Every MLB Team's Non-Roster Invitee with Best Shot to Make Roster
Last offseason, it was Marlon Byrd and Scott Kazmir who headlined a group of minor-league free agents that were able to parlay a spring training invite into spots on Opening Day major-league rosters. Jedd Gyorko and Jose Fernandez, both top prospects without a single day of big-league service time, did the same.
While the odds are usually stacked against those who aren't already on the 40-man roster—only four teams currently have space on their 40-man rosters, according to MLBDepthCharts.com—adding non-roster players requires players already on the 40-man roster to be removed (either by being placed on waivers, placed on the 60-Day DL, traded or released).
Truthfully, every year it's quite common for at least one or two players from each team to win a job in the spring and have their contract purchased from the minors prior to the start of the regular season.
Here is one non-roster invitee from each of the 30 teams with the best shot to crack their respective team's Opening Day roster.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Henry Blanco
The D'backs will be tempted to add one of several big-time arms to their pitching staff who are in camp as non-roster players, including top prospect Archie Bradley and the relief duo Matt Stites and Jake Barrett. There simply isn't much room, however, in the rotation or the bullpen at this point.
That's not the case on the D'backs bench, though, where veterans Henry Blanco (pictured) and Bobby Wilson have a decent shot of beating out Tuffy Gosewisch for the backup catcher job.
While Gosewisch is the lone catcher on the 40-man roster aside from starter Miguel Montero, he's a 30-year-old career minor-leaguer who went 8-for-46 as a rookie in 2013.
Blanco won't offer much at the plate either, but the 42-year-old should still be able to offer the strong defense he's known for—he has thrown out 43 percent of attempted base-stealers throughout his career—and he'll bring with him a wealth of knowledge and experience that comes from playing with 12 different teams in 16 big-league seasons.
Atlanta Braves: Freddy Garcia
Unless Dan Uggla fails to show any signs of bouncing back from a late-season slump that caused the Braves to leave him off of their postseason roster, it's a long shot that non-roster invitees who can help pick up the slack at second base, such as Tyler Greene or Tommy La Stella, have a chance at landing a spot.
The pitching staff doesn't appear to have many open spots for a non-roster player, either, though veteran Freddy Garcia (pictured) deserves a long look after pitching well down the stretch in 2013 (1.65 ERA in final 27.1 innings) and then making one strong start against the Dodgers in the NLDS.
Alex Wood should have the edge for the No. 5-starter spot, but the 37-year-old Garcia, who was re-signed to a minor-league deal last month, might be next in line if Wood proves he's not quite ready to step in from Day 1. Garcia could also win a job in the Braves' bullpen, where he'd be utilized in a long-relief role with the ability to make a spot start on occasion.
Baltimore Orioles: Delmon Young
In the case that the Baltimore Orioles sign one of the top remaining free-agent hitters (Nelson Cruz or Kendrys Morales), Delmon Young (pictured) will have his chances of making the team's Opening Day roster reduced drastically.
As things stand, though, he couldn't have picked a better team to try to win a job with. The O's have big question marks in left field and at the designated-hitter spot, and it shouldn't be too difficult for Young to win a spot as the right-handed hitting part of a platoon. The 28-year-old struggled against lefties in 2013, but his career .812 OPS against them indicates that he'd thrive in such a role.
Boston Red Sox: Francisco Cordero
The World Series champions have more than enough talent on their 40-man roster to fill out their Opening Day dsquad. If there's a non-roster candidate to watch, though, it's three-time All-Star Francisco Cordero (pictured), who recently signed a minor-league deal.
The 38-year-old, who missed the entire 2013 season while recovering from shoulder surgery to his non-throwing shoulder, has reportedly dropped 30 pounds, according to Alex Speier of WEEI.com, and is hoping to revive his career in Boston.
Prior to a disastrous 2013 season, during which he posted a 7.55 ERA in 47 appearances between the Toronto Blue Jays and Houston Astros, Cordero had been one of the most reliable relief pitchers in the game, with a 2.92 ERA and 327 saves from 2002-2011.
If he shows that he still has something left in the tank this spring, the Sox won't hesitate to clear a spot and put him back to work in their bullpen.
Chicago Cubs: Emilio Bonifacio
With several former big-leaguers in camp as non-roster invitees and question marks throughout their roster, the Chicago Cubs are very likely to add at least one of them to their big-league roster to start the season.
The 2009 NL Rookie of the Year, Chris Coghlan, and former Red Sox prospect Ryan Kalish are two of the more notable players from that group, but the one with the best chance could be utilityman Emilio Bonifacio (pictured), who recently signed a minor-league deal after being released by the Kansas City Royals.
With plus speed and the ability to play six different positions on the diamond, Bonifacio brings plenty of important attributes to the Cubs' bench. The 28-year-old switch-hitter could also push Darwin Barney for playing time at second base after the latter posted an awful .569 OPS in 2013.
Chicago White Sox: David Purcey
Throw out a couple ugly outings to start his big-league stint with the Chicago White Sox in 2013 and one really bad one to finish out the season, and it's clear that lefty David Purcey (pictured) made an impact out of the team's bullpen last year.
In between those struggles, the 31-year-old posted an 0.44 ERA n 20.2 innings pitched while holding opposing hitters to a .512 OPS. It wasn't enough to keep him on the 40-man roster and not risk losing him to another team once he became a free agent after the season, but he was re-signed to a minor-league deal in early November.
He's now likely at the top of a list that includes several non-roster invitees vying for one of a few unsettled spots in the Sox 'pen.
Cincinnati Reds: Roger Bernadina
What if rookie Billy Hamilton, who is penciled in as the Cincinnati Reds' starting center fielder and leadoff hitter, shows that he's not quite ready for the major leagues this spring? After all, he did have a very unimpressive .309 on-base percentage in Triple-A last season, so it wouldn't be a surprise if he needed more time in the minors.
At this point, the backup plan isn't that clear, but it's hard to see Roger Bernadina (pictured) not getting the first shot at the job as long as he has a strong camp.
After the Reds failed to bring in a solid "Plan B" for Hamilton this offseason, the 29-year-old Bernadina couldn't have found a better team to sign a minor-league deal with. He's only two years removed from posting a .777 OPS with 15 stolen bases in 129 games for the Washington Nationals, and this could be his last opportunity to prove he can be a big-league regular.
Cleveland Indians: Jason Giambi
If Jason Giambi (pictured) didn't think he had a good chance at making the Indians' Opening Day roster, he probably wouldn't have signed a minor-league deal to return to Cleveland for his age-43 season.
While he hit only .183 with the Tribe in 2013, Giambi made his 34 hits count with nine homers and eight doubles. He also knocked in 31 runs and hit three pinch-hit homers.
He'll have competition as the top left-handed bat off the bench from former Blue Jay David Cooper, who signed a major-league deal, and Bryan LaHair, who signed a minor-league deal after playing in Japan last season.
Colorado Rockies: Manny Corpas
Top pitching prospects Eddie Butler and Jonathan Gray, both in camp as non-roster invitees, are talented enough that the Rockies could have to give serious consideration to breaking camp with one of them in their big-league rotation.
They'll pass on doing so, however, for at least for the first few months of the season, while Jordan Lyles, Franklin Morales or Juan Nicasio get a shot to show what they can do in the No. 5 spot.
Things aren't quite as settled in the bullpen, though, which is why Manny Corpas (pictured) will get yet another chance with the team.
The 31-year-old, who posted a 2.08 ERA with 19 saves as a 24-year-old Rockies reliever in 2007, was re-signed to a minor-league deal earlier this month after posting a 4.54 ERA in 31 relief appearances for the team last season. He's one of the rare pitchers to do well at Coors Field (4.16 ERA in 161 career games; 3.10 ERA in 2013), which makes him a safe choice to return in a middle-relief role.
Detroit Tigers: Eduardo Sanchez
The Detroit Tigers are hoping that newest bullpen additions—Joe Nathan, Joba Chamberlain and Ian Krol—can solidify what's been a late-inning problem area over the past two seasons.
Having at least one other unexpected contributor would also help greatly, and there's no better candidate than Eduardo Sanchez (pictured), who went from potential St. Louis Cardinals "closer of the future" to minor-league free-agent signee this winter.
As a 22-year-old rookie in 2011, Sanchez posted a 1.80 ERA with five saves, 16 walks, 35 strikeouts and only 14 hits allowed in 30 innings pitched for the Cards. He fell out of favor by early the next season because of troubles with throwing strikes consistently.
His control troubles have continued in the minor leagues, and there's no indication that things will be any different this spring. If he can find the plate, though, he could still be a force out of a big-league bullpen, and the Tigers won't hesitate to clear a spot for him.
Houston Astros: George Springer
If only because the Houston Astros don't have enough talent on their big-league roster to tell their fan base—with a straight face—that George Springer (pictured) is going back to the minors, where he posted a 1.010 OPS with 37 homers and 45 stolen bases between Triple-A and Double-A last season, expect the 24-year-old outfielder to have a very good chance of being in the big-league team's lineup on Opening Day.
Putting Springer back in Triple-A for at least two months will save ownership some money down the road, which is good for business. But unless Springer struggles in the spring, or two corner outfield candidates out of an uninspiring group of players have impressive performances in March, it might not be worth it to lie to a fan base that they'll be counting on to come back to the ball park once the team is competitive again.
Kansas City Royals: Guillermo Mota/Brad Penny/Jon Rauch
That the Kansas City Royals might have only one spot up for grabs this spring should tell you how far they've come. This is a talented and deep team that is ready to compete for a playoff spot, and the players coming into camp as non-roster invitees are long shots, at best.
The recent release of Emilio Bonifacio, while it did save the team a few million dollars, was a bit surprising, because the list of candidates to fill that bench spot—Pedro Ciriaco, Christian Colon and Jason Donald—aren't as versatile nor offer Bonifacio's blazing speed. But Ciriaco or Colon, both players on the 40-man roster, have a distinct edge over Donald, a non-roster invitee who posted a .586 OPS for Triple-A Louisville last season.
But instead of declaring that no non-roster invitees will make the club, it's rare for an entire pitching staff to make it through spring training unscathed. Assuming one Royals reliever will land on the disabled list, it wouldn't be a surprise to see a veteran like Guillermo Mota (pictured), Brad Penny or Jon Rauch sneak their way onto the 25-man roster with a strong camp.
Los Angeles Angels
With Albert Pujols returning from a foot injury that hampered him throughout the 2013 season, Carlos Pena (pictured) and his agent might have viewed the Los Angeles Angels as the best opportunity for him to receive at least semi-regular playing time in 2014.
After signing a minor-league deal late last month, the 35-year-old Pena has a very good chance to win a bench job with the Halos. He'd play first base when Pujols is utilized as the designated hitter, and he'd be the starter in the event that the 34-year-old Pujols misses an extended period of time once again.
Pena has had back-to-back subpar seasons at the plate, but he does have value as a solid defensive first baseman with power (285 career homers).
Los Angeles Dodgers: Chone Figgins
You wouldn't think that a team with a 2014 payroll that is expected to exceed $230 million would provide much of an opportunity for a non-roster invitee to make the club, and that is mostly the case—unless you're a backup middle infielder.
With Cuban defector Alexander Guerrero, who is a relative unknown after signing a free-agent contract this offseason, being projected as the starter at second base and Dee Gordon, who has struggled at the big-league level, being his top competitor and the front-runner for the backup job, non-roster invitees like Brendan Harris and Justin Turner have a fighting chance for a roster spot.
But if Chone Figgins (pictured), who is in camp after signing a minor-league deal in January, can show any signs of being the elite player he once was with the Angels from 2004-2009, the Dodgers won't pass on the opportunity to add the 36-year-old to their already star-studded roster.
Miami Marlins: Henry Rodriguez
To most people, a veteran starter coming into camp on a minor-league deal seemingly had a strong chance to win a rotation spot behind a quartet of young and talented pitchers in Miami this season. But unless you think Kevin Slowey—the lone veteran starter in camp—is the answer, the team apparently didn't feel the same way.
The remainder of the roster is also pretty well set, though a rebuilding team like the Marlins should always be open-minded to handing roster a spot to a guy who is somewhat of a high-ceiling project and also may be too much of a risk for a playoff contender.
That project would be hard-throwing Henry Rodriguez (pictured), who failed to stick with the Nationals after his bouts of inconsistency finally outweighed his flashes of dominance and then didn't get much of a chance once he was picked up by the Cubs.
If the Marlins can't offer the 26-year-old one of their likely seven bullpen spots, he might be out of chances.
Milwaukee Brewers: Mark Reynolds
There aren't too many non-roster invitees who are near-locks for Opening Day rosters. Mark Reynolds (pictured), however, is one.
At the least, the 30-year-old will platoon with Juan Francisco at first base after signing a minor-league deal with the Milwaukee Brewers. With a career .834 OPS against left-handed pitching, Reynolds could be a force in a part-time role.
Of course, any player capable of hitting 44 homers in a season and 30-plus homers in two others, as Reynolds did earlier in his career, can't be counted out from winning the job full time. Regardless, he's sure to get a good amount of playing time at each corner, with Aramis Ramirez and his balky knees unlikely to hold up on a regular basis at third base.
Minnesota Twins: Jason Kubel
Jason Kubel (pictured) left the Minnesota Twins as a free agent after the 2011 season with a career .794 OPS and 104 homers in 753 games with the team. His post-Twins career was off to a stellar start after posting an .833 OPS and 30 homers in his first season with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
So the fact that he's returning to the Twins a year later on a minor-league deal is a bit surprising. One disastrous season in 2013 was all it took for his value to decline, and now he'll have a very good chance to win a starting job where he began his career.
With the team's top hitting prospects not yet ready to contribute and following an offseason heavily focused on improving the team's starting pitching, Kubel will the lone addition relied upon to bring some power to the offense.
New York Mets: Kyle Farnsworth
Infielder Omar Quintanilla has a good chance to win a bench job, while Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lannan will get long looks as the New York Mets' No. 5 starter. But the best shot for a non-roster invitee to make the team is in the bullpen, where veterans Kyle Farnsworth (pictured) and Jose Valverde will be trying to win late-inning jobs.
While Valverde's career went in the tank late in the 2012 season and a return to the Tigers in 2013 ended with his release after a mediocre performance, the 37-year-old Farnsworth finished the season in impressive fashion after being picked up by the Pittsburgh Pirates in August. In 8.2 innings, Farnsworth allowed just one earned run while striking out nine and saving two games.
With closer Bobby Parnell returning from neck surgery, the Mets will likely feel more comfortable with Farnsworth or Valverde on the roster—barring a poor spring performance—to give them an experienced pitcher with closing experience to help carry the load.
New York Yankees: Scott Sizemore
In addition to Derek Jeter, the New York Yankees expect to carry four other infielders on their 40-man roster—Brian Roberts, Kelly Johnson, Eduardo Nunez and Brendan Ryan—which could make it tough for any other infielder in camp as a non-roster invitee hoping to land a roster spot.
With Roberts' lengthy injury history and Jeter coming back from ankle surgery, however, it's not difficult to see a spot open for Scott Sizemore (pictured), who has missed most of the past two seasons recovering from knee injuries.
Prior to the first knee injury, Sizemore had locked down the starting third base job for the Oakland A's in 2012, after he had posted a .778 OPS with 11 homers in 93 games during the previous season. At age 29, Sizemore is still an intriguing option at either second or third base if the opportunity presented itself.
Oakland Athletics: Sam Fuld
Opportunities are few and far between on an Oakland A's team that might have one of the deepest rosters in the game. But it's hard to overlook the energy that Sam Fuld (pictured) could bring to the team as a part-time outfielder, which is why he shouldn't be counted out.
With John Jaso's status as a catcher still up in the air because of concussion concerns, the A's could prefer to place him on the disabled list to start the season as opposed to carrying him on the roster as a designated hitter. This would open a spot on the bench for the 32-year-old Fuld.
His chances still aren't great, but he might be the lone non-roster invitee to earn consideration.
Philadelphia Phillies: Bobby Abreu
Bobby Abreu's impressive performance during the Venezuelan Winter League (.877 OPS, 3 HR, 30 BB, 35 K in 50 games) doesn't mean he's ready to make an impact in the majors after a two-year absence. But it did likely help get the soon-to-be 40-year-old (pictured) an invite to big-league camp with the Phillies, a team he starred on from 1998-2006.
Lucky for him, putting up gaudy numbers in the spring isn't that difficult, either. And if he does, it will be hard for the Phillies to pass on giving him a spot on a projected bench that currently has no viable left-handed hitting options.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Travis Ishikawa
Heading into spring training, the Pittsburgh Pirates are still reportedly interested in acquiring a left-handed hitting platoon partner for Gaby Sanchez—Jayson Stark of ESPN reported that they continue to monitor the status of Mets first baseman Ike Davis.
But if the price remains too high for Davis and the Bucs remain unwilling to meet the contract demands of free agent Kendrys Morales (along with the draft pick compensation attached to his signing), they could go with internal options Andrew Lambo, Chris McGuiness or non-roster invitee Travis Ishikawa (pictured).
The 30-year-old Ishikawa has been a productive big-league hitter when given a chance, including in 2012, when he posted a .757 OPS in 94 games for the Milwaukee Brewers.
Lambo is the favorite after hitting 32 homers between Triple-A and Double-A last season, but Ishikawa could end up being the safe choice if the other two aren't overly impressive in the spring.
San Diego Padres: Tony Sipp
Offseason acquisition Alex Torres, who posted a 1.71 ERA in 39 relief appearances for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2013, is the favorite to be the San Diego Padres' primary lefty out of the 'pen.
Heading into the season with two lefties isn't out of the question, though, and the top candidates for that job are Rule 5-draftee Patrick Schuster, who was acquired in a trade with the Houston Astros, and non-roster invitee Tony Sipp (pictured).
Considering that Schuster has never pitched above High-A ball and would likely find it difficult to make the jump to the majors, the 30-year-old Sipp would appear to have a good chance to beat him out.
After posting strong overall numbers, especially against left-handed batters in 2011-2012, Sipp struggled with control in 2013 (5.6 BB/9) while lefty hitters posted an .859 OPS against him. If he can show signs of a bounce back this spring, the playoff-hopeful Padres will likely opt for Sipp over Schuster.
San Francisco Giants: Javier Herrera
Every spring, it seems like some former prospect comes out of nowhere and has a huge spring training to either force his way onto the roster or just miss out on a roster spot. A strong candidate for the 2014 version is outfielder Javier Herrera (pictured), a former top prospect for the A's who reached Triple-A as a 20-year-old in 2005 but hasn't played above Double-A since.
Now closing in on 29 years old, Herrera will have a shot to win a bench spot with the San Francisco Giants that currently appears up for grabs. Roger Kieschnick is the favorite for the job because he's on the 40-man roster, but it wouldn't be a big surprise if the right-handed hitting Herrera, who posted an .861 OPS in Double-A last season, can outplay him by a wide margin and earn the "most unlikely player to win an Opening Day roster spot" tag.
Seattle Mariners: Scott Baker
If Scott Baker (pictured), who signed a minor-league deal in January that can pay him up to $4.25 million in bonuses and incentives, wasn't a lock already to crack the Seattle Mariners' Opening Day rotation, he is now that Hisashi Iwakuma will start the season on the disabled list while recovering from a finger injury.
Nearly two years removed from Tommy John surgery that kept him out of action from mid-2011 until last September, the 32-year-old could even start the second game of the season behind staff ace Felix Hernandez.
St. Louis Cardinals: Pat Neshek
There aren't many spots to be won on this talented St. Louis Cardinals team, aside from maybe one or two relief jobs.
The team's young group of relievers could benefit from a veteran presence, which could put side-armer Pat Neshek (pictured) in the driver's seat since he's the only non-roster reliever in camp with any big-league experience at all.
The 33-year-old is also deserving of a shot after he posted a 2.70 ERA in 69 appearances with the Oakland A's over the past two seasons. Holding opposing right-handed hitters to a .181 batting average in his career could also help his case, as the team is surely mindful of a plethora of matchups against inter-division stars such as Andrew McCutchen and Ryan Braun.
Tampa Bay Rays: Erik Bedard
The Tampa Bay Rays, who will be without starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson for at least the first month of the season while he recovers from arthroscopic elbow surgery, could easily turn to one of their top pitching prospects, Jake Odorizzi or Enny Romero, to fill the void.
But they also see the value of not rushing their best prospects to the bigs, and they could instead choose to resurrect the career of a starting pitcher who is not that far removed from being a very effective major-leaguer. That would be 34-year-old lefty Erik Bedard (pictured), who recently inked a minor-league deal and will be vying for a rotation spot after David Price, Alex Cobb, Matt Moore and Chris Archer.
While Bedard's 2013 season wasn't particularly strong overall, he did finish the year with seven shutout innings, including nine strikeouts without a walk, against the New York Yankees in late September.
Texas Rangers: Colby Lewis
The recent signing of Tommy Hanson to a major-league contract appeared to hurt the Opening Day roster chances of Colby Lewis (pictured), who was re-signed to a minor-league deal earlier in the offseason.
But with today's news that starting pitcher Matt Harrison was experiencing back tightness after missing most of last season with a back injury, per Drew Davison of the Star-Telegram, hope is alive for Lewis.
Even if Harrison is fine and ready for the start of the season, the 34-year-old Lewis could still beat out Hanson, who doesn't have a guaranteed deal, if he can show that he's healthy and back to his pre-injury form that produced a 3.43 ERA with 1.2 BB/9 and 8.0 K/9 in 16 starts in 2011.
Toronto Blue Jays: Chris Getz
The leading candidates for the Toronto Blue Jays' starting second-base job are Ryan Goins, who had a .609 OPS in a late-season big-league stint and wasn't much better in Triple-A (.679 OPS), and Maicer Izturis, who had a .597 OPS in his first season with the team.
As a result, former Kansas City Royals second baseman Chris Getz (pictured), who was signed to a minor-league deal this offseason, has a chance to win a job by just being in camp. Even with a career .619 OPS, his plus speed and solid defense could be enough if it's clear that the two aforementioned players aren't going to hit either.
Washington Nationals: Luis Ayala
Winning a spot on a Washington Nationals team that hopes to contend for a World Series title in 2014 will be tough for any player not already on the 40-man roster. If there's a front-runner, though, it could be veteran reliever Luis Ayala (pictured), who began his career with the organization back in 2003, when they were the Montreal Expos.
Six organizations later, Ayala is back and still an effective pitcher at age 36. With a 2.58 ERA in 157 relief appearances over the past three seasons, the right-hander could give the Nats a solid option to pitch in the sixth inning before handing the ball over to Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard.