One of the more obscure players earning a spot on Opening Day rosters is St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Jeremy Hazelbaker. You won't find him on many (any) prospect lists, not surprising for a 28-year-old rookie. Does he have a chance to contribute, or will he be back in the minors quickly? Let's take a look at Hazelbaker's background and profile.
Jeremy Hazelbaker was a college player at Ball State University. He was mediocre as a freshman and sophomore in 2007 and 2008 but took a huge step forward in 2009, hitting .429/.500/.724 in 203 at-bats, with nine homers, 29 steals, and a 49/35 BB/K ratio in 203 at-bats. This was enough to get him drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the fourth round in 2009. His reputation at the time was as a solid athlete with slightly above-average speed, gap power, and excellent plate discipline.
He was pushed to the Sally League right away and struggled, hitting .167/.280/.233 in 150 at-bats for Greeneville. This wasn't very good but the Sally League is a big leap from the Mid-America Conference. He returned to Greeneville in 2010 and was more effective, hitting .267/.360/.455 with 63 stolen bases.
From 2011 through 2013 Hazelbaker was a useful farmhand for the Red Sox, hitting around .270 every year with 30-something steals and double-digit homers. His strikeout rate rose every year and he topped out in Triple-A in '13, hitting .257/.315/.374 with 11 homers, 37 steals, 36 walks, and 131 strikeouts in 428 at-bats. In October '13 he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers. After a mediocre 2014 season in the high minors, he opened 2015 in Double-A but was released on May 1st.
The Cardinals picked him up as a minor league free agent two weeks later. He thrived in his new organization, hitting .308/.395/.503 in Double-A then .333/.403/.594 in Triple-A, combining for 13 homers and 18 steals. He remained hot this spring (.304/.373/.543 with four steals, three homers, four walks, seven strikeouts in 46 at-bats). And here he is in the majors.
Hazelbaker is 28 years old, a left-handed hitter and right-handed thrower, listed at 6-3, 190. His best tool is above-average speed. He has sneaky power which sometimes seemed to get him in trouble in the Red Sox system when he'd get too conscious of it. His power is primarily, but not exclusively, to the pull side. He's shown a good batting eye at times (and did so this spring) but not always. His track record with zone judgment is inconsistent, although he's done a better job managing his at-bats since joining the Cardinals system. He can play all three outfield positions in a workable manner but has the most experience and success in right.
All told, Hazelbaker's package of some speed, occasional pop, and defensive versatility makes him a viable reserve/fifth outfielder for a real team though he'll need a hot start to solidify his role. Fantasy-wise, he would only be of interest in the very deepest leagues.