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March 31, 2014

Painting the Black

The Mystery Men of Opening Day

by R.J. Anderson

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Opening Day is here, and that means it's time to introduce the unknowns who made rosters. This year's edition includes some new quirks. In addition to an expanded roster, each capsule now includes the player's major league service time (MLS) and the percentage of their PECOTA comparables who played in the bigs during the comparable season (MLB%), as a crude way to determine the unexpectedness of their Opening Day assignment.

Ehire Adrianza
Position: INF
Age: 24
Club: Giants
MLS: 0.027
MLB%: 17%

With Marco Scutaro hitting the disabled list due to a strained back, the Giants are entering the season with two utility men: Brandon Hicks and Adrianza, who is out of options. Adrianza, for his part, ought to garner interest from other clubs as Scutaro's return nears due to his defensive ability. And while his reputation as a glove-only middle infielder precedes Adrianza, the switch-hitting Venezuelan's bat showed more life last season following some mechanical adjustments. If the improvements are legitimate, then he could become more than a punchless extra infielder.

Aaron Barrett
Position: RHP
Age: 26
Club: Nationals
MLS: 0.000
MLB%: 24%

Drafted as a starter from the University of Mississippi in 2010, Barrett transitioned to the bullpen early on as means or surviving the yips. He was added to the 40-man roster last winter, even though his next appearance above the Double-A level will be his first. A violent delivery has not impacted his walk rates, but it does cause his command to waver. The raw stuff is impressive, as Barrett's heavy fastball grades as a plus pitch, and his slider is a knockout offering. Should Barrett improve his location, he could claim a high-leverage role. For now, he is an intriguing middle-relief option.

Nick Christiani
Position: RHP
Age: 26
Club: Reds
MLS: 0.039
MLB%: 5%

Since joining the Reds as a senior draftee, Christiani has worked exclusively as a reliever. Yet his numbers have seldom reflected his advanced age. It wasn't until last season, during his second stint at Louisville, that Christiani began to resemble a big-league talent. The improvement, which saw all his peripherals tick up, has since been credited to a gain in velocity: The Vanderbilt product now touches the mid-90s with his fastball and complements the heat with a slider. Christiani still isn't much of a prospect, but given the chance he could improve his stock from up-and-down guy to middle reliever.

Tyler Collins
Position: OF
Age: 23
Club: Tigers
MLS: 0.000
MLB%: 0%

Andy Dirks' back surgery means that Rajai Davis will split time with Collins instead. The Lubbock, Texas native is a below-average defender who takes poor routes and has an arm that restricts him to left. As a result, Collins will have to hit to earn his keep. His raw power is nice, but he became too pull conscious last season. Many (our own Mark Anderson and Jordan Gorosh included) have questioned Collins' ability to adjust at the plate. That's a troubling omen for the Tigers, who will need the rookie outfielder to hold his own until Dirks returns.

Roenis Elias
Position: LHP
Age: 25
Club: Mariners
MLS: 0.000
MLB%: 0%

The Cuban-born southpaw is not the rookie starter many anticipated would break camp with the Mariners, but Taijuan Walker's injury interfered with those expectations. So Elias, complete with a low-90s fastball and above-average curveball, will make his MLB debut before he throws a pitch in Triple-A. Elias has struggled with his control in the past, and the Mariners have reportedly worked with him this spring to simplify his mechanics. Enough progress has been made for the Mariners to tap him as their fifth starter. If Elias sticks for the long haul, it's likely to come in the same role.

Mario Hollands
Position: LHP
Age: 25
Club: Phillies
MLS: 0.000
MLB%: 0%

As if spending last season as one of the older starting pitchers on the Clearwater and Reading rosters wasn't enough, Hollands was passed over in last winter's Rule 5 draft, all but sealing his fate as an org arm. Yet nearly four months later, he breaks camp with the big-league club. Like most anonymous southpaws, Hollands thrives thanks to deception rather than raw stuff. That's not to suggest that he's tossing beach balls at the plate—his fastball tends to sit in the low-90s—but that his herky-jerky delivery and slingy arm action are his best weapons for keeping batters off balance. The Phillies figure to use Hollands as a utility arm, which should include some situational and janitorial work.

Nick Martinez
Position: RHP
Age: 23
Club: Rangers
MLS: 0.000
MLB%: 0%

Martinez wins this year's Nicholas Tepesch award as the random guy in the Rangers' Opening Day rotation. The 6-foot-1 righty has just four starts at the Double-A level to his name, yet the Rangers trust him enough to peg him for their final rotation spot. Martinez features a solid three-pitch mix, including a low-90s fastball, and has done well enough at limiting walks and home runs throughout his minor-league career. No matter how he performs here, the Rangers' scouting and developmental staffs should consider this a success. That's because Martinez was mainly used as a middle infielder during his time at Fordham University.

Adrian Nieto
Position: C
Age: 24
Club: White Sox
MLS: 0.000
MLB%: 19%

The top pick in last winter's Rule 5 draft, Nieto is a switch-hitting catcher with some pop and on-base skills. He went unprotected by the Nationals due to his below-average defense, durability woes, and lack of experience above A-ball. Even so, the 24-year-old Cuban native managed to make the White Sox as Tyler Flowers' primary backup. That tells you how much the White Sox like Nieto's bat, and how little they value their alternatives.

Brian Schlitter
Position: RHP
Age: 28
Club: Cubs
MLS: 0.039
MLB%: 22%

The Cubs acquired Schlitter back in 2008, as part of the Scott Eyre trade. He went on to debut with the big-league club in 2010 but has spent the time since injured and/or in the minors. Last season Schlitter showed improved control to go with his mid-90s heat and quality slider. Those gains, combined with his strong spring and history as a groundball machine, were enough for him to win a spot in the bullpen as a middle reliever. Schlitter appears to be banned at most barbershops.

Gus Schlosser
Position: RHP
Age: 25
Club: Braves
MLS: 0.000
MLB%: 30%

A candidate for Atlanta's fifth starter's spot until late in the spring competition, Schlosser will open the season in the bullpen instead. He doesn't pitch like the typical starter, as he delivers the ball from a side-arm slot, but he had back-end potential thanks to a low-90s sinker that coerces groundballs by the bushel. The Braves figure to use Schlosser as a long-man, though it's possible that he'll grow into a more substantial role with the club, perhaps as a situational righty.

Yangervis Solarte
Position: INF
Age: 26
Club: Yankees
MLS: 0.000
MLB%: 24%

Solarte is one of two infielders on the Yankees bench with noteworthy minor-league success and limited big-league experience. (The other being Dean Anna.) The 26-year-old is a switch-hitter who has produced solid numbers while with the Twins and Rangers organizations, yet didn't earn a spot on a roster until a hot spring with the Yankees. Ultimately, Solarte's bat will determine whether he hangs around for long. The Yankees demoted Eduardo Nunez for his sake, so expect him to get more than a one-week trial to prove himself capable.

Ian Thomas
Position: LHP
Age: 26
Club: Braves
MLS: 0.000
MLB%: 30%

Originally an undrafted free agent from VCU, Thomas spent a few seasons in an independent league before joining the Braves in 2012. The Virginia native has experienced life in the rotation, yet the Braves opted to place him in the bullpen this spring rather than give him a crack at the fifth starter's job. Whether that tips their hand on Thomas' long-term role is unclear, but he should have a big-league future nonetheless. Thomas has deceptive mechanics, a low-90s fastball, and two solid secondary offerings. The Braves have three lefty relievers on the roster, so Fredi Gonzalez could experiment with using Thomas against right-handed batters.

Wei-Chung Wang
Position: LHP
Age: 21
Club: Brewers
MLS: 0.000
MLB%: 0%

Wang owns the most unusual route to the majors. He spent last season in the Gulf Coast League and would not have been eligible for the Rule 5 were it not for one little catch: His original contract with the Pirates was voided after he underwent Tommy John surgery. Doug Melvin took the opportunity for a look-see and likes Wang enough to carry him on the roster. The young southpaw throws strikes (he walked four batters in 47 innings) with a low-90s fastball and two developing secondaries, including a promising changeup, and could develop into a valuable starter. For now, the Brewers just have to hide him in the bullpen until 2015.

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here

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