Games don’t start for a couple of weeks yet, but before I forget, I just wanted to say that I don’t take spring games seriously, and that I don’t recap them. It’s not just that the small sample sizes make people think that something’s going on that it’s not (“Mark Lemke is hitting .380!”) but that the game itself is different.

These practice games are used by established players, particularly pitchers, largely to get in shape. If you take a look at spring statistics sometime, you’ll notice that batting averages are (on average) higher than in the regular season, but walks are much lower. I’ve never seen it in print, but I believe what happens is simply that the good pitchers don’t throw breaking balls, or don’t throw many at any rate. Fastballs are easier to throw, and if you know that you’re on the team there’s no reason to wear yourself out.

What this means is that certain players — particularly young free swingers — look better in spring than they really are. Exhibit A: Travis Wilson. Back in 2001, Wilson almost made the Braves because he hit .400 or so against fastballs in spring training even though he hadn’t played above A-Ball. (This was the situation that proved that Merv Rettenmund was obviously completely insane: he thought Wilson was a better hitting prospect than Marcus Giles.) Fortunately, wiser heads eventually prevailed and Wilson went to the minors, where he proved that he can’t hit a curveball or even recognize one, and now he’s back in New Zealand playing softball.

My guess is that Jeff Francoeur will play well this spring, once he gets back from the WBC (where I expect him to struggle). He can’t hit breaking pitches, not good ones anyway, but fastballs down the middle, yippee! Other guys who should play unexpectedly well in spring include Wilson Betemit and Brayan Pena.

The flip side of this is that veteran junkballers who throw lots of offspeed and breaking pitches also do unexpectedly well. The hitters’ timing isn’t there yet and they don’t see much slop during spring. Meanwhile, these guys are always looking for jobs and will bear down. Usually, they wipe out at the end of spring when the hitters are ready (Exhibit B: Adam Bernero) but sometimes have done enough that the managers bring them north (Exhibit B again). Of course, sometimes these guys really can get outs (Exhibit C: Chris Hammond). Still, beware the veteran junkballer.