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February 24, 2011

Purpose Pitches

NL NRIs of Note

by Christina Kahrl

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Arizona Diamondbacks
Pitcher(s): Just 11 years, a bad press conference, and all sorts of money since he was last a front-end rotation asset, Mike Hampton is in camp. This has to be one of those bad-penny propositions, where everyone who operates a franchise has to take a turn paying for a Hampton surgery, otherwise you haven't really made the grade as an owner. And they've got Micah Owings back, four years since he gave the Snakes cause to believe he might be a rotation stalwart. Given that this is the team that puts Zach Duke or Hampton in cleats, what's several bad seasons in a row between friends?
Hitter(s): I already touched on the most obvious impact NRI, Russell Branyan, on Tuesday, but he's not alone. Wily Mo Pena makes for an interesting platoon possibility in left field with Brandon Allen if Kirk Gibson decides to build something that could bop. And we can always double-count Micah Owings, since he's one of the only active players who genuinely extends a roster to 26 by contributing as both a pinch-hitter—or maybe even a spot starter at first?—and as a pitcher.

Atlanta Braves
Pitcher(s): From the “necessary evils” pile, there are veterans Kenshin Kawakami and Rodrigo Lopez, both knocking around in case Mike Minor or Brandon Beachy can't keep the fifth slot in the rotation to themselves. If you prefer something younger with a better chance of being a long-term Brave, watching top prospect Julio Teheran and Vazquez robbery prize Arodys Vizcaino makes for a great way to pass the time.
Hitter(s): Nobody really stands out or figures to get an extended look-see; I don't think FEMA could clean up whatever mess would have to be made to get Brent Clevlen onto the Opening Day roster, for example.

Chicago Cubs
Pitcher(s): It's been a while, but Braden Looper is back in a camp after missing all of 2010 because of market indifference to his availability. Now presumably tanned, rested, and recuperated from knee surgery after the 2009 season, he's bidding for a bullpen job as a formerly famous right-handed person in a Cubs pen short of established alternatives, and comes with three years of closing for the Mets and Marlins (with mixed results) to his credit.
Hitter(s): In another bit of recycling, Reed Johnson is trying to revisit the glory of 2008 at its site. Short of power, utility in center, or an ability to hit right-handed pitching, he's an odd luxury to try to afford on a roster already equipped with Jeff Baker, but if Jim Hendry finds a taker for Kosuke Fukudome or Baker claims a larger chunk of the playing time at second, maybe there's something here for Johnson.

Cincinnati Reds
Pitcher(s): What a difference a couple of years makes, because Justin Lehr has gone from 2009's legitimate rotation alternative to 2011's rotation afterthought, a reflection of the talent Walt Jocketty's brought in and the TJS that Panzer's trying to come back from. Beyond Lehr's comeback, there's former shortstop Jerry Gil, in his fourth year of trying to pitch and trying to turn the corner at 28, plus the latest Dontrelle Willis sighting on the off chance that the Reds can breathe new life into a career's husk. Beyond the hard-luck cases and the hopeless, though, how about noteworthy prospect Donnie Joseph? He may have to wait for Aroldis Chapman to come out of the pen or for Bill Bray to break down again, but he has legitimate value as someone's second southpaw.
Hitter(s): It might be strange to bring up outfielders when the Reds are purportedly stacked, but let's remember that Jonny Gomes was a scrapheap find himself, that Fred Lewis isn't exactly Jerry Mumphrey, and that “top prospect” Chris Heisey isn't even a full year younger than non-roster invite Jeremy Hermida. A Hermida/Gomes platoon in left might thrive in the Gap's power-amplifying environment. If ex-somebodies cease to catch Dusty Baker's eye, there's always organizational soldier Daniel Dorn, born the same year as Hermida and Heisey, and looking interesting after mashing right-handers for a 982 OPS in Louisville last season.

Colorado Rockies
Pitcher(s): The frustrations with turning to John Maine got notice on Tuesday, while Claudio Vargas is in camp to see about racking up his frequent failure mileage as anything other than a middle-innings mop-up ROOGY.
Hitter(s): Jason Giambi's back for more, and like Mike Sweeney with the Mariners for a couple of campaigns, it seems he can't be beaten off with a stick because he can at least still swing one. For multi-positional applications, Alfredo Amezaga is in camp, battling for one of the last two spots on the bench as a fifth outfielder, sixth or seventh infielder, and utterly disposable early-game, early-inning pinch-hitter. The interesting comeback belongs to Willy Taveras; he's not likely to ever recapture his 2007 glory, but as a last man on the bench capable of playing an excellent center and pinch-running, he'd still have a big-league career if not for the seven-man bullpen.

Florida Marlins
Pitcher(s): Since the 40-man is already crammed with alternatives, there's little hope for any of the non-roster bodies, but it's worth noting Shawn Hill's latest lease on life, not least because of his five-inning no-hitter against the Marlins in 2007, in what was my first day back in the press box since before I'd let my hair down.
Hitter(s): The Fish won't be waiting or wasting time at the hot corner too much longer, but part of the reason why is their rich collection of non-roster alternatives beyond notional starter Wes Helms. Matt Dominguez is the expected favorite because of his slick fielding, but if the bat doesn't look ready in camp, the Marlins could turn to oft-ignored OBP threat Ruben Gotay, as well as veteran pinch-hitter Greg Dobbs. A Gotay/Helms platoon with Dominguez in Triple-A would make sense, but if Dominguez turns enough heads in March, anything could happen.

Houston Astros
Pitcher(s): As high/low propositions go, the Astros boast a pair to follow, with Jordan Lyles representing the up side as much as a 20-year-old finesse prospect can. Less critically but perhaps more probably, the oft-claimed Casey Fien might have finally found a roster weak enough for him to stick with, as the Astros' bullpen needs all the help it can get.
Hitter(s): Pickings are slim, but we may as well mention former Cub prospect Brian Dopirak, because Brett Wallace doesn't look like tomorrow's world-beating first baseman, leaving room for anyone who gets hot to draw some attention as an alternative. Dopirak's problem is that he's headed into his age-27 season and has yet to graduate to Quad-A player status, having struggled to truly mash in two passes through Las Vegas, one of the best places on the planet—let alone Triple-A—to hit.

Los Angeles Dodgers
Pitcher(s): I talked a little bit about Lance Cormier on Tuesday, but beyond his applications as a utility arm, the Dodgers also have both Tim Redding and Dana Eveland in the organization as proof that they're not going to be caught understaffed at Triple-A again. If you want an NRI who might stick, how about veteran lefty reliever Ron Mahay? Beyond Hong-Chih Kuo, the pen has no obvious second southpaw to step in for mid-game situational work—exactly Mahay's milieu.
Hitter(s): The decision to sign Marcus Thames probably boxes out Gabe Kapler's bid to be the best-sculpted someone between Van Nuys and Venice Beach, but he'll always have Albuquerque. There's also a fairly decent chance that Giants discard Eugenio Velez sticks as the sixth infielder and disposable pinch-hitter.

Milwaukee Brewers
Pitcher(s): Long-service soldier Tim Dillard is in camp as he heads into his ninth season in the organization; the former draft-and-follow and ex-catcher is still hanging on after two cups of coffee. Mark DiFelice is on the comeback trail after missing all of 2010 with shoulder surgery; if he has anything left at 34, he'll get taken seriously by the team he helped by striking out 22 percent of batters in a set-up role in 2009.
Hitter(s): As long as the team's willing to take its lumps with Jonathan Lucroy behind the plate, why not pair him with someone who can do something—someone not named Wil Nieves or George Kottaras? Enter oft-injured Shawn Riggans, now 30, a former Ray who caddied on their 2008 pennant-winner, and possibly a source of slightly more sock than the alternatives.

New York Mets
Pitcher(s): We can mention Boof Bonser out of politeness' sake, but that must mean you're not sitting next to Alice Roosevelt Longworth.
Hitter(s): Because he can play six or seven positions, bat lefty, and run, you have to take Willie Harris somewhat seriously as a non-roster option who might stick as the team's backup outfielder. However, it's worth remembering that one of Raul Chavez or Dusty Ryan really ought to be a lock for the Opening Day roster because of Ronny Paulino's leftover suspension time still left to observe. Consider that shades of 1986, when newly-minted Athletic Joaquin Andujar had to mark time for his outrages against the game in the 1985 postseason, but once Paulino serves his sentence, somebody—either Chavez, or Ryan, or the inexplicably rostered Mike Nickeas—is going to have to go to Buffalo.

Philadelphia Phillies
Pitcher(s): It isn't especially likely, but journeyman Dan Meyer could get some consideration as the pen's second southpaw if Antonio Bastardo and org favorite Mike Zagurski both somehow spectacularly fail.
Hitter(s): If making the pitching staff borders on impossible for the non-rostered dudes, the odd opportunity exists for a pair of plank-walking Pirates, Brandon Moss and Delwyn Young. If Charlie Manuel or Ruben Amaro Jr. decides that Domonic Brown has not won the job in right field, it's hard to envision an everyday role for Ben Francisco, and if Manuel's past success in re-sweetening swings does anything for Moss or Young, they might be able to stick around in a worst-to-first roster proposition of sorts.

Pittsburgh Pirates
Pitcher(s): The always-needy Bucs haven't exactly plundered the free talent pool, but they've wound up with semi-useful arms both old (in the case of former prospects Fernando Nieve and Sean Gallagher) and older, in the case of oft-discarded veteran relievers Joe Beimel, Tyler Yates, and Jose Veras. From that lot, I like Beimel the best—miscast as a situational lefty at altitude, he might get back on track soaking up innings on a staff sure to need any hand on deck to clean up a near-daily mess.
Hitter(s): As far as the people you want to watch, there's catcher Tony Sanchez, but the big-league roster's well-set with receivers, so if you're hoping for someone new to make the roster out of the blue, your better bets would rely on picking which one of Josh Fields, Garrett Atkins, or Andy Marte winds up as Lyle Overbay's platoon partner and Pedro Alvarez's backup at third. For the truly over-concerned with all things involving Piracy, I suppose there's also the bid of farmhand Brian Friday to beat out Rule 5 pick Josh Rodriguez for the utility infielder's job.

St. Louis Cardinals
Pitcher(s): Yesterday, I stumped for non-roster hurler Lance Lynn as the best available option already in the Cardinals' possession when it comes to replacing Adam Wainwright. While we wait for the outcome of a second opinion on the ace's elbow, that remains as true for me a day later as it did then.
Hitter(s): It's a fairly weak field, with perhaps the best bet belonging to formerly rostered Nick Stavinoha, just in case Allen Craig blows his latest opportunity to stick.

San Diego Padres
Pitcher(s): Indie league veteran Greg Burke is back and trying for another bite at the apple after spending much of 2009 in the Pad pen, while his fellow '09 vet Luis Perdomo is also trying to rebound from a nondescript summer spent banished to Portland. Huge sinkerballer Scott Munter finally put up a good strikeout rate, notching over eight Ks per nine as yet another Beaver, so as long as we're talking about aspirants for the 12th spot on the staff, it's within the realm of possibility that he turns heads by building on his first season in the organization.
Hitter(s): The easy name to note is that of well-traveled receiver Gregg Zaun, now several seasons removed from practical perfection as a backup backstop, and trying to recover from labrum surgery as he heads into his age-40 season. If he does, he'll make a fine caddy for Nick Hundley, but there's little certainty. From the rest of the lot, former Giant Kevin Frandsen might attempt to avenge himself for getting dealt away from the eventual world champs, but utility infielders who can't really play short are long shots at the best of times, and on a roster already stocked with Jorge Cantu and Eric Patterson, the odds only get longer.

San Francisco Giants
Pitcher(s): Making the world champs' roster again won't be an easy feat, but Guillermo Mota was here last year, and if he manages to be too adequate to fail, he might get to stick around.
Hitter(s): If Mota's chance is slight, those for the position players border on nonexistent. Which gives us a chance to note freak-show hero Brad Eldred's presence in camp. If you're a Three True Outcomes fan, what do you do with Eldred, a reductionist who takes that proposition down a peg by narrowing your choices to homer or strikeout? Mighty Casey couldn't have done it any better, but Eldred won't get to take his act to Mudville, having to instead settle for an all-expenses paid trip to exotic Fresno.

Washington Nationals
Pitcher(s): True confession time, I included Josh Wilkie in the Nats chapter because I'm as much a glutton for local-boy-done-good stories as the next person, and if the George Washington University product's one plus pitch is a changeup, you can always play make-believe and hope the universe didn't break the mold with Doug Jones, and has room for another slow-pitch hero.
Hitter(s): Jim Riggleman makes room for a lefty bat with power on his benches, which effectively guarantees that either Matt Stairs or Laynce Nix has the power to make the team in his own hands. They may not be alone among the non-roster hitters, however, because veteran Alex Cora only ought to have to beat out the punchless Alberto Gonzalez to stick as the team's utility infielder.

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

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