Every year teams bring the members of their 40 man roster to Spring Training. These include the most likely folks to go west with the team on the 25 man roster, and the 5 to 10 players who will be the next men up, plus a number of other players who likely need seasoning, but who the team did not want to expose to the Rule 5 draft.
In addition, the teams bring along the NRIs – the Non-Roster Invitees. These players are an interesting mix of veterans who have been invited with no more promise than a minor league contract (e.g. Wandy Rodriguez), older minor leaguers who were exposed to the Rule 5 draft (e.g. Chris Devenski) and prospects who do not have enough experience to be exposed to the Rule 5 draft, but are well thought of (e.g. A.J. Reed). These folks have a much smaller chance of making the 25 man roster out of spring training, but every year an injury, trade or hole in the roster appears and is filled by one or two of these players. Also, every season some of these players get called up to the big club during the season (e.g. Lance McCullers Jr.), so it is worthwhile to keep some of the following folks on the fans’ radar.
Jake Buchanan (26 y.o. RHP) – He has been neither an embarrassment nor anything special in two shots with the big club. After a very good 2013 in the minors his numbers have worsened each of the last two seasons including high hit totals and low K totals. Prognosis – Filler, if there is an injury.
Edwar Cabrera (28 y.o. LHP)– Free agent signed out of the Rangers organization. He has been excellent in 3 stops at AA and mediocre in 3 stops at AAA. One bad cup of coffee with the Rockies. Prognosis – Poor man’s Tony Sipp?
Chris Devenski (25 y.o. RHP) – The last piece left for the Astros from the Brett Myers trade. Has been creeping up very slowly through the minors, but had a very good season (7-4 with a 3.01 ERA) in his second stab at AA. Prognosis – Needs to hit it big at AAA and hope for a call.
James Hoyt (29 y.o. RHP) – The “other” piece picked up in the Evan Gattis trade, he came from independent ball and the Mexican League to be an intriguing reliever. The number that screams at you is the 11-12 Ks / 9 IP. Prognosis – Late bloomer who could displace a Josh Fields in the bullpen.
Jordan Jankowksi (26 y.o. RHP) – 34th rd. pick by the Astros in 2008, went to college and became….the 34th rd. pick in 2012. Has pitched very well rising through the minors except for a short stop at Lancaster. Overall numbers 3.17 ERA and 10.3 K/9IP in the minors stand out, but always against younger competition. Prognosis – Could get the call with a strong performance at AAA.
Brendan McCurry (24 y.o. RHP) – Picked up from the A’s in the Jed Lowrie Trade Part Deux, he has only pitched 16 innings at AA so far but has put up insanely good numbers at all levels to date. In 2 minor league seasons he has a 1.37 ERA, 0.796 WHIP, 11.7 K/9 IP with only 2 BB/9 IP. Prognosis – Needs to prove things at AA and AAA, but definitely could be there when Neshek and Gregerson move on.
Brady Rodgers (25 y.o. RHP) – 3rd round pick in the 2012 draft, he has moved up steadily in the organization, but his stats have been fairly pedestrian to date. Again, not knowing what he may be working on or how he reacts to the tandem pitching requirements – who knows, but his 4.55 ERA and 6.5 K/9 IP at AA in 2014 was followed by 4.51 ERA and 6.9 K/9 IP at AAA in 2015. Prognosis – Needs to really show improvement or could be one of the next pitchers moved.
Wandy Rodriguez (37 y.o. LHP) – Wandy was with the Astros for 7-1/2 seasons and evolved into a solid starter for the team before being moved on to the Pirates. But after fighting injuries and poor performances lately, it is hard to see where he fits. Prognosis – Unless he has a talent not yet shown as a LOOGY, he is an insurance policy for pitching injuries at this time in his career.
Cesar Valdez (30 y.o. RHP) – He may be the biggest head-scratcher on the NRI list. He pitched 20 innings with the Pirates back in 2011, which is the last time he played in the “real” minors also. The last four seasons he has pitched in the Mexican, Dominican and Venezuelan Leagues and really not very well until last season. Prognosis – Unless he has had his blood doped with the spirit of Fernando Valenzuela, I think he is here to take the strain off other arms during ST.
Alex Bregman (21 y.o. SS) – The 2nd overall pick in the 2015 draft will likely start off in AA this season after a strong showing at Lancaster. He seems to be pretty darn polished right off the bat coming from college. Prognosis – He would seem to be likely to make it to the majors in the next couple years. But it will probably be at another position or another franchise than the Astros.
Joe Sclafani (25 y.o. UT) – It was a little surprising he got an invite, because he was a .300 BA / .380 OBP player last season (and throughout his career) and only got in 75 games last season. So he sat a lot last season. He has little power, his best position is probably shared with Jose Altuve, but all he does is hit and get on base. Prognosis – He would seem to be a candidate to be packaged in a trade, because he just never has gotten much traction in the organization.
Tyler White (25 y.o. 1B, DH, 3B) – There were almost 1000 players drafted before him in 2013. He is supposedly too short and too wide. But heaven’s to Betsy the man can hit. At every level he has made contact, had good to great BAs and has been an OBP machine over .400 everywhere. Prognosis – This man will get a shot some time this season at either 1B or DH and the sooner the better.
A.J. Reed (22 y.o. 1B/DH) – The Astros 2014 2nd round pick has gone from the best college player to one of the best in the minor leagues. Complaining about a little higher K rate and some problems against lefty pitchers after a season where he scored 113 runs, knocked 34 HRs with 127 RBIs in only 135 games with .340 BA / .432 OBP and 1.044 OPS feels like complaining about a freckle on Miss America’s ankle. Prognosis – He will be the Astros first baseman, but when…..ah there is the rub.
J.D. Davis (22 y.o. 3B) – The next pick (3rd round) after Reed was Davis. He had a very good year in Lancaster where most batters do, but interestingly his numbers were almost identical to what he put up at Tri-City and Quad Cities in 2014. Now he has to prove that he can do this at AA and AAA. Prognosis – He may be at the wrong position or the right position as things evolve.
Tony Kemp (24 y.o. 2B/OF) – This Altuve-ish (5′-6″) 5th rounder from 2013 is a good hitter and top base stealer. He will probably never have much power and he may end up in one of these trades that he keeps getting rumored to be a part of, but he is a good ball player. Prognosis – Unless Jose Altuve goes down or goes away he probably tops out as a utility type player.
Colin Moran (23 y.o. 3B) – Part of the Jarred Cosart trade (Moran, Marisnick and Martes may turn this into a huge robbery of a trade) and a very solid prospect at a position of need. He has a good glove and a solid, but not yet powerful bat (.306 BA / .381 OBP/.840 OPS last year at AA). Prognosis – It will be fun to see which one between Moran, Davis or Bregman makes it to Houston at 3B first.
Danny Worth (30 y.o. UT) – Signed to a minor league contract and invited to camp. Over 5 call-ups with the Tigers he has had 261 mostly weak hitting ABs at the major league level. For those who are glad Jonathan Villar is gone, Worth has 1 error in 61 major league games. Prognosis – Hard to see where he would fill a role unless it was after the first of September as a late inning glove.
Tyler Heineman (24 y.o. C) – This 8th rounder out of 2012 had steadily risen up the minors flashing a good arm (40% CS overall) and a solid but not powerful bat. The fans would take a repeat of his overall minor league numbers (.288 BA / .364 OBP / .773 OPS) sight unseen. Prognosis – He could well come out of Spring Training as the backup instead of Max Stassi.
Roberto Pena (23 y.o. C) – The 7th rounder from the 2010 draft couldn’t hit the ground if he fell out of a plane (.238 BA / .264 OBP). On the other hand…. the last 3 seasons he has thrown out 52%, 57% and 49% of runners. Prognosis – He is at spring training because you need a bunch of catchers to catch a bunch of pitchers.
Derek Fisher (22 y.o. OF) – He was the supplemental (37th overall) pick in the 2014 draft. Last season he stole 31 bases and scored 106 runs in 123 games and surprisingly hit better at Quad Cities than Lancaster. Prognosis – There is room for an outfielder to move up quickly in the organization especially if Rasmus and Gomez leave after 2016.
Jon Kemmer (25 y.o. OF/1B/DH) – A surprise as a 21st rounder in 2013, he hit very well in 2014 at A and A+ and ramped it up at AA in 2015 (.324 BA / .413 OBP / .988 OPS). Prognosis – A repeat of 2015 this season could get him a permanent call-up to the majors.
Eury Perez (25 y.o. OF) – Signed to a minor league deal after being let go by the Braves. Showed a decent (but powerless) bat in the minors and not much in small appearances at the major league level. Prognosis – Might get a call-up for a short stint if someone with experience is wanted.
Do you see anyone of interest in the list above?