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Monday, April 1, 2013

Making the Cut

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Making the Cut

A look at some surprise 25-man roster decisions.

Baseball season begins, and as always, opening day rosters include a number of intriguing names, including rookies young and old, comeback candidates, and annual backend roster journeymen. Here are some of the more surprising players who made the cut this year.

NL EAST

Braves:

Evan Gattis, c- The immediate beneficiary of the Brian McCann injury, Gattis gets a chance to show his minor league power numbers will translate to the major leagues. Gattis is 26 and has less than 200 at-bats above A-ball, but he slugged .607 in half a season last year and has a more interesting bat than the Braves other catcher, boring punchless veteran Gerald Laird.
CHANCE TO STICK-MODERATE

Marlins:

Jose Fernandez, rhp- Fernandez is one of the best pitching prospects in baseball and went 14-1 with a 1.75 ERA last year in the minors. However, it is quite a shock that he made the major league rotation considering he did not pitch above A-ball last year. Not only is he raw, but why would Miami willingly give up a year of contract control when it is so unlikely they’ll compete this year? Perhaps they think he is ready. Equally likely is the possibility they are desperate to attract fans. Fernandez could do just about anything but the Marlins are committing to him, whatever the outcome.
CHANCE TO STICK-HIGH

John Maine, rhp- Maine hasn’t pitched in the majors since nine poor starts with the Mets in 2010. He’s had arm issues since 2008 and supposedly he is finally healthy enough to contribute in the bullpen. He’s 31 now and his spring numbers were not impressive, but it would be nice to see him succeed again.
CHANCE TO STICK-MODERATE

Mets:

Scott Rice, lhp- This fourteen-year minor league veteran is coming off a string of mediocre seasons in AAA, but he gets left-handed hitters out and this year he’s finally getting a chance to be a short reliever in the Mets bullpen. The 31-year old had a good spring but his career numbers are so underwhelming-including just 6.6 K/9-that it is hard to see him lasting on the roster all year.
CHANCE TO STICK-LOW

Marlon Byrd, of- Byrd was a full-time player until last year, when he hit a miserable .210/.243/.245 in 143 AB with the Cubs and Red Sox. The Mets are hoping he returns to his former adequacy and he’s expected to be their everyday right fielder after a strong spring. Considering his track record, he’s probably at least a fourth outfielder but it would be a surprise if does better than that.
CHANCE TO STICK-HIGH

NL CENTRAL

Brewers:

Khris Davis, of- I tabbed Davis as a “sleeper” in my MLB previews this winter but the guy I thought would make the team was Hunter Morris, who instead will try to improve his approach in AAA. Instead, Alex Gonzalez will play first base and Davis gets a chance to prove himself in the outfield. In limited playing time Davis crushed the ball last year and as long as he’s healthy, there’s a good chance he’s an asset, at least against left-handed pitchers. The Brewers will need offense if they are going to essentially punt first base until Corey Hart returns.
CHANCE TO STICK-HIGH

NL WEST

Diamondbacks:

AJ Pollock, of- Pollock is major-league ready but he was supposed to be the victim of a number crunch, as Arizona is loaded with outfielders. However, both Cody Ross and Adam Eaton are starting the season on the DL, so Pollock got a lucky break and has a chance to play every day for at least a month. Pollock, 24, is a real prospect who has speed and a good batting eye, even though he comes across as something of a poor man’s Eaton, the guy he’s replacing. He will only have a narrow window to prove he belongs in the majors, even though on most teams he’d at least be the fourth outfielder.
CHANCE TO STICK-MODERATE

Rockies:

Jon Garland, rhp- Here’s a name you’ve probably heard before, but it’s taken him a while to resurface after shoulder problems ended his 2011 season with the Dodgers. That’s the kind of injury that could permanently end a career, and Garland’s bounced around a bit since then. He started 2013 with the Mariners, and when he didn’t make their team, the Rockies picked them up. Colorado’s rotation the last few years has been a bit of a joke but Garland is less of a gimmick (and less of a geezer) then Jamie Moyer was last year. As somebody who’s probably just happy to be back in the big leagues, he’ll take his lumps until Drew Pomeranz is called back up.
CHANCE TO STICK- MODERATE

AL EAST

Red Sox:

Jackie Bradley, of- Bradley is a five-tool outfield prospect and after a torrid spring Boston is making the gutsy decision to make him the everyday left-fielder. It’s an unexpected decision but Bradley isn’t necessarily being rushed here; he did well in AA and his biggest strengths, plate discipline and speed, should translate immediately to the major leagues. He’s the most exciting young player to debut for Boston since Jacoby Ellsbury came up in late 2007, and he could provide the kind of jolt to their offense that could keep the Red Sox in contention. He also might replace Ellsbury next year in center field.
CHANCE TO STICK- VERY HIGH

AL CENTRAL

Indians:

Scott Kazmir, lhp- This is the biggest surprise of the spring, and hopefully turns out to be a nice story. Before this year, Kazmir was ancient history, his career fried extra crispy after getting hit by just about everything: shoulder injuries, declining velocity, mechanical woes, bad karma, etc. In 2011, his last season in pro ball he gave up 34 runs in 17 IP between AAA and one terrible start for Los Angeles. He was very underwhelming in Independent League baseball last year but at least his ERA “improved” to 5.34. Suddenly, he’s throwing in the low-90s again with control, walking just one batter in 13 spring innings. Cleveland is taking a major gamble by letting Kazmir be their fifth starter, as they hope to contend this year. Can Kazmir help? His chances of success may deserve an entire separate article, but I’m skeptical for now, even though his return to form would make a tremendous story. Two other high-effort, hard-throwing lefties who flame out early come to mind: Oliver Perez and Dontrelle Willis. Perez has come back as a short reliever and Willis has bounced around the past four years as a AAAA starter. Kazmir is at high risk to lose health or effectiveness quickly; starting him in the bullpen may have been a better option.
CHANCE TO STICK- MODERATE

Tigers:

Matt Tuiasosopo, of- I find this guy intriguing if only because I remember that once upon a time he was a well regarded prospect with Seattle, hitting .400 as a teenager in the Arizona League. His name is pretty hard to forget but even harder to spell. Matt T never lived up to the promise of his athleticism and has been passed around the last few years, serving as an extra-man on AAA rosters and very occasionally, the major leagues. This appears to be one of those times, and he’ll probably be the first casualty of any roster decisions Detroit makes. He’s still only 27, so he has another decade left of bouncing around.
CHANCE TO STICK- LOW

AL WEST

Mariners:

Brandon Maurer, rhp- Maurer is a strong prospect but he started out the spring behind Seattle’s “big three” of Tijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen, and James Paxton. Those three are still in the minors as of Opening Day, but Maurer was so impressive in spring that he leap-frogged them all and opens 2013 in the rotation. Maurer’s numbers last year were solid- a 3.20 ERA with 117 K in 138 IP with AA Jackson- and Safeco Field is such an extreme pitcher’s park that it could easily mask a learning curve. Maurer is no sure thing and there’s plenty of young guys knocking on the door, but he has the talent to survive and thrive.
CHANCE TO STICK-HIGH

Rangers:

Nick Tepesch, rhp- Texas Rangers fans, you’re 2013 fifth starter is…Nick Tepesch? Really? Justin Grimm was that bad? Tepesch is a prospect- Baseball America ranked him #19 in their most recent handbook-but his numbers are underwhelming, with a middling ERA (4.28) and low strikeout totals (6.8 K/9) last year as a 23-year-old in AA. He shows control and throws with a slightly above-average fastball, but that’s the kind of profile for someone to be a middle reliever; the low strikeouts are a big red flag. This is a surprise, but it’s also uncreative; Texas was looking to convert relievers Mike Kirkland or Robbie Ross, both of whom have big league credentials. Instead, they got cold feet, especially with Ross, who they decided they needed back in the bullpen. I don’t think Tepesch is going to last longer than it takes for Colby Lewis to return to the majors, sometime in late May or June.
CHANCE TO STICK- LOW

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