Who Are These People? Nine Opening Day Roster Surprises

See also: Last year’s Opening Day roster surprises


Grady Sizemore hit .310/.356/.429, going 13-for-42, in Red Sox camp to wrest the center field job from hotshot rookie Jackie Bradley. Sizemore’s performance surprised many given that the 31-year-old hadn’t played a full season since 2008. To enhance the degree of difficulty, the three-time all-star missed all of 2012 and 2013 because of injuries to both knees.

But while Sizemore’s resurgence seemingly came out of nowhere this spring, his name carried weight in the industry and, health and motivation permitting, he would be given a chance at redemption in some camp in Arizona or Florida. But what about the real long shots, the players who entered spring training on the periphery of the periphery? Unlike Sizemore, they have banked no goodwill in the majors, and in most cases keeping them would require their organizations to make a 40-man roster move.

Here are nine such long shots, in alphabetical order, we were surprised to find on Opening Day rosters.

 

Tyler Collins, of, Tigers

Age: 23. Bats: Left. Role: Share of left field job with Rajai Davis.

Tyler Collins (Photo by Mike Janes).

Tyler Collins (Photo by Mike Janes).

How acquired: Sixth round pick from Howard (Texas) JC in 2011.

Spring stats: .241 (13-for-54) with three homers, three doubles, three triples, four walks and 10 strikeouts in 23 games.

Performance trends: A spring injury to projected starting left fielder Andy Dirks opened the door for Collins, and he hit well enough to take advantage. The 2011 NJCAA player of the year has demonstrated a well-rounded skill set as a professional, hitting 35 doubles with a .371 on-base percentage and 58/64 BB/SO ratio at high Class A Lakeland in 2012.

One year ago: Collins nearly made the 2013 Tigers out of spring training, but once sent to the minors he struggled at Double-A Erie, seemingly trying to hit his way to Detroit with every swing. He finished with 21 homers in 129 games but hit .240/.323/.438 with a strikeout rate of 23 percent.

“Collins still takes his walks, but he needs to find a better blend of hitting for average and power that’s more conducive to the former, because his power is average at best and won’t carry him . . . He’s an intriguing candidate for a bounce back year at Triple-A Toledo.”

— Tigers No. 20 in 2014 Prospect Handbook

 

Roenis Elias, lhp, Mariners

Age: 25. Role: No. 4 starter.

Roenis Elias

Roenis Elias (Photo by Bill Mitchell)

How acquired: Signed as international free agent (for $350,000) from Cuba in 2011.

Spring stats: 13 strikeouts, 10 walks, 19 hits and a 2.38 ERA in 22 2/3 innings

Performance trends: Injuries to Mariners No. 2 starter Hisashi Iwakuma and rookie Taijuan Walker created an opportunity for Elias, and he impressed the big league staff this spring with his poise. He throws four average pitches, including a fastball that tops out near 92 mph, and locates his stuff in the zone.

One year ago: Elias has a quietly productive year at Double-A Jackson in 2013, going 6-11, 3.18 in 22 starts with a strikeout rate of 8.4 per nine innings that ranked among the Southern League leaders.

“Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon first saw the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Elias in a bullpen session this spring and noticed the multitude of arm slots with which he threw. “I think he had five arm slots,” McClendon said. “I asked, ‘Why?,’ and he said, ‘Because I’m from Cuba.’ We got that fixed quickly.”

— Mariners Organization Report, March 31

 

Brandon Hicks, ss, Giants

Age: 28. Bats: Right. Role: Utility infielder.

Brandon Hicks (Photo by Bill Mitchell).

Brandon Hicks (Photo by Bill Mitchell).

How acquired: Signed to minor league deal last November.

Spring stats: 16-for-46 (.348) with three homers, seven doubles, nine walks and 14 strikeouts in 24 games.

Performance trends: Having spent the past four seasons at the Triple-A level with the Braves, Athletics and Mets, Hicks has hit 18 homers in a season a couple times while batting .249/.331/.439 in more than 1,400 trips to the plate. The down side: He struck out more than 30 percent of the time. The upside: He has the range and arm strength to handle any infield post.

One year ago: Hicks logged 95 games at Triple-A Las Vegas in 2013, not receiving a callup to the Mets to try to build on his 12-for-90 (.133) showing spread over three brief big league looks.

“Despite his high strikeout totals, Hicks does have a good eye at the plate and draws some walks. He has slightly above-average speed and outstanding instincts . . . A knack for being in the right place and a strong arm with a quick release are his strengths on defense . . . “

— Braves No. 18 in 2010 Prospect Handbook

 

Mario Hollands, lhp, Phillies

Age: 25. Role: Middle relief (one of three lefties).

Mario Hollands (Cliff Welch).

Mario Hollands (Cliff Welch).

How acquired: 10th round pick from UC Santa Barbara in 2010.

Spring stats: 10 strikeouts, five walks, 10 hits and 3.09 ERA in 11 2/3 innings.

Performance trends: Despite leaving Hollands off the 40-man roster last fall and exposing him to the Rule 5 draft—he went unselected—the Phillies invited him to camp, acknowledging their pitching depth was shallow. With a low three-quarters arm slot, a sinker/slider repertoire and a crossfire motion, he’s a tough look for lefty batters.

One year ago: Hollands divided his time between high Class A Clearwater and Double-A Reading, working 27 games (20 starts) and going 7-3, 2.86 with a strikeout rate of 7.8 per nine innings and a 1.23 WHIP.

 “He’s got some funkiness to his delivery and good movement on his pitches,” Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. “He really attacks the zone, and he looks like he’s pretty cool out there.”

— Phillies Organization Report, March 16

 

Ryan Kalish, of, Cubs

Age: 26. Bats: L. Role: Reserve outfielder.

How acquired: Signed to minor league deal last December.

Spring stats: 14-for-46 (.304) with a double, six steals, six walks and six strikeouts.

Performance trends: As a member of the Red Sox system, Kalish hit .294/.382/.502 as a 22-year-old prospect at Double-A and Triple-A in 2010. He made his big league debut that August, but injuries to both shoulders sabotaged his ability to take the field in each of three subsequent seasons, in which he batted 357 times in total.

One year ago: Kalish spent all of 2013 on the disabled list, ultimately being non-tendered by the Red Sox in December. He quickly latched on with the Cubs, whose key front-office personnel—Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, Jason McLeod—played a role in signing Kalish for Boston as a 2006 ninth-rounder out of high school.

“Kalish manages his at-bats as well as anyone in the system, waiting for pitches he can drive and taking walks if they don’t come. He can steal and take extra bases with his slightly above-average speed and smarts. He gets good jumps on fly balls, allowing him to play center field, though he fits better in right.”

— Red Sox No. 5 in 2010 Prospect Handbook

 

Nick Martinez, rhp, Rangers

Age: 23. Role: No. 5 starter.

Nick Martinez (Photo by Bill Mitchell).

Nick Martinez (Photo by Bill Mitchell).

How acquired: 18th-round pick from Fordham in 2011.

Spring stats: 10 strikeouts, two walks, five hits and 1.23 ERA in 7 1/3 innings.

Performance trends: A converted college shortstop, Martinez went 10-7, 2.87 at high Class A Myrtle Beach in 2013, ranking third in the Carolina League in ERA and among the leaders in opponent average (.236) and strikeout rate (7.9 per nine innings).

One year ago: Martinez entered camp last season having run up a 4.83 ERA at low Class A Hickory in 2012, but injuries to Rangers starters Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison and Derek Holland—combined with the shift of Alexi Ogando to the bullpen—created opportunity for Martinez to break camp in the big league rotation this season. The injuries also created opportunity for Tanner Scheppers and Robbie Ross, a pair of 2013 relievers, to also make the rotation.

“Martinez’s solid three-pitch mix and knack for generating groundballs could make him a No. 4 starter with an outside chance to reach Texas in 2014, though he’s probably destined for Double-A Frisco to begin the year.”

— Rangers No. 12 in 2014 Prospect Handbook

 

Donn Roach, rhp, Padres

Age: 24. Role: Middle reliever.

How acquired: Traded by Angels with 2B Alexi Amarista to Padres for RHP Ernesto Frieri, May 2012.

Spring stats: Nine strikeouts, three walks, 15 hits and 3.00 ERA in 15 innings.

Performance trends: A teammate of Bryce Harper’s at JC of Southern Nevada in 2010, Roach has been one of the most reliable groundball pitchers in the minors in recent years. He ranked seventh among minor league ERA title qualifiers in 2013 with a 2.4 groundout/airout ratio at Double-A San Antonio, though his strikeout rate slid to 4.9 per nine innings. He ranked No. 1 in GO/AO ratio at 3.5 in 2012, at least among pitchers with at least 100 innings.

One year ago: The Padres continued developing Roach as a starter after the Angels had tried him as a reliever initially, and he impressed San Diego enough to be added to the 40-man roster last November.

“Roach throws his sinker with below-average velocity at 87-89 mph (as a starter) but with 100 percent conviction and solid-average life . . . If everything breaks right for him, he could be a groundball-oriented No. 5 starter or middle reliever.”

— Padres No. 26 in 2014 Prospect Handbook

 

Yangervis Solarte, 2b, Yankees

Age: 26. Bats: Both. Role: Utility infield, plus corner outfield.

Yangervis Solarte (Photo by Mike Janes).

Yangervis Solarte (Photo by Mike Janes).

How acquired: Signed to minor league deal in January.

Spring stats: .429 (18-for-42) with two homers, five walks and seven strikeouts in 24 games.

Performance trends: Granted minor league free agency from the Twins organization, Solarte signed with the Rangers for 2012 and spent two seasons at Triple-A Round Rock, batting a cumulative .282/.332/.404  with 10 percent strikeouts and seven percent walks. Scouts like his contact-oriented bat and all-fields approach, though he has yet to be given a big league look.

One year ago: Solarte accrued frequent flyer miles all over the field at Round Rock, playing second base (179 games), third base (33), left field (27) and shortstop (20), but because he negotiated an end-of-spring opt-out date in his minor league deal with the Yankees, he and not veteran utility infielder Eduardo Nunez is breaking camp with the big club. (Shortstop Dean Anna, who already was a member of the 40-man, also outplayed Nunez to earn a bench spot.)

“He has a knack for squaring balls up and making hard contact. He doesn’t have huge power—he’s more of a line-drive bat—but he’s a strong-bodied guy and an impressive hitter.”

— Minor League Free Agents With Upside, April 2012

 

Ian Thomas, lhp, Braves

Age: 26. Role: Middle relief (one of three lefties).

How acquired: Signed out of independent Atlantic League in February 2012.

Spring stats: 13 strikeouts, five walks, seven hits and 2.61 ERA in 10 1/3 innings.

Performance trends: Only the Rangers have been as decimated by pitching injuries than the Braves this spring, which has created a big league opportunity for a host of Atlanta arms, from Thomas to 2011 17th-rounder Gus Schlosser to minors trade import Ryan Buchter. All three made the Braves bullpen, which might not have been true if not for the fact that Brandon Beachy, Gavin Floyd, Kris Medlen, Mike Minor and Jonny Venters all open on the DL.

One year ago: One of the Braves’ many independent league finds, Thomas aced his first test at Double-A Mississippi in 2013, going 7-8, 2.76 in 39 games (13 starts) while logging a 1.05 WHIP and strikeout rate of 10.6 per nine innings.  His fine control of a high-80s fastball makes him effective versus lefthanders (.445 OPS last year), but a quality changeup makes him viable against righties (.566 OPS).

“Thomas used to sit 85-88 mph, but has improved his velocity to where he touches 90-91 much more often nowadays. But even with that bump, his velo will always be a question mark. He does have a good changeup that has late fade and good deception.”

—J.J. Cooper, Independent Leagues Top 20 Prospects Chat, October 2012