The Opening Day roster comes attached with quite a bit of fanfare, but I think the attention placed on it is generally pretty overblown. Sure, those who make it are the ones who get to step forward and wave to the crowd before the first game when their name is announced, but just because a player is on the roster for game one doesn’t mean they’ll be anywhere near it for game 40 or even game 162. Spring training is a time when players who don’t make that Opening Day roster can improve or even make their case for attention later in the season. For the record, it can go the other way too, but for now, we can take a look at the players who improved their stock this spring.
This is the obvious one as Schwindel finished the spring on an absolute tear and tied for the Cactus League lead in home runs. I still don’t really see much of a future with Schwindel, but on a team searching for talent, I guess they could do worse than to see what he can do. On the plus side, he doesn’t strike out much and he has a ton of power, so the fact that he makes a lot of contact helps. This spring, he struck out just twice. He had just a 15.4 percent strikeout rate in the minors last year. Of course, he makes Paulo Orlando look patient. And when you combine that with the fact that he really only plays first base, I just don’t see a long big league future ahead. That said, his spring put him on the radar for call-up if and when one of the first basemen or designated hitters gets traded or hurt in the big leagues.
O’Hearn, to me, is a better bet for big league success than Schwindel, but I’m also pretty apathetic about him. A 1.000 SLG in spring training with some serious opposite field power may have re-established some of his prospect prowess. I think there’s too much swing and miss in his game, but he can work a walk and he does flash some big power, so maybe there’s a future there. His ability to play first base and corner outfield could be valuable. Even though I see him more as a Clint Robinson type player if he makes it at all, his spring, like Schwindel’s, put him at the top of mind if an opening arises in Kansas City.
The Royals picked up the 23-year old middle infielder as part of the deal that rid them of Joakim Soria’s contract and Scott Alexander. I don’t know if the organization necessarily loved what they saw, but I was impressed by Mejia. He handled the bat well, ran the bases well and looked pretty solid defensively. The profile isn’t that of star and probably not even of a starter, but I expected to see an organizational guy, and I think he could be a quality utility guy. His bat was much quicker than I expected and had a little more thump. For a little guy, he looked like someone who could certainly hold his own in the big leagues and provide some value.
I wrote about Sparkman when I was in Arizona, and while the 6.2 scoreless innings jump out at you in the stats, he impressed a lot. His fastball sat in the 92-95 range with a changeup that can definitely do some damage against big league hitters. He doesn’t have a closer profile, but he showed in spring that he can get big league hitters out. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Sparkman up in the next wave of relief arms at some point this summer.
There was a time that I thought Almonte had a chance to be a really good starter for the Royals. He has yet to impress in the big leagues, but he still has the big fastball and he still has the changeup that I thought would make him a solid starter. He was fantastic in the minor leagues last season and showed enough in the Cactus League that I was a bit surprised when he got optioned during spring training. A lot of that is roster math because he reinforced to the big league club that he can be an option for them and maybe as soon as there’s an open spot in the big league bullpen.
Those are the five who I think made the best impressions on the front office and coaching staff to help them maybe find a non-Opening Day roster spot on the big league club in the near future. I’m not sure we’ll see Mejia in the big leagues this year with Ryan Goins and Ramon Torres for sure ahead of him as utility options and maybe even Nicky Lopez (though he had a rough go in spring), but it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see all of the rest, and maybe even before the All-Star break.