Spring training opens this week so it’s time for autograph hounds to formulate a strategy for the four teams training in Palm Beach County.
Biggest names? You already know to have a Sharpie ready whenever Giancarlo Stanton and Bryce Harper and Max Scherzer and Adam Wainwright and Carlos Beltran are around.
When it comes to the best all-around player, though, you might want to head to the new Ballpark of the Palm Beaches to get the signature of Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve.
That’s what major league players seem to think, anyway, based on their voting for the 2016 Players Choice Awards. Altuve won Player of the Year and for the second consecutive year won the Majestic Always Game Award for consistent intensity and hustle.
Last year he won the American League batting title (.338), led the majors in hits (216) and set career highs for home runs (24) and runs batted in (96). That’s a mountain of stats for any player but even more impressive for a guy like Altuve, who stands 5-feet-6.
Of course, Altuve has to keep going if he wants to be the best second baseman in West Palm Beach this spring. Washington’s Daniel Murphy is the best at his position in the National League and he’s coming off a great 2016 season with 25 homers, 104 RBI and a .347 batting average that came up one point short of tying Colorado’s DJ LeMahieu for the batting title in his league.
Here are some other categories that might help you prioritize those autographs for players training in our county alone, depending on areas of particular interest. All numbers are based on 2016 regular-statistics, with a few bonuses thrown in for career achievements.
Batting average: Murphy and Altuve we’ve already covered, but the following players at Palm Beach County training camps also broke .300 last year. Yadier Molina of the St. Louis Cardinals and Wilson Ramos of the Washington Nationals (both at .307). Martin Prado (.305) and J.T. Realmuto (.303) of the Miami Marlins.
Home runs: Evan Gattis of the Astros hit 32 last year. Jedd Gyorko of the Cardinals hit 30. Houston’s George Springer and Beltran, a new Astros teammate, each hit 29. And don’t ever forget Stanton, who hit 27 for the Marlins in an injury-shortened season and his the franchise’s career home run leader.
RBI: There are four on this list with 96 or more last season. Murphy leads the way with 104. Next is Christian Yelich of Miami with 98. Houston teammates Altuve and Carlos Correa had 96 each. Better save some space, too, for Beltran, who is fourth among active players with 1,536 career RBI and 50th all-time.
Stolen bases: Trea Turner of the Nationals led this group last year with 33, and even better he’s from Park Vista High School west of Lake Worth. Altuve had 30 and so did the Marlins’ Dee Gordon, who was the NL stolen-base champion in 2015 but missed 80 games last year due to a suspension.
Wins: Scherzer of the Nationals won 20 game last year. Carlos Martinez of the Cardinals and Tanner Roark of Washington won 16 each. Stephen Strasburg of the Nationals won 15 and Dan Straily, a Miami newcomer, won 14 games last year for Cincinnati.
ERA: Under 3.00 last year were Roark (2.83) and Scherzer (2.96). Martinez came close at 3.04. Special mention to Wainwright, who is fifth among active pitchers with a career ERA of 3.17 and has been making batters work forever.
Strikeouts: Scherzer led the major with 284. Strasburg had 183, but in 10 fewer starts, and forget the Astros’ Collin McHugh, who struck out 177 last year.
Well, there’s somewhere to start, particularly for fans who don’t know as much about Palm Beach County’s new spring-training home teams, the Nationals and Astros.
Good luck and remember, little kids should own all the spots up front at the autograph areas, and without fear of being crushed. Be nice about it and the players will be, too.