MLB Opening Day: These players with Volusia-Flagler-St. Johns ties could shine this season

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One of the signature events on the annual sports calendar, Opening Day around the major leagues arrives Thursday.

Baseball's return coincides with a number of major stories: the pitch clock, larger bases, the banning of the shift, the Houston Astros aiming to defend their title and many of the sport's stars wearing new uniforms.

That includes Jacob deGrom, Volusia County's most well-known, active big-leaguer. He made national headlines by leaving the New York Mets in the winter to join the Texas Rangers. In total, seven players with Volusia-Flagler-St. Johns ties — attending either one of the area's high schools or colleges — begin the year on MLB rosters.

More: Bethune-Cookman, Stetson off to promising conference starts in college baseball season

More: Daytona Tortugas seek $30 million for historic Jackie Robinson Ballpark renovation

Ahead of the festivities, let's take a look at the 2023 outlooks for those athletes, as well as several others knocking on the big-league door, and some alumni of the the Daytona Tortugas.

In the majors

Jacob deGrom, RHP, Texas Rangers

Texas Rangers starting pitcher Jacob deGrom delivers during the first inning of a AA baseball rehabilitation start for the Frisco RoughRiders against the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, Monday, March 13, 2023, in Surprise, Ariz. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)
Texas Rangers starting pitcher Jacob deGrom delivers during the first inning of a AA baseball rehabilitation start for the Frisco RoughRiders against the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, Monday, March 13, 2023, in Surprise, Ariz. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)

Set to turn 35 this summer, and not having pitched a full season since 2019, deGrom signed a massive five-year guaranteed contract in the winter worth $185 million. In doing so, he left the Mets after nine seasons and 209 starts, in which he held an 82-57 record with a 2.52 ERA and 1,607 strikeouts — a career average of 10.9 Ks per nine innings.

DeGrom will make his Rangers debut on Opening Day against the Philadelphia Phillies. He becomes the 14th different pitcher to take the mound for Texas in the opener since 2010, and just the third Cy Young winner to do so, along with Gaylord Perry and Fergie Jenkins.

"It's a huge honor, and I couldn't be more happy to do it," deGrom told reporters last week. "I'm excited. It's getting us kicked off and hopefully puts us in a good spot. That's the goal. You want to set the tone for the season and get things going. It does feel different even though you try not to make it feel different."

Injury concerns for deGrom lingered into spring training when he experienced some tightness in his left side, but he topped triple digits multiple times in his final spring start Saturday. He missed the first three months of the 2022 season recovering from a stress reaction in his right scapula.

Nick Fortes, C, Miami Marlins

Miami Marlins' Nick Fortes (54) follows his home run into center field during the second inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres, Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022, in Miami. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)
Miami Marlins' Nick Fortes (54) follows his home run into center field during the second inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres, Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022, in Miami. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

Fortes saw a significantly expanded role for the Marlins in 2022 and, though he did not maintain the numbers from his torrid September the season before, held his own at the dish.

The DeLand High grad hit .230 with a .696 OPS, including nine home runs and 41 runs in 240 plate appearances. Fortes, 25, produced his signature moment on June 26 when he bashed a wayward Adam Ottavino slider for a walk-off home run in a 3-2 win over the Mets.

Behind the plate, Fortes caught 10 runners stealing, and allowed 25 steals.

After battling knee tendinitis earlier this month, Fortes will share backstop duties with Jacob Stallings for a retooled Marlins squad, in addition to seeing some opportunities as a designated hitter.

Logan Gilbert, RHP, Seattle Mariners

Seattle Mariners starter Logan Gilbert delivers a pitch during the first inning of the team's baseball game against the Oakland Athletics, Friday, Sept. 30, 2022, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)
Seattle Mariners starter Logan Gilbert delivers a pitch during the first inning of the team's baseball game against the Oakland Athletics, Friday, Sept. 30, 2022, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)

A key piece to the Mariners' long-awaited postseason return in 2022, former Stetson standout Gilbert enters his third season in the bigs. So far, he's made good on Seattle's $3.88 million first-round investment, going 19-11 with a 3.78 ERA and 302 strikeouts in 305 innings.

Advanced metrics weren't so flattering for the soon-to-be 26-year-old righty, as he ranked in the bottom 5% for qualified pitchers in hard-hit percentage, as well as the 29th percentile for expected batting average and the 31st percentile for expected slugging, per Baseball Savant. However, his fastball velocity ticked up (96.1 mph average) and he was worth 3.2 wins above replacement, per FanGraphs, which tied for 24th.

Gilbert slots in as the No. 3 man in a deep Seattle rotation behind Luis Castillo and Robbie Ray.

Austin Hays, OF, Baltimore Orioles

Baltimore Orioles left fielder Austin Hays heads to the dugout after the end of the top of the first inning of a baseball game against the Tampa Bay Rays, Thursday, May 20, 2021, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Baltimore Orioles left fielder Austin Hays heads to the dugout after the end of the top of the first inning of a baseball game against the Tampa Bay Rays, Thursday, May 20, 2021, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

The Orioles turned a corner in the second half of the 2022 season, finishing four games above .500 (83-79) and making a run at a wild card spot. Spruce Creek-grad Hays played a starring role in that resurgence, logging a career-high 145 games and producing a WAR of 1.5.

Hays slashed .250/.306/.413 with 16 home runs, 35 doubles, 60 RBIs and 66 runs. There is room for improvement upon those numbers, considering he ranked in the 25th percentile in average exit velocity, the 18th percentile in walk rate and the 11th percentile in chase rate.

Hays is penciled in as the Orioles' left fielder, posting a strong 1.073 OPS with four homers in spring training. He avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $3.2 million contract in January, and will hit unrestricted free agency in the winter.

Corey Kluber, RHP, Boston Red Sox

Mar 10, 2023; Fort Myers, Florida, USA;  Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Corey Kluber (28) throws a pitch during the first inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at JetBlue Park at Fenway South. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 10, 2023; Fort Myers, Florida, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Corey Kluber (28) throws a pitch during the first inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at JetBlue Park at Fenway South. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Rounding out Stetson's terrific trio of starting pitcher alumni, Kluber will introduce himself to a new fanbase Thursday.

Kluber, who turns 37 next month, is set to make his sixth career Opening Day start when Boston hosts Baltimore. The two-time AL Cy Young winner is suiting up for his fifth team in as many seasons, signing a one-year deal with the Red Sox in the winter following a bounce-back campaign in Tampa Bay (10-10, 4.34 ERA, AL-best 1.2 walks per nine innings).

"There's plenty of guys in this clubhouse who could've taken the ball on Opening Day," Kluber said. "The way I look at it is regardless if you pitch the first day, the fifth day, it really only matters that first time through the order, and then everything kind of gets messed up anyways. But it is an honor."

Kluber logged his highest innings total since 2018 last season, and could be used as a deadline trade chip should he stay healthy once again. Boston is widely expected to miss the playoffs, perhaps finishing last again in the AL East.

Justin Lawrence, RHP, Colorado Rockies

Colorado Rockies relief pitcher Justin Lawrence works against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the sixth inning of a baseball game Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Colorado Rockies relief pitcher Justin Lawrence works against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the sixth inning of a baseball game Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Lawrence, a former 12th-round pick out of Daytona State, shuffled back and forth between the Rockies and their Triple-A affiliate in Albuquerque last year. He was recalled from the minors on six separate occasions, pitching in 38 games, going 3-1 with a 5.70 ERA and notching his first career save in an October victory against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The 28-year-old represented Panamá at the World Baseball Classic and tossed two perfect innings with three strikeouts.

Lawrence largely missed bats with his slider (37.2% whiff rate, .193 batting average against), but opponents consistently squared up his sinker (13.1% whiff, .337 BAA).

Daniel Bard is locked in as Colorado's closer, with Brad Hand and Pierce Johnson expected to share the high-leverage workload. Lawrence, meanwhile, will hope to settle into a middle-inning relief role and stick with the big-league club.

Luke Weaver, RHP, Cincinnati Reds

Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher Luke Weaver (34) throws a pitch in the first inning of the MLB Cactus League spring training game between the San Francisco Giants and the Cincinnati Reds at Scottsdale Stadium in Goodyear, Ariz., on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2023. The Giants came back in the ninth inning to win on a walk-off single off the bat of Will Wilson.
Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher Luke Weaver (34) throws a pitch in the first inning of the MLB Cactus League spring training game between the San Francisco Giants and the Cincinnati Reds at Scottsdale Stadium in Goodyear, Ariz., on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2023. The Giants came back in the ninth inning to win on a walk-off single off the bat of Will Wilson.

Reds manager David Bell confirmed that Weaver's status for Opening Day is in doubt after the DeLand native departed a minor league game earlier this month with soreness in his right forearm.

"I think it’s going to be really close, though," Bell said on March 18. "I think we’d have to push pretty hard to get him ready for Opening Day."

Weaver joined the Reds on a one-year, $2 million contract in free agency after splitting last season between Arizona and Kansas City. The 29-year-old has surpassed 100 innings only once since breaking into the bigs in 2016, and he was converted into a reliever last year, making 26 combined appearances (1-1, 6.56 ERA).

Still, Weaver was expected to earn a spot in Cincinnati's rotation, and he still could once he returns from the injured list.

Awaiting the call...

Logan Allen, LHP, Cleveland Guardians

Akron RubberDucks pitcher Logan Allen (15) throws a pitch against the Erie SeaWolves, on April 8, 2022, during the opening game at UPMC Park in Erie. The Seawolves won the game (2-0).
Akron RubberDucks pitcher Logan Allen (15) throws a pitch against the Erie SeaWolves, on April 8, 2022, during the opening game at UPMC Park in Erie. The Seawolves won the game (2-0).

A three-time News-Journal Baseball Player of the Year, Allen has fast-tracked through the lower levels of the Guardians' organization since being selected in the second round of the 2020 draft.

The University grad blitzed Double-A with 104 strikeouts and a 3.33 ERA in 73 innings, but encountered some struggles in Triple-A with a 6.49 ERA across 14 starts. Still, he's got plenty of time to make the necessary adjustments, considering he was four years younger than the average player in Triple-A.

Entering his age-24 season, Allen is the No. 8 prospect in Cleveland's talent-rich farm system, per MLB Pipeline, and a potential promotion candidate if he returns to form.

Anthony Maldonado, RHP, Miami Marlins

The Marlins reinvented Bethune-Cookman's former Friday night ace into a steady bullpen presence.

Maldonado, 25, went 4-3 with a 3.03 ERA, a 1.06 WHIP and 86 strikeouts in 62⅓ innings, advancing to the club's Triple-A affiliate in Jacksonville. His ERA with the Jumbo Shrimp shrunk to 1.74, and he recorded three saves and two holds in 15 appearances.

Those efforts put Maldonado on the radar for Puerto Rico's national team, and he was chosen as part of a star-studded team that reached the quarterfinals.

Cam Robinson, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers

A teammate of Allen's on University's state runner-up 2017 squad, Robinson made huge strides in 2022, dominating at both the High-A and Double-A levels. The 23-year-old held opponents to a 1.38 ERA across his first 41 appearances last year, notching 38 saves in 44 opportunities.

Robinson, like Allen, endured Triple-A growing pains upon joining the Nashville Sounds in late August (6.92 ERA in 13 innings). However, his 63.2% ground-ball rate was the fourth-highest among 905 minor leaguers with at least 60 innings.

Now the No. 25 prospect in the Brewers' system, Robinson could soon join what has been an electric stable of relievers in Milwaukee.

Zac Veen, OF, Colorado Rockies

Zac Veen currently plays for the High-A Spokane Indians in the Colorado Rockies Organization. The Spruce Creek product was named the franchise's top minor-league performer of 2021.
Zac Veen currently plays for the High-A Spokane Indians in the Colorado Rockies Organization. The Spruce Creek product was named the franchise's top minor-league performer of 2021.

Expect the Rockies to preach patience with their No. 2 overall prospect, the highest-drafted player ever from a Volusia County high school. Colorado selected Veen with the ninth pick in 2020 out of Spruce Creek.

Veen, who turned 21 in December, hit .271 in 48 spring training at-bats with one home run, eight RBIs and eight stolen bases. He swiped 50 bags for High-A Fresno last year and hit .269 with an .807 OPS, but those numbers sharply declined in a 34-game stint with Double-A Hartford (.177 BA, .496 OPS).

That's a relatively small sample size, and Veen has quickly adapted to improved pitching at every level to date. If the Rockies drop out of the race by the fall, perhaps he gets a shot as a September call-up.

Brooks Wilson, RHP, Atlanta Braves

In this Friday, June 1, 2018, photo, Stetson player Brooks Wilson (10) celebrates in front of Hartford player jackson Olson (2) after Wilson hit an RBI double during  an NCAA Div. I Regional baseball game in Deland, Fla. Stetson, the tiny Florida college that produced two-time AL Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber and 2014 NL Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom, is headed to the Super Regionals for the first time.  (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel via AP)

Protected from the Rule 5 draft when Atlanta added him to its 40-man roster in November 2021, Wilson underwent Tommy John surgery and should return before summer.

A former utility standout at Stetson, Wilson thrived out of the bullpen when he last pitched meaningful innings. The 27-year-old struck out 84 batters in 50 innings between Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett in 2021.

Invited to spring training and reassigned on March 1, Wilson will need to prove he's fully healed in order to make the final leap.

Notable former Tortugas

Jimmy Herget, RP, Los Angeles Angels

Los Angeles Angels catcher Matt Thaiss, left, and relief pitcher Jimmy Herget congratulate each other after the Angels defeated the New York Yankees 4-3 in a baseball game Monday, Aug. 29, 2022, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Los Angeles Angels catcher Matt Thaiss, left, and relief pitcher Jimmy Herget congratulate each other after the Angels defeated the New York Yankees 4-3 in a baseball game Monday, Aug. 29, 2022, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani rightfully draw the spotlight for the Angels, but former Tortugas closer Herget became an integral piece of the late-inning puzzle in 2022.

Herget pitched in 49 games, maintaining a 2.48 ERA, recording nine saves and six holds and holding opponents to a .196 batting average. He enjoyed a similarly stingy spring, striking out nine in 5⅔ innings and posting a 1.59 ERA.

Angels manager Phil Nevin said earlier this week that the closer's role "depends on what the game dictates." Herget will again be in the mix for opportunities, along with Carlos Estévez and Ryan Tepera.

Jonathan India, 2B, Cincinnati Reds

Cincinnati Reds' Jonathan India (6) celebrates after his double against the Milwaukee Brewers as umpire Jim Wolf calls for time during the first inning of a spring training baseball game Sunday, March 19, 2023, in Phoenix.
Cincinnati Reds' Jonathan India (6) celebrates after his double against the Milwaukee Brewers as umpire Jim Wolf calls for time during the first inning of a spring training baseball game Sunday, March 19, 2023, in Phoenix.

India, the 2021 National League Rookie of the Year, struggled to rebound from an injury-riddled first half of his second big-league season.

He missed 48 games over two stints from April through June due to a right hamstring strain. India's numbers dipped across the board, resulting in a .249/.327/.378 slash line with 10 home runs, 41 RBIs and 48 runs.

The 26-year-old former Florida Gator is locked in as the Reds' second baseman, and appears primed as a rebound candidate after a strong spring (.308 BA, .875 OPS, 1 HR, 8 RBI, 4 SB).

Tyler Mahle, SP, Minnesota Twins

Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Tyler Mahle throws to a Chicago White Sox batter during the first inning of a baseball game in Chicago, Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Tyler Mahle throws to a Chicago White Sox batter during the first inning of a baseball game in Chicago, Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

The Twins and Reds made two trades involving starting pitchers last year, with Minnesota acquiring Sonny Gray before the season and Mahle at the deadline. Prior to that, Mahle — a seventh-round pick in 2013 — spent his entire career within the Cincinnati organization, including a strong spell with the Tortugas in 2016 (8-3, 2.50 ERA).

Mahle, 28, pitched to a 4.41 ERA in his four starts with the Twins, though shoulder soreness hampered him. He's logged a 5.93 spring ERA, but his fastball velocity ticked up in his final dress rehearsal.

Minnesota plans to send Mahle to the mound for its fourth game of the season.

Jose Siri, OF, Tampa Bay Rays

Tampa Bay Rays' Jose Siri slides safely back to first base on a pick-off attempt during the third inning of a spring training baseball game against the New York Yankees, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023, in Kissimmee, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Tampa Bay Rays' Jose Siri slides safely back to first base on a pick-off attempt during the third inning of a spring training baseball game against the New York Yankees, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023, in Kissimmee, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

At one point, Siri was one of the more tantalizing prospects in the Reds' farm system, but he was waived in 2020 and has since been a part of four other organizations. Entering his age-27 season, Siri might have his best chance yet to prove he belongs.

Tampa Bay acquired the center fielder, who has elite speed (30.4 feet per second, top 1% in baseball), in a three-team trade with Baltimore and Houston at last year's deadline. Siri hit .241 in 56 games for the Rays with four home runs, 35 runs and eight steals.

Reducing his career 33.4% strikeout rate will be critical, but if Siri can consistently get on base, he could pose major problems for opposing defenses. Siri should see his share of chances out of the gate.

Tyler Stephenson, C, Cincinnati Reds

Cincinnati Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson (37) works through catching drills at the Cincinnati Reds Player Development Complex in Goodyear, Ariz., on Monday, Feb. 20, 2023.
Cincinnati Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson (37) works through catching drills at the Cincinnati Reds Player Development Complex in Goodyear, Ariz., on Monday, Feb. 20, 2023.

The Reds sorely missed Stephenson last year as the former first-round pick endured three injury spells. He missed 107 games — 10 from a concussion suffered in a home-plate collision, 27 after breaking his right thumb on a foul tip and 70 when another tip resulted in a broken collarbone.

When healthy, Stephenson raked, and he's consistently done so since reaching the majors in 2020. He's a lifetime .296 hitter with an .823 OPS and 18 home runs across 605 plate appearances.

Stephenson turns 26 in August and is under team control through 2027. He will be one of the featured pieces in the everyday lineup as the Reds attempt to exceed minimal expectations.

This article originally appeared on The Daytona Beach News-Journal: MLB Opening Day: Volusia-Flagler-St. Johns athletes' outlooks for 2023