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 National 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.
- a No. 2 starter with 109 below-average MLB innings (Matt Wisler)
- a No. 3 starter with control issues and three years removed from status as a top prospect (Manny Banuelos)
- whatever’s left of Bud Norris
- Williams Perez or Mike Foltynewicz, both of whom only exist to check your computer's spellcheck functionality
Unlike these pitchers, Jhoulys Chacin was actually pretty decent last season. Though he started off slow with Cleveland’s Triple-A affiliate, he improved slightly upon finding his way to Arizona’s system, and held his own in five late-season appearances—striking out a respectable 18.9 percent of batters faced and posting a surprising (and unsustainable) 3.38 ERA. Only two seasons removed from a three-WARP campaign in Colorado, the Venezuelan sinker-slider specialist is my pick for not just a regular rotation slot in Atlanta, but also the second-most innings of any Braves starter during 2016.
Milwaukee Brewers: A once-hyped power-hitting catcher, Josmil Pinto fell off the radar entirely last season, and has spent the last couple of months shifting systems from Minnesota, to San Diego, and now to Milwaukee. The rebuilding Brewers have been teasing a break from All-Star backstop Jonathan Lucroy all offseason, and when (not if) they do, an improved Pinto could make the changeover less painful. Of course, Pinto’s 2015 was painful—as an offense-first backstop, posting a .242 True Average in Rochester is a serious hiccup, if not a death knell. But even as his bat tanked, a glimmer of hope: for the first time, Pinto had a legitimately good framing season according to BP’s new framing metrics. A little bit of pop and solid receiving? Why not trade Lucroy already?
(Because Pinto is 27 and, really, that offensive performance last year was pretty awful.)
St. Louis Cardinals: Timing is everything in life. You know that scene in every movie or TV show where the down-on-his-luck guy or girl gets splashed by a car racing through a nearby puddle? The baseball equivalent of that happened to Jeremy Hefner. Immediately after proving himself a useful back-of-the-rotation starter in 2013 (0.6 WARP and a 4.54 DRA in 130 innings) with the Mets, Hefner tore his UCL and underwent Tommy John surgery in August of that season. We get a little spoiled with all the TJS success stories, but in 2014 Hefner required a repeat surgery just 13 months after his first. After missing out on the Mets’ improbably World Series run and surviving a brace of innings in winter ball this offseason, Hefner could bring his brand of command-and-control hurling to a Cardinals rotation suffering from more than a few question marks. Entering his age-30 season, this might be his last shot.
Chicago Cubs: The Cubs have some absolutely fascinating names joining them this spring, from Albert Almora to Jesus Guzman to professional baseball mascot Munenori Kawasaki. But I will beat the Jack Leathersich drum for all time. The Leather Rocket is hot fire from the left side, with minor league strikeout rates that make him look like Aroldis Chapman and walk rates that make him look like Carlos Marmol. He’s recovering from Tommy John surgery (thanks, Wally Backman!), but there’s still a chance he could not just be a reasonable bullpen arm, but a dominant late-inning guy. We’ll just have to be patient. Cubs fans can handle that, right?
Arizona Diamondbacks: Once upon a time, Adam Loewen was a pitcher. After washing out in that role—never able to get his control under…control–he re-emerged as an outfielder. For half a decade, he did his thing, popping his head up once as a Blue Jays outfielder for a moment in 2011, before returning to the minors. In 2014, working in the Phillies system, he made the switch back to the mound, and ramped up his strikeout numbers to the heights of his prospect status 10 years prior. Loewen threw over 76 innings across three levels in 2015, and struck out over a batter per inning at each stop. Of course, Loewen’s control was as bad as ever, and he almost walked a batter per inning in his time in Philadelphia. Arizona would love to see Loewen make just a small improvement in his control, and if he does, he could actually be useful.
Los Angeles Dodgers: With the Dodgers already overloaded with left-handed starting pitchers, it seems unlikely that wunderkind Julio Urias will get a crack at the rotation in April. However, Urias—the No. 6 prospect in baseball, according to BP’s new Top 101 list—will be in Chavez doing his best to re-create Fernandomania soon enough. For now, he’s an invitee to Dodgers’ camp, along with fellow super-prospects Corey Seager and Jose De Leon. Urias possesses the stuff and poise of a veteran, no surprise for a pitcher who’s been embarrassing pro hitters since he was wearing short pants. Right now, the only thing he’s missing is mileage on his talented left arm, something the Dodgers will likely try to rectify before pushing him to the bigs. Go ahead, dream on Clayton Kershaw mentoring Urias in the ways of the Cy Young southpaw this spring. I’m right there with you.
San Francisco Giants: I really want to put Kyle Blanks here, as the hulking slugger is just so damn fun to root for. (And in the Bay Area, I think it’d be fun to call him “Kaiju” and imagine him stomping all over the coast.) Of course if Blanks stays healthy and productive, it will be the first time. Grant Green, on the other hand, is almost always healthy, if never productive. The former top Athletics prospect has not impressed at all since moving to Los Angeles, so perhaps thinking he could hang with the ready-to-surge Giants isn’t so realistic. He’s never posted a positive WARP, his numbers in Salt Lake City for the Angels have never been eye-popping, and it’s hard to be a decent utility player when you’re an overall bad defender. Then again, the Giants have potential injury holes at nearly every position, and they made Matt Duffy into a near-All-Star. Oh yeah, and it’s an even year. I’ll just go ahead and pencil Green in for all the WARP.
Miami Marlins: Too old (and probably, too bad) to be a prospect, Austin Nola is likely to live in his brother Aaron’s shadow as far as MLB careers go—though to be fair, he had a heck of a college career at LSU. Possessed of only the barest hints of power, it’s certainly possible that his brother will out-homer him over his professional career—Austin has four and no real future prospects, Aaron has zero, but also a job. However, if something happens to Adeiny Hechavarria, the Marlins have precious little depth behind him, and Nola may well be the next man up. He’ll have to out-play Enrique Rojas, and leverage his combination of defense and patience better than he ever has before. Both of those are no sure thing, but we’ll wait and see how things geaux.
New York Mets: After a bit of a coming-out party in the Arizona Fall League this season, Dominic Smith is ready for his close-up. The young first baseman doesn’t have the prototypical stat line of a top first base prospect, but it’s time for him to leave the power-sapping parks he’s played in since he entered the Mets organization. A plus defender at the position, if Smith puts on a show this Spring (and those who’ve seen his batting practice believe he can), then look for the thousands of Mets fans who already hate Lucas Duda for no real reason to start screaming for this youngster to take his inevitable place in Queens.
Washington Nationals: The Nats have some veteran names, but precious few young guys who aren’t already on the 40-man roster. Former Yankees Brendan Ryan and Scott Sizemore are well and truly blocked—by former Yankee Stephen Drew! What a world!—and Bronson Arroyo and Reed Johnson are 39-year-olds who might just be done. Almost by default, Chris Heisey is our man. Heisey roughed up Oklahoma City for the Dodgers organization last season (.370 OBP, .495 slugging), and once the Nationals get a load of Ben Revere in center field, they may be in the market for another warm body in the middle of the outfield.
San Diego Padres: His strikeout stuff has been all but snuffed, but we will always find a place in our hearts for Brandon Morrow. He was effective in 2015, at least for a while (3.80 DRA and 102 cFIP!), before hitting the DL once again in May. It is an annual tradition to project Morrow as a bounce-back candidate, a guy who’ll benefit from newfound health and (often) a change of scenery. Alas, we’re all better served starting a betting pool as to when he’ll be shelved with his latest infirmity. I want him to throw 150 innings this season so bad that it hurts, and it hurts so bad that I’m going on the 60-day with a shoulder impingement. All hail the once and future king of the disabled list.
Philadelphia Phillies: For the first time in a long time, the Phils are well and truly on the rise. It’ll take a while for the helium to kick in, but the nadir was 2015, not 2016. This Spring Training, the team will invite a host of young, exciting guys to big league camp, a sign that there’s more than dead Ryan Howard money on the horizon. While Mark Appel, Jake Thompson, and Nick Williams are all NRIs that could have bright futures, there’s no doubt that J.P. Crawford will be the star of the show in Clearwater. A do-it-all shortstop barely old enough to drink, Crawford is earning early comps to Philly stalwart Jimmy Rollins, as unfair as that may be. Still, he’s the no. 4 prospect in baseball for a reason: he’s loaded with 60 tool grades and could end up similar to Cleveland’s Francisco Lindor soon enough. At the same time, the Phils aren’t exactly poised to set the world on fire next season.
The Phillies’ NRI list is also fully loaded with early-30s middling middle relievers (Edward Mujica! James Russell! Andrew Bailey! Ernesto Frieri!), most of whom would fit into their so-so bullpen easily. Yeah, let’s focus on the kids.
Pittsburgh Pirates: A part of me—a large, silly part of me—wants to choose Guido Knudson for this team, as his name seems to evoke the idea of a hulking half-Italian, half-Swedish Bond villain’s henchman. Alas, he’s just a guy who gave up five homers in five innings for the Tigers last year, and not even Ray Searage can right that ship. But speaking of Searage, the game’s newest pitching whisperer, I’ll throw my lot behind Trevor Williams. Last season, Williams saw his stock drop in a hurry after he failed to impress in Double-A. He still possesses ground-ball stuff—a 54 percent grounder rate will play, if everything else looks okay—and Pittsburgh lifted him off the Marlins for a song. If Searage can A.J.-Burnett him, perhaps Williams could yet find his way towards the back end of a rotation or the middle of a bullpen.
Cincinnati Reds: Scott Schebler or Yorman Rodriguez may open the season as Cincinnati’s starting left fielder, which is a nice way to say that Jesse Winker will probably end it in that position. Winker’s defense will be helped considerably by Billy Hamilton flanking him on his left, but he’s got a sweet swing and a heady ability to reach base, and could eventually make a nightmarish companion with Joey Votto against right-handed pitchers. With Jay Bruce on his way out of town, one would imagine, the Reds will be hungry for a left-handed bat to balance out their righty-heavy lineup. Winker should get his chance sooner rather than later.
Colorado Rockies: What a bunch of hot garbage. So far I’ve found a grand total of six NRIs for the Rockies, who don’t appear to have announced much yet this season. Who am I supposed to lead with? Yohan Flande? Brock Huntzinger? Gladel Schmempf? (Okay, I made the last one up.) At least outfielder Alex Castellanos at one point had a cup of coffee in the bigs and is returning from a sojourn in Japan. Maybe he’ll be able to capitalize on his outstanding NPB performance where he hit .100/.182/.150 in six games and—FOR PETE’S SAKE, ROCKIES, TRY HARDER!
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