Early Spring/High Anxiety

The only news I want to hear out of spring training is that Derek Jeter hit a line drive or fly ball to the gap, either gap. In the first few games, we’ve heard a great deal about the Captain’s Texas tinkering with Kevin Long after his epic 1-for-7 on September 10, but it would be very easy to overrate that little hot streak of less than 100 plate appearances that came after. Jeter hit .342/.436/.392 during that span. Note the slugging percentage: he had 23 singles, four doubles, no triples, no home runs. He was still a ground ball machine.

Now, if Jeter can somehow arrive at a .436 on-base percentage this year, we won’t mourn the lost power too much, but unless you’re Carl Crawford-fast, you can’t hit .300-worth of grounders. Jeter himself hit .243 on grounders last season, and the average AL hitter batted .234—Jeter still has enough speed to net himself a mess o’ infield hits every year, but that’s a hard way to make .300. It’s heartening to know that he’s still tinkering with his swing, because until he gets some lift out of his lumber, it’s going to be a struggle.

A quick note on Jorge Vazquez, who has mashed the ball in the first three games: the Mexican League vet clearly has power; in roughly one full season in the American minors he’s slugged .544 with 31 home runs on a .301 average. The guy slugged .578 while playing at Trenton, and if you can do that, you have real power. The troubling part isn’t his age—he’ll be 29 two weeks from today, but no one is looking at this guy as a coming star, just a complementary part, if that, so projectability isn’t an issue—it’s that given 596 plate appearances and 559 at-bats, he has walked only 26 times while striking out 148 times.

That he hit just .270 with a .313 OBP at Scranton is a pretty good suggestion of what you would get in the major leagues would be something like .250 with a .290 on-base and some pop against left-handers. Given that this is exactly what Brandon Laird can deliver, plus Laird has the possibility of playing third base or an outfield corner, whereas Vazquez only plays first, and Laird, just 23, might get better, while Vazquez is what he is. As such, there is no reason to think about Vazquez in a Yankees uniform anytime ever. But enjoy his season of Grapefruit stardom.

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