These MLB players 'spring' to attention

8:06 AM, Mar 26, 2013   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Spring training records and statistics don't really count.

Sometimes, though, stats can carry at least a little bit of significance.

Occasionally, a starting job or roster spot is decided on the basis of spring performances. Other times, players can gain confidence during spring training games that carries over into the regular season.

Let's take a look at some hitters' interesting stat lines in spring training and discuss their possible significance:

BRANDON BELT, 1B, SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS: .433 AVG., 7 HR, 17 RBI, 2 SB

There was plenty of hype surrounding Belt during 2011 spring training, when the first baseman was considered one of the sport's top prospects. He had a disappointing rookie season, then improved in 2012, but did not really become the impact hitter that the Giants probably envisioned. For the first time, Belt enters a season with the first base job completely to himself. Perhaps his spring training stats suggest a breakout year could be on the way.

DOMONIC BROWN, OF, PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES: .354 AVG., 7 HR, 16 RBI

Considered perhaps the National League's top hitting prospect when he first came to the majors in 2010, Brown has never come close to living up to the billing. With the Phillies' corner outfield positions wide open coming into the spring, Brown has nailed down one of them with his standout performance. Now 26, he suddenly has the look of a post-hype sleeper.

TRAVIS HAFNER, DH, NEW YORK YANKEES: .135 AVG., 2 HR, 5 RBI

Trying to keep their payroll under the luxury tax threshold, New York was hoping that Hafner would provide solid bargain-basement production at the designated hitter position. It hasn't looked that way in spring training. Last postseason, the Yankees offense was criticized by some because it couldn't score many runs without the benefit of home runs. With Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez all shelved for the start of the season, this lineup is really going to struggle to hit homers now, too.

PEDRO ALVAREZ, 3B, PITTSBURGH PIRATES: .186 AVG., 1 HR, 7 RBI

When Alvarez connects, few can hit the ball harder or farther than he can. The problem is that he's so streaky, and it's tough for the Pirates to rely on him in the middle of the order because of those frequent dry spells. On the bright side, maybe he'll be on a hot streak by Opening Day.

LONNIE CHISENHALL, 3B, CLEVELAND INDIANS: .412 AVG., 4 HR, 12 RBI

Some expected 2012 to be Chisenhall's breakout season, but it looks like it has a good chance of happening one year later. The Indians let veteran Jack Hannahan leave via free agency, and Chisenhall is showing the power bat Cleveland envisioned from him.

JUAN FRANCISCO, 3B, ATLANTA BRAVES: .344 AVG., 5 HR, 13 RBI

CHRIS JOHNSON, 3B, ATLANTA BRAVES: .373 AVG., 3 HR, 12 RBI

These guys each entered the spring hoping to win the right to replace future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones as the Braves' third baseman. It looks like they both won, since the left-handed hitting Francisco and right-handed hitting Johnson are expected to platoon.

Third base is expected to be Atlanta's weakest offensive position, but these two appear determined to make sure that won't be the case.

MANNY MACHADO, 3B, BALTIMORE ORIOLES: .256 AVG., 0 HR, 0 RBI

Machado is one of the game's top young hitting prospects, but his spring stat line provides a cautionary tale. Still only 21, Machado's power is still developing. It's also going to take some time for him to adjust to the major- league level. After all, he opened 2012 in low-A ball.

If Orioles fans remain patient, they'll eventually see Machado develop into the star who many forecast him to be. This spring is just a reminder that it probably won't happen this summer.

YASIEL PUIG, OF, LOS ANGELES DODGERS: .526 AVG., 3 HR, 11 RBI, 5 SB

The Cuban defector signed last year for $42 million over seven years, so the Dodgers were eventually expecting Puig to become a star. The 22-year-old hit well during a short stint in Class A ball last summer, but he was thought to be at least a full year away from contributing at the big-league level.

Now, Puig has at least an outside chance to make the Dodgers' Opening Day roster, although it might not happen if Carl Crawford can show he's healthy enough to be the everyday left fielder. Puig's debut in the majors could happen sometime this season, though, and it looks like he can be a tremendous all- around player.

JASON CASTRO, C, HOUSTON ASTROS: .342 AVG., 5 HR, 11 RBI

Injuries have stunted the growth of this one-time prospect. Now injury-free, Castro appears ready to realize his considerable offensive potential. Now he'll have to work on improving the disappointing defense he played last season.

DEVIN MESORACO, C, CINCINNATI REDS: .361 AVG., 2 HR, 11 RBI

A top prospect last year, Mesoraco made the big club and split time behind the plate with Ryan Hanigan. His rookie season was disappointing enough that the Reds signed free agent Miguel Olivo as insurance during the offseason. Mesoraco seems to be back on the right track toward eventually becoming one of the NL's better power-hitting catchers.

AARON HICKS, CF, MINNESOTA TWINS: .361 AVG., 4 HR, 16 RBI, 3 SB

DARIN MASTROIANNI, CF, MINNESOTA TWINS: .324 AVG., 0 HR, 4 RBI, 7 SB

Although Hicks has long been one of the Twins' top prospects, Mastroianni came into the spring as the favorite for the starting center field job. Other than being sidelined for a while with a strained hamstring, Mastroianni did nothing to really dissuade Minnesota from giving him the job.

Hicks, however, has been declared the Opening Day center fielder by virtue of his solid spring. He belted three homers in a March 7 spring training game and played solidly since.

CHRISTIAN YELICH, OF, MIAMI MARLINS: .364 AVG., 5 HR, 14 RBI

Yelich is the Marlins' top hitting prospect, so these numbers aren't a complete surprise, even though he is just 21 and hasn't played above Class A. Let's face it: The cost-cutting Marlins aren't about to let Yelich open the season in the majors and get his arbitration clock started.

However, this does make it seem possible that Yelich could be in Miami at some point in 2013. When he arrives, he could instantly become the team's second best player behind Giancarlo Stanton.

LEONYS MARTIN, OF, TEXAS RANGERS: .339 AVG., 0 HR, 12 RBI, 3 SB

Expected to take over as the Rangers' starting center fielder, Martin has looked like the effective table-setter the Rangers envisioned he could be. While he will be a much different player than the man he is replacing in the starting lineup (slugger Josh Hamilton), Martin ought to be a pretty effective regular.

NICK HUNDLEY, C, SAN DIEGO PADRES: .409 AVG., 3 HR, 10 RBI

During a horrible 2012 season that was hampered by a knee injury, Hundley lost his starting job to prospect Yasmani Grandal. Now that Grandal will open the season serving a 50-game suspension for testing positive for performance- enhancing drugs, Hundley will have the chance to resurrect his career. Hundley's under contract through 2014, so he ought to at least have a two-month audition for some of the league's catcher-needy clubs.

MELKY CABRERA, OF, TORONTO BLUE JAYS: .382 AVG., 3 HR, 14 RBI

Speaking of performance-enhancing drugs, there will be plenty of eyes on Cabrera this season, because he will be back on the field for the first time since being suspended last year with the Giants. It will be interesting to see how much credit for his career-best 2012 season should be attributed to PEDs.

JAVIER BAEZ, SS, CHICAGO CUBS: .298 AVG., 4 HR, 10 RBI

The Cubs are going through a tough rebuilding phase, but the spring performance of top prospect Baez, 20, has to be comforting to the long-suffering fan base. Baez struggled in high-A ball last summer, and he's probably two years away, but he figures to eventually be an infield fixture, whether at shortstop or third base.

JASON BAY, OF, SEATTLE MARINERS: .319 AVG., 2 HR, 6 RBI

For a mere $1 million investment, Bay seems poised to make a positive contribution for the Mariners. He was a productive player before the New York Mets gave him a mega free-agent contract in 2010. Still just 34, perhaps he can recapture some of that past form as a part-time player in Seattle.

NOLAN ARENADO, 3B, COLORADO ROCKIES: .319 AVG., 4 HR, 12 RBI

Considered one of the sport's best third base prospects last year, Arenado saw his power diminish at the Double-A level. He's bounced back in that area this spring, keeping him in the mix for the Rockies' starting job this season.

CUTTER DYKSTRA, 2B, WASHINGTON NATIONALS: 1.000 AVG. (1-FOR-1)

Lenny Dykstra's son singled in his only official spring at-bat. He's not really a top prospect, but it could be argued he has had the best spring of anyone. Last month, he was engaged to former "Sopranos" actress Jamie-Lynn Sigler and the couple is expecting a child.

Jeff Saukaitis has been a professional sportswriter since 1985.

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