Most fans around baseball are well aware of what spring training actually means: not much. It is an exciting time to indicate the return of baseball, but other than kicking back and watching a game for the first time in months, there’s not too much to be determined from a few weeks of exhibition play.
Jake pointed out last week how some players come out of the spring gates on a tear, only to return to their underwhelming form when April and May come around. The same can be said about the opposite turn of events. Plenty of players get off to painful starts in spring training before turning it on when it counts, even proven players with years of production on their resume.
So if Chris Carter finishes his spring training without a home run on his stat sheet, or if Matt Holliday struggles, don’t worry. There’s numerous instances in Yankees memory where hitters came alive after heading north for the regular season. If the Yankee veterans don’t hit in the spring, there’s no need to write their regular season obituaries. Here are a few examples.
Raul Ibanez, 2012
Here is a solid Matt Holliday-like comparison. Ibanez came to the Yanks after the 2011 season as a 39-year-old who was expected to take on the DH role in 2012, and hit his usual 20 home runs to give the offense a power boost.
When spring training came around, Ibanez looked like his career was over. In 60 at-bats, Ibanez posted an OBP of .190 while slugging at a .333 clip. He struck out 14 times compared to three walks. It was ugly.
Of course, once the 2012 regular season got underway, Ibanez kept up with the status quo of his usual career numbers with a respectable 19 home runs and 62 RBI in 130 games, and an OPS+ of 103. His 67 strikeouts were his lowest season total in over a decade, and he would finish in the top 25 of the MVP voting. He would also provide some exciting moments when October came around...
Brett Gardner, 2015
Gardner looked more lost at the plate during spring training in 2015 than Ibanez did in 2012. The home-grown Yankee struck out 16 times in 59 at-bats, while posting a putrid slugging percentage of .220. For someone who hit a career high 17 home runs the year before, his spring performance was anything but promising.
Enter regular season play, and we saw a completely different version of Gardner. He batted .302 with 12 home runs during the first half of the season en route to his first career All-Star appearance. Gardner did fizzle a bit down the stretch in 2015 (much like the rest of the Yankee offense), but most of his regular season was the ultimate contrast to how he looked at the plate in spring training.
Melky Cabrera, 2007
After a promising first full season in 2006 in which he batted .280 with an OPS of .752, the Melk Man arrived to spring training with high expectations in 2007. However, it did not go well at all for the youngster. Cabrera struck out 13 times in 68 at-bats with a slash line of .206/.239/.221. Yikes.
While some could have seen the performance as a preview to a sophomore slump, Cabrera went into the regular season and turned the tides with a solid year at the plate, batting .273 with 73 RBI. It was a bit of a slow start to the regular season, but rode a very impressive summer to an overall solid season.
Alex Rodriguez, 2006
Yes, even the best hitters in the game have rough springs (so let’s be easy on the youngsters this spring training). After an unbelievable MVP year in 2005, Rodriguez had a frustrating spring in which he still hit a few home runs, but his .211 batting average and .268 OBP was hardly a case for a repeat MVP performance in 2006.
Of course, Rodriguez would club 35 home runs and drive in 121 runs during the 2006 season, further cementing the fact that spring training numbers are better left down in Tampa.