Roster construction is one of my favorite subjects, so I always take great delight in examining each team’s non-roster invitees every spring. To paraphrase Major League 2, most of these guys will be bagging groceries in a few weeks, but still, I love the idea of some unheralded and overlooked player putting up a big spring and winning a spot on a team.
I’ll be doing this in 3 parts, covering 10 teams each time.
Here is my list of non-roster invitees with the best chance of making an impact on their team during the regular season:
Arizona: Jamie D’antona IF/C
D’antona spent 2007 in Triple-A Tuscon, where, at the age of 25, he hit .308/.362/.495. Adding to his appeal is the fact that he split time between 1B, 3B, and C. Any utility guy who can catch in a pinch is always attractive. While 25 is old for a prospect, last season was his first taste of AAA and he more than held his own. D’antona could fight his way onto the roster particularly if Chad Tracy isn’t ready at the beginning of the season after undergoing microfracture surgery.
Atlanta Braves: Matt DeSalvo, SP
DeSalvo yo-yoed between AAA and the Bronx last season with the Yankees, intermittently putting up some pretty good starts and some truly awful ones. He posted an unsightly 18/10 BB/K split in the bigs and he’s definitely a guy that needs to hit his spots to be at all successful. He did post a 2.70 ERA at Scranton-Wilkes Barre in 113 IP. His lack of overpowering stuff makes leaving the AL East and moving to the lesser league a necessity at this point. He could approximate what Buddy Carlyle did for the Braves last season. Assuming the Braves will get anything out of Mike Hampton and that octogenarians like Tom Glavine and John Smoltz will continue to stay healthy is asking a lot. Chances are decent that DeSalvo gets a few starts in Atlanta this season and he shouldn’t embarrass himself.
Baltimore Orioles: Kameron Mickolio, RP
Mickolio was acquired yesterday by the Orioles in the Erik Bedard trade and was immediately extended an invite to spring training. In two minor league seasons, he’s crossed three levels and ended up all the way in AAA Tacoma last season. His combined stats over those two seasons are: 86 IP, 77 H, 29 BB, 81 K…and just 4 HR allowed. He could be a cog in the Orioles bullpen as soon as this season and a strong spring might win him a spot outright. Between Mickolio, Adam Jones, and George Sherrill the O’s could have three guys they immediately plug into their major league roster.
Boston Red Sox: Bobby Kielty, OF
Kielty is the obvious choice here, as he finished the season with the Sox and hit a key home run in their Series clinching victory. The only obstacle seems to be Coco Crisp, since Boston would seem reluctant to carry five outfielders and Jacoby Ellsbury is all but assured of winning a roster spot. I’d imagine Boston would work to trade Crisp before Opening Day to open a spot for Kielty, who mashes lefties and plays a decent outfield corner. Then again, we’re just a JD Drew injury away from this little problem solving itself.
Chicago Cubs: Andres Blanco, IF
As much as I’d love to see 40 year-old Shingo Takatsu revive his career and win a spot, I’m counting against that happening. The Cubs are a tough team to pick because they seem to have pretty much every roster spot nailed down. I guess, gun to my head, I’ll go with Andres Blanco, a former Royals prospect who has never hit a lick, but has a reputation as a slick fielder. The dude has slugged .302 in his minor league career though, so don’t hold out much hope. But injuries happen and defensive replacements are sometimes needed…who am I kidding? This roster is pretty much set.
Chicago White Sox: Brad Eldred, 1B/OF (?)
This is a pretty scant list of invitees. For now, let’s pick Brad Eldred, though it would take a pretty catastrophic series of events for him to get so much as a sniff of playing time since the Sox are pretty jammed as it is. They have Fields and Crede at 3rd, a glut of outfielders (and Eldred, though he has played there, is no outfielder) and probably 3 or 4 guys that could fill in at 1B if Konerko or Thome went down. Eldred has always had exceptional power (.536 career minor league SLG) if extremely limited contact skills. He’s 26 and not getting any younger. Another real long shot.
Cincinnati Reds: Jay Bruce, OF
In Andy Phillips, Johnny Cueto, and even Kent Mercker, the Reds at least a few guys that could conceivably fight their way onto the roster. But Bruce is a tremendous prospect who is ready to hit in the majors yesterday. Bruce shot up 3 levels in 2007, hitting 46 doubles and 25 home runs in the process. He’s only 20 and was named Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year. This dude’s ready to start and even if he can’t hang in CF, he should hit enough to handle an OF corner. Bruce is a strong early candidate for NL Rookie of the Year; he just needs the opportunity.
Cleveland Indians: Jorge Julio, RP
Julio has the type of arm that makes every pitching coach think they can fix him – but none has yet been up to the task. Julio actually had a pretty decent 2007 with Colorado – 3.93 ERA, 50 K in 52.2 IP – and he’s always been a strike out guy. The problem is his atrocious command – he’s walked 199 in 407 career IP – but he’s the type of guy teams always take a flier on as long as he’s lighting up the gun. A decent spring and he could wind up with the 6th inning job in Cleveland.
Colorado Rockies: Marcus Giles, 2B
I’d call it a toss-up between Giles and Podsednik, who could run his way into the Rockies outfield mix. But the departure of Kaz Matsui via free agency has made the 2B job in Colorado an open competition between the likes of Giles, Jayson Nix, and Ian Stewart – a 3B by trade who could be moved to accommodate Garrett Atkins. Many people are mixed on whether Stewart – long touted as a top prospect – has the athleticism to make the move to the right side of the infield, and Nix isn’t much of a prospect despite a pretty good second stab at AAA last year. Giles could win this competition by default then, and if the thin Colorado air doesn’t fix whatever’s happened to his swing the past few seasons, then nothing will.
Detroit Tigers: Aquilino Lopez, RP
Matt Mantei will be in camp competing for a bullpen job, hoping he can return to form after missing all of 2007 recovering from surgery. He’s always put up huge K numbers (396 K in 322.2 IP career) and was a solid big league closer as recently as 2003, but that was really the last time he pitched effectively at any level. Couple that with the question of whether his velocity is back after last year’s injury, and I’d say the 12th man spot is a better bet to go to Lopez, who had a solid season as AAA Toledo’s closer last season. He’s also 7 years younger than Mantei and has been both healthy and durable bouncing between AAA and the majors for the better part of the past four seasons. He struck out 58 in 53.2 minor league innings last year while walking just 11. A good bet to win a job and give Detroit some decent innings this year.
We’ll do 10 more teams next time. 4 days to pitchers and catchers.