Looking At NL Roster Surprises
Lefty Wesley Wright
a major league Rule 5 pick, throws an 89-91 mph fastball with armside
life and a late-breaking slider. He's competitive and shows no fear.
He's also the sole lefty in Houston's bullpen, and the Astros are built
to win now. Wright was tested early, coming in to face Brian Giles on
Opening Night. And while it's certainly no sin to resist carrying a
cadre of lefty specialists, it might not be putting the 23-year-old
Wright in the best position to succeed if he's called upon only to face
the top lefty hitters in the league.
While left-field prospect Brandon Jones may be the most notable omission from Atlanta's Opening Day roster, center fielder Gregor Blanco
may be the most pleasant inclusion. But it's not that the 24-year-old Venezuelan hasn't earned it. The Braves seemed ready to go with offseason acquisition Josh Anderson as an outfield reserve, but Blanco's .345/.445/.485 performance in the Venezuelan League may have changed their mind. He's genetically engineered to be the perfect reserve—he runs well, bats lefty, gets on base and covers ground in the outfield—and he's batted .286/.384/.356 in two Triple-A seasons.
• It cost the Braves two young players (Willy Aybar, Chase Fontaine) to acquire lefty reliever Jeff Ridgway from the Rays, but he didn't make the Opening Day cut, those spots going instead to lefty specialists Royce Ring and Will Ohman.
Outfielder Gabe Kapler
defends well and runs out everything—plus he's a good story, having
returned to active duty after managing low Class A Greenville in
2007—but for a righty-heavy team like Milwaukee, he's a less than ideal
fit. Gabe Gross and Tony Gwynn offer much of the same hustle and flow
but from the left side. The 32-year-old Kapler's inclusion is more
redundant still because Joe Dillon fits well as a righthanded
pinch-hitter, and Mike Cameron will return after game No. 25.
Rick Ankiel overcame a lot to reach the big leagues again in 2007, his
perseverance is matched by 29-year-old third baseman Rico Washington
who until this season had spent every day of his 11-year professional
career in the minors, mostly at the Double-A level. A 10th-round pick
of the Pirates out of a Gray, Ga., high school in 1997, Washington
peaked as that organization's No. 3 prospect in 2000 while spending
time at the hot corner and behind the plate. The lefty batter made the
team this year partially because of Brendan Ryan's injury, but also
because plays with energy and has a short, quick swing.
Say hello, Reed Johnson. Say goodbye, Matt Murton
Granted, Johnson, whom the Cubs signed after Toronto released him in
March, is a solid reserve outfielder type, but he's 31 and coming off a
year in which he hit .236 with no power—and missed time with a back
injury that required surgery. Look, 26-year-old Murton's no star (and
the author is no Peter Gammons), but general manager Jim Hendry did
trade for Murton, and Murton did perform when given steady at-bats in
2006. It's unfortunate that he's in Des Moines and not on another
team's big league roster.
Yusmeiro Petit nailed down Arizona's final bullpen spot, but he has an
option remaining and likely is headed to Tucson when Randy Johnson
returns. Considering he had no prior big league experience, 24-year-old
outfielder Alex Romero
somewhat surprising choice over veteran Trot Nixon as a lefty-hitting
reserve. He joins fellow waiver claim Jeff Salazar as a backup
outfielder. Romero has a classic reserve profile, with a steady glove
on a corner, a line-drive swing, good contact skills and sound batting
Blake DeWitt was last third baseman standing after injuries befell
Nomar Garciaparra, Andy LaRoche and Tony Abreu, the inclusion of
righthander 25-year-old Ramon Troncoso
on the roster may have been more surprising, especially as it came at
the expense of Jonathan Meloan, who struggled this spring. Troncoso has
just 52 innings above A-ball under his belt, but at 6-foot-7 he gets
incredible plane on his low- to mid-90s heater. Though he's not afraid
to pitch inside, he loses feel for the strike zone at times and his
slider tends to break early.
surprises made the Giants roster that it's hard to know where to begin.
The natural place is shortstop, where 23-year-old, third-year pro Brian Bocock
—he of the .220/.293/.328 averages in 345 Cal League at-bats last year—is filling in for Omar Vizquel. At catcher, 28-year-old Steve Holm
retained as a minor league free agent after last season, beat out
Giants' backup catchers of summers past, Eliezar Alfonzo and Guillermo
Rodriguez. "This is the best day of my life," Holm said. "I was in
Spring Training last year for two weeks, so this year when the first
two weeks passed, I started feeling a little better about my chances. I
was starting to hide so they couldn't cut me."
On the pitching staff, surprise names include righthanders Keiichi Yabu
(who did not play last year) and Merkin Valdez (who missed 2007 while
recovering from Tommy John surgery) as well as lefty Erick Threets, who
has a 126-110 minor league strikeout-walk ratio over the past three
seasons. This is the sort of team, though, where live-armed projects
like Valdez and Threets can gain experience.
• Right fielder Nate Schierholtz may be wondering what he did wrong.
It's nothing really—he simply has minor league options remaining that
Fred Lewis and Rajai Davis do not.
Given how quickly Florida turned over the keys to shortstop Hanley Ramirez in 2006, one may wonder why 21-year-old center fielder Cameron Maybin
wasn't presented with the same opportunity. After all, Maybin already is on the 40-man roster and he possesses similar tools to Ramirez—including plus-plus speed and terrific power. What's more, Maybin has shown more thump (.178 to .121 isolated power), better baserunning instincts (80 to 71 stolen-base percentage) and more patience than Ramirez did in the full-season minor leagues. He's a year younger than Ramirez was when he won Rookie of the Year honors, though, and that coupled with his low contact rate (71 percent compared with Ramirez's 84) appears to be all that's keeping Maybin in Double-A . . . for now.
The spring results were ugly for Mike Pelfrey
(8.14 ERA with eight strikeouts, 10 walks and two homers in 21 innings), but rather than go with a veteran mediocrity like Jorge Sosa, Jason Vargas, Nelson Figueroa or Tony Armas (who arrived late to camp after visa issues), the Mets are going with the 24-year-old righthander in the fifth spot. And why not? Pelfrey, the ninth overall pick in 2005, blazed through 2007 spring training only to bomb in the regular season. When right, he fills the zone with quality sinking fastballs, but too often he works from behind and appears to pitch tentatively.
The Nationals traded Jonathan Albaladejo to the Yankees last December to get righthander Tyler Clippard
which figured to increase the latter's rotation chances. But while
Albaladejo made New York's bullpen, Clippard was removed from rotation
consideration early in spring training, despite doing what he's always
done: spot his 86-88 mph fastball to both sides and command a changeup
and rainbow curve. Clippard, 23, is not big on stuff, but he knows how
to limit mistakes and pitch out of trouble.
Third baseman-turned-left fielder Chase Headley
23, has a plan at the plate and is ready to hit in the big leagues now,
so that's not why the Padres sent him to Triple-A Portland. They sent
him there to brush up on his defense (he's listed as an outfielder on
the Beavers' roster), while the big club sorts through comeback kid
Jody Gerut, organizational soldier Paul McAnulty and first
baseman/occasional outfielder Justin Huber. One of them will go when
Jim Edmonds comes off the DL; the second may be close behind if Headley
gets off to a fast start.
Righthanded reliever Tim Lahey
, 26, ended the 2007 season as a Twin, but he'll begin this season in Philadelphia's bullpen after a series of offseason transactions. The Rays took the converted catcher first overall in December's major league Rule 5 draft and flipped him the Cubs for cold, hard cash. Chicago couldn't quite make room on their active roster, so they placed Lahey on waivers with the intention of returning him to the Twins. He slipped past most NL teams before the Phillies intervened. Lahey has a short arm action, but he hides the ball well and gets good finish on his splitter and sinker.
Mr. DeMille, Steve Pearce
is ready for his close-up. The 24-year-old right fielder has the kind
of bat the Pirates ought to work into their lineup even if it requires
a bit of creativity. He's in a tough spot, though, because he won't
take time away from Adam LaRoche at first base—his natural position—and
both of Pittsburgh's corner outfielders (Jason Bay, Xavier Nady) bat
righthanded. Pearce is in his physical prime right now and would be
best served with big league experience, though, meaning Nady's days in
Pittsburgh may be numbered.
• For a team steeped in lefthanded pitching—with Tom Gorzelanny, Paul
Maholm and Zach Duke in the rotation and John Grabow and Damaso Marte
in the pen—the Pirates' decision to carry Phil Dumatrait
ERA in six starts for the Reds in 2007) is a bit puzzling. Scouts
noted, however, that the 26-year-old lefty did hit his spots with his
sinker in spring training, and that his changeup consistently sinks and
fades and his slider consistently bites . . . in a good way.
put on by young righthanders Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez—and the
inconsistency of Homer Bailey—was undoubtedly the story of Reds camp.
But look a little closer: The Reds opted to take two veteran relievers
who did not play professionally in 2007 over the two key pieces of the
2006 deal that shipped Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez to Washington.
Cincinnati opened the season with righthander Mike Lincoln
, 32, and lefty Kent Mercker
, 40, in the bullpen instead of their younger counterparts, Gary Majewski and Bill Bray.
a few off-the-board selections to round out the pitching staff, such as
Micah Bowie, Kip Wells and Mark Redman, the most surprising development
may be well-traveled outfielder Scott Podsednik
beating out a couple of homegrown Rockies for a bench spot. Seth Smith,
25, and Cory Sullivan, 28, start the year in Colorado Springs in
deference to Podsednik, but it's Smith with his raw strength and
uppercut swing who could provide a lefty power option for the Rockies
off the bench. As it stands, only Todd Helton, Brad Hawpe and Podsednik