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Projecting surprise call-ups

4/5/2011

There were a handful of last-minute additions to major league rosters for Opening Day, including a number of surprise rookies who weren't expected to make their big clubs, or in some cases to even compete for those spots. Here's a rundown of seven of those players, with some thoughts on what the rest of 2011 might hold for them.

Aaron Crow, RHP, Kansas City: I doubt any surprise promotion has received as much attention, at least from prospect-watchers and fantasy players, as the Royals' decision to add Crow to their Opening Day roster.

Crow was the ninth overall pick in the 2008 Rule 4 draft by Washington, didn't sign (turning down over $3 million), then fell to the 13th overall pick the following year and signed in October for less money than he would have had from the Nationals. The year-plus layoff didn't seem to do him much good, and I'm hard-pressed to think of any pitcher who held out for a year, was redrafted and held his form from the first time he was picked. Crow struggled badly as a starter in Double-A last year, with a 5.66 ERA and shaky peripherals across the board, exacerbated by his lack of an effective third pitch and the expected problems with left-handed hitters (who hit .326/.408/.475 off him with 30 walks against 33 strikeouts). That said, he could be a very effective right-on-right reliever now with a solid-average fastball with good life and a sharp mid-80s slider that I saw up to 87 earlier this spring.

Tim Collins, LHP, Kansas City: Listed at 5-foot-7, 155 pounds, Collins was traded twice in July from Toronto to Atlanta to the Royals, and carries behind him a long history of strong minor league performance, including outstanding strikeout rates. He has three average or better pitches, led by a sharp 12-to-6 curveball that's his primary out pitch, as well as a solid-average fastball and changeup. I think he could be a substantial asset in the Royals' bullpen this year, especially since his repertoire allows him to face hitters on both sides of the plate.

Michael Pineda, RHP, Seattle: As much as I like Pineda as a prospect, this promotion surprised me more than any other, because I saw Pineda this spring and didn't think he was close to ready to pitch in a big league rotation. In fact, scouts I talked to who covered Seattle thought Dustin Ackley should have made their Opening Day roster, while Pineda needed to go to Triple-A. Pineda has the big fastball and will flash an above-average slider, but it's not consistent and he barely uses a changeup, showing an enormous platoon split at two levels last year. I think he'd be more likely to use that pitch often in the lower stakes of Triple-A, and I don't see the benefit of letting him learn that pitch while accumulating major league service time. Unless he shows marked improvement with his secondary stuff, he could struggle.

Brandon Belt, 1B, San Francisco: I've said plenty about Belt as a prospect, and I'm glad he's in the big leagues. This is a different situation from Seattle and Pineda, because the value of a marginal win to San Francisco -- in a year when it's expected to contend for the playoffs -- is so much higher than the value of a marginal win to the Mariners.

Tom Wilhelmsen, RHP, Seattle: In October, I saw Wilhelmsen in the AFL and wrote about his six-year hiatus due to a marijuana suspension and eventual comeback through an independent league. He showed good velocity and a fringy curveball, but I couldn't have guessed he'd end up on an Opening Day roster this year, especially since he had never pitched above low-A in his pro career. He's 27, so he doesn't need the careful handling of a younger prospect or the concern about his service time. If the Mariners felt he could help them now, there's no reason to send him down for "seasoning" at his age. And with the addition of a mid-80s splitter-like changeup, he looks like a valuable piece in middle relief.

Mark Trumbo, 1B, LA Angels: Trumbo made the Angels' roster because of Kendry Morales' injured left foot, and it's possible that Trumbo will head back down to Triple-A once Morales returns. In the meantime, Trumbo brings the Angels some much-needed raw power -- he is bull-strong.

Cedric Hunter, OF, San Diego: Eric Patterson's injury opened the door for Hunter, a third-round pick in 2006, to make the Padres' Opening Day roster as a fourth/fifth outfielder. Hunter has some speed but isn't a burner, has a handsy swing that generates contact but not much power, and has never drawn 45 unintentional walks in a full season. He offers value because he can handle center and shouldn't get the bat knocked out of his hands, but has a very limited chance to develop into a regular.

Pedro Beato, RHP, NY Mets: With all the focus on second baseman Brad Emaus, the Mets' other pick in last year's Rule 5 draft flew under the radar but ultimately made their Opening Day roster. Beato was originally drafted by the Mets in 2005 under the old draft-and-follow system, didn't sign and went in the sandwich round the following year to Baltimore. Beato didn't show the same velocity right after signing, but picked it back up last year. Beato has four pitches and will sit 92-95 out of the pen, although he was more 90-93 in his debut the other day; he's also fully healthy again and in a better role for him. This is pure hindsight, since I didn't see Beato last year, but I think Baltimore will end up regretting the decision not to place him on the 40-man roster last fall.