MLB Non-Roster Invitees – AL West

Well, something finally happened — Manny Machado agreed to a ten year contract with the San Diego Padres, first reported by Jeff Passan and Mark Feinsand.

Once Machado passes his physical, the deal will become official. Before long, Bryce Harper will choose where he plays for the next several years. Everyone….BREATHE!

Okay, back to why we’re here. Last time out, we examined some interesting non-roster invitees in the AL Central Division. Today we head west and finish off the American League West, starting with the Astros.

Houston Astros

  • J.B. Bukauskas (RHP) – Bukauskas, a 22 year old right-hander, was Houston’s first round draft pick in 2017. He was drafted out of high school in the 20th round of the 2014 draft by the Dbacks, but decided to go to college at the UNC. Bukauskas began ’18 with one abbreviated start in Rookie ball, made 13 more starts across various levels of A-league ball. He made one brilliant six inning start at AA Corpus Christi to finish the season. Overall J.B. pitched well, amassing a combined ERA of 2.14, walking 24 and striking out 71 over 59 innings. Bukauskas will most likely spend the larger part of 2019 in Double-A. If he does well, look for him to be promoted to Triple-A Round Rock late in 2019
  • Yordan Alvarez (LF/1B) – Yordan is the Astros number three rated prospect in their system, a power-hitting 6’5″ hulk of a man. The 21 year old Cuban played 88 games in 2018, almost evenly split between AA and AAA. He hit 20 home-runs in 379 plate appearances, with an overall slash-line of .293/.369/.534. Not too shabby. Expect to see him soon, probably later this season.
  • Forrest Whitley (RHP) – Things are looking better for the Astros second ranked prospect than a year ago. In early 2018, he was suspended 50 games for violating the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. After returning, Whitley made eight uninspiring starts for Double-A Corpus Christi. He put up a 3.76 ERA over 26.1 innings, striking out 34. Forrest also added another 26 innings of work in the Arizona Fall League with similar results. This young man has a lot of catching up to do to justify his being the organization’s number-one pick in the 2016 draft.

Los Angeles Angels

  • Jo Adell (CF) – Jordon Scott “Jo” Adell is a 19 year old center-fielder from Louisville, KY, the tenth player taken in the 2017 amateur draft. He spent most of 2018 playing in A-level ball in Burlington, Iowa. Adell was promoted to High-A Inland Empire (San Bernadino) after 25 games, and was again promoted to AA Mobile to finish the season. He stumbled in Double-A, hitting .238 in 17 games. Jo finished with 20 HR’s, and his power will only increase as he fills out. Adell, the top-ranked prospect in their system, plays all three outfield spots. Good thing, since the Angels CF spot is currently occupied by Mike Trout
  • Griffin Canning (RHP) – Canning, a 6’2″ righty out of Mission Viejo, CA is the second-ranked prospect of the Angels. Originally drafted in the 38th round by Colorado in 2014, he decided to go to college at UCLA. Re-entering the draft in 2017, the Angels selected Canning in the 2nd round. He rose quickly through the minors in 2018. He made two scoreless starts in High-A Inland Empire and was promoted to AA Mobile. Ten starts and a 2.17 ERA later, the 22 year old was promoted to Triple-A Salt Lake. The competition was stiffer in the Pacific Coast League. Canning was hit hard in Salt Lake, surrendering 68 hits and 22 walks over 59 innings, posting a 5.49 ERA. Chances are he spends most of the summer in AAA.
  • Peter Bourjos (OF) – A blast from the past! The rail-thin 31 year old vet played the first four seasons of his career in Anaheim. After 2013, Bourjos bounced from St. Louis to Philly, Tampa and Atlanta. The Braves released him in July, and shortly after he signed a minor league deal with the San Francisco Giants, finishing the year in AAA Sacramento. Bourjos doesn’t have the same speed he once had, but can steal a few bags and be a good defensive replacement. If you’re looking for offense, well, you’re dreaming.

Oakland Athletics

  • Sean Murphy (C) – Murphy is an athletic (see what I did there?) 24 year old strong-armed catcher. Murphy, a third round draft pick in the 2016 draft, had a productive season on both sides of the ball until he suffered a broken bone in his right hand. He recovered at the very tail-end of the season, and was promoted to Triple-A Nashville. Murphy played three games before the season ended, then went to Winter league ball in the Dominican League. He struggled in the Domincan Republic, hitting .185 with two home-runs and 13 RBI in 23 games. A’s fans can look to see him play this year in Las Vegas, the team’s new Triple-A affiliate.
  • Jesus Luzardo (LHP) – Luzardo, the first ranked prospect in the A’s system, was acquired from the Washington Nationals a part of the 2017 trade that sent Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson to D.C. The 21 year old southpaw began last season in High-A Stockton (Calif.) where he dominated opponents for three starts. Luzardo was promoted to AA Midland in the Texas League, posting a 7-3 record and 2.29 ERA, with 86 K’s in 79.2 innings. He was bumped up to Triple-A Nashville, where he was lit-up to the tune of 25 hits and 13 runs over 16 innings (7.31 ERA). Expect Luzardo and his mid-90’s fastball (he can reach back for 97-98 mph) to spend 2019 in AAA Las Vegas.
  • Jerry Blevins (LHP) – 35 year old Jerry Blevins started his major league career way back in 2007 with these same Oakland A’s. He enjoyed a long and productive career, primarily as a LOOGY (lefty one out guy). Blevins made 60 or more appearances in seven different seasons, proving his durability. He’s not a strikeout pitcher, rarely topping 90 mph but gets outs by mixing his ordinary fastball with a low-70’s looping curve. Jerry had an off-year, logging a 4.85 ERA, but can be very useful on the cheap for the perpetually cost-efficient A’s.

Seattle Mariners

  • Dustin Ackley (OF/2B/1B) – Ackley hasn’t appeared in a MLB game since an injury-riddled season in 2016 with the Yankees, but he’s still around. He signed a minor league deal with the M’s on January 24, after spending the last two seasons with the Salt Lake Bees, the Triple-A affiliate of the Angels. Ackley, soon to be 31, was the 2009 first round pick of the Mariners. At best, Dustin will be a very useful piece at a low price if he makes the big-league club. At worst, he will be experienced minor league filler at the AAA level.
  • Kyle Lewis (CF) – Lewis was the Mariners first round draft pick (#11 overall) in 2016. His career was slowed by a right knee injury that he suffered in late 2016. It cost him the majority of 2017 after re-aggravating it, eventually leading to his knee being scoped in February 2018. After he returned, the 23 year old center-fielder split last year between High-A Modesto (Calif.) and AA Arkansas, posting a combined .244/.306/.405 slash-line. In 86 games, Lewis hit 9 home-runs and drove in 52 RBI. If his knee problems resurface, he will be likely destined for a corner outfield spot. Expect him to begin 2019 in Double-A Arkansas.
  • Ichiro Suzuki (OF) – Amazing. Simply amazing. Those were my initial thoughts upon discovering that this will be Ichiro’s 28th season in professional baseball, when you include his nine seasons in Japan. At age 45, he isn’t expected to play very much if he makes the team. If so, Ichiro won’t embarrass himself out there. I won’t bet against him, as no one takes better care of his body.

Texas Rangers

  • Tim Dillard (RHP) – Dillard was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2002’s amateur draft, and spent the next 16 seasons in the organization, mostly in the minor leagues. The 35 year old Dillard made 73 appearances over parts of four seasons in a Brewers uniform, mostly in 2011 and 2012. He hasn’t made a big league appearance since, but became a beloved figure among fans in Milwaukee in large part because he’s one of the funniest people on Twitter (@DimTillard – you should follow him).
  • Jason Hammel (RHP) – The 36 year old from Greenville, SC has seen better days. Hammel spent the last two seasons with the Kansas City Royals, including a record of 4-14 with a 6.02 ERA last season. He began the year in the starting rotation and pitched himself out of it by the All-Star break, thanks in large part to a particularly gruesome four-start stretch where he surrendered 27 runs in 17.2 innings. He does not throw hard enough to overcome mistakes as he did in earlier years. At the big league level, he’s nothing more than a warm body to eat insignificant innings.
  • Hunter Pence (RF) – Pence has had a long, productive career and wants to keep playing, so he signed a minor league deal with the Rangers on February 7. He spent time re-working his swing over the winter after a rough 2018 when he hit a career-worst .226. Pence only hit four home-runs in 97 games. It didn’t help that he missed more than six weeks with a sprained right thumb early in the season. Another great follow on Twitter (@hunterpence), by the way.

Before we close, I want to pay respect to San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy, who is retiring after the 2019 season. I have long admired Mr. Bochy for the way he goes about things. He just carries himself as a friendly professional. Here is a very a proud moment for him, handing the ball to his son, Brett Bochy for the first time.

And with that, we have looked at each team in the American League. In a few days, we will delve into the National League, beginning with the NL East Division. Who know, maybe even by then Bryce Harper will have found a home — I still think it’ll be the Phillies. We’ll found out. See you then!

MLB Non-Roster Invitees – American League East

Spring training is finally here! Pitchers and catchers are already with their teams in Arizona and Florida, along with a good number of position players looking to get a head-start on things.

There are always a ton of players in MLB camps every spring, the majority of them being players on the 40-man rosters. Every team also has a number of players who are “non roster invitees”. The term is pretty self-explanatory. These guys are players who are not on the 40 man, but are invited to major league camp so the front office, manager and coaches can take a look at them. It’s generally a mix of young talent (think early round draft picks) and older players who are looking to looking to latch on with teams, hoping to continue their careers.

Today we’re going to look at a few players on each team in the American League East Division, and we will cover the remaining AL and National League divisions in future articles. Here we go!

Baltimore Orioles

Sean Gilmartin (LHP) – Gilmartin is a 28 year old soft-tossing lefty pitcher who first broke in with the New York Mets in 2015. He pitched very well in the ’15 season, but has scuffled in succeeding years, kicking around the minor leagues. He surfaced in Baltimore in 2018, pitching to a 3.00 ERA in 27 innings. He may come in handy for the O’s in 2019, and lefties have a way of sticking around.

Jace Peterson (Utility) – Peterson began 2018 with the New York Yankees, but was gone by the end of April when the Orioles plucked him off waivers after playing only three games in the Bronx. He didn’t hit well, ending the season on the Mendoza-line (.200 average), but he proved to be handy because he can play anywhere on the field. The Orioles have little talent, so the 28 year old handyman may end up sticking. Being a left-handed bat helps.

Mike Yastrzemski (OF) – Does the name Yastrzemski sound familiar? If you know your baseball history, it should. Yes, Mike is the grandson of former Red Sox legend and Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski. The 28 year old bats left-handed like his grandfather and plays good defense in the outfield like him. In 2018, he spent the bulk of the season in Triple-A Norfolk, where he had a slash-line of .265/.359/.441. If young Yaz has a productive spring, he could fill a gap with the big club until some of their OF prospects are ready down the line.

Boston Red Sox

Erasmo Ramirez (RHP) – It seems like the former Tampa Bay Rays and Seattle Mariners hurler has been around forever, having made his debut back in 2012, but he’s only 28 years old. After Seattle acquired him in the middle of the 2017 season, he pitched reasonably well, compiling a 3.92 ERA down the stretch. Things went sideways last season. Ramirez made ten starts, pitching to the tune of a 6.50 ERA over 45.2 innings. He spent a few months on the DL with a shoulder injury, which might have been why he was so ineffective last season. The Red Sox’s rotation is pretty well set, but a good spring could land him a bullpen spot or a MLB deal elsewhere.

Zach Putnam (RHP) – The 31 year old Putnam hasn’t pitched since April 2017, when he injured his elbow in the middle of a game, resulting in Tommy John Surgery. He signed a minor league deal in December. He doesn’t throw hard (91-92) but was effective in 2016 (2.30 ERA), striking out more than a batter per inning. If Putnam stays healthy, he could provide good bullpen depth.

Rusney Castillo (OF) – The Red Sox signed the Cuba-born outfielder prior to the 2014 season to a seven year deal worth more than 72 million dollars. For all this money, the Sox have received a grand total of seven home-runs and 35 RBI since Castillo signed his name to the contract. He played a half season in 2015 in Boston and a handful of games in ’16, after which the Sox correctly figured Castillo was a bust. They have to pay him anyway, so he may as well be in big-league camp. He will probably be paid another 11 million to play in Pawtucket in 2019. His contract has an opt-out after this year, but I’m pretty sure he’ll want the 14 million he will be owed in 2020.

New York Yankees

Danny Farquhar (RHP) – Danny’s 2018 season came to an abrupt halt in late April after he suffered a brain hemorrhage in the White Sox dugout in the middle of an appearance. He made an incredible recovery after having life-saving brain surgery, and the Yankees signed him to a minor league deal on February 1. Farquhar has good stuff, but with mixed results over his career. If the soon to be 32 year old stays healthy, he will be excellent bullpen depth. This is such a great feel-good story, it won’t matter if he throws another pitch because he’s already won. I’m rooting for him.

Ryan Lavarnway (C) – The Yankees signed Lavarnway to a minor league deal in early November with an invitation to big league camp. The 31 year old will likely spend 2019 in Triple-A Scranton Wilkes Barre as depth and to add a veteran presence to work with the organization’s young hurlers such as Michael King, Domingo Acevedo and others. This is a nice addition.

Mike Ford (1B/DH) – 26 year old Mike Ford is a power-hitting first baseman who has worked his way through the Yankees minor league system. In 2017, he hit 20 home runs between AA Trenton and AAA Scranton, but was left unprotected on the 40 man. The Seattle Mariners took him in that winter’s Rule 5 Draft, meaning the M’s had to keep him on their big league roster for all of 2018, or have to return him to the Yankees organization. The latter happened, and he was returned. He hit 16 homers last year in Triple-A, and provided a slash-line of .253/.327/.433. His strong left-handed bat is good insurance if Luke Voit and/or Greg Bird go down.

Tampa Bay Rays

Ryan Merritt (LHP) – Remember him? The former Cleveland Indians pitcher who made a strong postseason start in Toronto back in 2016 has battled shoulder injury problems ever since. He was released last fall and quickly signed a minor league deal with the Rays. Merritt, soon to be 27 years old, never threw hard but does throw strikes —  and the Rays have a way of getting a lot out of their pitchers, so who knows?

Emilio Bonafacio (Utility) – Bonafacio is yet another guy who seemingly has been around forever, but is “only” 33 years of age. He’s played on eight different MLB teams, and if he makes the Rays squad, it’ll be nine. The switch-hitting utilityman spent most of 2018 with the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League, where he hit .348 and stole 20 bags. With a young team, his veteran presence could go a long way, and his hard work would set an example for the kids.

Oliver Drake (RHP) – This poor guy must always keep his bags packed. He spent time on the rosters of five (FIVE!) different major league teams in 2018, having been plucked continuously off waivers. Despite all this time migrating from once place to another, he managed to make 44 appearances (1-1, 5.29 ERA), recording 51 strikeouts over 47.2 innings. Hopefully the 32 year old Drake will find a home with the Rays.

Toronto Blue Jays

Eric Sogard (INF) – Sogard spent the last two seasons in Milwaukee after spending parts of six seasons with the Oakland A’s. He was released by the Brewers on Sept. 1 with an anemic .134 average. Tampa signed him to a minor league deal in December and will add depth. There’s not much chance of him making the big league squad, as there are too many guys ahead of him. The 32 year old Sogard will likely be slated for Triple-A Buffalo. He’s a pro and young kids such as Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. will benefit from his tutelage.

Mark Leiter, Jr. (RHP) – 27 year old Mark Leiter, Jr. was selected off waivers on Sept. 1 by the Blue Jays after the Phillies DFA’ed him. He came up as a starter in the Philadelphia organization and made a handful of starts for the Phillies in 2016 with mixed results. Leiter, the son of former MLB pitcher Mark Leiter and nephew of Al Leiter, pitched exclusively out of the pen last season. He’s not overpowering, topping out in the low 90’s and will probably be minor league filler in 2019.

Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. (3B) – I saved the best for last. This is Vladdy Jr’s first big league camp. To be sure, it will be his last as a non-roster invitee. The 19 year old son of MLB Hall of Fame right-fielder Vladimir Guerrero tore the cover off the ball between AA and AAA in 2018, to the tune of a .381/.437/.636 slash-line. He hit 20 home runs in 95 games and had 227 total bases. What stands out to me is the fact he only struck out 38 times in 357 at bats, walking 37 times. I had the privilege of watching him at a game in Buffalo last August. Here he is facing Scranton Wilkes Barre’s lefty Nestor Cortes, Jr.

 

 

Vladdy will likely begin the 2019 season with the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons, to give the Blue Jays an extra year of team control. I can’t wait to see what he can do when he’s called up, which will likely be early May.

In our next entry, we’ll take a look at some non-roster invitees in the AL Central. I hope you’ll join us!

Swan Song for Sabathia?

When New York Yankees starter CC Sabathia made his debut in April, 2001 with the Cleveland Indians, he was a fresh faced 20 year old with a sizzling fastball and a world of promise in front of him. He made the leap from Double-A Akron, where he finished a successful 2000 season. In his major league debut against the Baltimore Orioles on April 8, three current members of the Baseball Hall of Fame appeared in that game (Jim Thome, Roberto Alomar and Cal Ripken, Jr.). The ageless Bartolo Colon, still pitching today with the Texas Rangers, was a member of the Indians rotation with Sabathia.

The game itself was different, mostly in terms of pitching. In 2001, there were seven 20-game winners. Today, there are a handful of starters who could possibly win twenty games, but will need to win most every start to reach that goal. Curt Schilling led MLB with 256.2 innings pitched in 2001. In 2018, the current leader in innings pitched, Washington’s Max Scherzer is projected to finish with 228. Emphasis isn’t placed on individual win-loss records (rightfully so) today, and bullpens are tailored to be ready for action by the time an opponent’s lineup comes around for the third time.

CC Sabathia is a throwback to days of yore, when starters were still expected to pitch seven or eight innings and hand the ball over to the set-up man or closer to finish off a victory. He pitched 180.1 innings in his rookie season, and remained a durable and consistent starter for over a decade, including a seven year run of 200 or more innings from 2007 through 2013. In those seven seasons, Sabathia pitched a total of 1,610 innings over 230 starts, winning 124 games and averaging exactly seven innings per start. He earned a reputation as a reliable big game pitcher down the stretch for playoff teams in Cleveland, Milwaukee (in 2008), and New York.

However, all those innings began to take it’s toll on CC. His right knee, which is his landing-knee, began to give him pain. In May 2014, renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews determined that Sabathia’s knee injury is a degenerative condition. He would start only eight games that season as he dealt with pain and working with Yankees doctors to determine the best course of treatment for the future. It was decided he will eventually need a full knee replacement after his career is done, but team doctors can manage the bone-on-bone knee with periodic draining of fluid and cortisone shots.

In addition to managing his troublesome knee, CC had to learn to pitch with decreased velocity as the sands of time brought the inevitable. When his fastball averaged 94-95 mph and touched 98, as it did at the pinnacle of his career, he could get away with throwing it 60% of the time. By 2014, with his average four-seam fastball averaging just over 90 mph, he began to struggle. He had primarily been a three-pitch pitcher his entire career, with his fastball and slider, mixing in a change-up here and there. CC began to realize he would need to adjust his style of pitching if he wanted to have continued success. He began working with retired legendary Yankees starter Andy Pettitte, who was Sabathia’s teammate for four seasons in New York. Alfred Santasiere III wrote a nice piece on CC in the spring of 2017, some of which goes into detail about him learning the cutter from Pettitte.

Armed with his new cutter and new approach to attacking hitters , along with a bulky, but sturdy knee-brace that he wears when he’s pitching, Sabathia began to regain consistency and success. CC began using the cutter in earnest to open 2016, and his results stabilized. He finished the 2016 season with nine wins and a 3.91 ERA, and gave up fewer hits than innings pitched for the first time since 2012. CC won 14 games in 2017, lowering his ERA even further to 3.69.

On December 26, 2017, the Yankees re-signed Sabathia to a one-year contract for 2018. In May, he said he would retire if the Yankees win the World Series this year, but seemed to back off the statement shortly afterward. In late July, Yankees beat writer Brendan Kuty (NJ.com) reported that Sabathia wants to finish this year and pitch again in 2019, then retire.

CC has pitched well in 2018 with a well-managed workload, currently boasting a 7-4 record with a 3.30 ERA. Six innings has been mostly the limit to ease the strain on his balky knee and keep him fresh for the stretch drive. After a dominant outing against the Rangers on August 12, where Sabathia allowed no runs and just one hit over six innings, the Yankees announced he would be put on the disabled list with knee inflammation. He only missed one start, thanks to a pair of scheduled off-days built into the team’s schedule. CC returned from the DL Friday night against the Orioles in Baltimore and went six innings, giving up just a pair of runs and notching eight strikeouts.

When Sabathia signed his one year deal in late December, he made sure having his wife, Amber, and their four children with them at home and on the road would be part of the deal.

The story above, written by MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch, details how vital it is for CC to have his family with him for support and have them experience the uniqueness of each city on the road.

In Bryan’s story above, Sabathia said with a laugh he wouldn’t want to miss next summer’s road-trip to London, England, against the Boston Red Sox. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is his swan-song with retirement no more than two months away. He has been dealing with knee-pain for the last eight years, and chronic pain can be distracting. Mentally, it can suck the life out of a person. It’s hard work for a starting pitcher to maintain their body for 30-plus starts over a 162 game schedule, no matter how young or old they are. It’s even more work for a 38 year old starter with a bad knee, who’s started well over 500 games and pitched over 3,400 innings. Between the mental and physical grind, it has to wear on a person. Coupled with requesting in his 2018 contract that his family accompany him on the road, I have a hunch these upcoming weeks may be the last for CC Sabathia. If that’s the case, it’s been a hell of a ride watching his career for the past 18 seasons.