Looking At AL Roster Surprises
It's rare that spring training stats can tell us anything, but they pretty much tell the story of Brandon Wood's
professional career: 22 strikeouts in 55 at-bats with just seven hits. Six of those hits went for extra bases, including three homers. Despite Wood's prodigious power, scouts continue to be critical of his inability to adjust to offspeed pitches at this point in his career. Strikeouts aren't the worst thing for a power hitter like Wood, but his strikeout rate is extreme and he doesn't walk enough yet to have any on-base value. The raw tools are all there for Wood, who is still just 23, but he'll return to Triple-A for a second season.
The A's acquired lefthanded reliever Jerry Blevins
along with Rob Bowen from the Cubs at midseason for catcher Jason Kendall. Blevins used his 91-95 mph fastball, good changeup and sweepy curveball to post a 98-18 strikeout-walk ratio in 75 minor league innings last year. He made six big league appearances at the end of the year, but the Athletics still optioned him back to Triple-A to start 2008.
The Blue Jays' top prospect heading into the 2007 season, outfielder Adam Lind
hit just .238/.278/.400 in 311 plate appearances with Toronto. The power was there, but his average and on-base skills deserted him. He found success upon a return to Triple-A Syracuse in July, hitting .297/.364/.442 in 138 at-bats. With a .317 career average in more than 1,500 minor league plate appearances, it wouldn't be a stretch to see Lind's average increase from the paltry .238 it was at last season. But the Blue Jays have not only sent him back to Triple-A, they have also created barriers to reentry for Lind by signing outfielder Matt Stairs to a two-year contract and outfielder Shannon Stewart to a one-year deal.
When the Indians acquired third baseman Andy Marte
from the Red Sox (via the Braves) before the 2006 season, he and Kevin Kouzmanoff gave the Indians two top third-base prospects. The following offseason, the Indians kept Marte and traded Kouzmanoff to the Padres for second baseman Josh Barfield. Now, Marte is struggling to tread water in the big leagues, Barfield is the minors after a disappointing season, and Kouzmanoff is coming off a nice rookie year with the Padres and hitting third in the San Diego lineup. Marte is still just 24. He's out of options, and the Indians don't want to risk losing him only see him develop into a quality major leaguer with another team the way Brandon Phillips did with the Reds in 2006 at age 25.
Lefthander Garrett Olson
was one of the top pitchers in the International League last season with a 3.16 ERA, 120 strikeouts and 39 walks in 128 innings. His control deserted him in a callup to Baltimore, where he walked 28 in 32 innings. With an 88-93 mph fastball and a hard-breaking slider, it was a bit of a surprise not to see Olson get a shot in the rotation for a team that could lose upwards of 90 games.
Outfielder Wladimir Balentien
cut his strikeout rate, increased his average and retained his outstanding power in games last year with Triple-A Tacoma. His teammate Jeff Clement batted .275/.370/.497 as a catcher. So it was a bit of a surprise the Mariners couldn't find a spot on their major league roster to get at least one of their bats into the lineup, given that outfielder Charlton Jimerson (117 strikeouts in 361 plate appearances as a 27-year-old in Double-A last year) and 33-year-old DH Jose Vidro (.394 slugging last year) have roster spots. Seattle also is carrying three light-hitting utility players in Miguel Cairo, Willie Bloomquist and Mike Morse.
First baseman Jason Botts
has done everything he could the last three seasons on offense with Triple-A Oklahoma to earn a major league roster spot, hitting .302/.400/.541 in 298 games and showing good loft in his swing. His big league performance—.242/.329/.336 in 280 plate appearances—has been underwhelming, but it looks like the Rangers are finally going to give the 27-year-old regular playing time.
It wasn't much of a surprise that the Rays sent third baseman Evan Longoria down to Triple-A to delay his service clock and retain his rights for an extra season. The surprise was that 24-year-old second baseman Elliot Johnson
made the Opening Day roster. Johnson's .626 OPS with Triple-A Durham ranked 111th out of the 119 players with at least 300 plate appearances last year in the International League.
Despite being 34 years old, righthander Bryan Corey
only used up his rookie eligibility last season, when his 9 1/3 major league innings put him at 53 1/3 for his career. After tossing 849 2/3 minor league innings—including 68 1/3 last year with 67 strikeouts for Triple-A Pawtucket—Corey made the team. His story is the opposite of righthander Craig Hansen, who the Red Sox rushed to the majors after 12 2/3 minor league innings in 2005 after making him the 26th overall pick in that year's draft. Hansen hit 96 mph and flashed a mid-80s slider in spring training, but he's back in Pawtucket trying to regain his command.
• Righthander David Aardsma
, now with his fourth organization after making the Red Sox bullpen, can certainly relate to Hansen's meteoric rise and mediocre results. The Giants drafted Aardsma with the 22nd overall pick in 2003, and then rushed him to the big leagues in 2004 after 18 1/3 innings in the minors, but like Hansen he has struggled with his command as a big leaguer.
The Royals are keeping three catchers on their Opening Day roster, giving 28-year-old Matt Tupman
his first big league opportunity. The lefthanded-hitting Tupman batted .272/.344/.361 in 344 PAs last year with Triple-A Omaha. He'll draw some walks and put the ball in play—he has more walks than strikeouts the last two seasons—and gets good marks for his receiving skills, but his .344 slugging average last year is only one point below his career line.
With Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney on the disabled list and Francisco Cruceta nowhere to be found due to visa issues, the Tigers bullpen is in a state of flux. So perhaps the biggest surprise is that they left righthander Randor Bierd
unprotected in the Rule 5 draft, where the Orioles happily picked him up. He easily made the club, but while his fastball this spring sat only in the high-80s, he mixed in an effective cutter and his changeup flashed plus.
Lefty Glen Perkins
ranked only behind Matt Garza among Twins prospects last year with a low-90s fastball, a good curve and a 55 changeup on the 20-80 scouting scale. After holding down a 3.14 ERA in 29 innings out of Minnesota's bullpen last season, Perkins' reward was an option back to Triple-A Rochester. A scout who saw Perkins in spring training said his fastball lacked enough life in the zone, but that his stuff improved over the course of spring training. Still, Dennys Reyes is the only lefthander in the Twins' bullpen, and the club opted to go with righty Brian Bass, a minor league free agent signed away from the Royals.
How often does a rookie who hit 23 home runs in just 100 games in the majors get optioned to Triple-A to start the following season? That's what happened to third baseman Josh Fields
. There's plenty of room for Fields to improve—he struck out 125 times in 418 trips to the plate last year, which killed his average and held his OBP down to .308, but there are several teams that could benefit from having Fields in their lineup.
After paying $26 million for negotiating rights with Kei Igawa
last season, the Yankees gave the righthander a five-year, $20 million deal. Return on investment to date: a 6.25 ERA in 68 big league innings, half a season in Triple-A, and another season set to begin again in Scranton. Making the cut this year were lefthander Billy Traber and righthander Jonathan Albaladejo, a pair of pair of fringy yet potentially serviceable relievers with good control. Both were members of the Nationals' bullpen last year, which was strong last year but is certainly a nontraditional source of talent.