SI Vault
Jeff Pearlman
April 12, 1999
ExhibitionistsBig payoffs for those who strutted their stuff in spring training
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April 12, 1999


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Greg Maddux, Braves


Willie Blair, Tigers


Francisco Cordova, Pirates


Kent Mercker, Cardinals


Tom Glavine, Braves


Tim Wakefield, Red Sox


Pedro Martinez, Red Sox


Kevin Tapani, Cubs


John Smoltz, Braves


Pedro Astacio, Rockies


Andy Ashby, Padres


Orel Hershiser, Mets


Al Leiter, Mets


Jamie Moyer, Mariners


Roger Clemens, Yankees


Dave Burba, Indians


Alex Fernandez, Marlins


Juan Guzman, Orioles


Jeff Fassero, Mariners


Mark Portugal, Red Sox


Big payoffs for those who strutted their stuff in spring training

When it comes to spring training, there are two schools of thought: 1) The exhibition season means nothing. 2) The exhibition season means nothing—unless you play well.

Who decides? Blue Jays right-fielder Shawn Green used to write off March as a time for practice, not perfection. "As long as I hit during the season, I can be at .100 in Florida," Green said last spring, when he batted .235. This year Green hit a mellow .385. His stroke was smooth, his throwing arm powerful. "Getting off to a good start," Green now says of the preseason, "is important."

If Grapefruit grandeur and Cactus conquests truly are regular-season harbingers, Green and these other springtime success stories might be in for big years.

Troy Glaus, 3B, Angels. The third pick in the 1997 draft, Glaus was pitted against nine-year veteran Dave Hollins in a spring training battle for the starting job. After hitting a combined .307 with 35 home runs and 93 RBIs for Double A Midland and Triple A Vancouver, Glaus made the jump to the majors in '98, his first year as a pro, but hit just .218 with 51 strikeouts in 48 games. This spring his .370 average, three homers and .667 slugging percentage not only won him a full-time gig but also made the temperamental Hollins expendable. He was dealt to the Blue Jays on March 30.

Kris Benson, RHP, Pirates. In early March, Pittsburgh general manager Cam Bonifay all but guaranteed that the 24-year-old Benson would return to Triple A Nashville this season. The No. 1 pick in the 1996 draft, Benson had been a big disappointment, with a 16-17 record and a 4.69 ERA over two minor league seasons. Then this spring he pitched 24 innings, allowing but two runs and two walks, and became the Pirates' No. 4 starter.

Tony Phillips, LF, A's. Like your grandmother's prune muffins, he won't go away. Phillips will be 40 on April 25, and Oakland will be his seventh major league stop in six years. He has been released, pleaded guilty to cocaine possession, injured—and eternally productive. Back with the A's after a nine-year absence, Phillips hit .405 this spring with a .489 on-base percentage.

Steve Karsay, RHP, Indians. As a prospect six years ago Karsay had a 94-mph heater and a strong curve, and was being hailed as the Blue Jays' next great ace. Then bad things happened: He was traded to the A's for Rickey Henderson; four starts into the 1994 season he hurt his elbow, eventually had two operations and didn't pitch in the majors again until '97; and he spent most of last season in a starting role for Triple A Buffalo, where he also endured neck and shoulder injuries. "I feel like I'm still a future ace," he says. "Pretty soon too." This spring, a healthy Karsay, 27, allowed only three runs in V innings, and his fastball was clocked in the mid 90s. If the Tribe is unable to trade for a proven starter, Karsay will likely get a shot in the rotation.

Mike Lieberthal, C, Phillies. Two seasons ago he hit 20 home runs, which was widely regarded as a fluke. In part because of an injury to his pelvis that forced him to miss the final nine weeks of 1998, Lieberthal had only eight homers and wasn't able to prove otherwise. Healthy and rejuvenated, Lieberthal batted .474, with four homers, 19 RBIs and had a spring training best 18-game hitting streak.

Scott Williamson, RHP, Reds. A ninth-round pick in 1997, Williamson might be the player who has come the furthest this spring: a 1-1 record with three saves and a 2.70 ERA. Williamson will start the season as a setup man but could be closing games for Cincinnati by mid-season. His fastball reached 98 mph in camp.

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