Opening Day is a special time for everyone in baseball as the season begins with celebrations and renewed hope. For many prospects this year, Opening Day is even more special.
Eleven players ranked on MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects list made their team's Opening Day roster: Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts (No. 2); Tigers third baseman Nick Castellanos (15); Mets catcher Travis d'Arnaud (22); Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. (33); Royals right-hander Yordano Ventura (36); Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton (37); Rays right-hander Jake Odorizzi (56); Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong (58); White Sox right-hander Erik Johnson (70); Rangers outfielder Michael Choice (72); and D-backs shortstop Chris Owings (77). Right-handers Taijuan Walker of the Mariners (6) and Casey Kelly of the Padres (87) and are both beginning the season on the 15-day disabled list.
Many of those top prospects were in the starting lineup Monday, including Wong. He made his Major League debut last year, even appearing in the World Series, but still considers his first Opening Day to be a special occasion.
TOP 100 PROSPECTS ON OPENING DAY ROSTERS
|2||Xander Bogaerts||Red Sox|
|33||Jackie Bradley Jr.||Red Sox|
|70||Erik Johnson||White Sox|
"Everyone always dreams of getting to do this," Wong said. "For me, it's a dream come true. I'm just excited for it to happen already."
Wong, ranked as the Cardinals' No. 2 prospect, was a first-round pick out of Hawaii in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft. Though he appeared in 32 big league games last year, the expectations will be higher for him this season as he becomes a starter for the reigning National League champions.
Many of the prospects beginning their first full season in the big leagues will also be facing higher expectations. Several are projected to play key roles for teams with playoff aspirations, while others will challenge for the Rookie of the Year Awards.
In the American League, Bogaerts is considered one of the Rookie of the Year favorites, along with Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka. Castellanos, Walker and Ventura could all find themselves in contention as well.
The race for the NL honor is a little more open. Wong is a candidate, though he could eventually be overshadowed by fellow Cardinals prospect Oscar Taveras, should he get called up from Triple-A Memphis. Hamilton and d'Arnaud both excited fans last September and could challenge for the award as well.
While any of these top prospects could take home some hardware at the end of the season, first they will have to get used to the daily grind of the Major Leagues.
After working hard during the offseason and in Spring Training to make the team, Wong said it is important for him to be relaxed and have fun this season.
"Now it's my time to just go out and enjoy this experience," Wong said. "Whatever happens, happens. As long as I'm having fun and playing the game the right way and playing as hard as I can, that's all I can ask for."