What would Opening Day be without roster surprises? Everyone knows about the prospects who played their way to the majors with a strong spring training—and perhaps the benefit of an injury or two. Let’s call them Jackie Bradley or Jose Fernandez or Evan Gattis or Jedd Gyorko.
But what about the long shots, the players who entered spring training on the periphery of the periphery? Here are six names we were surprised to find on Opening Day rosters, a bit of context about their journey and a bit of historical prospect perspective.
|Alfredo Figaro, rhp, Brewers|
Age: 28. Role: Low-leverage relief.
Spring stats: 11 strikeouts, six walks, 10 hits allowed in 15 innings.
Performance trends: After reaching the big leagues briefly with the Tigers in 2009 and ’10, Figaro spent two seasons in Japan, where he improved his control (2.6 BB/9) and command (9.0 H/9) while notching a 3.31 ERA over 188 innings.
One year ago: Figaro prepared for his second stint in the Orix rotation, which went pretty well, thank you—3.09 ERA, 1.25 WHIP in 11 starts.
“He has a power arm, with a sinker that sits at 92-95 mph and tops out at 98. He throws two hard breaking balls: a curveball that peaks at 80 mph, and a mid-80s slider that can get a little short and look more like a cutter at times.”
—Tigers No. 15 in 2010 Prospect Handbook
|Wilkin Ramirez, lf, Twins|
Age: 27. Bats: Right. Role: Reserve corner outfielder.
Spring stats: 23-for-60 (.404) with 10 doubles
Performance trends: In more than 1,400 plate appearances at the Triple-A level since 2009, Ramirez has shown a free-swinging approach (6.6 BB%, 27 SO%) with modest power (.169 ISO), though his bat speed is evident with a .329 BABIP. He shows well versus lefties, batting .269/.333/.473 in that time, and has solid makeup.
One year ago: Ramirez began last season at high Class A Fort Myers after signing with Twins as minor league free agent in November 2011. He moved to Double-A in May and Triple-A in mid-May.
“Both his power and speed grade as above-average and he could be a 25-25 man in the majors. He has the bat speed to catch up with major league fastballs and the swing to hit .280-.300. Ramirez has a swing-hard-in-case-you-hit-it approach, so his power comes with a lot of strikeouts. His stroke can get a bit long at times and he’s pull-oriented, leaving him exposed to breaking balls off the plate.”
— Tigers No. 8 in 2010 Prospect Handbook
|Scott Rice, lhp, Mets|
Age: 31. Role: No. 2 left-on-left reliever.
Spring stats: 11 strikeouts, three walks, 10 hits allowed in 12 1/3 innings.
Performance trends: Rice has struck out one-third of lefthanded batters faced (32.7 SO%) the past two seasons while pitching for Double-A Chattanooga, Triple-A Albuquerque and the Estrellas of the Dominican League. The cumulative batting line: .182/.272/.247 in 196 plate appearances.
One year ago: Rice embarked on his second season in the Dodgers organization, his third fully healthy campaign following Tommy John surgery. The 44th pick in the 1999 draft by the Orioles, Rice has played for seven major league organizations, never reaching the majors—until now.
“Rice is a sinker/slider pitcher who pitches at 88-90 mph from a low three-quarters delivery. He has a nice changeup that still isn’t consistent. None of his offerings is a true out pitch, so he relies more on deception and location.”
— Orioles No. 21 in 2005 Prospect Handbook
|J.B. Shuck, cf, Angels|
Age: 25. Bats: Left. Role: Versatile fourth outfielder.
Spring stats: 19-for-53 (.358) with three doubles .
Performance trends: Shuck swiped 39 bases in parts of three years at Triple-A, posting a .380 on-base percentage with nearly twice as many walks (111) as strikeout (65). The Astros released their 2008 sixth-round pick last fall.
One year ago: Shuck spent the entire season with Triple-A Oklahoma City, not even receiving a September callup for the 107-loss Astros.
” Shuck hits singles, draws walks and leaves scouts wanting more. He has a slashing, contact-oriented approach . . . (but ) he also draws a fair share of walks, making him a top-of-the-order option. However, Shuck doesn’t do much else. He’s a plus-plus runner down the line, but his speed doesn’t play that well on the bases or in the field because he lacks instincts and aggressiveness.”
— Astros No. 17 in 2012 Prospect Handbook
|Matt Tuiasosopo, 3b, Tigers|
Age: 26. Bats: Right. Role: Reserve corner infielder.
Spring stats: 17-for-60 (.283) with four homers and six doubles.
Performance trends: In four of five healthy seasons at Triple-A since 2008, Tuiasosopo has battered lefthanders, hitting .276/.378/.500 with 18 homers (.214 ISO) and 61 walks (14 BB%) in 451 plate appearances.
One year ago: Tuiasosopo embarked on his one and only season in the Mets organization, playing for Triple-A Buffalo after eight seasons in the Mariners system. Seattle established a third-round record when it signed Tuiasosopo for $2.29 million in 2004.
“(Tuiasosopo) has solid plate coverage and above-average bat speed. A quality defender with a strong arm . . . he runs and moves well for his size. Tuiasosopo continues to succeed because of his top-notch competitive makeup.”
— Mariners No. 19 in 2010 Prospect Handbook
|Chris Valaika, 2b, Marlins|
Age: 27. Bats: Right. Role: Reserve middle infielder.
Spring stats: 12-for-51 (.235) with two homers and a double
Performance trends: Valaika stole seven bases in four years at Triple-A, which combined with below-average power (.103 ISO) and poor plate discipline (4.4 BB%, 17 SO%) earned him a mere 67 plate appearances during two cups of coffee with Cincinnati.
One year ago: The Reds’ third-round pick in 2006, Valaika spent all last season with Triple-A Louisville before becoming a minor league free agent for the first time.
“His ceiling has been lowered from an offensive-minded regular at second base to more of a utilityman, but he still can be useful in that role. Valaika has a balanced swing at the plate and could hit .270 with some gap power and a few walks in the big leagues if he got regular at-bats. He’s an average defender at second base, the only position at which he could profile as a regular.”
— Reds No. 21 in 2012 Prospect Handbook