Yesterday the Mariners announced that they had invited 18 players not on the 40-man roster to spring training. For any of these players to make the team a player would have to be dropped from the 40-man roster and thus potentially lost to another team for nothing, so it stacks the odds against any of them. However, just last year P Brandon Morrow (75/81), P Arthur Rhodes (76/72), and C Jamie Burke (69/70) were in these players' shoes and made the opening day roster.
Every year three types of players are on this list: prized prospects that will not make the ballclub, but that the team wants to introduce to the major league environment, prospects the front office wants to take a closer look at, and veterans of either the majors or minors who could make it on the opening day squad, but more than likely are ticketed for AAA as needed organizational depth. Though prospects tend to get the headlines, I enjoy looking at the veterans because they have the best chance to make the team, and also because it showcases what I believe is Bavasi's greatest talent - finding players cast away by other teams that probably should not have been set free. He drives much nuts as a GM much of the time, but I admire his exceptional ability to find quality role players for cheap. Here is this year's list of spring training invitees:
P Phillipe Aumont (-/-) - Aumont definitely falls into the category of prized prospect with no chance to make the team. He will likely be compared to Morrow at some point, especially if he looks good in his first couple appearances, but he is much younger and even more inexperienced than Morrow was at this point last year. That being said, I am eager to get a chance to see how he does.
P Phillip Barzilla (59/63) - Barzilla is a 28-year-old lefty that had been in the Astros organization his whole career until now. He has major league experience, though only one-third of an inning's worth. I do not think he is much, but he was switched to the bullpen mid-season last year and posted a sub-1.00 ERA. I am guessing that is what prompted the Mariners to extend him an invite.
P Roy Corcoran (65/70) - Corcoran got cups of coffee in the majors in three different seasons with the Expos/Nationals, but spent all of last year in AAA at Albequerque, Florida's affiliate. He is a classic example of the kind of player Bavasi is great at finding. Corcoran is not a guy I would like to see working the late innings, but he is good enough to be a middle reliever on many ballclubs.
P Brodie Downs (56/66) - Downs is somewhere between "unique" and "intriguing." At 28 years old and a former 23rd round draftee, he does not seem to be exactly a prospect. However, he was drafted just last June, making him the only player besides Aumont invited to camp from the most recent draft class. His rating is the reflection of only 25.1 innings worth of work last season, so I do not know how well it reflects his actual ability. He is worth keeping an eye on.
P Stephen Kahn (50/68) - Kahn missed all of last season thanks to reconstructive knee surgery, so his rating is based on his 2006 numbers. A reliever, Kahn struck better than a batter per inning and kept his home run rate low, but also walked a bunch of batters and gave up a fair number of hits too. Much like Downs, he is a prospect the Mariners want to take a closer look at, but is quite unlikely to make the team.
P Kameron Mickolio (65/76) - I really like this guy, and so do the Mariners. He was drafted in the 18th round in 2006, but logged ample time in AAA last year and excelled. At 6'9" he is an imposing presence on the mound and has a bright future. Of all the prospects on this list, I think Mickolio has the best chance to make the team.
P Chris Reitsma (50/50) - Reitsma has really fallen off the table the last couple season, thanks in large part to injuries. If he has truly healed he may have some gas left in the tank and make a run at a spot in the bullpen. I think his chances are slim, but the real question is how much allegiance John McLaren has to him. If McLaren wants Reitsma on the roster, he will get every opportunity to make it.
P Arthur Rhodes (72/68) - Wisdom says that a pitcher in his late 30s coming off of major elbow surgery that made him miss all of last season would have almost no chance of making the team. However, this is Arthur Rhodes, and he is an exception for two reasons. First and foremost, McLaren remembers how dominant Rhodes was for the M's back in his prime, and without a doubt he would like to add Rhodes to the bullpen. However, beyond that, the numbers indicate that if he has recovered from the elbow surgery, he still has something to offer. Of all the veterans invited to camp, Rhodes has by far the best chance to stick.
P Robert Rohrbaugh (65/75) - Rohrbaugh has torn through the minors the past couple years rather quietly, only garnering attention the second half of last year when he was promoted to Tacoma and ultimately was named the Rainiers Pitcher of the Year. He was one of my darkhorses for the fifth starter spot until the M's signed Carlos Silva (75/74), but even without a spot to compete for on the roster, he will probably survive several cuts in spring training.
P Chris Tillman (46/78) - Many people are high on this former prep star, including the Mariners. They are treating him like a big-time prospect by inviting him to camp this year, though I think he is ultimately going to start the year in AA. I am not as sold on him as most, though I like his potential and do think he could take a big stride forward in 2008.
P Jake Woods (51/57) - He was a quality middle reliever in 2006, but struggled mightily in 2007. If he is sticking in the M's organization past March, he will be in Tacoma.
C Jair Fernandez (42/71) - Jair got invited most likely because the Mariners needed more catcher to handle all the pitchers. He is only 20 years old, but did not log even 200 at-bats in low A Wisconsin last year. He will likely be cut once enough pitchers are cut.
C Adam Moore (52/71) - Moore also gets an invite because of a need for catchers, but he may very well have received an invite regardless. He opened many eyes with an impressive season at Inland Empire, though it should be noted he was a bit old for the league at 23. He should open up the season in AA, and if he duplicates his performance last year he will become an even more interesting prospect.
C Brant Ust (56/61) - Much like Fernandez, Ust is here just for the pitchers. He is a 28-year-old utility player who did not even play much catcher last year in Tacoma. Still, it is a nice gesture by the team to give this career minor-leaguer a chance to play in a major league camp, even if it ends up being for only a few weeks.
2B Tug Hulett (66/72) - Hulett is a new-comer to the organization acquired in the Ben Broussard (73/72) trade. Hulett is not a star in the making, but he would be a good bench player. I would not be surprised if he hung around until one of the final cuts.
3B Mark Kiger (63/74) - Though Kriger has never appeared in a regular season MLB game, he has appeared in the playoffs with the A's in 2006! In fact, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, Kiger is the only player in major league history to make his major league debut in the playoffs. Last year he was in the Mets organization, where he spent most of his time in AA. He posted great numbers, though at 27 years of age he was rather old for the league. Kiger has played mostly third in his career, though he has played some at all infield spots. Kiger is another example of a quality role player that Bavasi has a knack for finding. He likely will not make the M's, but he should provide depth down in Tacoma.
3B Matt Tuiasosopo (51/70) - Tui has been invited several times to major league camp now, and it would still be stunning if he made the team. With that being said, I expect the team to give him a longer look this spring training, because I think he will ultimately start the year in Tacoma.
OF Bronson Sardinha (62/68) - Sardinha is a former first-round pick of the New York Yankees, and finally made the majors last year as a September call-up, appearing in only 10 games. His numbers were disappointing in AAA last year, but his combination of power and speed is intriguing, and at 24 years old he certainly could bounce back. Bronson is this year's version of OF Charlton Jimerson (59/69), except a little younger and a little better.