KEEPERS: Deep sleepers—That last roster spot

Last week we focused on post-hype prospects whose lofty pedigrees, spring training performances and opportunity out of spring training have already driven up their profiles and values in most leagues. Now just a day away from the first pitch of the season and with some owners still seeking that last roster spot or roster adjustment, we're left with another list. Many of these names don't have regular jobs yet, a few are even back in the minors. But they're all 27-and-unders with MLB experience. All have at least one or two interesting skills, encouraging spring training performances, and potential opportunity with their current organizations at some point this season or next. No sure things here, but regardless of whether you're competing or rebuilding, if you're looking for that last roster name, these deserve some consideration.

At the start of spring training, inconsistent Garrett Richards (RHP, LAA) projected as LAA's #6 starter, stretching out in AAA-Salt Lake City as of Opening Day. But even now that he's likely made the MLB roster, Richards' role is still unresolved. Simply put, Richards had the best spring of any Angels pitcher as both a starter and reliever (16.2 IP, 2 ER, 10/2 K/BB and a 3:1 GB:FB ratio. For now he'll function as insurance for LAA's current bullpen woes; he'll also take over the #5 rotation spot if Tommy Hanson is unable to answer the bell any time soon. With stuff that borders on electric at its best, Richards has even been recently described as a closing option by several Angels observers. Thanks to the LAA pitching mess and Richards' true GB-generating, swing-and-miss stuff, he now looks poised to get his 2013 opportunity earlier than we initially thought.

Justin Smoak (1B, SEA) once held the same lofty prospect status of those hitters making last week's list, but as his career .218 BA in 1268 MLB AB suggest, he's failed too often for us to take his 4 HR, .418 BA spring training performance too seriously. Still, Smoak has decent patience, his mid-70% ct% isn't hopeless, and he continues to flash signs of the power that was once expected of himas he did last September, with 5 HR and a 138 PX. Safeco Field has brought in their fences, and Smoak is no longer expected to be the force in the middle of the Mariners order. At age 26, he's getting his final starting shot as the Mariners first baseman.

Dee Gordon (SS, LA) is already back in the minors, primarily as a result of his often erratic 2012 defense and the Dodgers' desire for him to play every day. But LA enters 2013 with high expectations, and in light of Hanley Ramirez' injury and anticipated eight-week absence, the Dodgers may need to find ways to generate offense. Gordon offers zero pop and his overall offense also needs refinement, but he owns an elite running game, and 80+% ct%, and his 10 BBs this spring hinted at a new willingness to work counts. If the Dodgers sputter and Gordon thrives, he could find himself in LA again quickly. Even in a part-time role, Gordon's SBs at a middle-infield position may be worth the pain as you wait for him to develop into something more substantial.

Pre-season rotation favorite Erasmo Ramirez (RHP, SEA) is also back in the minors unexpectedly, as his spring performance—3.86 ERA, 10/2 K/BB over 14 IP—was hardly awful, particularly by Arizona standards. But SEA felt Ramirez' performances weren't improving, and that he needed to improve his arm strength. The decision to send out Ramirez was made easier with Brandon Maurer's outstanding spring performance. But be mindful that Ramirez showed a solid change-up and fine 4.3 Cmd and 3.36 ERA last year in his 59 IP that was fueled by an uptick in fastball velocity. If he can relocate this skill level, the SEA rotation of Joe Saunders, Blake Beavan and the inexperienced Maurer aren't all likely to be standing in his way.

Ryan Flaherty (2B/OF, BAL) may have been in the minors by now had it not been for the injury suffered by Wilson Betemit. The Orioles were pondering whether they could find enough AB at different positions to keep him up, or whether they wanted him to play everyday, but Flaherty's versatilityhe played every position on the field except for C and CF in his limited 2012 debutis only part of the attraction. As a Rule 5 player, Flaherty flashed 5 HR and a 167 PX in the 68 AB he was allowed in the 2H, and another big HR in the postseason. His 7 xBH and 7/10 BB/K over 50 AB this spring are more indicative of his minor league track record than his small sample MLB career to date. Camden Yards is a terrific hitters venue, Brian Roberts is always a DL stint waiting to happenand now Flaherty has been tabbed as a likely candidate to inherit the LH AB vacated by Betemit.

No one paid much attention to Kyle Blanks (1B/OF, SD) when spring training began, but deep-league owners have recently begun to roster him as a hedge to Carlos Quentin's injury risk. All Blanks has done this spring is put up a .359/.442/.609 line with a 10/15 BB/K in 64 AB through Thursday, and stay healthy. That last part is important, given back-to-back Tommy John surgery and a torn rotator cuff that have held him back over the past three years. When whole, Blanks flashed solid power to compensate for a BA in the .240-.260 range. A good athlete and former #1 prospect, Blanks is currently without a role in SD, and likely needs a trade as well as continued durability in order to thrive.

In spite of his 8 HR and 10 SB in just 191 AB last season, we noted Jordany Valdespin (OF/2B, NY) with skepticism in our dynasty reload series this past winter thanks to his poor plate skills, erratic defense and occasional on-field behavior that antagonized the NYM organization. Valdespin showed improved pitch selection (20/21 BB/K) in the Dominican Winter League, and while it hasn't completely carried over to spring training, he's shown enough discipline that his power/speed skills and versatility look mildly interesting again again. Particularly with the lowly Mets looking for OF help and injury ravaged at 2B, Valdespin's .323 BA / 4 HR spring with just 8 K in 65 AB has been enough to earn regular AB for the time being. At age 25, what he'll do with it is anyone's guess.

It's never too early for rebuilders to begin identifying identifying 2014 closer candidates, and there may be no non-closer with a better pole position for this job than David Robertson (RHP, NYY). Regardless of whether the Yankees turn out as bad as some suggest, Robertson doesn't seem likely to get saves shot anytime soon thanks to the Mariano Rivera Farewell tour. But a look at last year's performanceincluding a 2.67/2.84 ERA/xERA combo, 12.0 Dom, 4.3 Cmd and 163 BPVhis current setup role and the Yankees' other needs, Robertson looks like the odds-on favorite to inherit Rivera's mantle at this time next season. There's nobody else on the current Yankees roster who looks close.

TAM's 2014 closer situation is less cut-and-dried, as Fernando Rodney is experiencing a career peak late in his career. But he'll also be a 37-year-old free agent  with an organization that is very unlikely to pay top-dollar for its closer. The younger / cheaper name that jumps out at us from the current Rays pitching staff is Jake McGee (LHP, TAM), who seemed to blossom in 2012 as his BPV never dipped under 120 in any month. Forget that he's left-handed; McGee limited RHBs to a ridiculous .098 BA while recording a stupidly good 11.9 Dom and 6.6 Cmd over 55 IP. These skills need 2013 confirmation, but deep-leaguers should enjoy the Ks and some quality IP while they wait to see what's in store for McGee in 2014.


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.