The first regular-season games of 2017 will be played one month from today. Get excited, folks.
Of course, we wouldn't be baseball fans if we didn't try to read the tea leaves from spring storylines and stats to get us prepped for the real deal. And the first week of the Grapefruit League and Cactus League schedules have provided us plenty to mull over. Here are 10 overreactions some of you might be guilty of at the moment, along with reasons why they might not actually be that crazy.
"Hold me!" -- Red Sox fans
On Friday, Boston got the best news it could hope for about David Price: After consulting with Dr. James Andrews on his sore elbow, the ace pitcher does not require surgery and will only be out 7-10 days. But when you go to Dr. Andrews for a second opinion, the first opinion was not, "Wow, nice elbow!" Even though it was a less-sinister strain, any affliction that compromises Price's ability to take the mound or be at his best on said mound is a big deal for Boston.
Baseball analysis can be as complex and tortured as you like, or it can be as simple as, "The Red Sox won't score as many runs, so they'll have to prevent more." To account for the loss of David Ortiz's big bat, this team could be more aggressive on the basepaths, and the production of Andrew Benintendi, Mitch Moreland and Pablo Sandoval could help the balance of the order and Hanley Ramirez can build on his scorching second half and… wait, what's that? Hanley's missing the World Baseball Classic because of continued shoulder soreness? Oy.
You get the point. The Red Sox are no safe bet to score darn near 900 runs again, and, because bullpens have a way of betraying Dave Dombrowski, the super rotation is ultra-important. Price wasn't at his best last season, but he did deliver a Major League-high 230 innings at well north of league average (114 ERA+), and Red Sox fans had every reason to be excited about the Price-Chris Sale-Rick Porcello troika at the top end. However, needing to shed salary because of luxury tax implications, Dombrowski dealt Clay Buchholz to the Phillies, so the overall depth of this starting staff was a question even when you assumed Price was A-OK. If Price continues to have issues throughout the season, Steven Wright, Drew Pomeranz and Eduardo Rodriguez -- all of whom have question marks attached to them -- become even more important.
Remember when I said this analysis stuff can be really simple? Here goes: Losing Price bad.
"Bryce Harper is back on track to be a $400 million player!" -- money-minded Nationals fans (and Scott Boras, probably)
Harper hit a massive homer on the second pitch he saw this spring. That's the best way to advance the whole "bounce-back Bryce" narrative, because, last I checked, people love home runs and remember first impressions.
Of course, the home run is meaningless, as will be every other outcome when Harper comes to the plate this spring. But even if Harper falls shy of National League Most Valuable Player Award status this season, I'm buying his ability to more closely resemble his elite output of 2015 than his much-more-average statline in '16. At the moment, it's fair to label '15 the outlier in Harper's career. Even in that MVP season, Harper's Statcast-recorded average exit velocity on fly balls and line drives (94.6 mph) was above average but not elite, meaning Harper's output was at least partially attributable to some batted-ball luck. And last year, that average velocity dropped to 92.7, which combined with the luck regression to produce a more-than-200-point drop in Harper's slugging percentage.
So why should we believe Harper's exit velo and luck should improve in 2017? Because he's 24, is two years away from having the chance to break free agency as we know it, has shown all the signs of a more mature approach and work ethic and most importantly, has shown no signs of being physically compromised after a year in which the health of his shoulder came into question. Harper's upper half is noticeably more built (he's got Dan Uggla-level biceps right now, hopefully without an Uggla-level strikeout rate), so he seems like a reasonably good bet to turn some of the deep doubles, singles and flyouts you see on his '16 spray chart into long balls. He's also likely to improve upon what was an abnormally low (and unlucky) .264 batting average on balls in play.
"David Wright's season is over before it even began!" -- sad Mets fans
Well, quite possibly. And that's not for lack of effort or desire, of course. It's just the sad reality associated with Wright's various enduring physical woes -- spinal stenosis in his back, a neck condition that required surgery, and shoulder weakness that was limiting his ability to throw in camp and affecting his ability to drive the ball in batting practice.
Now that the 34-year-old Wright has been diagnosed with a shoulder impingement that will shut him down from throwing for at least a month, he's not likely to build significantly on the 75 total games he's played over the past two years. And even if we are fortunate enough to see Wright suit up again this season, it's extremely difficult to imagine him making much of an impact on a Mets team that was once nothing without him.
When a star player's body quits on him before he quits on the game, that's never short of sad. But the Mets did have the prescience to make Jose Reyes' midseason deal last year a two-year commitment. And Mets fans can take heart in the fact that a much younger homegrown hitter -- Michael Conforto, not Tim Tebow -- whose path to more playing time is becoming clearer in light of Lucas Duda's hip issues, has looked terrific so far.
"King Felix is reclaiming his throne!" -- especially allegorical Mariners fans
Pulling a 2016 Justin Verlander, vaulting back into American League Cy Young Award-worthy status more than 2,000 innings after his career began, won't be easy for Felix Hernandez, who was unfortunately ordinary over the past two seasons (combined 107 ERA+). But scouts were raving about what they saw from him in his Cactus League debut earlier this week. It wasn't the line (one run on three hits in two innings), because who cares? It was the trust in his four-seam fastball -- a pitch he threw just 17 percent of the time last season. Felix's fastball obviously doesn't have the zip it once did, but it was hitting 92 mph the other day, and it has natural sinking action that can help him get ahead of hitters (in '16, Hernandez had his lowest percentage of first-pitch strikes since 2009).
Remember that Hernandez had a 2.21 ERA after nine starts last season, before he injured his calf. He markedly improved his lower half strength after the M's publicly challenged him going into the offseason, and that could/should point to more consistent mechanics. Again, this might not be a Verlander-level renaissance, but with the stakes raised in Seattle this season, you can do worse than to have faith that Felix straightens out.
"Jason Kipnis' rotator cuff strain worries me!" -- diehard Cleveland sports fans whose outlooks on life have not totally changed as a result of the Cavaliers' championship
Yeah, I get it, Cleveland fans. Michael Brantley's shoulder issues are still very much front-of-mind after his November 2015 procedure forced him to miss all but 11 games in 2016 and necessitated a second procedure last August. You're already living with the possible reality that Brantley may never recover his All-Star/borderline MVP output, and now, in a "World Series or bust" season, you get word that Kipnis is shut down for a few days after a cortisone shot to his lead shoulder.
I don't think Terry Francona and the Indians are being misleading when they downplay the seriousness of Kipnis' strain. Kipnis has begun taking BP again and has plenty of time to get the necessary at-bats before the season proper. BUT we're talking about a guy who had a pretty substantial power spike (his home-run/fly-ball rate went from 6.9 percent to 13.1 percent, and his isolated power mark jumped 44 points) last season, and given the potential for recurrence of even mild issues to the lead shoulder, I wouldn't be terribly surprised if Kipnis regresses a bit in the power department this year.
"Tyler Glasnow is breaking through the glass, now!" -- pun-loving Pirates fans
The kid struck out six of the seven Orioles he faced in his Grapefruit League debut, and while two of those strikeouts came against the strikeout-prone Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo and the "pitchers are ahead of the hitters" at this stage of spring, Glasnow looked like a pitcher poised to break out even before he was recording these inconsequential K's. His Minor League track record (2.66 ERA, 11.6 strikeouts per nine in 500 innings) is special, aside from an elevated walk rate (4.4 per nine). His first Major League exposure last summer (4.24 ERA, 1.5 WHIP in 23 1/3 innings) was less so. But there is genuine intrigue to be associated with Glasnow adding a two-seamer, changing his changeup grip, becoming more mindful of the opponents' running game (he's added a slide step) and generally being more compact with his delivery.
It says here Glasnow will not maintain his 85.7-percent strikeout rate (buzzkill) and, for that matter, he might not even be in the Opening Day rotation. But a 6-foot-8 kid with impressive raw stuff who has already taken those first lumps in the Majors and embraced the adaptation it's going to take to improve upon it is a powerful thing for the Pirates.
"Byron Buxton brings buoyancy!" -- awesomely alliterative Minnesota maniacs
The Twins' road back to relevance begins with Buxton, perhaps literally. Paul Molitor is thinking about batting him leadoff this year, a bold possibility for a player with a .220 average and a .274 on-base percentage in 469 plate appearances.
But the Twins are bullish on Buxton, more because of his September surge last season (.287/.357/.653 slash line) than his encouraging early spring performance (two doubles in seven at-bats) -- though the occassional Grapefruit League hit sure doesn't hurt.
The bottom line is that Buxton has all the speed of Billy Hamilton (Buxton had each of the nine fastest home-to-second times on doubles among right-handed hitters, per Statcast™) but with a superior Minor League slash line (.302/.380/.501 vs. Hamilton's .280/.351/.377 marks) to suggest he'll have superior use for that speed at the Major League level, if and when he settles in. He seemed to be settling in late last season, and he appears confident and comfortable in this setting this spring.
"Cody Bellinger belongs in the big leagues!" -- Dodgers fans who aren't too distracted by a $250 million roster to pay attention to non-roster invitees
Bellinger crushed a ball that one-hopped its way out of Maryvale Baseball Park the other day, and he did it off a lefty, no less. A first baseman by trade, Bellinger's Major League timetable was once seemingly tied to Adrian Gonzalez's contract, which doesn't expire until after 2018. But between the 21-year-old kid's rapid rise in the farm system (he had a .271/.365/.507 slash line at Double-A and Triple-A last year) and his placement in the outfield for 34 games last season, it's hard not to wonder if he has a quicker path to the bigs.
Opening Day would be pretty aggressive. Any thought that Bellinger might somehow overtake Andrew Toles and Andre Ethier on the left-field depth chart is complicated by the simple fact that Bellinger has been taking innings from an injured Gonzalez at first base, so far, and Gonzalez's injury does not yet seem serious enough to impact his readiness for the opener. But Bellinger is a special bat and a big source of upside on a win-now team. I suspect we'll see him soon.
"Austin Hedges is a name to know on a team with not many names you know, you know?!" -- anonymous Padres fans
San Diego is obviously a squad short on star power at the moment, but Hedges is offering hope for the long haul with his 6-for-8, three-double, zero-strikeout showing so far this spring. Hedges' profile has largely revolved around his defense behind the plate, not his performance at the plate. In 56 Major League games in 2015, he produced a measly .442 OPS. But last year, Hedges hit .326/.353/.597 with 21 homers in just 82 games at Triple-A El Paso. Though the Pacific Coast League is notoriously hitter-friendly, Hedges was helped by the addition of a leg kick to his swing. That mechanical tweak combines with improved pitch recognition to make Hedges an intriguing breakout possibility at his particular position.
"I fear 192 losses in two years and an 0-6 start to Spring Training has gotten the best of Bryan Price!" -- Reds fans
Totally understandable. This Photo Day shot is proof positive that Price's relationship with the very object used to play this sport has been adversely affected.
Anthony Castrovince is a Sports on Earth contributor, MLB Network contributor and MLB.com columnist. Follow him on Twitter @Castrovince.