Colby Rasmus received more attention for his tense relationship with manager Tony La Russa becoming public than for his outstanding sophomore season, as he managed to lead all MLB center fielders in OPS as a 23-year-old without much fanfare.
La Russa benching him versus many left-handers (and then simply benching him for a while, period) kept Rasmus’ counting stats somewhat modest, but when given the chance to face southpaws he hit .270 with an .810 OPS off them and his overall production was spectacular for his age and position.
Rasmus joined Ken Griffey Jr., Fred Lynn, Grady Sizemore, Andruw Jones, Dusty Baker, and Lloyd Moseby as the only center fielders in the past 50 years to top an .850 OPS as 23-year-olds. That’s some pretty great company and the improvements Rasmus made in plate discipline and power from his so-so rookie year to his standout sophomore campaign have me believing he’s capable of even more.
His high strikeout rate is an issue and could keep Rasmus from ever posting huge batting averages, but the rest of his all-around game is strong enough to make him a superstar anyway. He’s a plus defensive center fielder with 30-homer power, above-average speed, and enough patience to get on base at a good clip even if his batting average is mediocre. His production last season flew under the radar somewhat, but assuming La Russa stops shielding him from lefties Rasmus’ counting stats will rise this year and should make it clear to everyone that he’s among the elite center fielders in baseball.
All spring training there was at least some mild confusion about Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He played in almost no regular big league spring training games, instead, staying on the back fields, playing in simulated and minor league contests. When that usually happens, it’s because a player is rehabbing or even hiding an injury, but the Nats insisted that was not the case with Zimmerman. Not everyone believed it. I, for one, was skeptical.
The skepticism was unwarranted, as Zimmerman answered the bell for Opening Day and has played all season. As Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal writes today, it was all by design. He skipped spring training because he doesn’t like it and because he thinks it’ll help him avoid late-season injuries and slowdowns, the likes of which he has suffered over the years.
It’s hard to really judge this now, of course. On the one hand Zimmerman has started really slow this season. What’s more, he has started to show signs of warming up only in the past week, after getting almost as many big league, full-speed plate appearances under his belt as a normal spring training would’ve given him. On the other hand, April is his worst month across his entire 14-year career, so one slow April doesn’t really prove anything and, again, Zimmerman and the Nats will consider this a success if he’s healthy and productive in August and September.
It is sort of a missed opportunity, though. Players hate spring training. They really do. if Zimmerman had made a big deal out of skipping it and came out raking this month, I bet a lot more teams would be amenable to letting a veteran or three take it much more easy next spring. Good ideas can be good ideas even if they don’t produce immediately obvious results, but baseball tends to encourage a copycat culture only when someone can point to a stat line or to standings as justification.
Way to ruin it for everyone, Ryan. 😉