For the young player in big league spring training camp, only one number matters: 25. That’s the number of job openings made available each April by the 30 major league organizations, and claiming an elusive roster spot can boil down to factors out of a player’s control.
Aside from a little luck, what a player most needs is opportunity. Because he has minor league options remaining (and that’s only if he’s on the 40-man roster), the youngster’s spring-training course can be treacherous to navigate. Even if he plays well, the organization may defer to the veteran with the larger number in the games played column of his major league totals.
But above all, the young player must perform well in March—after a five-month layoff, no less—while hoping the stars align in his favor. Roster depletion courtesy of the World Baseball Classic has helped prospects get noticed this spring, but with the tournament nearing its end, many clubs have begun farming out their top prospects and other assorted youngsters.
Sent to minors: OF Brian Barton, RHP Mitchell Boggs, 3B David Freese, LHP Charlie Manning, RHP Clayton Mortensen, RHP Jess Todd
Last year’s big league Rule 5 pick, Barton played reasonably well in a reserve/pinch-hitter role in ’08, batting .268/.354/.392 in 153 at-bats and holding his own against righthanded pitchers. His playing time dwindled in the second half as he fought an oblique injury, and he spent just two games in center field. He turns 27 at the end of April, and his demotion leaves just Ryan Ludwick as the Cards’ only righty-hitting outfielder. Waiver claim Charlie Manning’s demotion whittles the lefty reliever race to veterans Denny Reyes and Trever Miller and relative spring chicken Royce Ring, who at 28 would seem to be not yet grizzled enough to stick as a situational lefty. Freese went 0-for-3 in two spring games, but he was hindered by tightness in his left Achilles’ heel, which resulted from a January car accident. The Cardinals will try Joe Mather at third base while they wait for Troy Glaus to recover. Mather last played third base for real in 2004, which he spent in the Midwest League. Boggs (who has big league experience but also a 7.41 ERA), Mortensen and Todd (a pair of ’07 picks from Gonzaga and Arkansas, respectively, who’ve rocketed through the system) will headline St. Louis’ enviable pitching depth at Triple-A.
Sent to minors: RHP Wade Davis, RHP Mitch Talbot
Because Jason Hammel and Jeff Niemann are out of options (and David Price is really good), it’s not surprising to see Davis (5.40 ERA, 2 HR in 10 IP this spring) and Talbot (12.60 ERA, 4 HR in 5 IP) optioned back to Durham.
Sent to minors: C J.P. Arencibia, LHP Brett Cecil, C Brian Jeroloman
Veteran Mike Barrett sits in the catbird seat now, with the demotion of the system’s best two catching prospects. He’ll have to be added to the 40-man first, though. Cecil, the club’s supplemental first-rounder in ’07 who’s already tasted life in Triple-A, stands in line behind more experienced young pitchers, like David Purcey, Scott Richmond and Ricky Romero, and besides, he needs to build up his pitch counts after serving as closer at Maryland and averaging fewer than 4 1/3 innings per start last season.
Sent to minors: RHP Jimmy Barthmaier, LHP Tom Gorzelanny, RHP Daniel McCutchen
Coming into spring training, about the only thing the Pirates knew was that Paul Maholm would head their rotation. We know now that Barthmaier, Gorzelanny and McCutchen will not slot in behind him—not this April anyway. We also know that Phil Dumatrait, Sean Burnett, Craig Hansen and Tyler Yates are out of options, affording them longer looks in camp. The same is true of big league Rule 5′er Donald Veal. Zach Duke and Ian Snell (for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic) have pitched well enough thus far to project as April starters, perhaps with Jeff Karstens and Ross Ohlendorf on the periphery.
Sent to minors: RHP Ian Kennedy, RHP Mark Melancon
Not that he had much chance to crack the Yankees’ front five (C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Chien-Ming Wang, Andy Pettitte, Joba Chamberlain), but Kennedy’s quick dismissal comes on the heels of a 5.91 ERA in 10 2/3 spring innings. He also served up a mammoth home run to the Blue Jays’ Travis Snider in Tampa. (Anyone have YouTube video?) Melancon more than likely will factor in the Yankees’ bullpen this season, but he walked three and served up two homers in 5 2/3 spring innings.
Lost: RHP Jesus Delgado, RHP Harvey Garcia
Delgado leaves courtesy of a Mariners’ waiver claim, while Garcia was flat-out released. What do these two have in common? They were packaged with Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez in the deal that sent Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell to the Red Sox.
Sent to minors: RHP Mike Ekstrom, LHP Wade LeBlanc
Ekstrom and LeBlanc earned September callups last year and combined to give up 27 runs in 31 innings. They were on an accelerated pace this spring (14 in 9 2/3) before having their tickets punched for Triple-A Portland, along with Cesar Carrillo. Assuming good health, all three should surface in San Diego this year, with LeBlanc gunning for a rotation spot and Ekstrom a mid- to high-leverage role in the bullpen. Carrillo’s future role remains dependent on his recovery from 2007 Tommy John surgery.
Rule 5 Notes
The Mets offered RHP Rocky Cherry (4 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 SO) back to the Orioles after he cleared waivers, but Baltimore said ‘no thanks’ to the $25,000 return fee, prompting the Mets to release the reliever. New York reportedly wanted to re-sign him to a minor league pact. Fellow Rule 5′er RHP Darren O’Day (8 1/3 IP, 9 H, 3 R, 1 HR, 1 BB, 1 SO) had met with more favorable reviews . . . The Marlins returned LHP Zach Kroenke (1 IP, 4 H, 7 R, 4 BB, 0 SO) to the Yankees, leaving Taylor Tankersley, Jon Koronka and Dan Meyer to fight for second bullpen lefty status behind Renyel Pinto. The Yankees still have three other big league Rule 5 picks in other teams’ camps . . . The Brewers claimed RHP Wes Littleton on waivers Tuesday, consigning Rule 5 pick RHP Eduardo Morlan to the waiver wire after he was designated for assignment to clear a spot on the 40-man.
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