Spring Training is a platform for players to make changes in their game and increase their stock for the impending MLB season. The following three players are making their case for biggest risers from Spring Training:
The 2020 season for Hoerner was a forgettable one. While he appeared in 48 games of the shortened 60-game season, he was pedestrian at the plate. Slashing .222/.312/.259 and owning a poor wRC+ of 63, he wasn’t putting the ball in play enough. When he was, it wasn’t hit hard with his average exit velocity sitting at 87.5. Hoerner has staked his claim for the Cubs second base opening this spring, slashing .500/.550/1.383 and hitting for power having collected four extra base hits from his nine total hits. Hoerner also provides the Cubs with much-needed speed in the lineup as well as his usual excellent defense. He will have to wait for his chance to shine, however, as the Cubs announced he would start the season in Triple A.
Kikuchi was the recipient of hype two seasons ago after making the move to Major League Baseball from the Nippon Professional Baseball League. Kikuchi struggled in 2019 to the tune of an unsightly 5.46 ERA. On the surface, he didn’t fare much better in the shortened 2020 season, finishing with a 5.17 ERA. His ERA fails to tell the whole story about his campaign however, as Kikuchi posted a 3.30 FIP and a 3.78 xFIP. He has seen an uptick in his fastball velocity from 92.5 to 95 from the start of last year to spring training. Kikuchi has also ditched his curveball and added a cutter into his arsenal and seen the results, throwing the cutter 40% of the time. His new cutter, the improved heater, and his wipeout slider make him an easy pick for breakout candidate.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr:
It seems like it has been years since Guerrero Jr. made his long awaited debut with the Toronto Blue Jays. His 80 grade hit tool placed him as the top prospect in baseball. Guerrero Jr. struggled in his first two seasons, failing to live up to that 80 grade hit tool and struggling to field the third base position well. With his reported major weight loss of over 40 pounds, he could finally be on the path to turn into the superstar he was heralded as in 2019. The Blue Jays have committed to putting him in a more natural position at first base and having him fill in at DH. Guerrero Jr. has always hit the ball hard, but has so far failed to become the home run slugger many thought he would become. He finished last season in the top 15 in average exit velocity and finished with a 50.8% hard hit percentage. His kryptonite has seemingly always been his low launch angle. By March 18th, Vlad had a 19-degree launch angle on 12 batted balls; over double his previous career best. His average from the previous season was just 4.6%. The results have shown in spring training as well. He has punished opposing pitchers this spring compiling a .600/.667/.950 slash line, walking five times to two strikeouts and collecting four extra base hits. With a new look Blue Jays roster around him to give him protection in the lineup, 2021 could become the year of Guerrero Jr.