Opening Day brings with it reason for hope as players and teams embrace new opportunities. Here are some of the more interesting players getting new opportunities in the 2014 season:
Grady Sizemore, CF, Boston - One of my favourite stories from the spring is the return of 31-year-old Sizemore, who was a cornerstone of my fantasy teams from 2005 through 2008, when he was ripping off 20-20 (HR-SB) and one 30-30 season before injuries limited him to 210 games between 2009 and 2011. Then, he sat out all of 2012 and 2013, at which point the baseball world would have been ready to leave him in the rearview as a player with great potential who didn't achieve greatness due to ongoing injuries. But a funny thing happened on the way to the glue factory: Sizemore won the starting centre field job for the defending World Series champs, hitting .310 with a .784 OPS in the spring. I don't know how long it will last, but I'll enjoy this resurrection.
Jesse Chavez, RHP, Oakland - Acquired from Toronto in May of 2012 for cash, Chavez wasn't a particularly effective reliever, with a 5.48 ERA in 191 major-league appearances (189 in relief), but was decent in AAA Las Vegas in 2012 when he got a chance to start (8-5, 3.98 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 86 K, 95 IP) and then, last season, was good (2-2, 2.70 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 26 K, 30 IP) in a handful of starts with AAA Sacramento. When the A's rotation was hammered by injuries to Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin in the spring, that opened the door for Chavez to get a look in the rotation and he was good (2.22 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 25 K, 28 1/3 IP) in the spring; good enough to see if the 30-year-old has the stuff to hold a starting job.
Dustin McGowan, RHP, Toronto - Oh, what might have been. There was a time, say 2007, when McGowan's electric stuff looked like it belonged at the top of a big-league rotation. Then, the arm troubles hit and he's been crawling his way back to the bigs, pitching 46 2/3 innings over the past five seasons. When he pitched out of the bullpen last season, McGowas was effective (2.45 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 26 K, 25 2/3 IP) and was throwing heat, with an average fastball clocked at 94.7 MPH, the same as it was in 2007. McGowan's now 32-years-old and gets a shot in the Blue Jays' rotation. His perseverance makes him easy to root for, yet his medical history makes it easy to expect that he won't survive the demands of starting every fifth day.
Mike Morse, LF, San Francisco - It's hard to imagine that the 6-foot-5, 245-pound Morse was a shortstop when he first arrived in the big leagues in 2005, but he was, and it's been an uneven road since. His high point came in 2011, when he hit 31 home runs, with a .910 OPS for Washington, and that's the kind of production that the Giants would love to add to their outfield on an everyday basis. Last season's .651 OPS in Seattle and Baltimore, however, is decidedly less appealing, so the Giants will hope that last season's down year helped make the price reasonable for a 32-year-old with an .808 career OPS.
Mike Olt, 3B, Chicago Cubs - Acquired from Texas as part of last summer's Matt Garza trade, 25-year-old Olt had eye problems (that have since been rectified) and then missed time this spring because of shoulder trouble, but he mashed five home runs, with an .886 OPS in 63 plate appearances and made the Cubs' roster. With Luis Valbuena the incumbent at third base, it's no surprise that Olt is going to get a good look for the Cubs.
Brett Anderson, LHP, Colorado - In 2009 and 2010, when he was 21 and 22-years-old, Anderson had a 3.57 ERA and 1.24 WHIP in 49 starts, striking out 225 in 287 2/3 innings. Then, the arm trouble started. He's still only 26-year-old and going to Colorado isn't exactly a dream scenario for a pitcher trying to regain his form, but Anderson has a spot in the Rockies' rotation. He has to be better than he was in the spring (3.27 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 11 K, 22 IP), but staying healthy is the first order of business.
Jesus Guzman, 1B, Houston - A 29-year-old who has been a part-time player in San Diego for the past three seasons, Guzman has hit 18 home runs in 575 at-bats over the past two seasons, which is okay, but nothing earth-shattering, yet after a spring in which he hit .189 with a .753 OPS in 46 plate appearances, Guzman gets the nod as the Astros' starter at first base. He's been much better against left-handers (.818 OPS) than right-handers (.695 OPS) throughout his career, so it will be interesting to see if Guzman hits enough to keep an everyday job, even for the Astros.
Drew Hutchison, RHP, Toronto - Coming back from Tommy John surgery, 23-year-old Drew Hutchison took his lumps in the minors last season (4.84 ERA, 1.42 WHIP in 35 1/3 IP) following surgery, but he's been much sharper this spring (1.80 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 19 K, 15 IP). That's obviously a small sample and the Jays are not likely to be good enough to warrant rushing Hutchison, but he was well on his way to being a major-league starter when he first suffered the injury, so it's not unreasonable for him to find a spot in a shaky Blue Jays starting staff. Usage will be the big issue as he has yet to throw 150 innings in pro season.
James Paxton, LHP, Seattle - Young pitching is going to be vital for the Mariners and 25-year-old, Richmond, B.C. native Paxton is one of their more promising arms. He was impressive in a four-game audition (3-0, 1.50 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 21 K, 24 IP) last season. Command is the issue; so far it's been good in the bigs, but he walked 112 in 252 innings at Double-A and Triple-A over the past two seasons.
Kolten Wong, 2B, St. Louis - The 22-year-old who, to this point, might be best known for getting picked off to end Game Four of the 2013 World Series, gets the nod to start for the Cardinals after a strong spring (.375 AVG, 1.080 OPS, 53 PA) and an injury to veteran Mark Ellis. Wong didn't hit when he joined the Cardinals late last season, but he hit .301 with an .811 OPS in the minors and swiped 20 bases on 21 attempts at Triple-A last season.
Dee Gordon, 2B, Los Angeles - The Dodgers signed Cuban import Alexander Guerrero to a four-year, $28-million contract in the off-season, but their starter at second base is former shortstop Gordon, the 25-year-old wh has a .620 lifetime OPS, but he has also stolen 66 bases in 183 career games, so if he can get on base even a little bit, Gordon has a chance to put up big numbers on the bases.
Corey Hart, DH, Seattle - The 32-year-old missed all of last season with a knee injury and he's probably not right back to full speed after a spring in which he posted a .390 OPS in 43 plate appearances. He also hit at least 20 home runs in five of the previous six seasons and the Mariners could sorely use his right-handed power to help balance out their lineup.
Casey McGehee, 3B, Miami - Back from a year in Japan, 31-year-old McGehee is starting at third base for the Marlins. He had some productive seasons in 2009 and 2010 with Milwaukee, but his last two major league seasons weren't good. After 28 home runs and and .892 OPS in Japan last year, he gets another shot.
Joakim Soria, RHP, Texas - Once a very effective closer for the Royals, 29-year-old Soria missed all of 2012 following Tommy John surgery before getting into 26 games with the Rangers last summer (3.80 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 28 K/14 BB, 23 2/3 IP). His velocity was off a bit and he was throwing more breaking pitches, but his command was better this spring (0.93 ERA, 0.72 WHIP, 8 K/0 BB, 9 2/3 IP) and he's poised to take over for the departed Joe Nathan.
Drew Smyly, LHP, Detroit - 24-year-old Smyly wasn't bad when he started as a rookie a couple of years ago, but was bumped to the bullpen last year, where he was dominant (2.37 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 81 K, 76 IP), using his cutter more frequently and effectively, and now Smyly returns to the rotation after Detroit sent Doug Fister to Washington.
Phil Hughes, RHP, Minnesota - It's not exactly the tale of a plucky underdog when a 2004 first-round pick of the Yankees moves on to a new team, but after a rough 2013 season (4-14, 5.19 ERA, 1.46 WHIP), a fresh start somewhere else might make some sense. Also, given last year's results, maybe more curves and fewer sliders should be part of Hughes' plan of attack.
Felipe Paulino, RHP, Chicago White Sox - A 30-year-old with 61 career major-league starts (and a 4.93 ERA), Paulino is getting a turn in the White Sox rotation after missing all of last season following Tommy John surgery. It's tough to look at potential for a 30-year-old, but Paulino looked like he was figuring things out in Kansas City (3.55 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 158 K, 162 1/3 IP in 28 games, 27 starts) before getting hurt. He also brings the heat, with a fastball consistently over 95 MPH.