With pitchers and catchers reporting to Florida and Arizona in a week and a half, it's time to prep for camps. That means, among other things, familiarizing yourself with each team's non-roster invitees. Below is a team-by-team look at the American League, with a focus on a player deemed noteworthy—be it due to their chances of cracking the roster, their story, or some combination thereof.
Baltimore Orioles: Sadly, Hideo Okajima did not receive an invitation to big-league camp; rather than focus on a fringe position player—say Joey Terdoslavich, Paul Janish, or Steven Tolleson—let's honor Okajima by focusing on another lefty reliever trying to make a comeback: Jeff Beliveau. You might remember Beliveau from his impressive, if brief stint with the Rays. Unfortunately, he tore his labrum last April and missed the rest of the season, all the while casting doubt on his future prospects. If Beliveau makes a full recovery, he could strengthen an already-good O's bullpen.
Boston Red Sox: Dave Dombrowski must have used up his excitement allowance on David Price and Craig Kimbrel, because the Red Sox have nothing going on the NRI front. Sam Travis is the best prospect with an invitation, and the most notable veteran is Allen Craig—remember him? He's owed $21 million over the next two seasons no matter what, so the Red Sox might as well bring him to camp.
Chicago White Sox: Tim Anderson is the safest bet to be this spring's Kris Bryant—that is, the prospect who doesn't crack the Opening Day roster despite being better than those ahead of him on the depth chart. Rick Hahn all but made Anderson the favorite for the crown when he declined Alexei Ramirez's option and failed to acquire a replacement, thereby handing Tyler Saladino the starting job at short. (Saladino, by the way, posted a .210 True Average as a 26-year-old rookie—a mark that would've been the third-worst among qualified shortstops.) Ideally, Anderson would report to Triple-A for some additional seasoning, yet the White Sox—who have the makings of a competitive team, albeit one who needs some help—might have no choice other than to call on him earlier than they'd like.
Cleveland Indians: No American League team has greater veteran name power on their NRI list than the Indians. The Tribe's spring roster houses such familiars as Craig Stammen, Joe Thatcher, Joba Chamberlain, Felipe Paulino, Tom Gorzelanny, and Ross Detwiler—and that's just on the pitching side. Cleveland also has a slew of potential platoon outfielders, including Shane Robinson and Michael Choice. The best odds at cracking the Opening Day roster belong to Robbie Grossman, whose ability to hit right-handed pitching sets him apart from the rest. Grossman will have to edge Tyler Naquin for a spot, but that might not be a long-term issue—Naquin has had trouble staying on the field the past two seasons.
Detroit Tigers: You can't write about the Tigers heading into a new season without fretting about their bullpen. Al Avila addressed the back-end of the unit by trading for Francisco Rodriguez and Justin Wilson and signing Mark Lowe—but what about the depth? The Tigers have a few noteworthy relievers in camp on non-roster deals: 10-year veteran Logan Kensing, who hasn't pitched well in the majors during the Obama administration; lefty Drake Britton, whose ERA has topped 5.00 in each of his last two Triple-A seasons; and Preston Guilmet, a feller with as many big-league appearances (five) as organizations since the start of 2015. In other words, the Tigers' bullpen could be messy. Again.
Houston Astros: First baseman A.J. Reed will receive most of the attention. He homered 34 times across multiple levels last season, and should be the next in line to man Houston's cold corner. Alas Reed will have to wait until the Astros give up the ghost on Jon Singleton, which could put off his debut until the summer months. Meanwhile, Wandy Rodriguez is back in town with an eye on cracking the pitching staff. His chances seemed better before the Astros signed Doug Fister, but that's how life goes for 37-year-old non-roster invitees. At least the nostalgia hangover will be over by April.
Kansas City Royals: The champs have a pair of veterans with solid chances at cracking the roster: righty Dillon Gee ought to make the pitching staff one way or the other—perhaps slotting in as a swingman—while Travis Snider should edge out Reymond Fuentes for a reserve outfielder spot. Kansas City's camp will also include a number of players from simpler times: John Lannan, Chien-Ming Wang. David Huff, and Peter Moylan. You never want to underestimate Royals magic, but each figures to serve as organizational depth.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Would you accept last year's first-round pick, catcher Taylor Ward?Otherwise, the Angels' most notable NRI are pitchers you didn't realize were still active: Yunesky Maya, Ramon Ramirez, Lucas Luetge, and so on. Expect a few tumbleweeds to get looks, too.
Minnesota Twins: Fort Myers will host multiple relievers coming off rotten seasons. Southpaw Fernando Abad followed up his spectacular 2014 by yielding more hits, walks, and home runs per nine—a combination that led the A's to outright him after the season. He could latch on as a second lefty. Brandon Kintzler looked like a workhorse reliever in the Jared Hughes mold prior to his injury-polluted 2015. Former second-round pick Nick Burdi is younger than both Abad and Kintzler, yet had his own problems: walking nearly seven per nine in Double-A and delaying his big-league arrival. With an improved effort in '16, any and all of the above could see time with the Twins throughout the season.
New York Yankees: By now you, your second cousin, and the woodpecker who terrorizes your grandma's neighborhood all know the Yankees haven't signed a free agent to a big-league deal. Turns out, the Yankees haven't spazzed on the NRI front, either. Their class is co-headlined by Pete Kozma and Carlos Corporan, a pair of glove-only types competing for bench spots. While Kozma seems likely to make the team as the backup shortstop (with Corporan losing to Austin Romine or Gary Sanchez), it would be fun if the Yankees bucked convention and leaned on Starlin Castro as their starting second baseman and backup shortstop, thereby creating space for Rob Refsnyder, or some other utility infielder whose defensive profile is stretched on the left side. It probably won't happen, but the Yankees have enough options to make their camp more interesting than their offseason.
Oakland Athletics: The A's will have their (or someone's) future on display. Seven of Oakland's top 10 prospects will begin the spring in big-league camp, including each of the top six. Shortstop Franklin Barreto, pitcher Sean Manaea, and catcher Jacob Nottingham are considered the best of the bunch. But first baseman Matt Olson—he of the well-above-average power—should be the first to smell the sewage, with his ETA determined by how he takes to Triple-A and if Yonder Alonso can maintain last season's pace. For those wanting a shot of reality to go with their future shock: Matt McBride (part of the Ubaldo Jimenez payout), Eric Surkamp (once a three-star prospect), and Patrick Shuster (the top pick in the 2013 Rule 5 draft) should serve as reminders that prospects will break your heart.
Seattle Mariners: Jerry Dipoto's priority this spring? Figuring out who should platoon with Adam Lind at first base. The Mariners have three candidates for the role: Jesus Montero, Gaby Sanchez, and Dae-ho Lee—or a pair of minor-league signings who spent last season in Japan, and a busted top prospect who should get his passport in order. Which of the trio is the favorite? Hard to say. Montero is without options or another place on the roster; Sanchez, meanwhile, may have served in a similar capacity with the Pirates, yet was outhit last season by Lee, whose lack of familiarity with the American culture (and League) could necessitate a stay in the minors. All and all, this seems like the rare camp battle that is legitimately wide open.
Tampa Bay Rays: Port Charlotte is the preferred tourist destination for rehabbing arms. There's Jonny Venters attempting to return from his third Tommy John surgery; Neil Wagner working his way back from his first; and even Kyle McPherson, who used to be a solid prospect with the Pirates before he was beached by elbow trouble. Yet the most interesting non-roster pitcher in Rays camp is Eddie Gamboa, a knuckleballer whose two-day stint in the majors last season passed without an official appearance. The odds of Gamboa becoming the new R.A. Dickey or Tim Wakefield remain close to non-existent—he walked nearly seven batters per nine in 2015—but there is some reason for guarded optimism about his prospects: the Rays (a) recently hired Charlie Haeger, himself a former fingertip-baller, as an instructor; and (b) play their home games under a dome—a supposed plus for knucklers. If Gamboa's butterfly is ever going to float in the big-league breeze, this might be the year.
Texas Rangers: Need more evidence that teams don't value ERA like they used to? Consider Cesar Ramos, whose 2.75 ERA was deemed unsustainable by the Angels (resulting in a non-tender) and the market (leading to little more than a minor-league deal). Rough. Ramos could well crack the Rangers anyway, since he's a versatile southpaw with experience in the multi-inning role last filled by Anthony Bass. Among the other NRI jockeying for depth-chart position with the Rangers: catchers Michael McKenry and Bobby Wilson; outfielders James Jones and Jordan Danks; and pitcher A.J. Griffin, who missed most of the last two seasons following Tommy John surgery.
Toronto Blue Jays: Toronto has a healthy mixture of old and young NRI: Humberto Quintero, Casey Kotchman, Maicer Izturis, Roberto Hernandez, Brad Penny, and David Aardsma are all older than 33; Danny Jansen, Rowdy Tellez, Richard Urena, Anthony Alford, and Conner Greene are all younger than 23. None of the above are expected to crack the Blue Jays' roster; they are expected, however, to partake in some amusing conversations while riding buses across Florida.
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