PHILADELPHIA -- He didn't sign until a month before Spring Training. It was a Minor League deal, he was a 28-year-old non-roster invitee, the kind of guy who doesn't get much attention on his way in the door -- or on the way out, either, when he's just another name
PHILADELPHIA -- He didn't sign until a month before Spring Training. It was a Minor League deal, he was a 28-year-old non-roster invitee, the kind of guy who doesn't get much attention on his way in the door -- or on the way out, either, when he's just another name on the list of players assigned to the complex.
Then a funny thing happened to Cedric Hunter.
He hit a walk-off homer to beat the Braves in a Grapefruit League game. He had a great at-bat against the Rays, fouling off a pitch in the dirt to protect the runner on a hit-and-run. Aaron Altherr, who had been penciled in as the everyday right fielder, got hurt.
Springs often reveal a surprise, a Cinderella player, a heart-warming tale. This year, Hunter was it.
Not only did Hunter, whose entire big league resume consists of six games for the Padres in 2011, make the Phillies' Opening Day roster, but he's also projected to be one of manager Pete Mackanin's regular outfielders, along with Odubel Herrera and Peter Bourjos.
• Phillies finalize Opening Day roster
The only other remaining outfielder is Rule 5 pick Tyler Goeddel; infielders Emmanuel Burriss and Darin Ruf could also play in the outfield if needed.
"It's great news. I'm very humbled by it," Hunter said before going 2-for-5 as the Phillies closed out the exhibition season with a 6-5 walk-off win over a Futures team made up of some of the Phillies' best prospects Saturday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park.
This is the best opportunity Hunter has ever had, even though he batted .288 in 1,151 Minor League games, and he isn't afraid to admit that he got discouraged at times.
"I didn't just all the way want to give up," Hunter said. "But there were times I definitely had my doubts. I just know how this game is. Sometimes you can have good years, and it's just about the situation of the team and what they want to do, and it's never really a fair situation. And you can't control it.
"A lot of things go through your mind when you put up some good years and don't get called up. In the Braves situation [in 2014 and '15], where they really needed help, not to get called up with them and them being my hometown and everything is definitely a letdown."
Hunter had targeted the Phillies because he liked the way they gave players chances last season. For his part, Mackanin came in with no preconceived notions.
"He surprised me," the manager said. "I didn't really know much about him. I know he was a perennial .280-plus Triple-A hitter. I didn't know what kind of defender he was, but I found out he's a good defensive player, and I like his aggressive approach at the plate. He gives you quality at-bats and doesn't care if it's lefty or righty."
Hunter has been around long enough to understand that he has written a nice opening chapter and that it's still up to him to furnish a happy ending.
"To be realistic, it's just beginning," he said. "I haven't proved myself at all on this level yet. So everybody's giving me congrats and I'm happy about that, but in the back of my mind, I'm like, 'Look, this is just the beginning. I've really got to go out and prove myself and show that I'm ready to be here.'"
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com.