Ranking the Biggest Snubs, Surprises of MLB's Final 25-Man Roster Selections
Nobody ever likes to be the bearer of bad news. That goes double for managers and general managers who have to look a player in the eye who has left it all on the field and done everything that the team has asked of him for the better part of a month and tell him that he won't break camp with the club.
A spot on a team's Opening Day roster is something that's reserved for a select few.
A select 25, to be exact.
Some of those selections are major surprises, with players seemingly coming out of nowhere to not only open a team's eyes but also force its hand. But with each selection, another player is destined for that uncomfortable meeting and a trip to the minors, despite producing at a major league level in camp.
What follows are the five biggest surprises—and snubs—to crack those Opening Day rosters.
These rankings are highly subjective—I can't stress that enough—and are based on a number of factors, including: How was a player viewed heading into camp? Was he seen as a candidate for a roster spot or a long shot? Did he outperform his competition, or were there other factors involved in his making the club?
Chances are that nearly everyone knows which player the No. 1 snub will be, but as for the rest of the list? Let's take a look.
The very factors that play into a team's decision-making process about who misses the Opening Day roster—depth, injuries and players being out of (or still having) minor league options—are often the same reasons that some guys ultimately make the cut.
Those who follow fell short of making the cut for our list. With only a handful of available roster spots around the league, the list of snubs is always going to be substantially bigger than the list of surprises.
- RP Rafael Betancourt, Colorado Rockies
- IF/OF Tyler Ladendorf, Oakland Athletics
- SP Jason Marquis, Cincinnati Reds
- 2B Jace Peterson, Atlanta Braves
- C Bobby Wilson, Tampa Bay Rays
- OF Jackie Bradley Jr., Boston Red Sox
- OF Rusney Castillo, Boston Red Sox
- RP Brian Flynn, Kansas City Royals
- SP Alex "Chi-Chi" Gonzalez, Texas Rangers
- RP Andy Oliver, Philadelphia Phillies
- SP Carlos Rodon, Chicago White Sox
- SP Wandy Rodriguez, Atlanta Braves
No. 5 Snub: IF/OF Enrique Hernandez, Los Angeles Dodgers
In the end, it was Darwin Barney's experience that won out over Enrique Hernandez's upside in Los Angeles, according to MLB.com's Ken Gurnick. And while Barney had himself a solid spring, hitting .354 with a .980 OPS over 27 games, history tells us that once the regular season begins, his bat will disappear.
A heated debate about reserve infielders isn't something worth spending much time on, but Hernandez's versatility and production this spring should have earned him a spot on the Dodgers' Opening Day roster.
Hernandez tied Joc Pederson for the team lead in home runs (six), while his 12 RBI were one off the pace set by Pederson and Yasiel Puig. Sure, he didn't see a pitch that he didn't like, evidenced by his one walk, 12 strikeouts and .279 on-base percentage—but he was productive when he made contact.
While much has been made of the Dodgers' continued outfield logjam, the team's infield is equally as crowded. A trio of reserves—Barney, Alex Guerrero and Justin Turner—are all ahead of Hernandez on the depth chart.
Had the club been able to unload disgruntled outfielder Andre Ethier, perhaps Hernandez would have had an easier path. That said, it won't be long before injury or ineffectiveness finds the Dodgers telling him to get on a plane to Los Angeles.
No. 5 Surprise: RP Angel Nesbitt, Detroit Tigers
If it seems like Detroit has been looking for quality relievers for years, it's because it has—so maybe it's not a major surprise to see the Tigers take a flier on a 24-year-old who has thrown a total of 32.1 innings above High-A.
Angel Nesbitt's name might have rung a bell with hardcore Tigers fans who follow the team's farm system closely, but he was a relative unknown coming into spring training. Now, even the most casual among Detroit's faithful know who he is.
"Nesbitt has made a name for himself this spring as a fearless reliever with a diverse repertoire not commonly found in closers," writes James Schmehl of MLive.com. "Along with a mid- to high-90s fastball, Nesbitt's arsenal includes an above-average changeup and cutter, as well as a slider."
He did enough to break camp with the club, pitching to a 2.77 ERA and 1.35 WHIP over 13.1 innings of relief, walking six and fanning nine, but he might not have made the cut if the Tigers had a full complement of healthy relievers on hand.
"Nesbitt pitched very well, and (Bruce) Rondon going on the DL is a factor there also," manager Brad Ausmus told the Detroit Free Press' George Sipple. "(Nesbitt) did pitch well. Power arm. Four pitches that he throws for strikes."
No. 4 Snub: 1B Jesus Aguilar, Cleveland Indians
With a slew of players already on the roster who fall into the first base/designated hitter category—namely Brandon Moss, Carlos Santana and Nick Swisher (who will begin the year on the disabled list)—the deck was stacked against Jesus Aguilar before camp even started.
But that didn't stop the 24-year-old from making the team's decision to send him back to Triple-A Columbus as hard as he possibly could, hitting .381/.404/.524 with four extra-base hits (one home run) and five RBI over 42 spring at-bats.
Ultimately, Aguilar got caught up in a numbers game, as manager Terry Francona alluded to in discussing the team's roster choices with Paul Hoynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group:
Jesus had a really good spring. It wasn't like it came down to the end and he needed to hit another home run. He did a really good job.
But sitting isn't going to help him. He needs to go play. It wasn't the news he wanted to hear and we totally understand that. He just needs to go play and when there is an opportunity he needs to be ready.
Given Cleveland's continued need for a right-handed bat with some pop on the bench, it might not be long before Aguilar is back with the Tribe, especially if he gets off to a hot start in Columbus, where he hit .304 with 50 extra-base hits (19 HR) over 118 games a year ago.
No. 4 Surprise: OF Odubel Herrera, Philadelphia Phillies
Despite a solid six-year run in the Texas farm system, where he primarily played second base and hit .294 with a .730 OPS, Odubel Herrera found his path to the majors blocked and himself exposed to the Rule 5 draft in December, where Philadelphia promptly scooped him up.
Fast-forward four months and Herrera, 23, is set to not only break camp with the Phillies but to also be the team's Opening Day center fielder, as manager Ryne Sandberg told Meghan Montemurro of The News Journal.
Speed, not power, is his biggest asset, which sounds a whole heck of a lot like the man he pushed to left field permanently, Ben Revere. His seven stolen bases tied with Miami's Dee Gordon and Atlanta's Eric Young Jr. for the most in baseball this spring, and he hit .343 with an .824 OPS, four walks and 13 strikeouts over 21 games.
With the Phillies in a rebuilding process and not expected to contend anytime soon, Herrera could stick in center field for the bulk of the season if he can continue to swing a hot bat. The club has nothing to lose—and potentially much to gain—by giving him a shot.
Who knows? Maybe Herrera turns out to be like another Rule 5 draft pick the club made years ago—Shane Victorino, minus the power of course—whom the Phillies selected from the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2004.
No. 3 Snub: 1B/OF Eric Campbell, New York Mets
There are four primary reasons why New York left Eric Campbell off its Opening Day roster in a move that allowed the team to carry an eighth reliever, a team source tells ESPNNewYork.com's Adam Rubin:
• Matt Harvey's pitch counts will be conservative early in the season.
• The Mets want to keep Rule 5 pick Sean Gilmartin but were leery of having three left-handers and only four right-handers in the bullpen until newly acquired southpaw Alex Torres proves he can get righty batters out.
• Jenrry Mejia and the late-inning relievers have been shaky, so the Mets wanted added depth. Had Bobby Parnell been available from Opening Day, the Mets may have been more conventional in the bullpen size.
• The Mets wanted to keep Buddy Carlyle, who could have exercised a contract out.
So Campbell, who has posted a .246/.358/.491 triple-slash line with nine extra-base hits (two home runs), nine RBI and eight walks, will head back to Triple-A Las Vegas, where he's got nothing left to prove after hitting .326 with 54 extra-base hits (11 HR), 90 RBI and a .926 OPS over 153 games.
Another thing working against the 27-year-old is that his primary competition in camp, John Mayberry Jr., is out of minor league options and had a stellar spring, hitting .415 with a 1.155 OPS.
Unfortunately for Campbell, it'll probably take an injury to Mayberry Jr., starting first baseman Lucas Duda or corner outfielder Michael Cuddyer for him to get the call to rejoin the big club.
No. 3 Surprise: OF Paulo Orlando, Kansas City Royals
A career .275/.324/.403 hitter over nine years in the minors—more than six in Kansas City's system—29-year-old Paulo Orlando finally gets a chance to live out his dream as he's now only the third Brazilian-born player to reach the major leagues.
“He’s our type of player: plays defense first," assistant general manager J.J. Picollo told The Kansas City Star's Pete Grathoff about halfway through spring training. "Not necessarily because we don’t think he’s got hitting ability, he does. He’s shown improvement in putting the ball in play, he’s got occasional power, he can steal a base. If the ball’s in the gap, he’s going to score from first.”
Over 24 spring games, Orlando posted a .319/.360/.489 triple-slash line with five extra-base hits (one home run), nine RBI and six runs scored. While Jarrod Dyson remains the Royals' primary reserve outfielder, Orlando gives skipper Ned Yost another right-handed bat to call upon off the bench.
No. 2 Snub: C Josmil Pinto, Minnesota Twins
Injuries limited Josmil Pinto to only eight games this spring, and the concussion that he suffered—thanks to three blows to the head courtesy of Baltimore's Adam Jones' bat on his follow-through—certainly didn't help the 26-year-old's chances of breaking camp with Minnesota.
But Pinto was productive when he was on the field—a .316/.350/.368 triple-slash line—and he served as Kurt Suzuki's primary backup with the Twins for much of the 2014 season. As Derek Wetmore of 1500 ESPN Twin Cities notes, Pinto's bat belongs in a major league lineup:
I know the Twins still have questions about his glove behind the plate -- and so do I -- but I don't think that's the whole reason he was sent to Triple-A. Suffering a concussion and then missing extended time set Pinto back, and I would not be at all surprised if he made the roster with a healthy spring.
It'll be interesting to see how he performs in Rochester and if the Twins would give him a look early in the season.
It's that last part of Wetmore's take that should be concerning. It's not a matter of "when" the Twins will call on him during the regular season, but "if" they'll call on him at all—not a great sign for a player who has long been considered the team's catcher of the not-so-distant future.
While Chris Herrmann, the man who beat Pinto for a roster spot, had a solid spring and is versatile enough to play corner outfield as well as catch, he's never been viewed as highly as Pinto. He's a solid role player, while Pinto has a chance to be far more than that.
For a team that isn't expected to contend, sending a talent like Pinto down to the minors doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Letting him continue to learn from Suzuki and the team's newly minted coaching staff does.
No. 2 Surprise: RP Tyler Olson, Seattle Mariners
Players don't get more homegrown than Tyler Olson. Seattle's seventh-round pick in the 2013 draft, Olson was born and raised in Spokane, Washington, where he grew up as—you guessed it—a Mariners fan and stayed in-state to play college ball at Gonzaga.
A starter in college and the minors, Olson earned a non-roster invitation to camp after pitching to a combined 3.46 ERA and 1.23 WHIP over 27 starts (22 for Double-A Jackson). The southpaw was dominant this spring, tossing 12.2 scoreless innings and striking out 15 while not issuing a walk.
Opponents hit—if you can call what they accomplished hitting—a paltry .178 with a .396 OPS against him. While he'll be the second left-hander in Seattle's bullpen, don't go sticking him with the "LOOGY" label just yet.
"He's shown a lot of poise and the ability to get left-handers and right-handers out," Mariners skipper Lloyd McClendon told MLB.com's Greg Johns. "He holds runners, works fast, throws strikes, fields his position. He's done a great job. I've said every year I'm looking for surprises, and he's a surprise."
No. 1 Snub: 3B Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs
Everyone knows the story by now: Phenom sees ball, phenom crushes ball and team sends phenom down to the minors for a few weeks to gain an additional year of control.
As you'd expect, Bryant is disappointed by the decision. "I don't want to say I'm mad or anything; I'm just extremely disappointed," Bryant told ESPNChicago.com's Jesse Rogers. "I wanted my performance to matter, and to me it felt like it didn't matter as much as I thought it would."
With all due respect to Mike Olt—whom I continue to maintain is due an apology from the MLBPA—Bryant's performance—a .425/.477/1.175 triple-slash line, 12 extra-base hits (including a MLB-high nine home runs) and 15 RBI over 14 games—was good enough to break camp with any club, not just the Cubs.
But you can't fault Chicago for trading a handful of games with Bryant in 2015 for a full 162-game slate with Bryant in the midst of his prime in 2021. It's not like a few more weeks spent down on the farm is going to stunt his growth. If anything, it might actually be beneficial.
"The dream is on hold for a little bit," he told Rogers, "but I'm hungrier than ever."
No. 1 Surprise: Ryan Madson, RP, Kansas City Royals
The last time Ryan Madson stepped on a major league mound, he was part of a Philadelphia Phillies club that finished 42 games above .500 (102-60) and won its fifth consecutive National League East crown in 2011.
It's been awhile.
He signed a one-year deal with Cincinnati in 2012 only to need Tommy John surgery, costing him all of 2012 and 2013. He tried a comeback with the Los Angeles Angels in 2014, but he injured his elbow again after only one minor league appearance.
To say that the odds he'd break camp with the Royals were astronomical wouldn't be an accurate assessment of his situation heading into spring training.
While his velocity isn't where it used to be, Madson has looked enough like his former self to join one of baseball's best bullpens. He's allowed three earned runs and 11 hits over nine innings of work, striking out six, while not issuing a walk.
"You can see where if he stays healthy, he can help us" manager Ned Yost remarked to Andy McCullough of The Kansas City Star last month.
With Louis Coleman (Triple-A) and Luke Hochevar (disabled list) among a group of arms waiting in the wings, Madson's stay in Kansas City could end quickly if he stumbles out of the gate. But that he's made it to this point makes him not only the spring's biggest surprise but the biggest winner as well.
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