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Surprise, surprise: Unexpected roster decisions

March 28, 2018

It will be said today that there's no better feeling in baseball -- in March or April, at least -- than wearing a Major League uniform as the anthems play on Opening Day.Perhaps we should edit that statement. The greatest emotion is felt by those standing on the baselines who

It will be said today that there's no better feeling in baseball -- in March or April, at least -- than wearing a Major League uniform as the anthems play on Opening Day.
Perhaps we should edit that statement. The greatest emotion is felt by those standing on the baselines who didn't know they'd be there before the unfolding of a storybook Spring Training. They're the ones who were called into their managers' offices over the past several days to receive the life-changing news that they've made the team.
With that in mind, here's a look at some of the most surprising names to make 25-man rosters this year.

Scott Kingery, INF, Phillies
At this time last week, Kingery was on his way to Triple-A Lehigh Valley. A six-year, $24 million contract extension changed that. Now comes the fun part: Where's the 23-year-old going to play, after earning Dustin Pedroia comparisons throughout the spring? Second base is probably Kingery's best spot in the long term, but the Phillies have 27-year-old Cesar Hernandez there. In recent interviews, Phils manager Gabe Kapler praised Kingery's athleticism and willingness to play multiple positions. In the near term, Kingery is likely to fill a super-utility role -- without complaint.

Phillip Evans, INF/OF, Mets
Evans appeared in 19 games for the Mets last year as an infielder and pinch-hitter, but it's his versatility at another position -- the outfield -- that helped him earn a spot on Mickey Callaway's roster. Evans' eagerness to play left field at Triple-A last year -- in addition to shortstop, second base and third base -- won over the Mets' front office. It helped that he posted an .838 OPS in Grapefruit League play.

Derek Holland, LHP, Giants
The Giants' biggest pitching story this week is that left-hander Ty Blach will start opposite Clayton Kershaw in the season opener, following injuries to Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija. (Blach's assignment shouldn't come as a surprise: He owns a 2.23 ERA in 36 1/3 career innings against the Dodgers.) But Holland's presence on the Opening Day roster should not be overlooked as a significant development. Still only 31, Holland made the team as a non-roster invitee to Spring Training after struggling to a 6.20 ERA with the White Sox last year. The left-hander is seven years removed from his dominant start in the 2011 World Series for the Rangers (8 1/3 IP, 7 K's against St. Louis in a 4-0 Game 4 win), but Holland believes he belongs in a Major League rotation once again.

Dovydas Neverauskas, RHP, Pirates
The first Major Leaguer to be born and raised in Lithuania, Neverauskas is now the first player developed in his homeland to make an Opening Day roster. Based on his talent, the move isn't a surprise: Neverauskas had a 3.91 ERA over 24 Major League relief appearances last year. But for someone from such a unique baseball background, the occasion should be celebrated -- in Pittsburgh and his hometown of Vilnius.

Jordan Hicks, RHP, Cardinals
You want a classic long-shot-on-the-Opening-Day-roster story? Meet Jordan Hicks. He began last season as a starting pitcher at Class A Peoria. Hicks began pitching out of the bullpen following a promotion to Class A Advanced Palm Beach, continued as a reliever in the Arizona Fall League -- and won a job with an impressive Grapefruit League showing, despite never pitching in the Minors above Class A. Only 21 years old, he was a 2015 third-round Draft pick from Cypress Creek High School in Houston. Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said Hicks has shown three plus pitches this spring.

Amir Garrett, LHP, Reds
Garrett was a consensus Top 100 prospect before last season. Then he posted a 7.39 ERA in 16 Major League games in 2017. Before Spring Training this year, Reds manager Bryan Price didn't list Garrett among the rotation options entering camp. If Price's intent was to motivate Garrett, it worked. Garrett told reporters he was "on a mission" after one start early in the Cactus League season. He fanned 21 batters in 17 innings this spring and earned a spot in Cincinnati's Opening Day bullpen.

Daniel Vogelbach, 1B, Mariners
As Vogelbach struggled to a .540 OPS in 16 games with the Mariners last year, it seemed he might become best remembered as part of the answer to a trivia question: Who did the Cubs trade to Seattle to acquire Mike Montgomery, the reliever who threw the final pitch in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series? But an early-season injury to projected first baseman Ryon Healy gave Vogelbach an extended look in the Cactus League this year, and he seized upon the opportunity with a 1.455 OPS. Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto credited Vogelbach for becoming more aggressive in hitters' counts and adjusting his swing to add more lift, in addition to work on defense and baserunning. "The improvements have been tremendous," Dipoto said.
Adam Cimber, RHP, Padres
Cimber spent the past three seasons between Double-A San Antonio and Triple-A El Paso. He seemed stuck as a 27-year-old reliever. Then Cimber turned unhittable this spring, giving the Padres no choice but to keep him on their 25-man roster. The side-armer didn't allow a run in 10 Cactus League appearances, looking like a young Steve Cishek in the process. Under the late Kevin Towers, San Diego developed a reputation for finding relievers in unique places. Cimber is a reminder of that legacy.

Aaron Bummer, LHP, White Sox
For those who love stories of perseverance being rewarded, buy yourselves a Bummer jersey. A 19th-round pick from the University of Nebraska in 2014, Bummer missed all of '15 after undergoing Tommy John surgery and began the following year in the Rookie-level Arizona League. Bummer pitched for three Minor League affiliates last season before earning his first Major League callup. He's steadily built up trust among top White Sox officials, principally as a matchup left-hander, and now he's on an Opening Day roster for the first time.
Pedro Araujo, RHP, Orioles
The Rule 5 Draft is an often obscure event at the end of the Winter Meetings, cherished by diehard fans, devoted pro scouts and prospect gurus. Half of all MLB teams declined to make a pick in the 2017 edition, either because they weren't sufficiently interested in the available Minor League talent or because they lacked the roster space to make a selection. Well, the Orioles made three picks. The second of them -- Araujo, a right-hander selected from the Cubs -- has impressed the O's enough that he's made their 25-man roster. The 24-year-old righty has shown a three-pitch repertoire in Grapefruit League play, and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette credited scout Dave Engle for recommending Araujo based on outings in last year's Arizona Fall League.
Niko Goodrum, INF/OF, Tigers
More than seven years passed between Goodrum's selection by the Twins in the second round of the 2010 MLB Draft and his Major League debut last September. The Twins had been intrigued by Goodrum's offensive upside as a high school standout at Fayette County High School in Fayetteville, Ga. But when Minnesota dropped him from its 40-man roster after last season, the division-rival Tigers had the switch-hitter in mind for a super utility role. Tigers officials had liked Goodrum's overall ability, athleticism and versatility for several years, with Detroit scout Joe Ferrone among his strongest advocates in the organization. Goodrum, 26, also received good reviews from the team's recently expanded analytics department, and his Spring Training performance validated that. Goodrum posted a .971 OPS in 22 games and made the 25-man roster in a bench role.
<p<>Video: DET@PHI: Goodrum hammers a homer to right </p<>
<p<>Andrew Kittredge, RHP, Rays
Kittredge has spent nearly his entire baseball career -- and life-- in the Pacific Northwest. He was born and raised in Spokane, Wash., attended the University of Washington, and he was selected by the home-state Mariners in the 45th round of the 2008 MLB Draft. But he was dealt to the opposite corner of the country in November 2016, in the trade that sent Taylor Motter to Seattle. In the Rays' system last year, he established a strong rapport with pitching coach Kyle Snyder -- before the Rays promoted Snyder to that job in the big leagues. Kittredge's 1.76 ERA in 15 relief appearances for the Rays last year after his first Major League promotion helped position him to celebrate his first Opening Day in the big leagues. Said Chaim Bloom, the Rays senior vice president of baseball operations: "When you have a player who was drafted in a round that doesn't even exist anymore, and who makes the big leagues, you can bet that there's something special about that guy. The bond that Andrew and Kyle Snyder forged last year, and the way he bought into some adjustments, were both remarkable. It's no surprise that he's comfortable opening games, closing them and everywhere in between. He's earned our staff's trust and deserves this opportunity."</p<>

Jon Paul Morosi is a reporter for