The transplanted journeyman. The Rule 5 guy. The waiver-wire pickup. The non-roster invitee. Tug Hulett.
Each year, a motley collection of pitchers, hitters, and Tug Huletts descend upon Arizona with the singular purpose of earning (or sneaking) their way onto the Royals roster with a solid spring training performance. They may have varied backgrounds, but they all have one thing in common: you’ve never heard of them.
Look, I spend an inordinate amount of time following the Royals, and baseball in general, so when there’s a free agent signing or a minor league promotion, if I’m not intimately familiar with the player’s stats and history, at the very least I will be familiar with his name.
The one notable exception is during spring training, when teams are willing to try out an unknown amateur, or a player who may be a little better known (but known to be terrible,) with minimal risk to the organization. This adventurous approach to roster management is actually pretty refreshing for a sport that is steeped in tradition and which is usually dominated by conventional wisdom when it comes to building a team.
It’s this non-conventionality that leads to the team to try out has-beens, never-will-be’s, and the occasional country music superstar.
"I've got friends in low... minors"
It’s also the reason why there is always a small percentage of guys whose names make you scratch your head wondering who on earth they are. In an effort to make this spring training less confusing, here’s this year’s team of unknowns who have joined the Royals camp:
Obscurity Factor: 7
Number of Organizations Previously Played for: 6
Odds of Making 40 Man Roster: 20%
Apparently, Hamulack had already spent some time in the Royals system, which went completely under my radar. However, his time spent consisted of only 4 innings of Rookie ball, followed by a very short stint in AA NW Arkansas, so perhaps my overlooking him can be forgiven.
Hamulack was a 32nd round pick for Houston back in 1996. His shuttling
from organization to organization, and his horrendous 7.43 ERA in the majors, would likely lead one to believe he’s a terrible pitcher. That may be the case, but he’s actually had a pretty decent minor league career – 3.12 ERA with a decent K rate against relatively few walks. My initial impression was that Hamulack is lot like a left-handed Joe Nelson, and after reviewing the stats, this is actually a pretty apt comparison. Their situations were pretty similar, too – both would have been 31 when they got their shot with the Royals after having been given up on by a variety of other organizations. Nelson’s no world-beater, but he’s certainly a competent, low cost option out of the pen. Hamulack’s minor league numbers are better than Nelson’s almost all the way across the board, for what it’s worth.
Obscurity Factor: 9
Number of Organizations Previously Played for: 5
Odds of Making 40 Man Roster: 3%
For every guy like Tim Hamulack, where you can see why he’s being given a shot during spring training, there’s a guy like Tommy Murphy, whose presence with the team defies all logic. Tommy’s a converted shortstop, and he’s continued to hit like one since making the transition to centerfielder, with a .264/.318/.385 line in the minors. He doesn’t hit for power, doesn’t walk much, and plays a position that’s already pretty overcrowded, with Crisp, DeJesus, Maier and Duarte, all likely ahead of him on the depth chart. He does rank high in the speed department, with 23 SB against 4 CS last year.
Oh, wait, now it makes sense.
Obscurity Factor 10
Number of Organizations Previously Played for: 4
Odds of Making 40 Man Roster: 7%
Unlike others on this list, Suomi has never tasted the majors, having spent his entire career in the minors, primarily with Oakland and Philadelphia. He’s hit reasonably well for a catcher in his 8 years on the farm, but he’s never really had an extended stay above AA, and he seems to hit progressively worse with each promotion.
He’s only really had one year (2004) in which he logged a full season’s worth of at bats, and to his credit he performed pretty well (.785 OPS, 41 BB) so perhaps his later struggles could be attributed to not getting enough playing time to get into a rhythm. Still, with the three headed beast that is Buck/Olivo/Brayan Pena, somebody (ore multiple somebodies) would have to get injured or traded for him to get a shot.
Obscurity Factor 8
Number of Organizations Previously Played for: 2
Odds of Making 40 Man Roster: 25%
When I first came across Luis Hernandez when perusing the spring training boxscores, I didn’t initially believe he was all that obscure, having believed he was a middle infielder from the Twins. Turns out I was thinking about Luis Rodriguez (or Luis Rivas?) but I was still correct about the middle infielder part.
This wasn’t too hard of a call, as for some reason every Luis to play major league baseball seems to end up as a middle infielder or relief pitcher. (22 of the 52 Luis’s to make it to the ML level were middle infielders, 21 were pitchers – good for 83%.)
This (Former Atlanta Brave!) Luis doesn’t have any business making the roster, as he hasn’t shown the slightest inclination that he can hit (.600 OPS in the minors/majors.) There’s an unwritten law in baseball, though, that states that your ability to hit is inversely correlated with your defensive reputation (whether deserved or not). So, in other words, by virtue of being terrible at the plate, Luis must be wonderful with the glove.
Still, he might make the roster as Esteban German’s (and presumably Tony Pena’s) departure from the team leaves a bit of a void at utility infielder, Willie Bloomquist notwithstanding. The odds go up if Moore/Hillman make the unexplicable decision to hand Bloomquist the keys to 2B, as they would then probably want to stash a gloveman on the roster to handle SS and 1B duties to help protect late inning leads.