Predicting 10 MLB Non-Roster Invitees Who Will Have Huge Spring Trainings
Every MLB team brings a handful of non-roster invitees to spring training with it. It's a group that's generally a mix of fringe veteran players battling for a spot and top prospects getting a chance to show what they can do against big league talent.
For the most part, these players are a long shot to crack the Opening Day roster. But every year, there are at least a few who use a big spring to earn a major league job.
Prospects like Aaron Hicks (Minnesota Twins), Jackie Bradley (Boston Red Sox) and Jose Fernandez (Miami Marlins) broke through last season, while forgotten veterans such as Scott Kazmir (Cleveland Indians) and Miguel Tejada (Kansas City Royals) earned spots as well.
With that in mind, here is a look at 10 non-roster invitees who could turn a huge spring training into an Opening Day roster spot.
RF Bobby Abreu, Philadelphia Phillies
Bobby Abreu was out of baseball altogether last season, and he hit just .252/.352/.392 from 2010-12 while playing for the Los Angeles Angels and Los Angeles Dodgers.
The 39-year-old is attempting a comeback this spring, though, after hitting .322/.416/.461 with 10 doubles, three home runs and 28 RBI in 50 Venezuelan Winter League games this offseason.
"This feels a little bit like, can he be the Phillies' Jason Giambi, but with enough skills perhaps to play in the field a game or two a week?" said Joel Sherman of the New York Post in an MLB.com video. "He didn't have a lot of (power) last time he played in the major leagues, but he hit eight homers in 15 postseason games in Venezuela."
Even with diminished power, Abreu still has terrific on-base skills and provides a professional at-bat. The current depth chart would likely place him behind John Mayberry in the running for the No. 4 outfield spot, but a big spring could win him a spot on the team with which he made a name for himself during his prime.
SP Archie Bradley, Arizona Diamondbacks
The Arizona Diamondbacks took right-hander Archie Bradley out of high school with the No. 7 pick in the 2011 draft, and he's moved quickly through their system.
After a terrific full season at the Single-A level in 2012, he split last year between High-A and Double-A as a 20-year-old. Over 26 starts, he was 14-5 with a 1.84 ERA and 162 strikeouts in 152 innings of work.
Even with the free-agent addition of Bronson Arroyo, the Diamondbacks rotation still lacks a legitimate staff ace. Bradley has the polish and stuff to be that guy by the end of the 2014 season. While it may take an injury for him to earn a rotation spot, he'll get a long look this spring.
3B Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs
Since being taken with the No. 2 pick in last year's draft, slugger Kris Bryant has done nothing but hit, putting himself on the fast track to an everyday job with the rebuilding Chicago Cubs.
He signed in time to play 36 games last year, reaching the High-A level and hitting a combined .336/.390/.688 with 14 doubles, nine home runs and 32 RBI over 128 at-bats.
The 22-year-old followed that up by hitting .364/.457/.727 with eight doubles, six home runs and 17 RBI in 20 games in the Arizona Fall League, capturing MVP honors against some of the best young talent in baseball. He'll no doubt open the season in the minors, but it won't be long before he's pushing Luis Valbuena for the starting job in Chicago.
OF/DH Jason Kubel, Minnesota Twins
After spending the first seven seasons of his career with the Minnesota Twins, Jason Kubel signed a two-year, $16 million deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks in free agency.
He turned in a terrific first season in the desert, posting an .833 OPS with 30 home runs and 90 RBI to rank as one of the best signings of the offseason.
The 31-year-old struggled last year, though, hitting just .220/.288/.324 through 89 games before being traded to the Cleveland Indians in August. His option was declined this offseason, and he wound up settling for a minor league deal to return to the Twins.
Kubel looks like the best candidate for the DH spot at this point, and he'll be motivated to turn in a big spring.
SP Shaun Marcum, Cleveland Indians
Though he dealt with injuries, Shaun Marcum was a plus option when healthy from 2010-12, going 33-19 with a 3.62 ERA and 1.18 WHIP while averaging 28 starts per season.
He agreed to a one-year, $4 million deal with the New York Mets last season and had a rough year, going 1-10 with a 5.29 ERA over 14 games (12 starts) and throwing just 78.1 innings.
Those numbers look rough on the surface, but a .322 BABIP and 3.64 FIP, per Fangraphs, suggest Marcum pitched better than his numbers reflect, and he looks like a good bounce-back candidate. The No. 5 starter spot is wide open in Cleveland, and a big spring could earn him the job.
RP Mark Montgomery, New York Yankees
Mark Montgomery has posted eye-popping numbers in the minor leagues since being taken in the 11th round of the 2011 draft, with a 2.22 ERA and 209 strikeouts in 138 innings of work.
Many viewed him as the heir apparent to Mariano Rivera, but he missed some time due to injury last season and was not quite as dominant at the Triple-A level, with a 3.38 ERA and 1.53 WHIP over 40 innings pitched.
It looks like David Robertson will take over the ninth-inning role this coming season, but the back end of the Yankees bullpen is still something of a question mark. Montgomery could win a spot with a big spring training.
SP Mark Mulder, Los Angeles Angels
Mark Mulder has not thrown a pitch in the big leagues since 2008, and he has not been an effective major league pitcher since 2005. Despite that, he finds himself on the comeback trail.
After emulating the way Paco Rodriguez breaks his glove near his head as opposed to his waist and seeing impressive results while playing catch with former teammate Kyle Lohse, Mulder decided to try making a return.
"The best way to describe it is, the ball is coming out of my hand better now than at any point when I was in St. Louis," Mulder told Jerry Crasnick of ESPN. "I wouldn't be trying this if I didn't think the stuff I was throwing was good enough [to pitch in the big leagues]."
The Angels apparently thought it was good enough as well, as they offer him a minor league contract with an invite to spring training back in January.
Considering he had a solid job as a Baseball Tonight analyst, it's fair to assume Mulder would not be trying this unless he really thought he had a chance. If Tyler Skaggs struggles this spring, Mulder could wind up as the No. 5 starter. He has a chance to be this year's Scott Kazmir.
1B Mark Reynolds, Milwaukee Brewers
Since the start of the 2008 season, Mark Reynolds ranks fifth in all of baseball with 185 home runs. But an incredibly high strikeout rate and subpar defensive skills means he had to settle for a minor league contract with the Milwaukee Brewers this spring.
Reynolds got off to a red-hot start last season, hitting .301/.368/.651 with eight home runs and 22 RBI over his first 23 games after signing with the Indians in the offseason. He hit just .202/.291/.334 with 13 home runs and 45 RBI from the beginning of May until the end of the season, though.
Still, he has a good chance of beating out Lyle Overbay and Juan Francisco for the first-base job or, at the very least, earning a platoon job. Reynolds has always hit well in the spring, and he'll need a big spring this time around to earn his spot.
CF George Springer, Houston Astros
Though Twins outfield prospect Byron Buxton walked away with Minor League Player of the Year honors last year, the honor could very well have gone to George Springer.
Taken No. 11 overall in 2011, Springer split last season between Double- and Triple-A as a 23-year-old and nearly became the first minor leaguer in the modern era to post a 40/40 season. He wound up coming up just short, hitting .303/.411/.600 with 37 home runs and 45 steals. He doesn't have much left to prove at the minor league level.
The plan is likely to keep him in the minors until at least midseason in order to slow his arbitration clock, but a huge spring could force the Houston Astros' hand.
SP Jameson Taillon, Pittsburgh Pirates
Gerrit Cole has received the bulk of the attention since being taken with the No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft, but Jameson Taillon had similarly impressive upside after being taken with the No. 2 pick in the 2010 draft out of high school.
He gave a glimpse of what's to come in pitching for Team Canada in the WBC last spring, earning the start against Team USA. In four innings of work, Taillon allowed four hits and two runs (one earned) while walking one and striking out three.
The 22-year-old then split last season between Double- and Triple-A, going 5-10 with a 3.73 ERA and 143 strikeouts in 147.1 innings. Edinson Volquez is currently penciled in at the end of the rotation for the Pirates, with Jeff Locke in the mix as well, but a big spring could be enough for Taillon to break camp as one of the Pittsburgh Pirates' lower-level starters.