Spring training numbers mean so little, but Evan Longoria‘s happen to mirror his 2014 season almost perfectly. This spring, Longoria has a .731 OPS after putting up a .724 OPS for the Rays in 2014. The pattern held true last season as well as Longoria managed an .824 OPS in the spring after hitting to an .842 OPS in the 2013 season. That is just an amusing coincidence, but in our search for significance in a spring filled with noise, it is the type of thing that we come up with.
How well will Longoria do in 2015? That is a question no one can answer for sure, not even Longoria. There is certainly reason for optimism. His worst-case scenario season from last year still wasn’t that bad, and at 29 years of age, he has several more years left in his prime. He has played in at least 160 games each of the last two years after his run-ins with injuries in the two prior seasons, and it is great that his health is no longer as much of a concern.
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Then we can think about the ramifications of Longoria returning to form. The Rays’ offense is unlikely to impress, but if Longoria is an MVP candidate again, that will certainly be a good place to start. He can incite fear in the minds of every opposing pitcher and make the entire Rays lineup better. The Rays don’t need a topflight offense to make the playoffs–their pitching and defense will ensure that they don’t allow many runs, creating a lower standard for their own runs scored.
Speaking of defense, Evan Longoria the fielder also has something to prove. He hasn’t won a Gold Glove since 2010, and in 2014, he didn’t even come close. Longoria registered the worst defensive numbers of his career last season. Was it a fluke? Was he taking his offensive struggles into the field? Whatever the reason, we can say that Longoria could win the Rays another game or two with his defense beyond what his resurgence at the plate would give them.
Yet as we watch Longoria this spring training, it is hard not to be nervous. When you look at him and look at the stats, do you see a different player from last season? Is his swing going to be sound all season after his problems in the middle of last year? Is he ranging better to his left and right at third base? When Longoria goes 0 for 3 with 3 strikeouts like he did today, you tell yourself that everything is fine yet you’re not completely sure you believe it.
The way we are viewing Evan Longoria right now has something in common with the general perception of the Rays. The fundamental difference, though, is that we know without a doubt that Longoria is capable of so much more. Will he deliver results in line with his talent? That is a great question, but despite their anxiety, Rays fans know that the answer will almost surely be yes. Then, after the player that the Rays trust the most proves that he is back to normal, we can worry about everybody else.