Surprising players set for Opening Day rosters

March 28th, 2019

When camps opened last month in Florida and Arizona, all 30 clubs had a general sense of what their Opening Day rosters would look like.

Those rosters will mirror those expectations in most cases, but the beauty of Spring Training is the ability for a player to open the eyes of his manager, coaching staff and front office, turning a dream into a reality. As the saying goes, if you’re wearing a uniform, you have a chance to impact the team.

So while the bulk of the rosters will be comprised of the names we all know, here are 14 players who did enough to earn an Opening Day roster nod that probably didn’t expect that when camp opened.

Fernando Tatis Jr., SS, Padres
When the Padres signed to play third base, it was with the idea of pairing him with for much of the next decade. But few thought that partnership would begin on Opening Day, as the Padres were expected to send MLB Pipeline’s No. 2 overall prospect to the Minors for a little more seasoning. But Tatis showed enough this spring to speed up that timeline, thrusting the 20-year-old onto San Diego’s Opening Day roster.

Hunter Pence, OF, Rangers
Three-time All-Star appeared to be all but finished after a poor showing with the Giants during his age-35 season, during which he posted a .590 OPS and four home runs in 97 games. But Pence -- who turns 36 on April 13 -- worked on his swing in the Dominican Republic this offseason and had a great camp with the Rangers (.957 OPS in 19 games), beating out Willie Calhoun for the fourth outfield spot.

Hanley Ramirez, DH, Indians
When signed a Minor League deal with the Indians last month, it was far from certain that he would be a part of the Tribe’s Opening Day roster. But a solid spring (.706 OPS, three doubles, two homers and eight RBIs in 46 at-bats) was enough to give the 35-year-old a shot with Cleveland.

Chris Paddack, RHP, Padres

Chris Paddack entered the spring as the Padres’ No. 5 prospect according to MLB Pipeline. He left Arizona as a member of San Diego’s rotation, posting a stellar 1.76 ERA in five Cactus League starts. The 23-year-old right-hander features a mid-90s fastball and a plus changeup, wowing scouts and opponents alike this spring with his consistency. He’s set to make his debut against the Giants on Sunday.

Mike Tauchman, OF, Yankees
Tyler Wade had a terrific spring, slashing .308/.345/.500 with seven doubles and a home run in 52 at-bats. But just when it appeared that the 24-year-old was headed for the Opening Day roster, the Yankees traded for , who made the roster ahead of Wade. Tauchman has struggled during stints with the Rockies the past two seasons, but the 28-year-old -- who made the Triple-A Pacific Coast League’s midseason and postseason All-Star teams in 2018 -- gives the Yankees a bench player who can play all three outfield spots, which will be important as long as Aaron Hicks is on the injured list.

Kyle Zimmer, RHP, Royals
The Royals’ first-round Draft pick in 2012 (No. 5 overall), 's career has been derailed by myriad injuries, leading many to wonder whether the 27-year-old would ever fulfill his potential. The Royals removed him from the 40-man roster prior to Opening Day last year, prompting him to spend the summer working with the Driveline Baseball program. The work has clearly paid off; using a 96-mph fastball and a very effective curveball, Zimmer allowed one run in 12 2/3 innings over nine spring appearances, landing him a spot in the Royals’ bullpen.

Tyler O’Neill, OF, Cardinals
's power potential has always intrigued the Cardinals, who watched him hit nine home runs with an .803 OPS in 130 at-bats last season. Still, finding a spot for him on the Opening Day roster appeared to be a challenge for the club when camp opened. The 23-year-old let his bat make the decision for St. Louis, posting an .860 OPS while slugging a team-high five home runs in 61 spring at-bats. And if Dexter Fowler struggles again like he did last year, O’Neill could end up a regular in St. Louis.

Eloy Jimenez, OF, White Sox
When was optioned on March 13, it seemed like a certainty that MLB Pipeline’s No. 3 prospect would start the season in the Minors. Things changed when the 22-year-old signed a six-year, $43 million contract last week, cementing Jimenez’s status as an everyday player for the White Sox. He is expected to be Chicago’s starting left fielder on Opening Day.

Garrett Cooper, OF, Marlins
The Marlins appeared to be committed to Peter O’Brien not only making the Opening Day roster, but hitting in the middle of the lineup. But , who was limited to only 14 games last year due to a right wrist injury, posted an impressive .395/.438/.488 slash line in 21 games this spring, earning a spot in Miami’s lineup. Cooper should see plenty of time in right field, though he could also see some at-bats in left field or even at first base.

Matt Festa, RHP, Mariners
spent most of 2018 at Double-A, though he pitched well during eight big league appearances, six of them in September. It looked like he would be one of Seattle’s final cuts, but after he threw a pair of scoreless innings against Oakland on March 21 in Japan, Festa earned a spot ahead of Dan Altavilla when the roster was trimmed to 25.

Framber Valdez, LHP, Astros
was in the mix for the Astros’ No. 5 starter job before Brad Peacock emerged for that spot, but the 25-year-old left-hander outlasted Reymin Guduan for the final spot in the bullpen. Manager AJ Hinch cited Valdez’s ability to throw multiple innings as a plus, something both he and Josh James can give Houston out of the bullpen.

Ryne Harper, RHP, Twins
A 30-year-old Minor League journeyman, almost ended up as a modern-day Moonlight Graham: He was called up by the Mariners in 2017 but never actually got to pitch in a game. That looks like it’s about to change, as he impressed the Twins enough this spring with his big breaking ball to earn a spot on the roster.

Tomas Nido, C, Mets
Devin Mesoraco was brought back this offseason on a Minor League deal, leading many to speculate that his connection with Jacob deGrom might help him land the gig as Wilson Ramos’ backup if Travis d’Arnaud wasn’t back to 100 percent after undergoing Tommy John surgery last April. Well, d’Arnaud isn’t ready to start the season, but it’s the defensive-minded -- not Mesoraco -- who will open the year at No. 2 on the Mets’ catching depth chart.

Pete Alonso, 1B, Mets
The Mets’ first-base situation was blurry coming into camp, with the presumptive favorite ahead of Pete Alonso, who cranked 36 home runs in the Minors last season. The common perception was that Alonso might spend some time in the Minors, but the Mets insisted all spring that they would take the best 25-man roster north from Florida. Alonso forced the issue with a tremendous spring, swatting four homers with five doubles and a triple in 71 Grapefruit League at-bats, posting an impressive 1.006 OPS in the process. And with infielders Jed Lowrie and Todd Frazier both set to open the season on the injured List, Alonso made the team.