By Rob Leibowitz
Opening day 25-man rosters continue to evoke memories from the days when I played fantasy baseball using pencil and paper, and grabbing the newspaper first thing in the morning to peruse it for any surprises and interesting rookies.
Opening: B-Rob's absence
In advance of getting that newspaper, I present a projected look at some key rookies who will make the opening day roster - those who may have gone unselected in your draft and could inhabit your free-agent wire right now. Rookies who were likely to be selected in mixed-league play, let alone AL-only play, have been omitted purposely form this article.
Ryan Flaherty may be this year's Brad Emaus as a fellow Rule 5 pick or he could end up the Orioles' starting second basemen. For now, Robert Andino has that job with the idea that he will hand it back to Brian Roberts should he be able to return from post-concussion syndrome. If Roberts cannot return and the Orioles tire of Andino's lack of offensive production, Flaherty could get a chance. The lefty hitter can play a variety of positions in the infield and outfield, though none of them great, but does have a good history of minor league plate discipline, contact-making, and mid-teens or better per season home run potential.
Felix Doubront, Boston, won a rotation spot. I like him better as a reliever, but the lefty does have a deep enough repertoire/pitch mix to be a legitimate back-end rotation starter. It will be interesting to see how well he is able to translate his strikeout rates to the Majors. I don't see him keeping the job all season long given the organization he is playing for and his modest skills.
As expected, Addison Reed made the White Sox. For now he will serve an apprenticeship in middle. If Matt Thornton fails to hold onto the closer's role again, Reed is blessed with a plus fastball, slider, and a changeup to battle lefties that could help cement the closer's role for the long run. He was popular to select in most drafts, but the diminished role could get him cut or undrafted in many leagues.
Fellow rookie pitchers Nathan Jones and Hector Santiago also made the White Sox's pen. Santiago is a hard-throwing specialist lefty while Jones is a power-pitching righty. Both have potential as setup men, but neither are a lock to stick. Finally, back-up middle infielder Eduardo Escobar made the team on the strength of his glove. He hit .370 this spring but offers little punch or plate discipline and is probably a utility man long-term.
Detroit made the right call giving Drew Smyly the fifth starter's job. Ok, I'm biased considering I took him at $2 in Tout Wars. Regardless, it was indeed the right call. Andrew Oliver lacks a changeup and Duane Below is a quadruple-A pitcher. Smyly mixes and commands his pitches well, has poise, gets groundballs and has enough weapons to battle lefties and righties alike. All that said, Smyly is jumping from Double-A with 8 games of experience. To not expect growing pains would be downright foolish.
Kelvin Herrera, Royals, should be considered a dark horse closer candidate. The righty throws undeniably serious triple-digit-touching heat despite standing just 5-foot-10 and has enough secondary stuff to keep hitters off balance.
In Minnesota, Chris Parmelee will be the starting first basemen and Liam Hendriks won the fifth starter's job. Parmelee is a disciplined contact hitter who should be able to hit for average and hit 15 or so home runs. Hendriks is a control and pitch-to-contact artist known for throwing less than a walk per nine innings pitched and getting groundballs. It's hard not to think "Brad Radke" when considering this young righty's skill set, pitch selection and organization. Remember, however, Radke's early seasons. The ride could be similar, though Hendriks becoming the next Brad Radke is certainly a best-case scenario.
Earlier this spring I suspected Adam Warren would end up in relief given a mid-nineties fastball and good slider. That suspicion has been justified given the spot he could win in the Yankees' pen. Given the change in role, and if he makes the team, I would not be surprised to see the big righty's K-rate rise.
Josh Donaldson won the A's starting third base job. I have always liked his power and patience, but he is far from a lock to stick depending on his ability to make contact against righties and his defense. It is fairly safe to say that Donaldson could be the subject of late-inning defensive replacement on a regular basis. The catcher eligibility though makes him an interesting upside play at the right price.
Collin Cowgill, Oakland, will start out as a fourth outfielder, but is not far from a promotion to more a prominent role. The former Diamondback hit .409 this spring showing extra-base power and speed. The potential to be a 15 HR/20+ SB guy who hits for average is still very much here.
The A's have a sleeper closer candidate in Ryan Cook. The righty throws hard, throws strikes, and has a good splitter. Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes are far from sure things.
Alex Liddi will be backing up Kyle Seager at third base and Justin Smoak at first base. The power-hitting righty could get some spot starts while Mike Carp is disabled. Liddi has 30+ HR potential, but is not likely ever going to be a threat to hit for average given a right-handed bat and fairly high strikeout rates. If you don't mind the batting average hit, Liddi could be a good fit for your team.
That's all for now, next time, the NL.