, Chipper Jones has been fat, and then not fat, and then retiring, and then only kidding. So far this Spring, he’s not hitting a lick and his knees are already bothering him — but there’s not too many of us that would select him as a starter, right? I typically grab Jones if he’s still on the board in the last couple of rounds just because he usually hasn’t had his fourth shot of cortisone in his knees quite yet, and historically hits quite well in April (career .317 hitter; .542 SLG). I actually think he’s undervalued and fairly useful in a situation where you’re not absolutely relying on him and it’s easy to cut him when he starts breaking down. But keep an eye on the headlines, because who knows what’s next.