MLB Teams Boasting the Best Roster Depth Early in 2014
With approximately one-sixth of the regular season in the books, we're already getting a pretty good idea of which teams are best positioned to succeed over the span of 162 games.
Over 125 players, including several impact one's, are currently on the disabled list and several others have not come close to meeting expectations. As a result, roster depth is being put to the test early on.
Those that have it remain in good shape. And those who don't are already suffering the consequences or are in danger of losing ground should they be hit by the injury bug.
Here are five teams who have been able to, or should be able to, withstand adversity throughout the season because their rosters are strong from top to bottom with more help on the way from the upper minors.
With Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen lost to season-ending Tommy John surgeries before the season even started and Gavin Floyd (recovery from May 2013 Tommy Surgery) and Mike Minor (shoulder tendinitis) headed for the disabled list to begin the season, the Atlanta Braves had no choice but to bring in some reinforcements.
One, Ervin Santana, was costly at one year and $14.1 million, while the other, Aaron Harang, was signed to a team-friendly one-year, $1 million deal to help hold down the fort until Minor and/or Floyd returned.
Along with rookie David Hale (pictured), who has a 2.31 ERA in four starts, Santana (2.41 ERA in five starts) and Harang (2.97 ERA, 3.5 BB/9, 9.2 K/9 in six starts) have played a huge role in the team's terrific start while 23-year-old Julio Teheran (1.47 ERA in six starts) is emerging as one of the best pitchers in the game.
With Minor expected back soon, Hale is now moving to the bullpen while Floyd might have to join him—his 30-day rehab assignment is nearing an end—with neither Harang nor Alex Wood (2.93 ERA in six starts) ready to give up their starting roles.
Rookie lefty Ian Thomas (5.1 IP, ER, 0 BB, 6 K prior to rough outing on Thursday) has helped a bullpen that is without Jonny Venters (recovery from May 2013 Tommy John surgery) and has gotten a shaky performance from Luis Avilan, although Jordan Walden (1.74 ERA, 17 K in 10.1 IP) to David Carpenter (2.45 ERA, 6 holds) to Craig Kimbrel (2.61 ERA, 8 Sv, 22 K in 10.1 IP) is the key to their success.
The lineup hasn't needed much help, although the team's infield depth will soon be put to the test if Dan Uggla (.538 OPS, 29 K in 93 at-bats) continues to struggle. They could turn to Tommy La Stella or Phil Gosselin, who are each having solid seasons down in Triple-A.
While the key continues to be keeping star players Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki off the disabled list, their health has only been part of the reason for the team's 17-13 start, which is good for 3rd place in the division but only one game behind the 1st place Giants.
With the top two leading hitters in the game—Tulowitzki is leading the majors with a .370 batting average; Charlie Blackmon is second with a .369 batting average—and the resurgent Justin Morneau 8th with a .340 batting average, the Rockies lineup is shaping up to be a nightmare for opposing pitchers.
Michael Cuddyer, once he returns from a disabled list stint with a strained hamstring, gives them another .300 hitter while Nolan Arenado (.311 BA, 4 HR, 7 2B) is proving that he can do damage with the bat, as well as play Gold Glove-caliber defense at third base.
Filling in for Cuddyer has been Corey Dickerson (13-for-34, 2 HR, 3 2B, 3B) and Brandon Barnes (.810 OPS), while backup infielder Josh Rutledge (7-for-22, HR, 2B) has made the most out of his minimal playing time.
When catcher Wilin Rosario (49 combined homers in 2012-13) heats up, this lineup could be one of the best in the game. They might be already, if the numbers are any indication (1st in R, BA, OPS, HR, 2B).
Getting through a 162-game season is difficult for any team, but it's a much more challenging task for one playing 81 games at hitter-friendly Coors Field. And yet, the Rockies pitching staff is built to succeed.
The depth provided by two offseason trades—Jordan Lyles (pictured), along with Barnes, was acquired from the Houston Astros for center fielder Dexter Fowler; Franklin Morales, along with reliever Chris Martin, was acquired from the Boston Red Sox for infielder Jonathan Herrera—has helped to fill the gap left by an injury to another trade acquisition, Brett Anderson, who is out for at least another month-and-a-half with a fractured finger.
While the trade was an unpopular one, the play of Lyles and Barnes are quickly proving the doubters, including myself, wrong. The 23-year-old Lyles, who is viewed as a back-of-the-rotation starter, has posted a 2.70 ERA in six starts and has been brilliant in his two Coors Field outings (13.2 IP, ER, 10 H, 3 BB, 6 K).
Morales hasn't been nearly as good, though he does have a 3-1 record with a 4.55 ERA in his five starts. He'll likely end the season in the bullpen, where he'll provide the team with a hard-throwing lefty veteran who can pitch multiple innings.
At full strength, the team could have a starting five of Jorge De La Rosa, Jhouly Chacin, Tyler Chatwood, Lyles and one of their top two pitching prospects, Eddie Butler or Jonathan Gray.
Not only are Butler and Gray the Rockies' top two pitching prospects, they are two of the top prospects in the game. Both are in Double-A, profile as top-of-the-rotation starters and are close to being major league ready.
Even the bullpen looks strong with veteran LaTroy Hawkins getting the job done as the closer, but the bridge to the 9th inning is strong with Rex Brothers, Adam Ottavino and Boone Logan. Anderson could move to the 'pen later in the season and former Reds setup man Nick Masset (6.2 IP, 0 R, H, 0 BB, 8 K), who hasn't pitched in the majors since 2011 because of injuries, could also be up to help soon.
Los Angeles Dodgers
As a team with an estimated $230 million payroll should, the Los Angeles Dodgers have a lot of roster depth. They barely had enough in 2013 to keep their head above water until they could get back to full strength in mid-June and go on an amazing 62-28 run to finish the season.
They're in better shape in 2014 and it's showed early on.
Losing Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw for more than a month is hard to overcome, but Paul Maholm did a half-way decent job in his spot while the quartet of Hyun-jin Ryu, Zack Greinke, Dan Haren and Josh Beckett were almost Kershaw-like with their performance.
Set-up man Brian Wilson spent time on the disabled list with an elbow injury, which could've made it difficult to bridge the gap to closer Kenley Jansen. But it didn't. Chris Withrow (0.71 ERA, 4 holds) and Chris Perez (1.35 ERA, 6 holds) have been nearly un-hittable.
And because their pitching staff has been so good, they've been able to get by without Yasiel Puig doing too much damage. He had a .774 OPS on April 24. Matt Kemp had a .727 OPS on April 25. Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier haven't hit.
But as they did in 2013, they will get enough offense. Adrian Gonzalez is having his best season in years. Dee Gordon is having a breakout season. Kemp had three doubles and a homer in a four-game stretch from April 26 through the first game of Thursday's double-header. Puig is 16 for his last 39.
Manager Don Mattingly will continue to look for the hot hand between Crawford and Ethier. And if they it doesn't happen soon, they can turn to top prospect Joc Pederson, who is crushing the ball down in Triple-A (1.172 OPS, 7 HR, 8 2B, 21 BB, 9 SB).
There are a lot of options on this roster. At some point, it will all click and they'll be tough to slow down.
There's no surprise here. The Oakland A's appeared to have one of the deepest rosters in the game heading into the 2014 season and, thus far, haven't disappointed.
Despite losing two starting pitchers, Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin, to Tommy John surgery, the demotion of struggling closer Jim Johnson and a lack of production from lineup regulars Josh Reddick and Daric Barton, the A's have the best record (18-10) in the American League and a three-game division lead.
In what was seen as a risky offseason trade in which high-ceiling prospect Michael Choice was traded to the division rival Texas Rangers for 30-year-old fourth outfielder Craig Gentry, the A's are easily coming out on top of that deal early.
Since coming off of the disabled list on April 12, Gentry's helped pick up the slack with Reddick scuffling at the plate and Yoenis Cespedes in and out of the lineup with a hamstring injury. In 16 games, he is 13-for-41 with three doubles, a triple and four stolen bases while playing terrific defense at all three outfield spots.
In the meantime, Choice is struggling off the bench (11-for-54) for the 2nd place Rangers.
While Josh Donaldson and Jed Lowrie are emerging as star-caliber players, the A's have a balanced attack at the plate with seven players who have received regular playing time with an OPS of .806 or higher.
The loss of Parker and Griffin has been offset by the pitching of journeyman Jesse Chavez (pictured), who had two career starts and a 5.48 ERA in 234.2 innings coming into the season. One of the best stories in the game, Chavez has posted a 1.89 ERA, 1.9 BB/9 and 9.7 K/9 in six starts.
Sonny Gray and free agent signee Scott Kazmir have also been lights out, while Dan Straily and Tom Milone have just two bad starts between them in nine combined outings.
Even with Johnson's early struggles and top lefty Sean Doolittle off to a poor start with a 5.68 ERA, the bullpen has been strong overall with a 2.65 ERA.
The addition of Luke Gregerson (3.07 ERA, 3 Sv, 3 holds) and lefties Fernando Abad (0.00 ERA, 11 IP, 2 H, 2 BB, 12 K) and Drew Pomeranz (1.59 ERA) have proven to be excellent offseason acquisitions for general manager Billy Beane, while Ryan Cook and Danny Otero have been rock solid in setup roles.
It's not known whether the Washington Nationals' asking price was too high in trade talks with teams hoping to buy low on infielder Danny Espinosa (pictured), who had lost his second base job to Anthony Rendon after a miserable season in which he couldn't hit a lick in the majors or Triple-A.
What is certain is that they're glad he wasn't traded away. With Ryan Zimmerman on the disabled list with a fractured thumb and an arthritic right shoulder that could hamper him throughout the season, the Nats have been able to slide Rendon over to third base and plug the switch-hitting Espinosa back in at second.
By getting him in the lineup on a regular basis, they've found that last season's struggles were probably the result of him playing with a partially torn rotator cuff, amongst a handful of injuries, that hindered him at the plate. A healthy Espinosa in 2014, however, has an .828 OPS with three homers, five doubles and three stolen bases in 26 games.
Filling in for Espinosa as the team's utility infielder is rookie Zach Walters, who has two hits in 12 at-bats, both of which were homers. Jose Lobaton (.735 OPS, HR, 6 2B; thrown out 5 of 13 attempted base stealers) has done a solid job filling in for Wilson Ramos, who has been out with a fractured hamate bone since early in the season and, while he's off to a rough start, Nate McLouth is a solid backup plan in left field for the injured Bryce Harper, who is out at least two months with a torn thumb ligament.
The pitching staff is also in great shape, especially with Doug Fister close to returning from a strained lat. It's hard to get much better than Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann at the front of the rotation with Fister and Tanner Roark (2.76 ERA in five starts) filling the 4th and 5th slots.
Taylor Jordan and Taylor Hill (2.35 in five Triple-A starts) offer solid depth down on the farm and they could turn to Ross Detwiler who is doing a solid job in relief. The bullpen is also clicking on all cylinders with a 2.19 ERA and several relievers in Triple-A, including Christian Garcia (10.2 IP, 4 ER, 8 H, 2 BB, 12 K), who could help at some point.
At 16-12 and 1.5 games out in the NL East, the Nats are a team capable of staying within reach of a playoff spot because of their strong depth. They also have the talent that will allow them to run away with the division once they put it all together.