Few players can say their careers were more up in the air this spring than Danny Otero. The right-handed reliever was designated for assignment three different times. When the dust settled, he was no longer a member of any organization's 40-man roster, but he was still with the Oakland A's organization and he finds himself off to a great start to the year.
"It's interesting, because you always hear about it from guys that have been through it, and you say, 'Ok, I'll cross that road when it comes,'" Otero said of going through the waiver process."And when it finally does, it's ‘well what do I do now?' It's the unknown."
Before this spring, Otero's carer had been relatively stable. He had been with the San Francisco Giants ever since the team drafted him in the 21st-round in 2007.
After making his big league debut last season with San Francisco, Otero struggled to throw strikes this spring and was claimed off waivers by the New York Yankees. But as soon as he thought about donning the pinstripes, New York waived him the next day. He was eventually claimed by the A's, but when Oakland traded for backstop Stephen Vogt, Otero was designated for assignment again to make room on the 40-man roster.
"It's tougher on my wife, my family, than it is on me," Otero said. "For me, I'm just going to go play while they try to plan trips, living situations."
Luckily for him and his pregnant wife Tiffany, the plans didn't change again. Otero went through waivers unclaimed and he returned to the familiar surroundings of northern California. He came to the River Cats after spending the majority of the last two seasons playing for Triple-A Fresno, the Giants' affiliate.
Otero has quickly emerged as Sacramento's most effective reliever. He has yet to allow a run in his eight appearances. Through 9.2 innings, Otero has allowed four hits and just one walk.
Year after year, Oakland seems to find veteran relievers for their Triple-A staff that make their way to the big leagues. Otero could be the next on the list. Hampered with average velocity, Otero has a good sink on his fastball that's helped him get ground balls at an outstanding rate. His focus has been throwing strikes to the right part of the zone.
"I didn't do a great job of it [in spring] ... trying to throw quality strikes early in the count," he said. "Hitters like to swing and if you can throw a quality strike early, then you can get quick outs."
Otero had Tommy John surgery in August of 2009, and he said it took him more than 18 months to start feeling back to normal. He only threw 22 innings in 2010, before moving up the ladder in the Giants' organization in 2011, finishing 31 games in his 56 appearances between Double-A and Triple-A. His efforts were recognized and he broke camp with San Francisco last spring.
"To watch them go through the playoffs and watch them win the World Series was a huge step in my career," Otero said. "To be a apart of that, is something I'll always remember."
Allowing 19 hits in 12.1 innings and posting a 5.84 ERA didn't keep the 27-year-old in the big leagues for long, however. His 12 appearances early in the season were his only big league innings to date. Now with Sacramento, Otero is one of several River Cats' relievers who have spent time in the major leagues. Sacramento pitching coach Rick Rodriguez has spent time in the big leagues as both a pitcher and a bullpen coach.
"He knows what it takes," Otero said of Rodriguez. "He knows how pitchers warm up. He knows that system. Things are different than down here. And you can always use him as a sounding board, which is always nice."
Otero's ability to get ground balls bodes very well for his chances to reach the big leagues again. But his key is commanding the strike zone and getting hitters to swing at his pitches. Should he continue to put up zeroes in Sacramento, there's a good chance he could find himself with the A's at some point this year. He isn't on the 40-man roster, but that hasn't prevented the A's from promoting non-roster players in the past.