Spring training is good for a lot of things: cheap baseball for people willing to go on long road trips (count me in on that), low stakes games that allow teams to get kinks worked out, dog adopting. Its most important function, though, is evaluating players for positions that don’t have guaranteed starters. The problem is, spring training offers a small sample size of games against often replacement-level players, and way too many guys excel on that stage but fail when they hit the big time. And that is why it’s important to take all statistics with a grain of salt.
A couple of players who have been on a hot streak for the Rockies are Brandon Barnes and Charlie Culberson. Aside from having alliterative names, these two don’t have much in common. Barnes is a 27-year-old from California who played a season and change with the Astros before being traded to the Rockies for Dexter Fowler. Culberson is 24, Georgia-born (like Fowler), and has been on baseball’s radar for quite some time now. Despite being drafted way back in high school, though, he’s yet to play more than a handful of games at the major-league level. The Rockies traded away Marco Scutaro for him in mid-2012, sending him to Triple-A to start. He was useful last season when Carlos Gonzalez was injured, but didn’t make much of a splash.
Both Barnes and Culberson are on the list of players competing for the fourth outfielder/center field platoon position with the big league club. Both have been very impressive this week. But both, in my mind, could still turn out to be little more than AAAA players good for a call-up when a starter get injured.
Barnes is hitting .444 in 6 games this spring with a double and 4 runs scored. He has no home runs (not even off Joe Blanton) and hasn’t driven in a run, so he could potentially be a top-of-the-order guy. He’s 1-for-2 in his base-stealing attempts; I like a guy who goes for it, but I’d rather he got there when he did. Culberson is hitting .313 in two fewer at-bats, but he’s hit one homer and driven in a couple of runs. He also has one successful stolen base with no other attempts. It’s been a good spring for these guys–they’re firing on most cylinders offensively. Barnes has been solid on defense too, though Culberson has committed a couple of errors already.
I caution you against getting too excited about them, though. I realize it’s spring training, and we’re looking for storylines that don’t have to do with injuries, but there’s just too little information to be sure that either Barnes or Culberson will be of use once the regular season starts. I’m reminded of Brandon Wood, whom the Rockies brought in as a bench candidate a couple years ago. He was on fire for the first few weeks of spring, but then he fell apart and wound up hitting .236. And where is he now? Languishing in the Padres farm system. And the Padres cannot afford to leave anyone who might do them some good down on the farm.
Plus, Paul Janish is hitting .500 right now. If that doesn’t convince you of the irrelevancy of spring training stats, nothing will.