One of my favourite quirks of baseball is the whole concept of the Spring Training invitation. The idea of minor league veterans and farm system prospects waiting for that invitation to drop through their letter box over the winter months is more than enough to get me to pouring over the annual lists of invitees more closely than anyone should have any need to. The very nature of Spring Training makes it necessary for clubs to bring in enough warm bodies to compete in drills and squad work outs, meaning the majority of invitees are there as little more than organizational fodder. Among almost every club’s list of invitees, however, are a couple of genuinely interesting names. This might be a prospect brought in to compete for an opening day job in the majors, or a minor league journeyman hoping to make enough of an impression to earn a look later on in the summer. Starting with the NL, I’ve made an, entirely subjective, pick for the most interesting player in each club’s Spring Training camp, with the junior circuit to follow soon after.
If you sign up a former position player to come to Spring Training as a pitcher (or vice versa come to that) there’s a good chance he’s going to grab my attention for this list. Jason Lane had some decent success for the Astros as an outfielder; hitting 26 homers in 2005 and slugging .457 for his career, but clearly the Diamondbacks saw something in his 13 innings pitched at Triple-A last year that led them to give him a chance on the mound this Spring. At 35 the odds are against him but maybe he can become a useful LOOGY.
Scouts are liable to get over excited about the tools on young players but in the case of Andrelton Simmons I think the hype may be justified.
If you wanted to put someone forward as the prototypical Non-Roster Invitee, you could do much worse than put forward Bobby Scales for consideration. 12 year minor league veteran, a spell in Japan, has played every position except pitcher and catcher, an 837 OPS at Triple-A yet only 158 career at bats in the Major Leagues, Scales seems like the sort of player that will have invites to Spring Training for about as long as he wants, if only as a ‘clubhouse guy’ with little chance of playing in the majors. He’s a player to root for.
Kevin Millar? TV Analyst. Brandon Donnelly? Retired. Jamie Walker? Retired. Ron Mahay? Still plugging away, 17 years after being called up (as an outfielder, no less) following the 1994 players strike. As far as I know, Mahay is the only player in any team’s camp that isn’t eligible for membership of the Major League Baseball Player’s Association.
The easy choice here is to go with Jamie Moyer and his comeback from Tommy John surgery at the ripe old age of 49, but instead I’m plumping for perennial disappointment Brandon Wood. The Rockies are a flawed team that have just completed an off-season that could kindly be described as ‘inexplicable’, and yet Wood still doesn’t really have much of a chance to make the 25 man roster. When he does get ticketed for Triple-A Colorado Springs, however, he does have a chance to put up some decent numbers. Maybe not quite the 101 extra base hit season he managed in the minors in ’05, but it would be nice to see him take advantage of a favourable home park and show he’s not completely washed up.
I had a few candidates all picked out to choose from for the Astros, a minor league veteran or two, a couple of players coming off injuries…and then I realized I was looking at the 25 man roster. Cheap jokes aside, they are bringing Livan Hernandez, who seems like he should be around the same age as Jamie Moyer but is actually only 36, into camp to compete for a rotation spot.
I couldn’t pick a Dodgers NRI candidate as I couldn’t be 100% sure than I’d select someone that the Dodgers GM hadn’t given a two year deal to over the winter.
If the Marlins front office had concerns over the content of Logan Morrison’s tweets, their going to have some real issues once RHP Rob Delaney starts tweeting from Spring Training.
Brooks Conrad may have been made something of a scapegoat for his defensive failings while with the Braves, but he’s not the worst insurance to have around as a bench bat. He’s pretty iron-gloved but he’s got a little bit of power and there will be plenty of worse players stashed at Triple-A this year. Hopefully he gets a chance for another moment like this to help everyone forget about his defensive clangers.
New York Mets
The immediate future may be bleak for the Mets, but the prospect of getting a first look at top prospect Matt Harvey should make Spring Training a bit more bearable. When the Mets took him 7th overall in the 2010 draft there were a few write ups that indicated this may have been a reach, but he’s quickly established himself as one of the top pitching prospects around. By all accounts he’s a big, projectable right hander with a good fastball/slider combo and that makes him the glimmer of hope for Mets fans.
Get your tickets for the Brighthouse Networks Field at Clearwater now to watch the Juan Pierre v Scott Podsednik epic showdown of the slap-hitting, weak-throwing, scrappy-playing, past their peak left fielders!
Everything I said above about the Mets applies equally for the Pirates here, and possibly more so. Number one overall pick Gerritt Cole will be in camp and, despite not yet throwing a professional pitch, is already part of the discussion over who is the top right handed pitching prospect in baseball.
San Diego Padres
PETCO Park has a well earned reputation for allowing pitchers to build up their value in a way above and beyond what they’d be able to do in other parks. Just ask the Marlins how the Cameron Maybin trade is working out for them if you need any proof of that. Robbie Erlin acquired from the Rangers in the Mike Adams deal and could be perfectly suited for pitching in PETCO. He’s a fairly small lefty starter who allows a lot of fly balls and gets by on throwing a lot of strikes – exactly the sort of player suited for playing in San Diego far more than say, Texas.
San Francisco Giants
It’s been a predictable story for the Giants over the past several years: all pitch, no hit. While he likely won’t help them this year, Gary Brown should eventually force his way into the team’s lineup – despite the club’s apparent reticence to given young talent playing time. Prospect experts seem to imply that Brown’s speed and defense could help the club now and. although his bat needs more time in the minors, he has a chance to make some highlight real plays in Giants camp this Spring.
St Louis Cardinals
RJ Swindle throws a 55 mph curveball that the pitch f/x system can’t handle. That’s plenty good enough for me.
Not an inspiring bunch here. I’m as big a Mike Cameron fan as anyone but if he’s got anything left in the tank it’s not a great deal. Still, I’d rather have him than Rick Ankiel.