Puig appears closer to the majors than originally anticipated.
Many standouts from this spring have already been optioned or reassigned to minor league camp. Some remain, although their chances of making the 25-man roster are slim to none.
A few young prospects are proving that they’re closer to the big leagues than had been expected. And as is usually the case every March, a handful of veteran journeymen came out of nowhere to put themselves in the mix until the final days of spring.
Here are five position players and three relief pitchers who, barring injury, appear to be the odd men out for the Opening Day roster.
Nolan Arenado, 3B, Colorado Rockies
It was last spring that many people thought Arenado actually had a shot to make the jump from High-A to the majors. Well, he wasn’t ready.
Only 20 years old at the time, Arenado went just 5-for-26 with no homers in spring training. He then had a mediocre season, by a top prospect’s standards, in Double-A.
It’s been a different story this time around. The lofty expectations gone, Arenado homered four times in his first 17 at-bats. And while he hasn’t gone deep since, he’s seven for his last 14 to boost his spring average to .333.
The presence of projected starter Chris Nelson, who had a strong 2012 season (.810 OPS in 111 games), will allow the Rockies to start Arenado in Triple-A. But Nelson is struggling this spring and will need to get off to a good start. If he doesn't, the focus of Rockies fans will turn to Arenado and his ETA to the majors.
Kyle Blanks, 1B/OF, San Diego Padres
Blocked by Jesus Guzman as a right-handed hitting first baseman and corner outfielder off the bench, Blanks has an option remaining. The Padres don’t necessarily have to try and force him onto the roster.
He or Guzman could certainly be traded, but Blanks could boost his value by putting up some big numbers in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, where he first debuted in 2009.
The 26-year-old is also in the midst of an impressive spring, with 20 hits in 57 at-bats. He has three homers, four doubles, a triple, nine walks and 13 RBI.
Didi Gregorius, SS, Arizona Diamondbacks
Acquired this offseason to be the Diamondbacks shortstop of the near future, Gregorius was slowed by a strained elbow to start the spring. But he’s been impressive at the plate since returning.
The 23-year-old, known for his plus skills as a defender, has 11 hits in 24 at-bats with two homers and seven RBI.
It’s hard to see him beating out Cliff Pennington, who was also acquired this offseason, for the Opening Day job. Still, I wouldn’t expect the D-backs to wait very long before inserting Gregorius into their everyday lineup.
Yasiel Puig, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
One of the biggest stories of the spring, Puig has gone from having no chance to make the 25-man roster to the manager having to answer daily questions about whether he will make the team.
A relative unknown when he signed a $42 million deal out of Cuba last June, the 22-year-old is making the Dodgers look very smart with his spring performance (29-for-55, three home runs, five doubles, two triples, 11 RBI, four stolen bases).
It’s almost certain that he’s going to force the team’s hand much earlier than they probably thought he would. It doesn’t mean he should be on the team now. His zero walks and 10 strikeouts remind us how raw of a player he is, but Puig could help the team in the second half and might even be ready to be a big league starter in 2014.
The problem—which is a good one to have if you’re the Dodgers—is that they already have three starting outfielders under contract long term. Trade winds could surround Andre Ethier or Carl Crawford by next November.
Matt Tuiasosopo, IF/OF, Detroit Tigers
Out of all the journeymen position players fighting for jobs, Tuiasosopo might be the most surprising name to still see in big league camp. The 26-year-old former prospect of the Seattle Mariners is 16-for-49 with six doubles, four homers, six walks and nine strikeouts this spring.
The Tigers don’t exactly have the deepest bench, so don’t count the non-roster invitee out just yet. The fact that they have three open spots on the 40-man roster, as well as the recent move to send Rule 5 pick Jeff Kobernus back to the Nationals, bodes well for the utility man.
What doesn’t help is the fact that several of these 4A types (great numbers in Triple-A, mediocre in the majors) are more than capable of putting up big numbers in the spring. Manager Jim Leyland knows this.
And Tuiasosopo hasn’t even been that good in Triple-A the past few seasons.
Donnie Joseph, RP, Kansas City Royals
A midseason trade from Cincinnati to Kansas City didn’t exactly increase Joseph’s chances of reaching the majors any more quickly.
Both teams are stacked in the bullpen. Not even Joseph’s ridiculous 11.2 K/9 between Triple-A and Double-A last season or an impressive camp (10 innings pitched, two earned runs, three hits, three walks, 14 strikeouts) will likely get him to the majors in April.
The Royals currently only have one lefty, Tim Collins, penciled into the bullpen. Their starting pitching depth further complicates the situation because Luke Hochevar and Luis Mendoza might start the season there as well.
A trade of either could open an opportunity. There are a few other deserving candidates to win a job other than the 25-year-old Joseph, including non-roster invitee Dan Wheeler.
Joe Ortiz, RP, Texas Rangers
With Robbie Ross a rotation candidate earlier in the spring, Ortiz’s chances looked good to become the team’s lone lefty out of the ’pen. He’s earned it too, with only one earned run allowed in 11 innings and only one walk with 11 strikeouts.
Now that Ross is back in the bullpen and Michael Kirkman is likely to serve as the second lefty, the 22-year-old Ortiz will likely begin the year in Triple-A. He had a 1.97 ERA in 24 appearances there last season.
At just 5'7", Ortiz isn’t an imposing figure on the mound, but his career 2.28 ERA, 2.0 BB/9 and 9.1 K/9 in the minors proves that it doesn’t matter. He’ll get to Texas soon enough.
Paco Rodriguez, RP, Los Angeles Dodgers
The team’s second-round draft pick in 2012, Rodriguez made it to the majors in September and allowed just one earned run and three hits in 6.2 innings.
That success has carried over into the spring. The 21-year-old lefty has allowed just two earned runs in 10 innings with one walk and nine strikeouts.
But it could be back to the minors for Rodriguez unless the Dodgers can clear a bullpen spot or two by trading some of their rotation depth (Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang, Ted Lilly).