10 Under-the-Radar Players Who Could Still Crack 2014 Opening Day Rosters

Karl BuscheckContributor IIIMarch 20, 2014

10 Under-the-Radar Players Who Could Still Crack 2014 Opening Day Rosters

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    Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

    MLB's 2014 Opening Day is rapidly approaching. That means teams around the league will be facing some seriously challenging decisions as they contemplate just who will make the final cut. 

    The following list takes a look at 10 players on the roster bubble.

    Some are former big league stars that have fallen so far you might just be surprised they're still getting paid to play baseball. Others are high-upside players with minimal MLB experience, who are looking to make their major league breakthrough in the upcoming campaign. 

    So, with those considerations in mind, here are 10 under-the-radar players who could still crack 2014 Opening Day rosters. 

     

    Note: All stats courtesy of MLB.com and Baseball-Reference.com.

Jonathan Schoop, 2B, Baltimore Orioles

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Spring Training Stats: .406 (13-for-32), 4 2B, 1 HR, 6 RBI 

    Jonathan Schoop is making a compelling case to claim the job as the Baltimore Orioles' starting second baseman, as he is hitting .400 through his first 16 Grapefruit League games. 

    The 22-year-old's candidacy also might be helped by the fact that Manny Machado is unlikely to be ready for Opening Day, and subsequently Ryan Flaherty could shift to third base, as Steve Melewski of MASN reports.

    Schoop has only played in 70 games at the Triple-A level, but manager Buck Showalter is certainly leaving the door open for the second baseman to land a spot on the Opening Day roster.

    "He came in here with an opportunity to make our club, and he has not taken a step back at all," Showalter said, via Dan Connolly of The Baltimore Sun. "I'm glad we've got some more time for things to separate themselves a little...He is in a very competitive situation right now."

    If Flaherty shifts to third base, the players Schoop will need to separate himself from are Jemile Weeks, Alexi Casilla and Alex Gonzalez.

Randall Delgado, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

    Spring Training Stats: 5.56 ERA, 11.1 IP, 7 ER 14 H, 1 BB, 7 K 

    Randall Delgado had a slim chance of landing a spot in the Arizona Diamondbacks' starting rotation at the outset of camp. 

    However, as is often the case during spring training, injuries have a funny way of changing a team's plans. Patrick Corbin is expected to miss the entire 2014 season with an elbow injury that could require Tommy John surgery, per Jack Magruder of Fox Sports. According to Magruder, Delgado is "more likely" to win the spot than top prospect Archie Bradley. 

    Then again, both right-handers could end up on the staff thanks to Bronson Arroyo's continued rehab from a back issue, as Magruder tweets.

Kevin Kouzmanoff, 3B, Texas Rangers

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    Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports

    Spring Training Stats: .385 (21-for-39), 3 2B, 1 HR, 6 RBI 

    It's been a really long time since Kevin Kouzmanoff enjoyed sustained success at the big league level. 

    The last time the third baseman posted better than a .700 OPS over a full season was way back in 2009 when he was a member of the San Diego Padres. However, based on the way the 32-year-old has been battering Cactus League pitching this spring, he could just be ready to return to his old form. 

    Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington has definitely taken note of the veteran's strong showing, as he explained via Gil LeBreton of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

    Kevin Kouzmanoff has shown me exactly what I thought Kevin Kouzmanoff could show me. He's a baseball player ... He can play third base. He can play first base. He can hit left-handers. He'll get you big hits and he knows how to play.

    Kouzmanoff is no lock to land a spot on the Rangers' Opening Day roster. Still, the way he's swinging the bat, it won't be easy for Washington to cut the corner infielder. 

Josh Tomlin, SP, Cleveland Indians

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    Mark Duncan/Associated Press

    Spring Training Stats: 2.57 ERA, 14 IP, 4 ER 13 H, 2 BB, 14 K 

    Josh Tomlin is making a strong push to grab the No. 5 spot in the Cleveland Indians' starting rotation. 

    The 29-year-old piled up 14 strikeouts in 14 innings of work in Cactus League play while only issuing a pair of free passes. According to Terry Pluto of the The Plain Dealer, Tomlin's fastball is topping out at 93 mph and his curveball is looking "sharp."

    Manager Terry Francona gave his take on Tomlin, via Pluto: "He's been terrific." Tomlin's top rivals for the final spot include Carlos Carrasco and longtime veteran starter Aaron Harang. 

Chone Figgins, UTL, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Spring Training Stats: .167 (6-for-36), 1 2B, 9 BB 3 RBI, 2 SB 

    With a.167 batting average, Chone Figgins didn't exactly tear up the Cactus League this spring. 

    Still, the former All-Star proved enough to be one of the 30 players the Los Angeles Dodgers brought along on the club's trip to Australia. Figgins' greatest asset is his remarkable defensive versatility, which has clearly caught the eye of manager Don Mattingly.

    "He's shown that he can play everywhere on the field, so there's definitely a value there," Mattingly explained via Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles. "We still feel like the body's live. He's moving good, he's running good, he's had no issues. We like what we've seen and we do feel that the at-bats will get better and better."

    Considering the Dodgers have already added Figgins to the 40-man roster, it would be a major upset if he's not a part of the active roster for the opening series in Australia. 

Mike Olt, 3B, Chicago Cubs

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Spring Training Stats: .265 (9-for-32), 4 HR, 9 RBI 

    Mike Olt only has nine hits during spring training. However, four of them have been long balls.

    The 25-year-old, who has dealt with a shoulder issue this spring, is racing to prove he's ready to take over as the Chicago Cubs' starting third baseman. So far this spring, he's only been healthy enough to play one game at the hot corner.

    The former first-round pick clearly offers more upside than a platoon of Luis Valbuena and Donnie Murphy would. However, as manager Rick Renteria explained via Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times, it all comes down to his ability to stay on the field. 

    "He's obviously swinging the bat really well this spring, and I know he's played third base well in the past. So again, it gets back to the same thing: I need to see him healthy first."

Bobby Abreu, OF, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Spring Training Stats: .281 (9-for-32), 3 2B, 1 3B, 9 BB, 1 RBI 

    The clock is ticking for the Philadelphia Phillies to make a decision on Bobby Abreu. 

    As Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly notes, the club must inform the veteran by March 27 as to whether he's earned a spot on the 25-man roster. So far this spring, Abreu has held his own at the plate, batting .281 in 13 contests. Plus, the 40-year-old has racked up a team-leading nine walks. 

    However, if he's going to claim a spot on the bench, the two-time All-Star will also have to convince the club he's capable of playing "passable defense," as Salisbury puts it. Manager Ryne Sandberg described Abreu's glove work as "adequate," according to Salisbury. 

    Abreu is competing for a job with Tony Gwynn Jr., who would offer the team speed and the ability to play center field. Those are two attributes that Abreu, of course, would be unable to provide. 

Daisuke Matsuzaka, SP, New York Mets

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Spring Training Stats: 4.97 ERA, 12.2 IP, 7 ER, 18 H, 1 BB, 12 K 

    With the Grapefruit League campaign drawing to a close, Daisuke Matsuzaka continues to battle with John Lannan and Jenrry Mejia for the fifth and final spot in the New York Mets' starting rotation. 

    In his most recent outing, the right-hander served up three home runs, as he allowed four runs in five innings of work. However, Matsuzaka did record five strikeouts and now has a 12-to-1 K/BB ratio this spring.

    Manager Terry Collins took away some positives from Matsuzaka's less-than-stellar showing.

    "His velocity is getting better," Collins said, via Jorge L. Ortiz of USA Today. "I'm not concerned with the fact that they got some runs. It's what happens in spring training. I like the fact that he went after some guys today."

Michael Choice, OF, Texas Rangers

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Spring Training Stats: .348 (16-for-46), 3 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 7 RBI 

    Michael Choice has made quite the impression in his first spring training with the Texas Rangers. 

    The Rangers picked up the 24-year-old outfielder in an offseason trade with the Oakland Athletics that saw Craig Gentry head in the opposite direction. Entering camp, the No. 10 overall selection in the 2010 MLB draft was far from assured a spot on the Rangers' Opening Day roster.

    Now, he's likely to break camp as the club's fourth outfielder and right-handed designated hitter, according to Evan Grant of The Dallas Morning News.  

     

Heath Hembree, RP, San Francisco Giants

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Spring Training Stats: 2.25 ERA, 4 IP, 1 ER, 1 H, 2 BB, 5 K 

    Heath Hembree is just one of a whole slew of relievers angling to snag the final spot in the San Francisco Giants bullpen. His top competition for the gig includes Dan Runzler, George Kontos and Erik Cordier, according to Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle

    What makes Hembree such an intriguing option for the Giants is that the 25-year-old has demonstrated an impressive ability to produce swings and misses, a highly valuable skill for any reliever working in high-leverage situations.

    This spring, the right-hander whiffed five batters in four frames. Last year, in his first big league action, Hembree recorded 12 strikeouts in 7.2 innings of work. During four minor league campaigns, the reliever owns a 11.4 K/9 ratio. That track record suggests Hembree has a promising future as a late-inning option for San Francisco.

     

    If you want to talk baseball, find me on Twitter @KarlBuscheck.