The Blue Jays have released their list of non-roster invitees for spring training and we’re going to take a look at them position by position starting with the pitchers.
First of all, a non-roster invitee is just that: a player who isn’t on the club’s 40-man roster but has been invited to big league spring training. This is a common designation for players who have signed minor league contracts but are expecting to be able to compete for a spot on the big league team. In addition to actually competing for big league spots, you’ll see some of the club’s prospects who are within reach of the majors getting an audition for a potential call up at some point in the year. You’ll also see some prospects who are a little further away from the majors getting a chance to show what they can do with a bigger spotlight on them. Few NRIs end up making the club but last year had both Roberto Osuna and Miguel Castro getting added to the 40-man roster at the end of spring training. Remember that all players on the 40-man roster (including the two who were added to protect them from the Rule 5 draft, Blake McFarland and Brady Dragmire) are automatically invited to spring training.
In the pitching ranks, there are several non-roster invitees who are going to try to make the big league club, with three minor-league signings of Roberto Hernandez, Brad Penny and Scott Diamond making the top of the list.
Roberto Hernandez (the artist formerly known as “Fausto Carmona”) has been a decent enough big league pitcher throughout his career. He had a fantastic sophomore year in 2007 at the age of 26 with the Cleveland Indians (posting a 6.2 rWAR) but has hovered above and below replacement level over the past several years. His most recent decent showing was in his time with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2014 (before going to the Dodgers that same year) but there are big questions whether the 35 year old can be an effective pitcher in the AL East.
Over the course of his 14-year career, 37 year old Brad Penny has had a solid career that has included participation in two All-Star games. Also looking for a way back to the majors, Penny has made a stop in Japan (2012) and spent all of 2015 in the minors, pitching for the Chicago White Sox’s Triple-A club in Charlotte. Penny had a 4.46 ERA with 1.52 WHIP over 135 1/3 innings with the Knights and will likely be the latest of a long line of veteran pitchers with big league experience to suit up for the Buffalo Bisons.
The youngest of the trio with significant big league experience, Scott Diamond is a Guelph, Ontario native and has spent parts of three seasons pitching in Minnesota (2011-2013). Unlike the other two pitchers, the 29 year old hasn’t had very much success at the major league level. In 2015, he pitched in Durham (the Triple-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays) with a solid, 3.71 ERA and 1.37 WHIP, striking out 91 and walking only 26 in 150 1/3 innings. Diamond is unlikely to unseat anyone currently slated for a starting or relief role on the Blue Jays.
Three other pitchers, all of whom are expected to contribute in Buffalo, got spring training invites. Scott Copeland is no stranger to those in Toronto or Buffalo. The 28 year old got hit hard in his major league debut last year but Copeland had a very good 2.95 ERA in 125 innings with the Buffalo Bisons last year. Big and durable, Copeland could very well be an emergency replacement for the Jays in 2016.
Pat McCoy got his first (and only) taste of the big leagues in 2014, throwing 14 innings for the Detroit Tigers with mixed success, primarily coming from his predilection to walking batters. He spent last season in the Baltimore organization pitching in Double-A and Triple-A.
Another minor league signee was Wade LeBlanc, a 31-year-old lefty with a seven-year major league resume to his credit. Most recently, he had 22 1/3 very good innings for the Los Angeles Angels but has had mostly up and down times in the big leagues. Last year, LeBlanc pitched in Japan, throwing 44 2/3 innings with a 4.23 ERA and 1.37 WHIP.
In the “home grown” category, the Blue Jays have invited several prospects to join the club’s spring workouts. The closest to the big leagues is probably lefty Chad Girodo. Girodo was impressive with New Hampshire last year (0.62 ERA in 29 innings) and, while he wasn’t as successful with Buffalo, he opened some eyes in the Arizona Fall League, compiling a 1.80 ERA over 10 innings. Girodo doesn’t throw hard but he features a sinker that is very tough to square up coming from a side-arm angle. If Aaron Loup shows the same control issues that he had last year, you can expect Girodo, 24, to be the first one up to be the club’s LOOGY.
Taylor Cole is one of those players that organizations like. Without being outstanding last year, he put up a very solid season in New Hampshire, throwing 164 innings with a 4.06 ERA and 1.40 WHIP. Cole features a decent fastball and an excellent changeup and suffers mostly from mental lapses that cause him to leave the ball up. I don’t necessarily think he’ll be a big league contributor in 2016 but a strong season in Buffalo could get him within range.
Conner Greene was somewhat of a sensation in the Blue Jays minor league world last year. One of the club’s top remaining pitching prospects after the great cull of 2015, Greene showed a spike in fastball velocity and greater effectiveness from his curveball last season with an already “plus” changeup. Greene still needs to work out how to pitch at the higher levels of the minors as his strikeout rate plummeted in a small sample size in New Hampshire and I think the Blue Jays will be much more cautious with his development than they were with Castro and Osuna last year.
27-year-old Wil Browning has come a long way for a non-drafted free agent. The Webster Award Winner for the Dunedin Blue Jays, Browning was virtually untouchable in Advanced-A Dunedin while struggling a little more in his second shot at New Hampshire. The sidearming righty still had a very good strikeout-to-walk ratio at the higher level and has significantly better splits against right-handed hitters and could project to be a ROOGY at the higher levels.
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