Getting to know Opening Day rosters: Who are these guys?
Every year, I feel that I’ve failed.
Wait. Let me be more specific. I fail every day. But that’s … OK, because gosh darn it, people like me. Well, my mom likes me. Or says she does, which is good enough.
But I’ve got such a great passion for the history of the major leagues, and such great reverence for men good enough to play in the major leagues, that I feel duty-bound to have at least a passing familiarity with all the major leaguers.
And yet every season I fail.
In my defense, these days there’s a LOT OF MAJOR LEAGUERS. In the last few decades, we’ve seen a mini-explosion in the number of teams and an actual explosion in the number of players, with the explosion due largely to the fungibility of relief pitchers. In 1986, Earl Weaver’s last year managing the Orioles, that club used 17 pitchers. In 2013, Buck Showalter’s O’s used 26 pitchers.
Think about that. Considering that dozen-man staffs are now the standard in the majors, Showalter used two whole pitching staffs. Plus a couple of random dudes who happened to be sitting in the bleachers near the bullpen when the manager ran out of pitchers in blowouts. Can anybody identify every pitcher who worked in the majors last season?
Hey, I’m feeling better about myself already. Mom, you don’t need to call today.
Still, I decided I should get to know everybody who’s good enough to make an Opening Day roster. I mean, it’s one thing to get overwhelmed by all those Triple-A relievers shuttling back and forth during the season, and the dozens of good guys and middling prospects who get called up because of injuries or the roster bloatations in September. Opening Day, though … that’s a big deal! That’s when a player might feel like he’s actually earned something that could last; if he’s on the Opening Day roster that means he’s one of his team’s 25 best players. And he’s got a job until he gets hurt or plays himself out of it.
So I went through every Opening Day roster, as projected by local sources just before the (non-Australia) season actually started, and I made two lists:
1. Players I’ve never heard of (or had completely forgotten).
2. Players I just wasn’t expecting to see on an Opening Day roster.
The second list is much shorter, consisting of only five guys: Ian Stewart (Angels), Chris Young (Mariners), Delmon Young (Orioles), Drew Butera (Dodgers) and Ryan Doumit (Braves). I could go into detail, but I suspect that you can easily construct your own explanations for my surprise. Which isn’t to say each player doesn’t have some utility in the right situation, but if you’d set the over/under on this quintet at three playing in the majors in 2014, I would have taken the under. Well, maybe not playing. Things happen, but Opening Day, for sure.
The other list, though? Sixty. Of the 750 players on Opening Day rosters, fully eight percent are complete mysteries to me — or were, before I performed a modicum of research.
So the good news is that most of those 60 are relief pitchers, and no mortal who doesn’t work for a baseball team should be expected (or forced) to know every replacement-level-or-above relief pitcher. Then again, not all 35 of the relievers are anonymous. Somehow I’d completely forgotten about Cleveland’s Cody Allen, who throws 95 and pitched in 77 games last season. I’d completely forgotten about San Diego’s Nick Vincent, who entered this season with a 1.98 ERA in 72 career appearances. So I’ll take a pass, but I don’t deserve a complete pass; I gotta do better with the guys who have actually established themselves. I also gotta do better with guys like Detroit’s Evan Reed, who — as Dave Cameron points out — was Opening Day’s hardest-throwing reliever.
Most of the other mystery men are second-string catchers, utility infielders, and fifth outfielders. Well, not fifth outfielders. All those slots have gone to seventh relievers. So most of them are second-string catchers, fifth infielders, and fourth outfielders. And there are certainly some good stories in there. Jim Adduci’s made the Rangers’ roster after a decade in the minors. Thirty-year-old Chris Colabello seems to be the Twins’ primary DH despite batting just .194 in 55 games last season. The Tigers were so desperate for an outfielder that they’ve skipped Tyler Collins straight from Double-A to the majors, despite his .240/.323/.438 line in Double-A last season. I do hope he enjoys his brief time with the big club this spring.
There are, of course, a few players who I simply have to know, and will because they’ll be making headlines and highlight reels in the coming weeks. There are the starting pitchers: Washington’s Taylor Jordan, San Diego’s Robbie Erlin, Seattle’s Roenis Elias, and the Chicago Americans’ Erik Johnson. Hey, that’s only four! I feel pretty good about knowing the 140-some other starters.
Meanwhile, my list also includes Tommy Medica, the Padres’ starting left fielder; Jonathan Schoop, the Orioles’ starting second baseman; and Kole Calhoun, the Angels’ starting right fielder and leadoff man. Like Tyler Collins, Medica has just skipped Triple-A, but at least he posted killer stats last season. Schoop is particularly interesting. While he probably won’t hit at all, he’s only 22 and his full name is Jonathan Rufino Jezus Schoop. Now I’ve got you, Rufino.