SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Cincinnati Reds infielder Jonathan India might be forcing his way onto the big league roster and even a starting spot in the infield thanks to an impressive spring performance.
The fifth overall pick in the 2018 draft out of Florida is showing why he was such a highly regarded prospect a few seasons ago. Through his first 18 spring games, he hit .333 with four doubles and two homers and is a candidate to start at second base.
The 24-year-old India had a slow start to his professional career, producing good but not great numbers during his first two minor league seasons. He spent all of 2020 at the team’s alternate training site during the shortened 60-game season and was never promoted to the big leagues.
But now he looks like he belongs.
“It says so much about the difference a year makes in a young player’s career,” Reds manager David Bell said last week. “Not that he wasn’t in a good place last year, but the development has been very significant over the past year.”
Here’s a look at a few others who are playing well in Grapefruit and Cactus League action:
Josh Rojas, 2B/SS/OF, Diamondbacks: The 26-year-old has 20 exhibition hits, including three doubles and three homers, to solidify his spot on the D-backs’ roster and possibly even earn a starting role at second base. Manager Torey Lovullo has also been impressed with how Rojas handles shortstop defensively, also allowing him to be a potential backup for starter Nick Ahmed.
Kenta Maeda, RHP, Twins: Maeda was one of the American League’s best pitchers last season, finishing second in the Cy Young Award voting after finishing with a 6-1 record and 2.70 ERA. He’s back at it this spring, giving up just one run in 14 1/3 innings during four exhibition starts.
Tyler O’Neill, OF, Cardinals: St. Louis hopes a handful of young outfielders can step forward, including O’Neill. The 25-year-old won a Gold Glove last year but struggled at the plate, batting just .173 with seven homers. He’s been much better this spring, batting .400 with three doubles and two homers.
Ty France, 3B/2B, Mariners: The 26-year-old split time with the Padres and Mariners last season after a midseason trade and hit over .300 with both teams. So far this spring, France is proving those numbers might be duplicated over a full 162-game season. He’s batting .385 with five homers in exhibition games and looks more and more like he’ll be a big part of the lineup.
Jake Arrieta, RHP, Cubs: The 35-year-old Arrieta wasn’t particularly good for the Phillies last season, finishing with a 5.08 ERA and just 32 striketous in 44 1/3 innings. But now he’s back with the Cubs — which is where he won the NL Cy Young Award in 2015 — and has had some success this spring. He’s got a 2.40 ERA through four spring starts.
Adam Wainwright, RHP, Cardinals: Wainwright will turn 40 years old this summer but has continued his late-career resurgence with a good spring. He was very good for St. Louis in 2020 with a 5-3 record and 3.15 ERA. The three-time All-Star has a 1.83 ERA in five exhibition starts and has struck out 20 batters in 19 1/3 innings.
White Sox 9, Reds 3
White Sox starter Dylan Cease allowed a run over five innings, giving up three hits, issuing four walks and striking out six. Zack Collins, the 10th overall draft pick in 2016, had two hits, including a home run, to raise his average to .333. Nick Madrigal, Billy Hamilton, Adam Eaton and Nick Williams each stole second base in the first four innings.
José De León struck out seven over his four-inning start, allowing seven runs on seven hits. Cheslor Cuthbert hit a pinch-hit, two-run homer.
A week before opening day, the Chicago White Sox found out slugger Eloy Jiménez will be closed down for most of the season.
Jiménez is expected to be sidelined for five to six months after rupturing his left pectoral tendon trying to make a play in the outfield during an exhibition game.
The 24-year-old Jiménez needs surgery to repair the injury, putting his season in jeopardy. General manager Rick Hahn said the team will know more when he begins the rehab process.
“Obviously a difficult loss for us, important part of our offense, and one that is a bit of a shock to the system,” Hahn said Thursday on a video conference call, a day after Jiménez was hurt.
Chicago, coming a playoff appearance and aiming at the AL Central title, opens next Thursday at the Los Angeles Angels.
Jiménez was hurt Wednesday when he tried to make a leaping grab at the wall on Sean Murphy’s solo homer for Oakland. Jiménez’s left arm barely moved as he walked off the field with a trainer.
The injury immediately led to another round of questions about whether Jiménez might be better suited for designated hitter than left field — where he has gotten hurt a couple times since his big league debut in 2019.
“Our biggest concern is Eloy. He’s the guy who’s hurt. He’s the guy that’s got to go through the rehab,” manager Tony La Russa said.
Jiménez, who throws and bats right-handed, was acquired in a July 2017 trade with the crosstown Cubs. He hit 31 homers in his first year in the majors in 2019. He batted .296 with 14 homers and 41 RBIs in 55 games during the pandemic-shortened season.
“Fundamentally, he got hurt trying to make a play,” Hahn said. “Was it the right decision to go for that ball, especially when put in the context of spring training? Perhaps not, but fundamentally you like the fact that he was trying to make the play,” he said.
“Ultimately, at some point in the much distant future, we’ll talk to him and talk through a plan about perhaps making some better decisions or what we are (expecting) of him going forward from a defensive standpoint,” he said.
Prepping for opening day
Wow, that was quite a high school rotation!
Max Fried, Lucas Giolito and Jack Flaherty — teammates on the 2012 baseball team at Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles — have all been chosen to pitch on opening day in the big leagues.
Fried, coming off a 7-0 season with the Atlanta Braves, got the word Thursday that he’ll start an opener for the first time in his career when he goes next Thursday against Aaron Nola and the Phillies.
Giolito will pitch his second straight opener for the Chicago White Sox, coming off a no-hitter in 2020. Flaherty will also be making his second straight opening day start for the St. Louis Cardinals.
“That’s crazy,” Fried said. “I’m really happy, really excited for those guys. They worked extremely hard to put themselves in that position. To be pitching the same day at those guys is pretty cool.”
Switch it up
The New York Yankees found a unique way earlier this week to get pitcher Jordan Montgomery into a competitive situation — they arranged for the lefty and catcher Kyle Higashikoa to go over to Philadelphia’s complex in Clearwater, Florida, on Wednesday to throw five innings of batting practice to Phillies regulars Rhys Hoskins, Didi Gregorius, Jean Segura, J.T. Realmuto and Andrew McCutchen.
“A little weird, but made it more like a game,” Montgomery said Thursday. “I enjoyed it. Faced a lot of All-Stars over there and didn’t have to worry about throwing my cutter. You don’t want to throw a cutter into a guy and break his hand, especially if it’s your teammate, Definitely let me be more aggressive and just kind of go out there and compete.”
Montgomery said he threw 74 pitches in the outing.
Rockies 6, Angels 5
Shohei Ohtani hit his fifth spring homer for Los Angeles. José Iglesias and Max Stassi homered back-to-back and Juan Lagares later connected. Dylan Bundy struck out seven over 5 2/3 innings, allowing five runs on eight hits, two of them home runs.
Chris Owings hit two home runs and C.J. Cron had three hits, including a home run, for Colorado. Austin Gomber gave up five runs on eight hits, four of them home runs, 5 1/3 innings. Daniel Bard struck out two of the three batters he faced in the ninth.
Kansas City reliever Ervin Santana struck out five consecutive batters and fanned seven in three hitless innings. Danny Duffy started and gave up a run on four hits over 4 1/3 inning. Jorge Soler, Adalberto Mondesi, Carlos Santana and Ryan McBroom all homered.
Arizona starter Luke Weaver struck out eight over 5 1/3 innings. He also allowed seven runs on seven hits, three of them home runs. Pavin Smith homered.
Oakland starter Frankie Montas allowed four runs on three hits, walked three and struck out a pair in two innings. Stephen Piscotty, Jed Lowrie and Matt Chapman homered.
Nick Margevicius yielded five hits over 3 2/3 innings for Seattle, walking two and striking out four. Jack Reinheimer and Cal Raleigh each hit a two-run double and Jarred Kelenic had an RBI double.
Braves 5, Rays 2
Drew Smyly had his best outing in his third start for Atlanta, throwing five shutout innings. The left-hander, who began the day with an 11.25 ERA in his first spring with the Braves, allowed one hit and one walk, striking out six. Marcell Ozuna hit his second home run and doubled. Chris Martin struck out the side in the ninth.
Michael Wacha made his fourth start for Tampa Bay, pitching five innings and allowing one run on four hits and a walk. It was the first run allowed by Wacha in 12 innings in his first spring with the Rays. Chaz Roe replaced Wacha after Ozzie Albies’ hit to lead off the sixth, surrendering Ozuna’s homer. Austin Meadows drove in a run with a pop-fly double that Braves center fielder Cristian Pache lost in the sun. Greg Jones, one of five shortstops on the Rays’ top 10 prospect list, had been 0 for 8 this spring until homering.