TORONTO, CANADA - APRIL 14: Matt Wieters #32 of the Baltimore Orioles breaks his bat during MLB game action against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Brad White/Getty Images)
The entire month of March, we're patient. We know that spring stats don't mean anything. We look at something like Matt Kemp's line in the Cactus League -- two walks, 26 strikeouts in 65 at-bats -- and know that it can't mean anything. But there those numbers are, teasing you. Mocking you. You know what it means when a player strikes out in a third of his at-bats without taking a walk. Why would it mean something different this time? But you stand firm. You don't buy into the stats. You wait.
And your reward is a bunch of stats in April that you can't read anything into. Great. There are signs, indications, trends … but nothing that you can read into. I linked to this in the Hot Corner section the other day, but I'm pretty sure I'm going to insert it into every piece I write for the next month:
I mean, Chris Shelton. That's the perfect wait-and-see name of April baseball.
But you know what's boring? Waiting and seeing. I've decided that the stats for the following players are meaningful. They have to be. Baseball is better if these performances are indicative of something sustainable. If you're looking for logic, you're in the wrong place. This is a section for hunches and wish-casting.
Last year, Heyward was gimpy, and he lost at-bats to Jose Constanza. At first it was amusing. His name is like a Seinfeld character! He swings like this! Then after it became clear that Fredi Gonzalez was serious, it wasn't amusing anymore. It became terrifying.
When you search through Baseball Reference's Play Index and look for the greatest 21- or 22-year-old players, there are two names that always stick out: Tony Conigliaro and Cesar Cedeno. The former had his career wrecked by a beanball. The latter had his own stuff going on. They were great at 21, but they didn't fulfill their Hall of Fame promise for different reasons.
That's enough, baseball. Those are the only two cautionary tales that we need. All full up. Can't imagine a reason why we'd need more. Heyward is hitting .354/.426/.619, and he's doing tons of damage against lefties this season. I'm just going to assume he's back on the Mel Ott path.
A picture that was making the rounds not that long ago:
The joke is that as he becomes more and more familiar with being an Oriole, the more his soul is ground into a fine powder. It's a horrible joke. It's not funny. Just look the guy. He wants to chew his arm off to escape from the Orioles trap. He's still young. Have pity.
Wieters is the hope of the Orioles. He's the chosen one, the player who can make a happy Andino. Wieters was a very good player last year, hitting 22 home runs and winning a Gold Glove. He was worth four wins above replacement last year, which was fantastic. But he was supposed to be something more -- like a rich man's Johnny Bench, but with more offense and better defense. No pressure. He was instead a very good player.
If he keeps hitting .308/.413/.641, he'll have one of the greatest seasons by a catcher of all time. Sure, you might think it's unlikely, even for Wieters. But I'm just picking the things I want to see. That's one of them.
Every team has had several pet AAAA players, from Roberto Petagine to Damon Minor to Micah Hoffpauir. You want to believe they'll work out. You want to think that there's a way for the player to fly under the radar for the better part of a decade and land on your team and help them win, as if they were a deus ex machina. Sometimes it happens (Ryan Ludwick, Andres Torres). Most of the time, it doesn't.
It should happen more. And LaHair, who hit .331/.405/.664 with 38 homers in AAA last year, is doing quite well this year, hitting .360/.448/.680 with a pair of home runs. The ten strikeouts in 29 plate appearances? Probably a bunch of bad calls. Every generation of quad-A players needs their inspiration.
Mathis has the second-best OPS in baseball if you don't have any silly qualifying restrictions. .444/.500/1.000! That's a homer and two doubles in ten at-bats, which puts him about a seventh of the way to his total bases from last year, when he played 93 games.
The Internet thinks it's so damned hot, and everyone thinks they're so damned smart. A little Mathis comeuppance would shut us all up, and it would be glorious.
I'd, uh, guess that it's the least likely of the bunch. I'd wager that this list is in reverse order of likelihood, actually. Heyward should have a fantastic year. He doesn't need some goober on the Internet to root for him. And if all of these guys take a couple of oh-fers, their shiny numbers won't look so shiny. But baseball's better with all of these players doing just what they're doing now. Especially Jeff Mathis, if only to troll us all.