Yesterday my Twitter feed lit up with Orioles writers marveling at Jake Fox hitting his sixth and seventh homers of the spring, which is good for the MLB lead and suddenly makes his chances of cracking the Opening Day roster a popular topic.
While no doubt impressed by the power display, manager Buck Showalter explained to Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun that Fox’s work defensively at catcher is also a huge factor:
I want him to show me what he can do catching. We all know he is capable of doing some good things with the bat. He had a good game behind the plate, a better game behind the plate. That’s really what I was looking at today.
Then, when asked if someone could hit seven spring training homers and still not make the team, Showalter replied simply: “Yes.” That may seem like a harsh assessment, particularly since any standout spring performances will get a certain segment of a team’s fan base clamoring for that player to make the team or take on a much bigger role, but in the big picture spring training performances simply aren’t that predictive.
For instance, last spring eight guys hit at least six homers. Ryan Zimmerman went on to post a career-high OPS and Chris Johnson hit .308 as a rookie, but none of the other six guys turned their big spring into a big regular season. Sean Rodriguez hit .251 and managed only nine homers in 118 games. Mike Napoli had a career-low .784 OPS that was 60 points below his 2009 mark. Justin Upton took a big step backward after a breakout 2009. Aaron Hill hit .205 in a miserable season. John Bowker hit .219. Delwyn Young hit .236.
You get the idea.
Spring training performances get a lot of attention because … well, what else is everyone writing about and watching a team every day going to focus on? However, ultimately whether a 28-year-old hitter like Fox with a lengthy track record on which to judge him performs well or poorly in some small sample of at-bats against pitchers of widely varying quality in games that don’t count for anything just doesn’t mean a whole lot.
None of which is to say Fox isn’t capable of producing when the games count, because despite struggling in the majors he has shown plenty of power in the minors. And certainly Fox hitting seven homers this spring is much better than Fox hitting zero homers this spring, but 50 at-bats shouldn’t dramatically alter the way Showalter and the Orioles view a player with nearly 3,000 at-bats in the majors and minors.