MLB Spring Training 2015: Intriguing Cuts Who Could Still Make an Impact
The crack of the bat, the pop of the ball meeting leather and roster cuts—they're all an indelible part of spring.
While the first two elicit nostalgia, the last one is an undeniable bummer. Writing for Fox Sports, former major league hurler C.J. Nitkowski describes the agony of the annual ritual:
A Major League Baseball team will start spring training with anywhere from 55-65 players. It starts the regular season with just 25. That means 30-40 players in each camp get the dreaded tap on the shoulder, usually from the hitting or pitching coach, 'The manager needs to talk to you.'
Ugh, I get that same pit in my stomach just typing those words, you know what's coming. It is an awful feeling, you're getting sent down, or worse, released.
But getting axed from the big league roster, or even cut loose altogether, isn't a death sentence. Every year, a gaggle of players—some prospects, some veterans—return from their March exile to make an impact.
Who will it be this year? Let's take a look at a few early candidates, guys who've been demoted as of March 27 yet appear primed—because of potential, past results or both—to catch on and produce at some point this season.
What follows isn't an exhaustive list. Rather, it's a sampling of intriguing names with the ability and opportunity to work their way from spring cuts to summer players.
Many are flying under the radar; some have never tasted the big leagues. But they all share a common dream: cut today, back tomorrow.
Peter O'Brien, Arizona Diamondbacks
The Diamondbacks have a gaping hole behind the dish after trading away Miguel Montero this winter. Peter O'Brien, whom Arizona acquired from the New York Yankees for Martin Prado, had an outside chance to fill it with an impressive spring.
Instead, the young backstop struggled defensively and posted a .250/.250/.323 line in 28 Cactus League at-bats and was reassigned to minor league camp on March 22.
O'Brien bashed 34 home runs between High-A and Double-A last season. If he can rediscover that power stroke on the farm, he'll tempt the rebuilding D-backs to call him up at some point.
For now, manager Chip Hale told Fox Sports Arizona's Kevin Zimmerman, "If he's a potential 30-, 40-home run guy with 100 RBI, we need him to play a lot."
Steve Delabar, Toronto Blue Jays
Relief pitchers are notoriously mercurial—on top of the league one year, and out of it the next.
Take Steve Delabar, who made the All-Star team as a member of the Blue Jays bullpen in 2013 but spent part of last season in Triple-A and on Thursday was demoted to minor league camp.
The 31-year-old right-hander, who allowed three runs and seven hits in seven Grapefruit League innings, said the move "shocked" him, per John Lott of Toronto's National Post.
"I'm glad he's pissed off," manager John Gibbons told Lott. "He should be pissed off. Why wouldn't he be? We're all pissed off. We wanted him on the team."
Brendan Kennedy of the Toronto Star reports Toronto will likely go with youngsters Roberto Osuna and Miguel Castro in the pen.
Remember, though: Relief pitchers are mercurial, and the season is long. Don't be surprised if Delabar uses his demotion as motivation and ends up contributing at some point, as the revamped Jays try to end their 21-year playoff drought.
Dilson Herrera, New York Mets
Dilson Herrera got a cup of coffee with the Mets in 2014 after hitting .323 with 13 home runs, 71 RBI and 23 stolen bases between High-A and Double-A.
He'll have to wait for his next sip. The 21-year-old was reassigned to minor league camp on March 17 after going 1-for-17 in the Grapefruit League.
Herrera didn't crack Keith Law's influential top 100 prospects at ESPN.com, but Law had high praise for the young infielder, calling him "a potential above-average regular at second base who has great bat speed and is an above-average runner, athletic enough to be a plus defender at second."
He's blocked at the keystone sack by veteran Daniel Murphy, who will be a free agent after next season. Murphy's name, though, could pop up in deadline trade talks, meaning Herrera's window may open before 2016.
Kila Ka'aihue, Washington Nationals
Kila Ka'aihue is one of those guys you want to root for—a 30-year-old journeyman who landed in Japan for two years beginning in 2013 but returned stateside this spring, hoping to keep the dream alive.
The big outfielder, who can also play first and third base, had an impressive exhibition showing with the Washington Nationals, going 7-for-28 and clubbing three home runs.
But the loaded Nats simply don't have many holes to fill, and they reassigned him to minor league camp on Friday.
Manager Matt Williams spoke highly of Ka'aihue and hinted that he could get a call if anything opens up.
"He had options this winter and wanted to come here," Williams told CSNWashington.com's Mark Zuckerman. "[That] says something about the organization and the desire for guys to play here. He performed really well."
Francisco Lindor, Cleveland Indians
Of all the players on this list, Francisco Lindor is the closest to a sure bet. The No. 6 prospect in all of baseball—per ESPN.com's Law—the young shortstop doesn't always get the accolades of hyped blue chips like Byron Buxton of the Minnesota Twins or the Chicago Cubs' Kris Bryant.
But make no mistake: Lindor will leave his mark sooner rather than later.
Just not on Opening Day, as the Cleveland Indians shipped him out of big league camp on Thursday. It wasn't a shocking decision, as Cleveland.com's Paul Hoynes noted.
"The Indians said something unexpected would have to happen for Francisco Lindor to make the Opening Day roster," Hoynes wrote. "Besides Lindor hitting .297 in 16 games, nothing unexpected happened, so Lindor was re-assigned to the minors on Thursday."
For now, the Tribe will roll with Jose Ramirez at short. Ramirez hit .262 and played solid defense in 68 games last season, but he's more of a placeholder than a long-term solution. And if he struggles in his sophomore season, keep your eyes peeled for Lindor.
All statistics current as of March 27 and courtesy of MLB.com.