5 Predictions for Surprise Final Spring Training Roster Cuts
There's a moment in every player's career he dreads: Walking into the locker room after a game and being called into the manager's office to be told you didn't make the 25-man roster—either resulting in a trip to the minors or being released from the club.
Most players on thin ice probably act like Willie Mays Hayes in Major League on cut-down day. He walks into the clubhouse fearing a red tag is in his locker, so he cautiously opens it up and can't bring himself to look inside.
Of course, if that tag isn't in there, players probably do the Willie Mays Hayes dance in the parking lot to celebrate.
As we move closer to the end of spring training, a lot of big roster decisions have already been made. Most of the top prospects who were in the lower levels of the minors last year have been sent down, with a few notable exceptions.
There are a handful of big decisions still left to come, affording us the opportunity to discuss the players who have done an admirable job in camp but are still on the outside looking in at an MLB job.
Note: All stats courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted.
Grady Sizemore, OF, Boston Red Sox
The fact that we can talk about Grady Sizemore having a legitimate chance to make the Boston Red Sox's Opening Day lineup out of spring training is remarkable. He hasn't played in an MLB game since September 2011.
Sizemore has played well with the Red Sox, albeit in very limited action, hitting .381/.409/.429 in seven games through March 18. That has created some debate over who the best center fielder is for Boston's Opening Day lineup: Sizemore or Jackie Bradley?
It also doesn't help Bradley's cause, at least in the public spectrum, that he's hitting .189/.268/.324 in 12 games.
But remember that a strong spring training isn't indicative of, well, anything. Bradley was Boston's star hitter last spring, posting a .419/.507/.613 line, earning a job out of camp. He clearly wasn't ready for the big leagues when the games counted, hitting .097/.263/.129 in April before getting sent down.
Red Sox manager John Farrell told Ian Browne of MLB.com that stats aren't going to be the deciding factor, saying "what we're focusing on is not a batting average, but the quality of at-bats."
Another thing to keep in mind is Sizemore has only played a handful of games this spring after two years off. He's not going to magically find himself after such a long absence, which is why it would make sense for the Red Sox to hold him in extended spring training.
Bradley's not having a banner spring, but that doesn't mean he's incapable of being Boston's center fielder. He's an excellent defender who works counts and has always been able to get on base.
Kevin Gausman, RHP, Baltimore Orioles
Before spring training started—and the Orioles had yet to sign Ubaldo Jimenez—Kevin Gausman was clearly the most talented pitcher the team had available, since Dylan Bundy is still recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Now, with Jimenez in camp and depth in the rotation with Chris Tillman, Bud Norris and Miguel Gonzalez, the Orioles have more options to choose from. That is actually a good thing for Gausman, who showed last year that his fastball command and slider needed work.
Gausman has thrown well in limited game action this spring, posting an ERA of 2.57 with five strikeouts in seven innings through March 18.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter didn't sound optimistic about Gausman making the 25-man roster out of camp when speaking to Brittany Ghiroli of MLB.com on March 13:
It's always that challenge every spring (when debating which players to keep). Your best 25 or your right 25? Right now, I'm dealing with the best 25 until somebody tells me differently. We'd like to think at some point [Gausman is] going to be one of those, it's just whether or not now is the time.
One thing the Orioles could consider—but won't—is using Gausman in a long-relief role covering multiple innings at a time so he can work on his slider and fastball command before sliding into the rotation.
Since teams don't utilize that strategy with prospects, Gausman's path will be starting the year in Triple-A and returning to Baltimore in May or June.
Stephen Piscotty, OF, St. Louis Cardinals
Stephen Piscotty wasn't drafted with a lot of fanfare in 2012, but the Stanford product has done nothing but hit since becoming a St. Louis Cardinal.
He put up a strong .295/.355/.464 line with 23 doubles, 15 homers, 11 stolen bases, 37 walks and 46 strikeouts in 427 at-bats across High-A and Double-A last season.
In the Arizona Fall League, Piscotty kept hitting with a .371/.430/.506 line in 23 games. Having seen his at-bats in person, I was impressed with his ability to consistently square up pitches and drive the ball to all fields.
The assumption all offseason has been the Cardinals would use a stopgap right fielder to bide time before Oscar Taveras' arrival. However, Piscotty is the major prospect still in MLB camp while Taveras is back in the minors getting his timing back after missing most of last year.
Piscotty has made an impression on the Cardinals, though general manager John Mozeliak told Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the ability to guarantee the 23-year-old consistent at-bats in the minors is appealing.
"It’s intriguing, but we don’t have to rush anything," Mozeliak said. "The good news is they can swing the bats. It’s nice to know we can get it."
Since Piscotty hasn't played above Double-A—with only 49 games at that level—the Cardinals can get away with sending him down. They also don't have to worry about damaging their roster, which is still loaded with talent all over the field.
Archie Bradley, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
Archie Bradley's path to the big leagues was blocked because of Arizona's pitching depth. That all changed when Patrick Corbin's elbow decided to cause all sorts of problems for himself and the Diamondbacks.
Now, facing a season without their ace, the Diamondbacks are scrambling to find a solution. They still have three quality starters in Wade Miley, Brandon McCarthy and Trevor Cahill. Bronson Arroyo is also in the mix, but back problems could force him onto the disabled list for the first time in his career.
That leaves two rotation spots open. In early March, Randall Delgado was mentioned as a candidate for the rotation if a spot opened up by Steve Gilbert of MLB.com:
An issue could arise if Corbin or Cahill were to suffer a freak injury, or get sick, on the trip to Australia and be unable to pitch.
By keeping Delgado pitching as a starter until then, he would be stretched out enough to fill in if need be, but, if not, he could pitch out of the bullpen.
Lo and behold, an issue arose with Corbin, and the door is open for Delgado to take a spot in the rotation.
That just leaves one spot for the Diamondbacks to fill, though how long that spot remains open depends on Arroyo. Are they interested in giving their top pitching prospect two starts then sending him down?
It's a problem a lot of teams would love to face, but not one with an easy answer. The decision to start Bradley in the minors can be justified by his fringy fastball command and mediocre spring results (4.32 ERA, six walks, 10 strikeouts in 8.1 innings).
Javier Baez, SS, Chicago Cubs
It's amazing to think how far Javier Baez has come just since spring training started.
A month ago there appeared to be no chance for the Cubs' top prospect to break camp with the team, as he had just 54 games of experience at Double-A and ended last year still struggling to hit quality off-speed stuff.
There was a very real possibility Baez would see Chicago by the end of 2014, but the deeper we move into spring training, the more it looks like the Cubs want to find any excuse to put him on the 25-man roster.
You can't blame the team, either. Baez played a lot with the MLB team this spring, dazzling everyone with the electric bat speed that made him the ninth overall pick in 2011 and his elite power to all fields (five homers so far).
New #Cubs coach Eric Hinske told me last night that Javier Baez has Manny Ramirez/Gary Sheffield-type bat speed.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) March 20, 2014
On top of that, the Cubs are finding ways to get Baez in the lineup by playing him at second base for the first time since he was in high school.
The black hole known as Darwin Barney is penciled in at second base to start the season, but last year's .569 OPS says all there is about what he provides.
Even if Baez struggles adjusting to MLB fastballs on the inner half and breaking balls, he's going to hit better than Barney. There is a legitimate reason for the Cubs to break camp with their top prospect.
Ray Flowers of BaseballGuys.com noted a discussion he had with Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune about Baez's immediate future:
Talking to @MDGonzales - he suggested that J. Baez has no chance to open as the 2B for the Cubs Opening Day.— Ray Flowers (@BaseballGuys) March 20, 2014
Unfortunately, because the Cubs understand where they are as a franchise and appear to have a clear development plan for all their top players, Baez will likely be one of the last cuts from camp, especially if Starlin Castro is able to start playing in games next week.
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