WHAT MEANING canbe gleaned from spring training statistics? Well, says one American Leaguescout, "Ichiro started 0 for 21 [this spring]. Does that mean you'd lay offhim? Heck, no." Conversely, the Phillies' Ryan Howard blasted 11 home runsin the 2006 Grapefruit League, then hit 58 more during the regular season towin the MVP award. Alex Rodriguez's verdict on exhibition-game numbers:"Just throw them out," says the Yankees third baseman, who batted .422this spring.
There are somepreseason stats, however, that demand further examination.
Rick Ankiel (.351batting average, four home runs)
The Cardinals' starting pitcher turned outfielder looked every bit as good thisspring as he did in '07, when he hit 11 homers in 172 at bats. Verdict: Severalscouts told SI that last year was no fluke and that the 28-year-old Ankiel, andnot slugging third baseman Troy Glaus, should hit fourth behind AlbertPujols.
Ivan Rodriguez(.373, eight homers).
At the start of camp, Tigers manager Jim Leyland remarked that the 36-year-oldcatcher "looks younger." During the off-season Pudge abandoned theworkout bike for a regimen that stressed muscle mass. Verdict: "He wantedto get stronger," says an AL scout, "and he looks like he put on 15pounds."
Jered Weaver(5--0, 1.37 ERA).
With Angels ace John Lackey and No. 2 starter Kelvim Escobar on the DL, Weaverwill carry a heavier burden. "He's a fearless competitor withdeception," says an AL scout of the 25-year-old righthander. "He canhandle the [stopper] role for a while." Verdict: He's not Lackey orEscobar, but "his time may be here," says another AL scout.
Jake Westbrook(3--0, 0.00 ERA).
He pitched free and easy in 18 spring innings after an up-and-down '07 duringwhich an oblique strain limited his effectiveness in the first half. In thesecond half he had a 3.44 ERA. Verdict: The Indians righthander, 30, puts theball in play (he's allowed less than a hit per inning only once in hiseight-year career), so nobody's expecting dominance. He is, however, a reliablethird starter.
Joe Crede (.172,one homer).
The White Sox third baseman turns 30 this month, and he's coming off backsurgery. Add to that a poor spring, and his chief value to Chicago—as tradebait—is diminished. Verdict: "He looked very rusty," says an NL scout,who adds that it's too early to tell how much Crede's power (30 homers in '06)has dissipated.
Barry Zito (1--3,10.31 ERA).
Scouts say that the Giants lefthander's fastball is down three to four mph, toaround 84--85. Zito did not strike out a batter until his fifth spring trainingstart and finished the Cactus League with 13 walks and four whiffs in 18 1/3innings. Verdict: "I wouldn't panic," says the AL scout, "but Iwouldn't go in with a lot of confidence either." His Opening Day lineagainst the Dodgers (5 innings, 4 runs, 8 hits, 1 strikeout) isn'tencouraging.
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FOR REAL Ankiel's big 2007 was no fluke—and neither was his big spring.