Monday, February 14, 2011

Twins Non-roster Invitees

The Twins have invited 19 players to spring training who are not on the major league roster. Most of these players are new to the organization, signed as six-year minor league free agents. Because they are free agents, these players often ask for and get an invite as a condition of signing. Even if they are slated to fill out the roster at AAA, this gives them an opportunity to showcase themselves for the major league staff in case an injury or poor performance creates an opening.  There is also a handful of players in the organization who received invitations. The reason for their invitations is often less clear with a mixture of motives for the organization wanting them in the major league camp. Once the minor league camp opens in mid-March, many of these players will be sent over there. But for now, they get  a chance to mix it up with the big guys.

Non-roster catchers are a unique group among the non-roster invites. Because there are almost always a lot of pitchers who are competing for spots, there need to be a lot of catchers to catch them. You can break this year's non-roster invitees into three sets. Rene Rivera and Steve Holm are the two guys you are most likely to see in Twins uniforms this year. They were signed to provide veteran backups in case either Butera or Mauer get hurt. Whether they are competing with one another for a spot at Rochester, or just competing to be first in line for a major league job, one of them is likely to be in major league camp until the final roster cuts

The second tier is made up of Danny Lehman and Jair Fernandez. Lehman was drafted by the Twins, Fernandez came over from Seattle in trade for RA DIckey when the Mariners wanted to send Dickey to the minor leagues after taking him in the rule 5 draft. They are organizational catchers who are in camp to serve as catchers for the pitching competition. Its possible that they would show enough that they would move ahead of Rivera or Holm for a major league job if Butera went down. But I don't think either one's career projection is anything more than a AAA insurance catcher. 

The other two catchers, Danny Rams and Chris Herrmann, are more intriguing. They are both coming out of A ball (Rams had a brief mid-season callup to AA) and neither one is known for their defense. In fact, Herrmann spent as much time in the outfield as he did at catcher last year. Danny Rams was as second round pick in 2007 and was still in low A ball last year. But he hit 16 home runs at Beloit last year and projects to have serious major league power. His defense has always been a question mark. In the past, the Twins have usually taken  defensively polished catchers like Lehman and Fernandez to spring training who will do the best job for the pitchers. These two don't seem to fit that mold. They may be there as much for their own development. They are both guys who significant offensive upsides if they can handle the demands on defense.

Like the catchers, the other position players do not appear to be competing for major league jobs. Jeff Bailey and Justin Huber are both dh/1b guys who will provide veteran bats for Rochester. Ray Chang, Mathew Brown and Chase Lambln are veteran infielders destined for AAA. All of them are hoping to show the major league staff enough that they will be considered if there is an opening. But truthfully, there are players on the roster ahead of all of them even if there is an opening. Brian Dozier and Brian Dinkelman are more intriguing. Dinkelman  started out as an offensive oriented second baseman. He has moved to the outfield the last couple years, playing only sparingly at second. It appeared they had decided his glove does not play at second base. It may be that flexibility, which is often valued a lot more by managers than by fans, that got him the invitation. Dozier is even more intriguing. An 8th round draft choice in 2009, 2010 was his first full professional season. He started at Beloit, but spent most of the season at Fort Myers. His invitation to spring training after playing no higher than A-ball would seem to indicate he is on a fast track.  I don't know if he is a legitimate major league shortstop or not, he played all three infield positions at Fort Myers, but he may be a longshot in the competition for the major league utility role. More likely, they see that role for him in the near future.

While none of the position players project to have a shot at making the roster out of spring training, the opposite is true of the pitchers. With the bullpen competition wide open, almost all of them are in the mix. The exception is Kyle Gibson who was the Twins first pick in the 2009 draft. Gibson may be ready to pitch at the big league level, but with six starters ahead of him he is almost certain to start the year in the rotation at AAA. The first time a starter stumbles, we will hear the "free Kyle Gibson" chants from various bloggers. But Gibson is unlikely to get the call unless he is both dominating at AAA and there is an obvious hole for him to fill. As long as the Twins are in the chase, I suspect Gibson is going to stay at AAA. A September callup is possible, but that requires both using a roster spot and starting the major league service clock. If they need him, those won't matter. But I don't think they will call him up just to give him experience. 

Like their position player counterpart, Yorman Bazardo, Phil Dumtrait  and Chuck James were all given spring training invites for signing as six year free agents. Unlike the position players, all three have a legitimate shot at a bullpen slot if they shine in spring training. James has the most major league success of the three and he is left handed. If he pitches well, he has a legitimate shot. Bazardo is the youngest and probably has more potential than the other two. He has yet to show he can get major league hitters out. He is likely to start the year at AAA unless other pitchers are even less successful. The same is true of Dumtrait. He needs others to fail or he is just depth at AAA. Kyle Waldrop is a bit of a hybrid. He is a former first round draft choice who  who resigned with the Twins when he became a free agent last fall. It is likely that the spring training invite was part of that deal. He will be given a shot at winning a spot in the bullpen, but likely starts the year at AAA.

Carlos Gutierrez is probably the most likely of any of the non-roster invitees to win a spot out of spring training.  A former first round choice, Gutierrez has a devastating sinker and the potential to be a successful major league closer. The Twins had him working as a starter in part to develop his other pitches, but seem to have now settled on him pitching in the bullpen. The only real question is whether he is ready now or needs time at AAA. He is a guy whose successful spring could change the bullpen from a question mark to a strength along with a healthy Nathan. If you need a ground ball, Guttierez is likely going to be able to get one.

With the exception of Gutierrez and Gibson, none of these guys project to be major contributors to the big league club either now or in the future. The exception to that may be a guy like Danny Rams. But they all have skills that could provide important depth.  And its always exciting when a player whose talent only places them at the margin of the major leagues is able to take an opportunity and fulfill their dream.

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