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Continuing a swing around the the majors to look at the best and brightest of the spring training invitees with a look at the National League.

Atlanta Braves

His story might be quite familiar to fans by now, but it is still hard not to want Evan Gattis to make it as a major leaguer despite a handful of fans now beginning to overrate his abilities somewhat. With Brian McCann due to miss the start of the season, Gattis has a shot at making the club out of spring training.

Miami Marlins

As befits a team that is going to run out a group of borderline major league players this year, the Marlins have a number of players in camp whose career you probably thought was over but now has a chance to get significant playing time in Florida. The likes of Chone Figgins, Austin Kearns and Kevin Kouzmanoff might be hard to get excited about, but top prospect Jose Fernandez could provide a glimpse of the team’s future.

New York Mets

The Mets projecting starting outfield this year, based on their current 40 man roster, is Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Mike Baxter and Lucas Duda. The best outfield the team could put together from their NRIs is Marlon Byrd, Matthew den Dekker and Jamie Hoffman. Looks like a toss up.

Philadelphia Phillies

Aaron Cook was historically incapable of recording strikeouts last year with a 1.9 strikeouts per nine ratio. If he makes the Phillies, he could be pitching in front of a defense containing Yuniesky Betancourt, Ryan Howard and Delmon. That could be fun.

Washington Nationals

The Nationals are as well put together as any team in baseball this year so there is little in the way of big roles available to their NRIs. However, the presence of Micah Owings always makes things interesting as he seems to have abandoned pitching altogether and will attempt to turn a .283/.310/.502 career line into a job as a bench bat.

Chicago Cubs

The Cubs are in full rebuild mode so the sight of Javier Baez in camp will be a highlight for their fans. He seems to be very raw but could turn into a special hitter in the middle of their lineup in the coming years.

Cincinnati Reds

Billy Hamilton will obviously be the big draw as he adjusts to his new centre field role as he attempts to reach the big leagues, however it’s worth noting that Corky Miller will be back in a major league camp again this spring. Miller’s stat line is unremarkable at best but every spring it seems a team wants to bring the now 36 year old into camp. His leadership and experience is clearly valued in spite of his nondescript on field performances.

Milwaukee Brewers

A team without any particularly interesting prospects is also not bringing many veterans to camp of any great note. Hunter Morris will at least now be competing for a big league job following the injury to Mat Gamel.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Another team in the midst of (seemingly permanent) rebuild, the Pirates camp will be the scene of a face off between Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon who could form the 1-2 punch in the team’s rotation for the foreseeable future; providing everything goes to plan of course.

St Louis Cardinals

The organisation has a great recent record of turning out viable major leaguers from their farm system. While Oscar Tavares is the clear top prospect and the biggest draw, second base prospect Kolten Wong currently has a clearer path to the majors given the uncertainty around the keystone position on the current Cardinals roster.

Arizona Diamondbacks

A couple of nice prospects will be around in camp but look, Kila Ka’aihue, is still around!

Colorado Rockies

Manny Corpas was, at one time, the Rockies closer and key part of their bullpen. Injuries have curtailed his career in the last few years but it will be a nice story if he can make it back and contribute to the team’s relief corps again this summer.

LA Dodgers

None of these players are paid enough to be interesting to the Dodgers. Next.

San Diego Padres

The Padres own one of the game’s deepest farm systems so there will be plenty of young talent on display in their camp. One name to watch will be Jed Gyorko, a third basemen by trade but as long as he’s blocked by Chase Headley he will have to use this spring to prove he has the glove for second base if he wants to make a splash this year.

San Francisco Giants

On paper this list is pretty uninspiring. Having said that, the Giants have a strong record of turning generic looking veterans into useful major leaguers so someone in camp will probably turn in a shockingly good year in the Bay Area.

Last May, just a handful of games into the 2012 season, Brewers infielder Mat Gamel tore the ACL in his right knee, an injury that would put him out of action for the rest of the year. Now, less than a week into spring training, Gamel has once again torn those same ligaments and will miss the entire 2013 season.

It’s a desperately tough break for Gamel who, at 27, is still looking to establish himself as a major league player. An injury to Corey Hart meant he came into spring training with a near open run at the starting first baseman job and now he will once again have to take an extended period of time out of the game.

Gamel really established himself as a hitter worth paying attention to in 2008 when he hit .329/.395/.537 at Double-A. He continued to hit at Triple-A but a lack of defensive prowess seemed to hinder his progress to the big leagues. Unfortunately for Gamel his major league performances haven’t really lived up to his past prospect status with a career line of .229/.305/.367. Now with two lost years in a row, it’s hard to see what sort of production he would be able to offer in the future.

Gamel’s clear path to a starting job this year, despite a lack of historic performance, is indicative of the lack of depth the Brewers have at the position with both Gamel and Hart out of action. Short of bringing back Frank Catalanotto, their best internal option looks to be Hunter Morris who put up some impressive numbers in the minors last year but hasn’t yet played above Double-A. Aside from being a reminder of how often prospects don’t work out, Gamel’s last two years just to show the fragility of many athlete’s careers.

Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero was upfront about his thoughts on his former teammate Trevor Bauer when asked about his relationship with the pitcher yesterday. Montero claims that the rookie pitcher “never wanted to listen” and would stick to his own preparation methods to the detriment of his own performance.

It was well known before Bauer was even drafted that he had his own ideas about how he should prepare , warm up and ultimately pitch. There were various reports that some teams were shying away from drafting Bauer as a result of these tendencies so it can’t have come as a surprise to the Arizona organisation that the young right hander would come into professional ball with a clear idea of how he wanted to do things.

While Montero may well be proven right in the longer term, Bauer’s well-documented workout regime and methods would have been unlikely to escape the attention of the man who could expect to be catching him while Bauer was coming up through the minor league. It therefore seems entirely conceivable that Montero himself came into their working relationship with his own pre-conceptions and stubbornness.

Only those directly involved know how blame should be apportioned for the breakdown in Montero and Bauer’s relationship, but baseball is a pretty reactionary sport in many ways so the idea of a young player coming into a club and not immediately buying into the existing way of doing things isn’t a hard scenario to imagine causing issues among some members of the organisation. Clearly Bauer is putting a certain amount of extra pressure on himself to succeed if he remains intent on sticking with his own methods, but it is still too early to pass judgement on the usefulness of those methods.

Welcome to the first of a two part, annual series looking at the best non-roster invitees in big league camps this spring. Some our prospects, some veterans being given another chance, but all are worth keeping an eye on for one reason or another.

First up, the American League.

Baltimore Orioles

Having not pitched in the Majors since an eight game stint in 2011, Mark Hendrickson is back in Orioles camp to try and win a job in the team’s bullpen. Always an interesting player due to his height (6’9) and basketball background (he appeared in 114 NBA games), Hendrickson has reportedly switched to a side arm delivery in an attempt to prolong his career.

Boston Red Sox

Not really a group of players to get excited about, unfortunately. Ryan Sweeney and Lyle Overbay are recognisable names that could end up making a small contribution to the major league club but they’re hardly players to cause a song and dance over.

New York Yankees

The non-roster invitee lists on MLB.com are pretty strange things. Some teams only have a handful of players listed and it takes a bit of searching to get the full list elsewhere, other teams have what appears to be half their minor league system listed. The Yankees being a case in point. Looks like Joe Girardi might have to do some Homer Simpson style cutting in the first few days of camp. Anyway, the most interesting name on that lengthy list is probably Gary Sanchez. The Yankees are clearly short in the catching department this year and Sanchez will get a chance this spring to prove he can handle the position defensively in the long term.

Tampa Bay Rays

Shelly Duncan is usually a fun player to watch but all eyes this spring will be on Wil Myers. The prize the Rays received in the James Shields trade may well start the year at Triple A but if he hits like he did in 2012 the Rays are unlikely to be as gun shy about promoting him as the Royals seemed to be. The artist formally known as Leo Nuez is also in Rays camp.

Toronto Blue Jays

Non roster invitees are often players who teams have had in the past and want to bring back because they know they can offer leadership, stability and all that other good stuff you want in camp during the spring. Dave Bush seems to be that man for Toronto as he back with the club that drafted him in both 2001 and 2002.

Chicago White Sox

Unsurprisingly, the prospect invitees at White Sox camp are a pretty uninspiring bunch, however one former prospect does catch the eye. Bryan Anderson was once a nice prospect in the Cardinals system who profiled as an offensive minded catcher, but over the last few years his Triple-A batting lines in the offensively-minded PCL have been pretty nondescript. The team will be hoping he’s a late bloomer as their catching depth is almost non-existant going into the season.

Cleveland Indians

If things had turned out the way many thought they would, the Indians having Scott Kazmir and Jeremy Hermida on their roster would likely have meant we would be talking about them as World Series contenders. As it is, the careers of the two 28 year olds who were born less than a week apart have fallen flat with neither likely to make any further impact in the big leagues.

Detroit Tigers

The Tigers have a well-deserved reputation as preferring a ‘more experienced’ roster so the presence of top prospect Nick Castellanos in camp will be a welcome sight for Tiger fans. Originally a third baseman, Castellanos is now more likely to make the big leagues as an outfielder and will be learning the new position in camp this spring.

Kansas City Royals

Before today I’d never heard of Sugar Ray Marimon. Now all I think about is how much I hope Sugar Ray Marimon makes it to the big leagues this year.

Minnesota Twins

Twins camp is the next stop on Rich Harden’s never ending come back tour. You have to admire his determination to perserve with the game given his catalogue of injuries although whenever he does re-emerge he does seem to maintain his ability to miss some bats. Unfortunately he also proves that he can’t stay healthy or keep the ball in the ballpark. What a career he could have had with health on his side.

Houston Astros

There’s no way around the fact that the Astros are going to be awful this year. Obviously this is by design as they rebuild but it is unavoidable nonetheless. They do at least have the owner of one of baseball’s most unique careers in camp as Rick Ankiel continues to try return to the big leagues as an outfielder.

Los Angeles Angel of Anaheim

A near empty farm system and a less than stellar crop of veteran invitees makes this a pretty lacklustre list. Bill Hall is probably the pick of them which just about says it all.

Oakland Athletics

After being drafted 11th overall last summer, Addison Russell had an explosive debut in pro ball and will now be the youngest player in big league camp this spring. It’s too early to think about when the young shortstop will be playing at the big league level, but he’s showing that he might end up being the best player to come out of last year’s draft.

Seattle Mariners

The Mariners currently have a pretty strong group of prospects at their disposal, the best two of which are probably Mike Zunino and Taijuan Walker, both of whom will be on display in Arizona this spring and could quite conceivably see time with the big league club later on this summer.

Texas Rangers

He might not quite be the youngest player in MLB camps this year, so Jurickson Profar will have to content himself with being most people’s top prospect in the game instead. When the team does finally decide he’s ready for the Show, the Rangers are going to be faced with an interesting positional crunch as they already possess one of the game’s best middle infield tandems in Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus.

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The news that MLB was trying to look into the Miami-based clinic of one Anthony Bosch hadn’t attracted much attention up until now, however the leaking of a report from one of the clinics former employees to a local newspaper will soon be changing all that. The Miami New Times appears to be in the possession of extensive records from the Biogenesis clinic linking a number of sportsman to performance enhancing drugs, including a several current major leaguers.

The headlines will undoubtedly be taken by Alex Rodriguez as the information reportedly alleges that the Yankees third baseman was being supplied with PEDs by the clinic as recently as last year, some time after Rodriguez stated he had stopped taking them following a reported failed test while he was playing for the Texas Rangers. While Rodriguez is mentioned 16 times in the report the New Times has possession of, there are also mentions for Yasmani Grandal, Bartolo Colon and Melky Cabrera; all of whom have tested positive for illegal substances in the past 12 months.

The detail involved in the report may well prove to be damning for those involved as it appears to give specific information regarding dates, substances and amount for all those allegedly on Biogenesis’ ‘books. While this may simply turn out to be proof and further details of cases we were already familiar with, the inclusion of both Nelson Cruz and Gio Gonzalez’s names in the report creates new suspicion for the two players.

Although there is some suggestion that the Gonzalez referred to in the report may be Gio’s father, the detail given can surely be cross-checked and will likely mean that both Gonzalez and Cruz will have some questions to answer. The full New Times report is worth a read and may be a sign that a new BALCO-like facility has been uncovered in Miami.

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The New York Times is reporting that, as of this summer, the ‘fake pickoff to third, throw to first’ move will now be considered a balk. It might only be a small and relatively insignificant change, but it seems like it can only be a positive rule change.

The NYT report suggests that this is just part of MLB’s ongoing effort to speed the game up, a campaign most fans will likely be happy to support. The move in question doesn’t happen all that often and, it barely needs pointing out, very rarely actually works. It would probably surprise few people if they discovered that the move was often a part of a pitcher’s arsenal when they wanted to buy time to get a reliever warmed up.

The move works so infrequently that it was always hard to view it as anything other than ‘a bit pointless’, leaving it as one of the game’s oddities that pitcher’s are happy to persevere with it; perhaps with more than an eye on the inevitable credit for ‘quick thinking’ that would come there way should it ever come off. In fact, so keen are some pitchers on using the move, that it has not been unheard of for one to try it without a running even being on third at the time.

Ultimately, it seems MLB deserve a small amount of credit here. It’s unlikely this rule change will meet with any resistance and it might go small small way to speeding up some pitchers on the mound.

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