Likeliest Blue Jays’ Non Roster Invitees to Make the Team
Each year at Spring Training arrives an unheralded cadre of journeymen, reclamation projects and unproven prospects all seeking an improbable shot at the big league roster. They are the NRIs (non-roster invitees). Almost all head back to the minors at the conclusion of spring training or are released in search of another slim opportunity. A rare few impress the club so much during spring training that they oust their rostered counterparts. NRIs see their chances of upsetting a rostered player increase, of course, when the team has several thin or uncertain spots on their depth chart.
The Blue Jays have six or seven 25-man roster spots that are question marks to some degree. The competition will be wide open and fierce. The invitees sense the opportunities and will be giving their all—some of them knowing they have nothing to lose. The rostered players at these spots will be watching their backs knowing they aren’t very secure. From a team perspective, this is good news. Competition bring out the best performances, but for some of these players, losing could be the end of the road.
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The Jays have invited 24 NRIs so far. Nine pitchers have been invited: Andrew Albers, Greg Burke, Cory Burns, Miguel Castro, Scott Copeland, Jeff Francis, Gregory Infante, Wilton Lopez and Roberto Osuna.
Three catchers: Derrick Chung, Jack Murphy and Sean Ochinko
7 Infielders: Daric Barton, Jonathan Diaz, Jake Fox, Munenori Kawasaki, Mitch Nay, Ramon Santiago and Devon Travis
5 Outfielders: Anthony Alford, Ezequiel Carrera, Andy Dirks, Caleb Gindl and Dwight Smith Jr
Who has the best shot of breaking camp with the big league team?
Well, a few players on the list can be discounted fairly quickly. The least likely is Andy Dirks as he will now be attending minor league camp in order to continue his back rehab. Dirks figures to be mid season insurance for underperformance by Kevin Pillar or Dalton Pompey. Roberto Osuna, Mitch Nay, Anthony Alford and Dwight Smith Jr. seem to have been invited to get a taste of spring and aren’t serious contenders for spots. The catching trio, barring a spate of injuries at the position, have no shot. Scott Copeland has too many more experienced hurlers ahead of him on the depth chart to have a serious chance.
With the exception of Miguel Castro and Devon Travis, all of the remaining players have MLB experience.
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In the outfield, Ezequiel Carrera may have an outside shot at beating out Kevin Pillar. Caleb Gindl also has a shot but Carrera is the better defender and has more experience.
Daric Barton has a chance at first base if Smoak flames out completely but that seems unlikely. Jake Fox has a remote chance as well but hasn’t played in the majors since 2011. Santiago, Kawasaki, Travis and Diaz all have some shot at either second base or as the back up middle infielder. According to what the Jays have been saying, Travis seems to be the most likely but he will either be the starting second baseman or in the minors. It doesn’t make sense for him to backup. For a backup role, Santiago has the most experience, had a successful year last season and is strong defensively.
None of the remaining NRI pitchers has a shot at the rotation but all have some shot at a bullpen role. Jeff Francis has the most experience but hasn’t been very successful for a long time and seems destined for AAA. Burns and Burke just aren’t good enough. The Jays have said that Castro has a shot this spring but he has no experience above Dunedin and would be better served by continuing to develop as a starter. Albers had a poor year in Korea for 2014 but was successful against major league hitters in 2013. The Blue Jays might prefer him as starting depth. Gregory Infante and Wilton Lopez both have legitimate shots at a bullpen role. Lopez has the advantage in terms of experience and success at the big league level but Infante’s 2014 minor league season was encouraging.
Carrera, Kawasaki, Travis, Santiago, Lopez and Infante have the best shots at earning a major league role this spring. If forced to pick the likeliest, it would be Ramon Santiago.