I covered the NL last time around, today is the junior circuit’s turn.
In 2006, Pat Neshek made the leap from fairly unheralded prospect to elite set-up man, posting an 8.83 K/BB ratio that Mariano Rivera would have been proud of. His performance slipped in his second year in the majors, perhaps a result of hitters getting more familiar with his unorthodox mechanics, but he was still a well above average reliever. Unfortunately since then Neshek hasn’t been the same pitcher with his control all but deserting him following Tommy John surgery in 2009. He remains, however, one of the few major leaguers worth following online for his Twitter and blog output.
Boston Red Sox
The list of NRI players in Fort Myers this Spring appear to be a reflection of the team’s problems last September. Criticized from all sides for a lack of adequate pitching depth at Triple-A, Red Sox management has responded by bringing in the full range of ‘veteran options’ to stash in the upper minors. Notwithstanding the awful pitching down the stretch last year, bringing in the likes of Aaron Cook, Vincente Padilla, Ross Ohlendorf and Carlos Silva would be a fine strategy for any team lacking stud, upper level prospects ready to step in should injuries occur.
Chicago White Sox
They have Dallas McPherson in camp, making him the team’s second best prospect.
Pop quiz. Which of the relievers below would you rather have (stats from 2011)?
Pitcher A: 34 years old, 32 IP, 26 Ks, 28 BBs, 4.50 ERA
Pitcher B: 33 years old, 49.1 IP, 39 Ks, 8 BBs, 4.38 ERA
The Rays decided they wanted Pitcher A and so they signed Fernando Rodney to a $2m, 1 year deal. The Indians signed Pitcher B and ended up with Dan Wheeler on a minor league deal. Well played, Cleveland.
On a list of NRIs that is hard to get excited about, Nick Castellanos stands out. Still only a teenager, he projects as the future everyday third baseman for the Tigers. After years of watching Brandon Inge not hit enough for the position followed by (presumably) Miguel Cabrera not fielding enough for the position, Castellanos could be a welcome happy median somewhere between those two extremes.
Kansas City Royals
This time last year everyone was talking about how the Royals may have had the most impressive farm system in living memory. While graduation and regression has meant the system has fallen back into the pack somewhat there are still some outstanding young talents in Royals camp this year. Just to temper expectations, Greg Golson is also in camp as a living reminder of how sexy tools don’t always translate into usable baseball skills.
I have a certain amount of sympathy for Ryan Langerhans. An excellent defensive outfielder, he spent years toiling away in SAFECO field where his glove may have been useful but where his mediocre bat (in a line up full of mediocre bats) was never going to get make him a particularly valuable commodity. Now he’s in Anaheim on the outside looking in at a huge logjam of outfield/DH/first base options.
At the Twins minor league camp you’ll get the chance to see man-child Miguel Sano hit with the sort of power that most players could only dream of summoning. The consensus is that, among minor leaguers, only Bryce Harper has more pop in his bat. When you know that option is available, watching ex-Pirate prospect Steve Pearce in the big league camp doesn’t have quite the same appeal, does it?
Every Spring there’s a former top prospect or two getting another chance to prove they either still have some of the ability that their result would suggest has long since vanished, or that they can stay healthy long enough to fulfill their potential. Fitting into the latter category is Adam Miller who it feels like hasn’t been healthy since the day the Indians drafting him in the sandwich round in 2003. Four separate surgeries hampered his progress before a seemingly innocuous finger injury put him on the shelf in 2009. Since then his numbers have been poor but his complete inability to stay healthy is more the issue than any on-field shortcomings.
They’ve just signed Manny Ramirez to a minor league deal. 50 game suspension of no 50 game suspension he would be the most interesting player in any camp.
The 2012 Mariners will likely be a similarly poor outfit as they have been over the last few years, but the team’s future is positive. Jesus Montero will probably be the big draw in camp following his acquisiton from the Yankees, but among the next group of prospects it will be young starters like James Paxton and Taijuan Walker who will be looking to leave an impression.
Tampa Bay Rays
He’s had the ‘Tampa Shortstop of the Future’ title wrestled from him by fellow invitee Hak-Ju Lee, but Tim Beckham will be in camp looking to build on the improvements he made last year. Prematurely labelled a bust after being picked first overall in a draft that also offered Buster Posey and Eric Hosmer, Beckham rebounded from a poor start to his pro career to put up a reasonable 736 OPS across Double-A and Triple-A while also reportedly showing progress in the field. He’ll likely never reach the heights expected of him out of the draft but his chances to contribute at the major league level are now higher than they have ever been in his pro career.
With Mike Olt, the Rangers finds themselves in an difficult position, but the problem at hand is an eviable one. Olt is a third baseman by trade and would seem to have the skills to remain there in the big leagues but is blocked by Adrian Beltre for the foreseeable future. He could be moved to first where his bat may be playable but where he would also lose a great deal of his defensive value with such a move. I imagine the club see Olt as a valuable trade chip and will therefore keep him at the hot corner but a mid-season need may end up forcing their hand if Mitch Moreland is hurt or not hitting.
Toronto Blue Jays
Omar Vizquel is the oldest position player in any team’s camp. By quite some distance. He’s not the Hall of Fame candidate that some observers have painted him as but you have to give him every credit for being a 44 year old shortstop that a major league club can still envisage some sort of role for.