Every season without fail, there are names on Opening Day rosters that only the most avid of baseball fans would recognize, guys who have never been in the major leagues, who aren’t considered prospects, and who have maybe had a lineout in BP’s annual. Some, like Chris Jakubauskas, may have even taken an off-season job as a sales clerk.
Jakubauskas has also had jobs pouring concrete and working for a banking institution, while spending four seasons playing independent ball. He’s now a relief pitcher with the Mariners after making the team as a non-roster invitee in spring training, and he highlights On The Beat’s list of the seven biggest Opening Day roster surprises. He’s one of two members of the Mariners on the list, along with right-hander Shawn Kelly. Joining that duo are Padres right-handers Edwin Moreno and Walter Silva, Dodgers right-handed reliever Ronald Belisario, Yankees infielder Ramiro Pena, and Athletics right-handed reliever Andrew Bailey.
To make the list, a player can’t have played in the major leagues before, was not on the 40-man roster when spring training began, and has never been considered as a can’t-miss prospect.
“Am I proud of myself? Yeah, I am,” Jakubauskas told Larry LaRue of the Tacoma News-Tribune. “In 2006 I was working a 9-to-5 job with Wells Fargo, and now I’m in the big leagues.”
Jakubauskas took a unique path to the majors. The 30-year-old was a first baseman/outfielder during a college career that took him from Citrus College in California to Santa Clara to Oklahoma. After not being drafted, he signed with Florence of the Frontier League. He spent three seasons there as a starting pitcher from 2003-05 and then decided to retire, but he came back to play one more year of independent ball with Fullerton of the Golden West League in 2006 before the Mariners signed him as a free agent in June of ’07.
He spent 2007 pitching primarily in relief for Double-A Tennessee, then split 2008 as a starter and reliever with Tennessee and Triple-A Tacoma before a winter ball stint in Venezuela earned him the non-roster invite. Now, he’s a major leaguer. “It’s spooky how close I came to walking away from something I love this much,” said Jakubauskas. “I was working out after I had decided to quit, and I heard this song come on in the gym that I thought would be good music to walk to the mound to if I were still pitching. That’s when I realized I still wanted to play, and I’m glad I gave it another chance.”
Shawn Kelley got to the major leagues in a more conventional way, as he was drafted by the Mariners. It was a quick rise for a pitcher who was a 13th-round pick in the 2007 first-year player draft from Austin Peay and had logged only 77
1/3professional innings, though he had a 1.98 ERA in the minor leagues. “The longer I stayed in camp during spring training, the more I started fantasizing about it, and wondering what if?,” said Kelley.
The major league clubhouse seems like Fantasy Island to the 25-year-old. “I couldn’t get over seeing a locker with a jersey that had my name on it, and the clubhouse is better than a 7-Eleven, because you can get just about anything in here,” said Kelley.
Silva, 32, signed with the Padres just before the start of spring training after they had won a bidding war that included the Yankees. He had spent nine seasons in the Mexican League and also played semi-pro ball in Southern California, and after Silva’s strong winter ball showing in the Mexican Pacific League, he’s become their third starter.
Moreno, 28, spent time in the farm systems of the Rangers and Phillies before landing in the Mexican League in 2006 following shoulder surgery. The Padres signed him as a free agent in 2007, and he made their bullpen in spring training.
Belisario’s addition to the Dodgers’ major league roster ended a strange spring during which he was two weeks late reporting to spring training because of problems obtaining a work visa in his native Venezuela. He wasn’t sent to the minor league camp until March 7, but he was impressive enough in minor league exhibition games that the Dodgers gave him another look in the Cactus League, and he grabbed the last bullpen spot.
Belisario, 26, spent time in the farm systems of the Marlins and Pirates, but Pittsburgh had dropped him off of their 40-man roster over the winter. He also missed the 2005 and 2006 seasons while recovering from Tommy John ligament replacement surgery on his elbow.
Bailey’s career appeared to be going nowhere in the Athletics’ farm system in 2008, as he began the season at Double-A Midland by going 1-8 with a 6.18 ERA in 15 starts. The 24-year-old’s stock rose after he was moved to relief, however, and now the 15th-round pick from 2005 is in the major leagues.
Pena made the Yankees thanks to third baseman Alex Rodriguez beginning the season on the disabled list following hip flexor surgery, which had necessitated utility infielder Cody Ransom taking over at the hot corner. Pena, 23, has a good-field, no-hit reputation, and had not been a very highly regarded prospect while spending all or parts of the last four seasons at Double-A Trenton. Now, he’s one heartbeat away from becoming a starter if something were to happen to Yankees shortstop and captain Derek Jeter.
Scott Boras, the game’s most powerful agent, often gets rapped as being unemotional and concerned solely with getting the most money possible for his clients, and ultimately, himself. However, he showed a different and almost shocking side to his personality in the aftermath of Angels rookie right-hander Nick Adenhart‘s death this past week. Boras had been Adenhart’s agent since he began his career in the Angels’ organization in 2004, forgoing a scholarship to North Carolina and receiving an $810,000 signing bonus, which was first-round money, after being a 14th-round draft pick as a high school senior from Williamsport, Maryland.
Boras broke down while addressing the media during a news conference on Thursday at Angel Stadium. Adenhart’s parents had asked Boras to represent them in dealing with the media, as they were too stricken by grief to do interviews. “I don’t represent a brick,” Boras told Sean McAdam of the Boston Herald. “I don’t represent a building. I don’t represent a corporation. I represent people. I guess I don’t expect people to understand what 80 percent of our job is, which is raising players.”
Boras first met Adenhart and his parents in 2003, and he had developed a close relationship with them. He said that the only other time he had ever cried in public was when he gave a eulogy at his mother’s funeral. “I’m afraid I wasn’t a very good advocate for the family,” Boras said. “I let my emotions get the best of me.”
It seems that Twins manager Ron Gardenhire will have tough decisions to make every time he sits down to fill out his lineup card this season. He has five players who are considered regulars for four positions in outfielders Michael Cuddyer, Carlos Gomez, Denard Span, and Delmon Young, and designated hitter Jason Kubel. Young appears the most likely candidate to sit; he started only twice in the season-opening four-game series with the Mariners, while Cuddyer, Gomez, and Span were in the lineup for every game.
Gardenhire had been asked about the configuration throughout the winter and spring training, and it’s clearly begun wearing on him, as he cut off reporters on opening night after being asked just one question about the situation. “It’s going to be that [way] all year off and on,” Gardenhire said. “We could sit here and do this every game, because we’re going to mix them up. These guys are preparing themselves to play. The only people who are going to bring it up every day are [the media]. I don’t want to sit here and discuss all the reasons. Read the stats. Check them out. That probably will tell you a little more about who’s in, who’s out, and we’ll go from there. I’m going to play them all year long. I don’t have any other way I can do it. I have four outfielders and three places for them to play. Something’s got to give. There’s no easy solution here. You could sit and say I’m going to platoon here or there, that’s not right. That’s not the way I want to go about it. You know what? They are good players, and no matter who we put out there, we’re going to have an opportunity to win games. I need to mix and match the best I can, and keep them all busy and all playing, which is almost impossible to do.”
The Nationals‘ home opener is Monday against the Phillies, and seats still remain for the game at Nationals Park. That has caused Nationals president Stan Kasten to try a rather unique marketing approach this past week.
While being a guest on a talk show on Philadelphia radio station ESPN 950 AM, Kasten invited Phillies’ fans to make the trip to the nation’s capital for the opener. He even guaranteed the visiting fans would not be harassed. “We have an Opening Day here, and we’d love for all our Philly fans to come down, because I know it’s going to be so hard to get tickets in Philadelphia this year,” said Kasten. “It’ll be much easier if you drive down the road and come see them in Washington. I have gone to enough games in three different sports in Philly to tell you that I haven’t always felt welcome in your parks, OK? But you can root for whoever you want. You will be welcome when you come to Nationals Park.”
Some interesting facts:
- When Cardinals left-hander Dennys Reyes pitched a perfect ninth inning to close out the Pirates on Thursday, he recorded his first save since September 27, 1999, when he was with the Reds and pitching against St. Louis. The gap of nine years and 192 days between saves was the longest since Curt Schilling went 13 years and 77 days before saving the Red Sox‘ win over the Devil Rays on July 19, 2005.
- Starters CC Sabathia and Chien-Ming Wang were both hit hard as the Yankees gave up at least seven runs in each of their first two games for only the third time in their history, having also done so in 1973 when Mel Stottlemyre and Steve Kline were the starters, and in 1985 when Phil Niekro and Ed Whitson started. Sabathia and Wang also failed to strike out a batter, the first time that Yankees starters had done that in consecutive games since Jaret Wright and Al Leiter on September 1-2, 2005.
- Albert Pujols‘ seven assists for the Cardinals against the Pirates on Tuesday were the most by a major league first baseman in a nine-inning game since Pittsburgh’s Bob Robertson had eight on June 21, 1971 against the Mets.
There were 229 players on Opening Day rosters who were born outside of the United States, accounting for 28 percent of all players. The Dominican Republic led the way with 81, followed by Venezuela (52), Puerto Rico (28), Mexico (14), Canada (13), Japan (13), Cuba (7), Curacao (4), Panama (4), Australia (3), Korea (3), Colombia (2), Nicaragua (2), Taiwan (2), and the Netherlands (1).
The Mariners had the most foreign-born players, with 15 on their roster.
- The Orioles‘ Dave Trembley is the only one of the 30 major league managers who did not play professional baseball. Of the 29 who did, 13 were primarily catchers, while five were outfielders, four were shortstops, three were third basemen, two were second basemen, one was a first baseman, and one was a pitcher.
- The average age of players on Opening Day rosters was 29.5 years old. The Astros had the oldest roster with a 32.9 average, while the Marlins had the youngest at 27.2 years.
- USA Baseball had 182 alumni on Opening Day rosters, and the Athletics had 14 of them, the most of any club.
- A total of eight home runs were hit in the Diamondbacks‘ 9-8 win over the Rockies on Opening Day, tying the major league record for an opener set by the Padres and Rockies in 2005. Diamondbacks second baseman Felipe Lopez led off the bottom of the first inning with a home run, becoming the first player since Kaz Matsui with the 2004 Mets to hit a first-inning leadoff homer in the first game with a new team.
- The Mets’ 2-1 victory over the Reds on Opening Day gave them 31 wins in their last 40 openers.
- Angels right fielder Vladimir Guerrero drove in his 19th career Opening Day run in a 3-0 win over the Athletics, breaking a tie with Frank Robinson and Jeff Kent for the major league record.
- The Pirates became just the second team in National League history to win their opener on the road when trailing by at least two runs in the ninth inning; they scored four in the ninth to beat the Cardinals 8-6 in St. Louis. The 1988 Cubs accomplished the feat against the Braves in Atlanta.
- The Rays and Red Sox became just the fifth set of teams to open the season against each other after squaring off in the previous year’s American League Championship Series, joining the Brewers and Angels in 1983, the Orioles and White Sox in 1984, the Blue Jays and White Sox in 1994, and the Yankees and Red Sox in 2005.
- Jeter, catcher Jorge Posada, and closer Mariano Rivera are the only trio of Yankees to play together in 15 straight seasons. Bill Dickey, Lefty Gomez, and Red Ruffing (1930-42), and Whitey Ford, Elston Howard, and Mickey Mantle (1955-67) played together for 13 consecutive seasons. The last set of major league teammates to play together for 15 straight years are Jim Gantner, Paul Molitor, and Robin Yount with the 1978-92 Brewers.
- The Phillies rallied from seven runs down to beat the Braves 12-11 on Wednesday. Just three other teams have overcome deficits that large that early in the season: the 1950 Yankees rallied from being down 9-0 to beat the Red Sox 15-10, and the 1901 Tigers rallied from being down 13-3 to beat the Brewers 14-13 in their first game as a major league team. The 1921 Indians came back from a 9-2 deficit to defeat the Browns 12-9 in their second game.
- Twins closer Joe Nathan became just the second active reliever to have 200 saves with his current team, joining Rivera.
- A total of 13 active players have played at least 1,000 games while spending their careers with just one team: Braves third baseman Chipper Jones, Jeter, Rockies first baseman Todd Helton, Posada, Astros first baseman Lance Berkman, Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek, Athletics third baseman Eric Chavez, Mariners right fielder Ichiro Suzuki, Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins, Pujols, Rangers third baseman Michael Young, Pirates shortstop Jack Wilson, and Blue Jays center fielder Vernon Wells.
- Marlins third baseman Emilio Bonifacio had eight hits and six runs scored in his first three games of the season, the first player to reach those totals that quickly since Wade Boggs had nine hits and seven runs in three games with the 1994 Yankees.
- Third baseman Brandon Inge became the first Tigers player since at least 1954 to hit a home run in each of the first three games of the season. The last major leaguer to do it was the Indians’ Grady Sizemore in 2007.
- Indians left-hander Cliff Lee became just the fourth reigning Cy Young winner to allow at least seven runs in his first start of the season after winning the award, as he was rocked by the Rangers on Opening Day. Roger Clemens gave up eight in 2002 for the Yankees against the Orioles. Two others allowed seven: Mike Flanagan in 1980 for the Orioles against the White Sox, and Roy Halladay in 2004 for the Blue Jays against the Tigers.
- Astros catcher Ivan Rodriguez made his 18th consecutive Opening Day start, the longest active streak, as Mets outfielder Gary Sheffield‘s ended at 20.
- Phillies left-hander Jamie Moyer, at the age of 46 years and 138 days, was the oldest player on an Opening Day roster for the second straight year, followed by Giants left-hander Randy Johnson (45, 208), Red Sox right-hander Tim Wakefield (42, 248), Rangers infielder Omar Vizquel (41, 347), and Astros right-handed reliever Doug Brocail (41, 325). Tigers right-hander Rick Porcello (20, 100) was the youngest, followed by Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus (20, 223), Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw (21, 21), Athletics right-hander Trevor Cahill (21, 36), and Blue Jays right fielder Travis Snider (21, 63).
- When Porcello and Blue Jays left-hander Ricky Romero faced each other on Thursday, it marked the first time that two first-round draft picks made their major league debuts as starters in the same game. It was the 30th time that both starting pitchers made their debuts in the same game.
- First baseman Nick Johnson is the last player remaining with the Nationals who had also played for the franchise when it was the Montreal Expos before moving to the nation’s capital prior to the 2005 season.
- Brewers right-hander Yovanni Gallardo became the first pitcher to homer this season when he connected off Johnson on Wednesday. It was the first home run Johnson had ever allowed to a pitcher over 22 seasons, 448 at-bats, and 506 plate appearances.
- The Yankees will become the first team since the 2002 Twins to play in four home openers in one season. The Yankees already served as the opposition for the Orioles and Royals, and they’ll face the Rays on Monday at Tropicana Field before opening the new Yankee Stadium on Thursday against the Indians.
- First baseman Derrek Lee and third baseman Aramis Ramirez became the first corner-infield tandem to start six consecutive openers for the Cubs since Ernie Banks and Ron Santo were together for nine straight from 1962-70.
- Rays designated hitter Pat Burrell played for the Phillies last season, making him the third player to play for a World Series winner one season and its opponent the next, joining Don Gullett (1976 Reds, 1977 Yankees) and Gary Thomasson (1978 Yankees, 1979 Dodgers).
- The 1989 Mariners are the only team in major league history to produce three rookies who were still playing 20 years later: Ken Griffey Jr., Johnson, and Vizquel.
- The Rockies have had just two Opening Day first basemen in their 17-year history: Andres Galarraga and Helton.
- Joe Torre notched his 17th Opening Day win as a manager when the Dodgers beat the Padres, putting him third on the all-time list behind Connie Mack (24) and John McGraw (18).
- The Dodgers’ Hiroki Kuroda became just the third Japanese-born pitcher to start on Opening Day, joining Hideo Nomo and Daisuke Matsuzaka.
- Braves left fielder Garret Anderson became the first player in 17 years to play at least 2,000 games with one team and then move to another as he appeared in 2,013 games with the Angels. Dwight Evans played in 2,505 games with the Red Sox before going to the Orioles in 1991.
MLB Rumors and Rumblings: Right-hander Pedro Martinez’s plan to use the World Baseball Classic as an audition didn’t work out, and he remains a free agent. However, the Angeles are apparently considering making an offer, as Adenhart’s death has thinned their injury-wracked rotation even further. … The Marlins have interest in right-hander Juan Morillo, who was designated for assignment by the Rockies. … Yankees manager Joe Girardi says that he will try to get first baseman/outfielder Nick Swisher at least three starts a week. … Torre says he’ll hold firm in his plan to give Dodgers shortstop Rafael Furcal at least one day off a week in an attempt to keep him healthy. … Mets manager Jerry Manuel is considering giving outfielder/third baseman Fernando Tatis some starts at second base.
Three series to watch in the early part of the week with probable pitching matchups: