Spring training stats can mean something. Plenty of players will use an unexpected good spring and turn that into an unexpected good season. In some cases, the flip side of that will happen.
On the other hand, you’ll find some players that struggle that also go on to have perfectly good regular seasons. Now let’s look at the flip side of that part.
From random minor leaguers who catapult themselves onto the Opening Day roster to top prospects who excite everyone with potential, let’s look at some of the best spring training performances in recent memory, that didn’t lead to any long term success.
Pitcher: Cesar Cabral
In two seasons pitching for the Yankees in spring training, Cabral pitched to a 0.87 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP with 22 strikeouts in 20.2 innings.
Meanwhile in regular season baseball, Cabral is famous for getting ejected for player safety reasons after hitting three-straight Rays in a 2014 game and then immediately getting DFA’d.
Catcher: Jose Gil
There is a certain archetype of a player who is in the high levels of the minors and fills out the back half of a spring training starting lineup, but isn’t likely to get actual major league playing time. Gil was that in 2012.
The catcher went 10-for-22 with the Yankees in the spring, slugging .727. The 1.167 OPS he put up then is better than what he’s done at any minor league level, independent league, winter league, or anywhere else with available stats.
First Base: Greg Bird
Former highly rated prospect Bird could win a lifetime achievement award for spring training. He made his Yankees’ spring debut in 2013, but only played three games.
He started to play regularly in 2015, and posted the following OPS from then until his final spring training with the Yankees in 2019: 1.127, 1.654, .498, 1.143. One of those years isn’t good and he also missed 2016 completely, but he was impressive in all other three years. He essentially averaged a home run every 12 at-bats in spring training from 2015-2019. If Bird had managed to both stay healthy and pull that off in the regular season, that’s essentially a 40 home run pace across a full season. Unfortunately, he could do neither of those things.
Second Base: Jose Pirela
Pirela is another spring training legend. From 2013 to 2015, he played in 55 spring training games for the Yankees and hit .345/.374/.540.
Shortstop: Angel Berroa
After famously beating Hideki Matsui for Rookie of the Year in 2003, Berroa briefly became teammates with him on the 2009 Yankees. His time in pinstripes didn’t go great, as he put up a -15 wRC+. However, given his spring training, you can understand why they gave him a shot.
Berroa recorded 23 hits in spring training 2009, with only Mark Teixeira and Brett Gardner putting up more for the Yankees. Ten of them went for extra bases, which was second behind Teixeira. His .978 OPS was nearly thirded as he put up a .356 one in the regular season.
Third Base: Yangervis Solarte
While there are some for starting positions, most spring training “battles” you see are probably for bench roles with a team. Yet with Alex Rodriguez serving a suspension for the entire 2014 season, the third base spot on that year’s Yankees’ team was extremely open.
Solarte was one of the cavalcade of infielders brought in for spring training that year, and he took the ball and ran with it. He went 18-for-42, not only winning a role on the team, but becoming the regular starting third baseman, and making Eduardo Nunez surplus to requirement. He then proceeded to give the Yankees a solid two months before he fell off a cliff and was eventually traded to the Padres.
Left Field: Ronnier Mustelier
Mustelier is a perfect model of a guy who puts up solid numbers in the high minors, but never makes any top prospect lists and is unlikely to have much of a major league career. Arguably the closest he came to major league success in was spring training in 2013.
In 35 spring at-bats, Mustelier hit .314/.368/.571 with five extra-base hits. Despite that, he never made it to New York, even with the mess that was the 2013 Yankees. After a couple years out of organized ball, he joined the Braves’ organization in 2016, but didn’t make it with them either. He’s now a Mexican League/winter leagues regular.
Center Field: Colin Curtis
The most notable thing about Curtis’ major league career was the time in 2010 where he came off the bench cold and battled from down 0-2 to hit a grand slam after Brett Gardner was thrown out mid at-bat.
Whatever powers he used there, he also used in spring training earlier that year. Curtis made just 12 at-bats in spring training 2010, but hit two home runs, a double, walked twice, stole a base, and put up a 1.646 OPS.
Right Field: Matt Lipka
Lipka went to spring training with the Yankees in 2019 and became a walking machine. He draw nine walks in 46 plate appearances, powering him to a .413 OBP, compared to just seven strikeouts.
That ratio flipped to 20:75 in the regular season, which he split between Double-A and Triple-A and got himself in the news. He is currently not in any major league organization.
Designated Hitter: Ben Francisco
Francisco has the honor of being possibly the least watchable Yankee on the extremely unwatchable 2013 team. Lots of players on that team weren’t good, but at least had some moments. Francisco put up a .402 OPS and was allowed to play in 21 games. That’s who the team sent out as DH on Opening Day.
However, he was perfectly fine in spring training, hitting three home runs and 11 extra-base hits in total.