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February 17, 2012

Transaction Analysis

Notable NRI: NL Central

by R.J. Anderson

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IN THIS ISSUE

National League

CHICAGO CUBS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Total NRIs: 22
Almost famous: Manny Corpas’s elbow hasn’t been the same since pitching daily for the 2007 Rockies down the stretch. After missing last season recovering from Tommy John surgery, the groundball-getting Corpas will now have to work his way back up the ladder.
The next big thing: Chicago fans should get to know Brett Jackson, the organization’s top prospect and an eventual starter. In the winter, Kevin Goldstein wrote that Jackson “doesn’t have any monster tools” but that he is “average to plus across the board.” Trey McNutt will also be in camp as a non-roster invitee.
Too old for this: Lefty specialist slash journeyman Trever Miller will celebrate his 39th birthday in-season but could make his 700th major league appearance before then. Two things worth knowing about Miller: 1) he debuted in September 1996, and 2) last season marked the first time he threw in fewer than 50 games since the 2002 season.
Sticker potential:  The Cubs have four left-handed relievers on their 40-man roster but could opt for Miller if he proves he has something left in the tank. Alternatively, Corpas—who last pitched during the regular season in August 2010—could figure into their plans once he proves his stuff is back. With Blake Dewitt out of the picture, you wonder if Matt Tolbert or Alfredo Amezaga won’t slide onto the opening day bench.

CINCINNATI REDS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Total NRIs: 16
Almost famous: Clay Zavada because Clay Zavada’s mustache is famous.
The next big thing: There are slim pickings since many of the Reds’ top 11 prospect are on the 40-man roster, but Daniel Corcino is a short starter with a violent delivery. Those two attributes tend to lead to a life in the bullpen, and Kevin Goldstein noted as much when he ranked him as the organization’s fifth-best prospect.
Too old for this: Ron Mahay has a story worth knowing. Drafted by Boston in 1991, he reached the majors as a replacement outfielder in 1995. He then went to the minors, converted to the mound, and again reached the majors in 1997. Having last pitched in the majors in 2010, this could be Mahay’s final opportunity to crack a roster.
Sticker potential: It does not appear likely that the Reds will have a non-roster invitee on their opening day roster. The best shots: Jeff Francis, Willie Harris, and Dioner Navarro (if the Reds deal Ryan Hanigan).

HOUSTON ASTROS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Total NRIs: 21
Almost famous: The Astros have a proverbial variety pack to choose from. You have busted prospects (Joe Thurston), old stathead flames (Travis Buck, Scott Moore), and casual Yankees (Lance Pendleton).
The next big thing: Houston will have two of their top three prospects in camp with outfielder George Springer, whom Kevin Goldstein called “a potential five-tool talent,” and first baseman Jonathan Singleton. Shortstop prospect Jonathan Villar will also be around. Oh, and all those prospects pale in comparison to the upside offered by Mike Fast replica goatees.
Too old for this: Livan Hernandez was born in 1975 and debuted in September 1996… or just before Singleton turned five years old.
Sticker potential: Zach Duke could attempt to restart his career with a permanent shift to the bullpen. Should the Astros find a taker for Brett Myers and/or Wandy Rodriguez, Duke could also soak up innings in the rotation—a niche Hernandez should fill from the get-go. 

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Total NRIs: 14
Almost famous: Once mentioned with the likes of Brad Vericker as the Giants’ first baseman of the future, Travis Ishikawa never delivered. Armed with a smooth glove and pop-less bat, Ishikawa may stare at Casey Kotchman’s 2011 and ask, “Why not me?”
The next big thing: Milwaukee picked 12th and 15th last June, selecting two college arms. Both Taylor Jungmann (the safe one) and Jed Bradley (the enigmatic one) will be in camp.
Too old for this: Mike Rivera is 35 years old and debuted for the 2001 Tigers. Rivera continued a six-year streak of playing in the majors when he appeared in one game for the Brewers last season, receiving six at-bats and singling twice.
Sticker potential: Brooks Conrad reportedly chose the Brewers over the Rays due to playing time opportunities, so he figures to be a lock. Cesar Izturis will be too, assuming the Brewers opt to have a backup shortstop on the 25-man roster.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Total NRIs: 19
Almost famous: Seattle fans know Jeff Clement as the guy taken ahead of Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Braun, Ricky Romero, and Troy Tulowitzki. Pittsburgh fans barely know Clement at all. He spent part of 2010 with the big league club and all of 2011 struggling and hobbling around the minors.
The next big thing: This may come as a surprise, but the number-one pick in last June’s draft, Gerrit Cole, is worth watching. Otherwise, Robbie Grossman is fresh from a breakout season and worth watching, and former first-round pick Tony Sanchez needs a strong bounce-back season to remain in the Pirates Top 11.
Too old for this: Plenty of choices, but Jake Fox deserves some space. The last few seasons have seen Fox go from sabermetric cause célèbre to spring training slugger to non-entity. Fox turns 30 by the trade deadline, and potential Quad-A players lose their cuteness around that age. 
Sticker potential: Pittsburgh’s bullpen has featured the resurfacing of Jason Grilli and Chris Resop in recent years, so it should surprise no one if Juan Cruz, Doug Slaten, Ryota Igarashi, or Tim Wood makes an appearance on opening day. Nick Evans seemed likely to make the roster before the club acquired Casey McGehee.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Total NRIs: 21
Almost famous: Once pegged as a future first-round pick, Robert Stock earned his GED and enrolled early at the University of Southern California. He caught and closed for the Trojans, but his bat never developed, causing him to fall into the second-round of the 2009 draft. Stock’s bat is still iffy, but there are no indications that the Cardinals intend to move him to the mound just yet.
The next big thing: Shelby Miller is one of the top right-handed pitching prospects in the game and one of four St. Louis non-roster invitees born in 1990 or later. Add in Matt Adams, Kolten Wong, Tyrell Jenkins, Trevor Rosenthal, Jordan Swagerty, and Ryan Jackson, and the Cardinals have seven of their top 11 prospects in camp.
Too old for this: The oldest non-roster invitee in camp is Alex Cora (born in 1975), although Koyie Hill and Scott Linebrink provide sound competition.
Sticker potential: Tony La Russa retired, but if Mike Matheny picked up on his admiration towards veteran catch-and-throw backstops, then maybe the Cardinals shun Tony Cruz and Bryan Anderson in favor of Hill. Cora sneaking onto the roster seems plausible too.


R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here

Related Content:  NRIs,  Spring Training 2012

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