All 30 MLB Teams' Top Dark Horse to Crack the Opening Day Roster

Joel ReuterFeatured ColumnistMarch 5, 2013

All 30 MLB Teams' Top Dark Horse to Crack the Opening Day Roster

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    While spring training is a time for players to compete for a spot on the Opening Day roster, most teams enter camp with a fairly good idea of which 25 players will break camp with the big-league club.

    That said, there are inevitably a handful of players who step forward and simply play their way onto the team with their spring performance.

    So here is a look at all 30 MLB teams' top dark-horse candidate to make the Opening Day roster after the first week-plus of spring games.

Arizona Diamondbacks: LHP Patrick Corbin

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    Spring Stats:  2 G, 5 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 8 K

    While top prospect Tyler Skaggs entered camp as the front-runner to win the fifth starter spot, it's not a foregone conclusion that he has the job.

    Corbin has been terrific so far this spring, and he was solid as a rookie last year, making 22 appearances (17 starts) and going 6-8 with a 4.54 ERA.

    The 23-year-old may not have the ceiling of Skaggs, but he may be the team's best option to kick off the year, as Skaggs has allowed seven hits and five earned runs in 2.1 innings of work.

Atlanta Braves: C Evan Gattis

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    Spring Stats: 8-for-18, 2 2B, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 3 R

    The 26-year-old Gattis opened last season in the Rookie League and ended it in Double-A, as he hit a combined .305/.389/.607 with 18 home runs and 67 RBI in just 74 games.

    He has just 222 minor-league games under his belt, but it's been no secret that the Braves like his bat and would love to find a way to get him into the lineup.

    With Brian McCann sidelined to start the season following shoulder surgery, Gerald Laird and Matt Pagnozzi are slated to fill the catcher spot, but if Gattis keeps hitting, he may play himself into at-bats.

Baltimore Orioles: 1B/OF Conor Jackson

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    Spring Stats: 5-for-16, 1 2B, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 5 R

    Once a budding star with the Diamondbacks, Jackson now finds himself battling for a job with the Orioles on a minor-league contract.

    He spent all of 2012 in the minors, hitting .277/.363/.434 with nine home runs and 41 RBI in Triple-A for the White Sox.

    He's battling for a bench spot, and with the Orioles looking for some pop, he could very well win one if he continues to hit like he has early this spring.

Boston Red Sox: RHP Rubby De La Rosa

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    Spring Stats: 2 G, 1 SV, 4 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K

    The Red Sox' biggest take away from their August blockbuster deal with the Dodgers was the salary room they freed up, but they also landed four players including De La Rosa.

    A torn UCL in July 2011 ended in Tommy John surgery, and he returned last season to make six minor-league appearances.

    In his last full season in 2010, he went 7-2 with six saves and a 2.37 ERA over 22 appearances (13 starts) while reaching Double-A. Now he's looking to crack the Red Sox roster in a bullpen spot this spring.

Chicago Cubs: RF Brian Bogusevic

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    Spring Stats: 8-for-15, 3 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 4 R

    A first-round pick by the Astros in 2005, Bogusevic signed a minor-league deal with the Cubs after being waived by Houston and now the Oak Lawn, Ill., native is vying for a spot on the Cubs bench.

    Last season, he hit .203/.297/.299 with seven home runs and 15 steals in 355 at-bats as the Astros fourth outfielder.

    He's competing with Dave Sappelt and Brent Lillibridge for a bench spot, and after Joe Mather made the team with a strong spring last season, it could be Bogusevic who earns a spot this spring.

Chicago White Sox: 3B Josh Bell

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    Spring Stats: 5-for-9, 1 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 4 R

    A highly regarded prospect in the Orioles system, Bell was traded to the Diamondbacks last April and granted free agency at the beginning of the offseason.

    He hit .292/.361/.486 with 13 home runs and 78 RBI in Triple-A last season, but the 26-year-old has seen limited action at the major-league level over the past three seasons.

    Jeff Keppinger was signed to fill the void at third base, and Conor Gillaspie is slated to back him up, but if Bell continues to hit, he could win a bench spot.

Cincinnati Reds: RHP Clay Hensley

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    Spring Stats: 3 G, 6 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 4 K

    Hensley appeared in 60 games for the World Champion Giants last season, going 4-5 and recording three saves while posting a 4.62 ERA.

    However, he posted an 8.78 ERA over the season's final two months and was left off of the team's postseason roster as a result. He was signed to a minor-league deal by the Reds this spring.

    With right-handers Jonathan Broxton, Jose Arredondo, Logan Ondrusek and Alfredo Simon all locked into bullpen jobs, he has his work cut out for him, but it's hard to ignore his spring numbers.

Cleveland Indians: LHP Scott Kazmir

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    Spring Stats: 2 G, 4 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 K

    Kazmir last appeared in a big league game on April 3, 2011, with the Indians, and not since 2009 has he been a solid big-league option.

    He spent last season pitching in the Independent League, going 3-6 with a 5.34 ERA over 14 starts for the Sugar Land Skeeters. 

    Nick Hagadone is the only left-hander locked into a bullpen spot, with Scott Barnes and David Huff vying for spots as well, and if Kazmir continues to pitch well, he could earn a bullpen spot.

Colorado Rockies: 3B Nolan Arenado

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    Spring Stats: 7-for-17, 2 2B, 4 HR, 8 RBI, 4 R

    One of the top third-base prospects in the game following a .298 BA, 20 HR, 122 RBI season in High Single-A in 2011, Arenado took a step back last season.

    He hit .285 with 12 home runs and 56 RBI as a 21-year-old in Double-A last season, and while he is still viewed as the future at third base, he was expected to need at least another season in the minors.

    Chris Nelson and Jordan Pacheco were expected to split time at third base, and they still could, but with Arenado hitting well this spring, they may very well opt to hand him the job out of camp.

Detroit Tigers: LHP Darin Downs

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    Spring Stats: 4 G, 5 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 6 K

    A fifth-round pick by the Cubs back in 2003, Downs made his big-league debut last season as a 27-year-old and posted a 3.48 ERA and 8.7 K/9 in 18 appearances.

    Prior to being called up, he had a 2.15 ERA and 10.1 K/9 in Triple-A during his first season in the Tigers' organization.

    Phil Coke and Duane Below figure to be the Tigers two left-handers out of the bullpen, but if Downs can keep it going, he may well pitch his way onto the 25-man roster.

Houston Astros: CF George Springer

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    Spring Stats: 4-for-10, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 6 R, 1 SB

    The 11th overall pick in the 2011 draft, Springer was the top college bat in the draft outside of Anthony Rendon and he was expected to move quickly.

    In his first pro season last year, the 22-year-old hit .302/.383/.526 with 24 home runs and 32 RBI and reached Double-A.

    He's not currently on the 40-man roster, and the plan was for him to get at least another year in the minors under his belt, but on a rebuilding Astros team with little in the way of talent, there is no reason not to give him the job if he proves ready.

Kansas City Royals: LHP Donnie Joseph

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    Spring Stats: 3 G, 3 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 7 K

    A third-round pick in the 2009 draft by the Cincinnati Reds, Joseph was shipped to the Royals at the deadline last year for Jonathan Broxton.

    In 55 games last season, he went 9-3 with a 2.33 ERA and 11.2 K/9 and recorded 20 saves. He split the season between Double-A and Triple-A.

    The left-hander has a terrific fastball/slider combination that could make him a closer down the line, and continued strong play this spring could put him in position for a key bullpen role.

Los Angeles Angels: UT Matt Young

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    Spring Stats: 7-for-13, 1 2B, 1 3B, 3 RBI, 2 R

    A longtime member of the Braves organization, the 30-year-old Young has just 58 big-league at-bats under his belt, in which he's hit .190/.254/.224 with two RBI.

    He split last season between Detroit and St. Louis, where he hit a combined .241/.376/.304 with 18 steals in Triple-A.

    Minor league free agent Bill Hall is the front-runner to win the utility job on the bench, but Young has at least put himself in the conversation with his strong start to the spring.

Los Angeles Dodgers: RHP Matt Magill

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    Spring Stats: 3 G, 4 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 8 K

    An unheralded 31st-round pick back in 2008, Magill has moved slowly through the Dodgers system and turned in a solid season in Double-A last year.

    He went 11-8 with a 3.75 ERA and 168 strikeouts in 146.1 innings last year, and that was enough for him to be added to the 40-man roster earlier this offseason.

    The Dodgers have a ton of veteran starting pitching depth, and a deep crop of arms for their bullpen, so where Magill fits into the 2013 picture remains to be seen.

Miami Marlins: CF Christian Yelich

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    Spring Stats: 7-for-15, 2 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 5 R

    Despite the fact that he is only 21, the Marlins have given Yelich an extended look to kick off spring training and he's responded.

    In a full season at High Single-A last year, he hit .329/.402/.516 with 12 home runs and 20 steals and he enters the season as the No. 15 prospect in baseball, according to Baseball America.

    The Marlins don't have any reason to push Yelich, as it's expected to be a long season in Miami, but he may very well force their hand if he can keep it up.

Milwaukee Brewers: RF Caleb Gindl

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    Spring Stats: 7-for-14, 1 2B, 1 3B, 0 HR, 3 RBI, 3 R

    A fifth-round pick by the Brewers out of high school in 2007, Gindl has spent the past two seasons in Triple-A.

    In six minor-league seasons, he's hit a combined .293/.368/.458 with 71 home runs and 364 RBI, so he has a solid track record of production if nothing else.

    Taylor Green and Logan Schafer figure to be the team's backup outfielders this coming season, but seeing as Gindl is on the 40-man roster, there is at least a chance he could crack the Opening Day roster.

Minnesota Twins: CF Aaron Hicks

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    Spring Stats: 7-for-22, 2 2B, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 5 R

    Hicks has been one of the Twins' top prospects since being taken in the first round of the 2008 draft, and he enters the 2013 season as the No. 72 prospect in baseball, according to Baseball America.

    In a full season at Double-A last year, he hit .286/.384/.460 with 13 home runs and 32 steals as he rebounded nicely from a poor 2011 campaign.

    After the Twins traded Ben Revere and Denard Span this offseason, there are two vacancies in the outfield alongside Josh Willingham. The 23-year-old is not a front-runner to make the Opening Day roster, but he's certainly building a strong case.

New York Mets: RHP Zack Wheeler

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    Spring Stats: 1 G, 2 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K

    The sixth overall pick in the 2009 draft by the Giants, Wheeler was traded to the Mets at the deadline in 2011 for outfielder Carlos Beltran.

    He split last season between Double-A and Triple-A, going a combined 12-8 with a 3.26 ERA and 148 strikeouts in 149 innings as a 22-year-old.

    He'll no doubt join fellow star-in-the-making Matt Harvey in the Mets rotation at some point his year, and with Johan Santana questionable to start the season, there is an outside chance he breaks camp as the No. 5 starter.

New York Yankees: RHP Vidal Nuno

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    Spring Stats: 2 G, 5 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 9 K

    A former Indians farm hand who was released in March 2011, Nuno has turned things around over the past two seasons in the Yankees organization.

    The 25-year-old went 10-6 with a 2.54 ERA in 31 appearances (21 starts) between High Single-A and Double-A last season and he impressed to this point in spring camp.

    The odds are stacked against him to make the Yankees Opening Day roster, but he certainly has value as a left-hander. If something were to happen to Boone Logan or Clay Rapada, he could earn a bullpen spot.

Oakland Athletics: LF Michael Choice

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    Spring Stats: 11-for-22, 2 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 8 RBI, 5 R

    The No. 10 pick in the 2010 draft, Choice shot up prospect rankings when he launched 30 home runs at the High Single-A level during his first pro season in 2011.

    He followed that up with a disappointing 2012, as he hit .287 but managed just 10 home runs and 58 RBI in a full season at Double-A.

    The 23-year-old has serious power potential and he's already turned in a terrific spring. The A's outfield is already crowded, and he could make things even more difficult on manager Bob Melvin if he continues to rake.

Philadelphia Phillies: IF Yuniesky Betancourt

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    Spring Stats: 7-for-17, 1 2B, 0 HR, 4 RBI, 3 R

    His days as an everyday shortstop are likely passed, but Betancourt proved he is still capable of making an offensive impact last season when he hit seven home runs with 36 RBI in 215 at-bats for the Royals.

    After signing a one-year, $2 million deal with the Royals last offseason, he had to settle for a minor-league deal from the Phillies this time around.

    He's competing with Kevin Frandsen and Freddy Galvis for a bench spot, and despite his solid start to the spring and defensive versatility, he could still find himself on the outside looking in when teams break camp.

Pittsburgh Pirates: LHP Jonathan Sanchez

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    Spring Stats: 2 G, 2.2 IP, 4 H, 4 ER, 5 BB, 2 K

    A promising, if not frustrating, starter during his time with the Giants, Sanchez was traded to the Royals last offseason for Melky Cabrera.

    He wound up splitting the season between Kansas City and Colorado, pitching horribly in both places with a 1-9 record and 8.07 ERA. He allowed 11.4 H/9 and 7.4 BB/9 for a staggeringly bad 2.088 WHIP, as he made a total of 15 starts.

    The Pirates took a chance on him with a minor-league contract, and with the No. 5 starter spot far from decided, he has an outside chance at a roster spot if he can show something.

    So far, he's had one solid outing (2 IP, 1 H, 2 Ks) and one horrible one (0.2 IP, 3 H, 4 BB, 4 ER), so we'll see which Sanchez shows up moving forward.

San Diego Padres: LF Kyle Blanks

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    Spring Stats: 10-for-21, 3 2B, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 8 R

    Blanks made his debut with the Padres in 2009, hitting 10 home runs in 148 at-bats as a 22-year-old and giving the team plenty of reason for optimism in the years to come.

    Instead, injuries have limited him to 92 games the past three seasons, including just four games last season before he was lost for the year to a torn labrum.

    The 6'6" slugger is now 26, and he appears to have put his injury problems behind him for the time being. If he stays on the field, there is no reason he can't make the type of impact the team expected him to make three years ago.

San Francisco Giants: LF Francisco Peguero

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    Spring Stats: 9-for-16, 2 2B, 1 3B, 0 HR, 5 RBI, 3 R

    A Futures Game participant in 2010 and the Giants' No. 8 prospect to open the season according to Baseball America, Peguero has long been on the San Francisco prospect radar.

    The 24-year-old is entering his eighth pro season, and is coming off of a full season in Triple-A in which he hit .272/.297/.394 with five home runs and 68 RBI.

    He's moved slowly through the system, but he's made the necessary adjustments every step of the way. With an uninspiring platoon of Gregor Blanco and Andres Torres in left field, Peguero could get a crack at some significant playing time if he proves ready.

Seattle Mariners: RF Carlos Peguero

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    Spring Stats: 8-for-19, 2 2B, 3 HR, 4 RBI, 8 R

    No relation to the aforementioned Francisco Peguero, though they were teammates in the 2010 Futures Game, this Peguero provides much more punch at the plate.

    In his second go-around at Triple-A, he hit .285/.366/.562 with 21 home runs and over the past four seasons, he's hit 88 home runs.

    With Michael Morse and Franklin Gutierrez locked into two of the outfield spots, he's competing with Jason Bay, Raul Ibanez and Michael Saunders for at-bats. 

St. Louis Cardinals: RHP Michael Wacha

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    Spring Stats: 3 G, 7.2 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 11 K

    There may be no player creating more buzz this spring than Wacha, as the No. 19 pick in last June's draft has been nothing short of dominant.

    That's right in line with how he pitched after signing last summer, as he made 11 appearances and posted a 0.86 ERA with 40 strikeouts in 21 innings of work, climbing three levels and reaching Double-A.

    It's hard to envision the Cardinals giving the 21-year-old a roster spot with just 21 innings of pro ball under his belt, but crazier things have happened.

Tampa Bay Rays: 1B/OF Leslie Anderson

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    Spring Stats: 7-for-18, 1 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 7 RBI, 2 R

    The Cuban-born Anderson played in the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classic before defecting and signing with the Rays prior to the 2010 season.

    He'll be 31 years old this coming season, so he's far from a prospect, but there was plenty to like about the .309/.355/.450 line he put up in Triple-A last season.

    He doesn't have much power (38 HR in 1,293 minor-league at-bats), but he is a solid hitter and for a Rays team that is always looking for an offensive boost, he could find his way onto the big-league club.

Texas Rangers: LHP Nate Robertson

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    Spring Stats: 3 G, 3 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K

    Robertson won 51 games during his time with the Tigers, going 13-13 with a 3.84 ERA for the 2006 Detroit team that reached the World Series.

    However, he hasn't pitched in the majors since 2010 and posted a 6.32 ERA in 26 minor-league appearances last season while pitching for the Cubs' and Blue Jays' Triple-A affiliates.

    The Rangers gave him a minor-league contract and he's been solid so far through his first three appearances. The Texas bullpen is far from set in stone, so if he continues to pitch well, there is a chance he breaks camp with the team.

Toronto Blue Jays: LHP Aaron Loup

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    Spring Stats: 3 G, 3 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 1 K

    The Blue Jays don't have much room on their roster for dark-horse candidates to break through, as the bullpen is the only area where there could be a surprise.

    Loup posted a 2.78 ERA and 8.5 K/9 in 37 Double-A appearances, then made 33 appearances for the Blue Jays with a 2.64 ERA, so he has enjoyed success at the big-league level.

    His chances of making the team hinge largely on whether the team decides to use a bullpen spot on Brett Cecil, who is out of options.

Washington Nationals: 1B Chris Marrero

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    Spring Stats: 7-for-22, 2 2B, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 5 R

    A first-round pick in 2006, Marrero entered the 2008 season as the No. 27 prospect in baseball according to Baseball America following a  season as an 18-year-old in Single-A with a 275 average, 23 home runs and 88 RBI.

    However, his bright future has been derailed by injuries, as he missed most of 2008 with a broken fibula and was limited to just 53 games last season with a torn hamstring.

    Blocked by Adam LaRoche, his only chance to make the big-league club will be beating Chad Tracy or Tyler Moore out of a bench spot.

    The team will likely want to get him regular at-bats as a returns from injury, but he could at least be rewarded with a roster spot to kick off the season if he continues his strong spring.