The end of January is a beautiful time for Major League Baseball fans. Most teams have made their big offseason moves and are just counting the days until pitchers and catchers report.
For the New York Yankees, spring training is going to be a madhouse as everyone gets a look at new acquisitions Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran and, of course, Masahiro Tanaka.
It's also a chance for less-heralded players to make an impression on the talent evaluators and put themselves on the radar. These are the players who have been invited to spring training without a guaranteed roster spot.
The Yankees have invited 26 players to spring training, with nine of them being signed to minor league deals. Some of these players have been in the system for years, like Tyler Austin and Mason Williams, while others are clinging to whatever future they might have, like Russ Canzler and Bruce Billings.
As you would expect from a group of non-roster invitees, it's not the best collection of talent, but injuries happen, and someone, probably a reliever, on the MLB team will fail to meet expectations.
To prepare you for spring training, we wanted to look at the five most notable non-roster invitees and why they could end up in New York at some point in 2014.
Note: All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference unless otherwise noted.
2013 Stats (Rookie Ball and Double-A): 85 G, .265/.351/.378, 17 2B, 1 3B, 6 HR, 40 RBI, 4 SB
Tyler Austin is one of New York's big trio of prospects (with Mason Williams and Slade Heathcott) who battled injuries and never looked right in 2013. His power fell off a cliff thanks to a wrist injury that sent him to the disabled list.
Unlike Heathcott, who has been injury prone throughout his career, Austin doesn't have a track record of getting hurt. He just ran into bad luck last season, as prospects tend to do.
It's hard not to fall in love with his measurables and talents. He's a physical 6'1", 220-pound player who will flash four average or better tools at any given time. The hit tool has to improve since he's limited to a corner outfield spot, but his baseball IQ is very high.
The Yankees have put his back to the wall by rebuilding their entire outfield. He wasn't going to make the club out of spring training anyway, and he was unlikely to contribute in the big leagues this season after playing just 83 games at Double-A.
However, given Carlos Beltran's age (37 in April) and Ichiro Suzuki's .639 OPS, Austin could factor into the club's plans late in the season, especially if he stays healthy and plays closer to his breakout 2012 season (.960 OPS).
Odds of playing in MLB this season: 15/1
2013 Stats (High-A and Double-A): 117 G, .245/.304/.337, 24 2B, 4 3B, 4 HR, 28 RBI, 15 SB
I have two issues with Mason Williams. First, he's very slight at 6'1" and 180 pounds without a lot of upper-body strength. He doesn't drive the ball much, despite making a lot of contact.
Second, despite having elite athleticism, he still fits into the raw category. That's not what you want from a 22-year-old with three full seasons of minor league experience.
He is a plus runner with more than enough range in center field to be an above-average defender. If he can find some offensive punch, the Yankees will have an everyday center fielder on their hands.
Like Austin being boxed out by Carlos Beltran and Ichiro Suzuki, Williams has to contend with newly acquired Jacoby Ellsbury at his position.
With Williams only having 17 lackluster games of experience in Double-A, he was never going to be a factor for an Opening Day job.
However, since he is in Double-A and one full year removed from shoulder surgery, he could regain a lot of the stock he lost last season. Pay close attention to how the power develops, if at all, this season.
Given Ellsbury's injury history, if all goes right, Williams could be in the mix for a September call-up.
Odds of playing in MLB this season: 25/1
2013 Stats with Oakland: 2 G, .167/.167/.333, 1 2B
One thing the Yankees did this offseason was stock up on infield depth. After watching Derek Jeter miss virtually all of 2013 and letting Robinson Cano walk via free agency, New York had to change something.
Sizemore enters spring training at a disadvantage since he's not an elite defensive shortstop like fellow Yankee Brendan Ryan, and he also has to compete with Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson for the second and/or third base job.
Given everything that we don't know about Sizemore right now due to the injuries, it's hard to envision him making the team out of spring training.
But Roberts isn't a picture of health, having played just 192 games since 2010, and Johnson posting on-base percentages of .313 and .305 the last two years gives Sizemore a chance to be brought up later in the season.
Odds of playing in MLB this season: 10/1
2013 Stats (Rookie Ball and Triple-A): 29 G, 2-3, 3.38 ERA, 45.1 IP, 41 H, 4 HR, 25 BB, 59 K
Not that long ago, Mark Montgomery looked like he would be a staple in New York's bullpen for years. He was dominant as a 21-year-old in 2012, posting a 1.54 ERA and 99-22 ratio of strikeouts to walks and allowing just 35 hits in 64.1 innings.
He isn't your typical dominating reliever. He stands at just 5'11" but carries his 205 pounds very well. He is more deceptive than overpowering, working with an average fastball that he controls well to both sides of the plate.
What separates him from a typical pitcher with that kind of fastball is the slider. It's a monster offering at its peak, sitting in the 84-86 mph range with excellent, late tilt.
His control wasn't as sharp last season, which led to more hits and walks allowed than we were accustomed to seeing. But the quality of the stuff is still there, and he can be a solid middle reliever.
Fortunately for Montgomery, the Yankees are weak in the bullpen. Mariano Rivera left a gaping chasm that David Robertson has to fill. Boone Logan took his arm to Colorado. Joba Chamberlain went to Detroit. The pen has a lot of holes to fill.
Given the lackluster options behind him, Montgomery just has to prove himself capable against MLB hitters to get a job out of spring training.
Odds of making team out of spring training: 5/1
Odds of playing in MLB this season: 3/1
2013 Stats with Los Angeles Angels: 16 G, 2-2, 1 SV, 3.71 ERA, 17.0 IP, 14 H, 1 HR, 8 BB, 23 K
Inflammation in his shoulder and elbow ended Robert Coello's 2013 season prematurely, which is a shame because he was turning in a solid campaign for the Angels up until that point.
A 29-year-old journeyman, he has never had the power stuff to dominate in relief. His average fastball last year was just under 91 mph, according to FanGraphs, and he doesn't really have a second pitch he trusts. He threw the heater 82.2 percent of the time.
Coello is going to give up a lot of hits because the fastball lacks velocity. He'll also give up a lot of fly balls because the pitch lacks deception and stays in the zone.
But relievers who throw strikes and average more than one strikeout per inning aren't always easy to find.
The Yankees will be rebuilding most of their bullpen on the fly this spring, so finding someone who is capable of throwing one or two innings in garbage time will be a valuable asset for them.
Coello is the only non-roster pitching invitee with some semblance of a track record in the big leagues, which will likely help his cause heading into spring training. He's also an asset against right-handed hitters, limiting them to a .468 OPS in a small sample size of 38 at-bats last season.
Odds of making team out of spring training: 10/1
Odds of playing in MLB this season: 8/1
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