The Major League Baseball season is such a grind that organizational depth is essential. Teams simply never know when they’ll need to dip into the minors for reinforcements.
Spring training can be a valuable setting for evaluating said depth, or lack thereof, hence the inclusion of non-roster invitees — players not on a club’s 40-man roster — at the beginning of big league camp.
As of Friday, the Boston Red Sox had invited 32 players to major league spring training as non-roster invitees. This year, per usual, it’s a diverse group that includes fringe major leaguers, aging minor leaguers and legitimate prospects.
Most non-roster invitees have a slim chance of making the Opening Day roster, unless an injury or transaction creates an opening. Non-roster players, of course, must be added to the 40-man roster before they can make their major league arrival. Thus, it’s typically easier to look elsewhere.
This season is no different in that regard for the Red Sox, especially with Boston’s projected active roster and 40-man roster containing far more talent than a year ago. Still, it’s worthwhile to scope out the current crop of non-roster invitees to see if anyone could emerge over the next several weeks and break camp with Boston.
The complete list of non-roster invitees can be found here. For the purpose of this exercise, let’s focus on the players who are most notable, for one reason or another, and dump them into (random) baskets.
Jett Bandy, C
Chris Herrmann, C
Josh Ockimey, 1B
Chad De La Guerra, IF
Yairo Munoz, IF/OF
Cesar Puello, OF
Michael Gettys, OF
The Red Sox invited six catchers to major league spring training as non-roster invitees — Bandy, Herrmann, Roldani Baldwin, Kole Cottam, Jhonny Pereda and Austin Rei — and it’s possible none see time with the major league club this season. Boston has a solid backstop tandem in place, with Christian Vazquez and Kevin Plawecki, as well as prospects Ronald Hernandez and Connor Wong waiting in the wings. Nevertheless, Bandy and Herrmann presumably are next in line given their experience.
Ockimey, 25, shouldn’t go overlooked, if only because he’s a left-handed bat and there’s some uncertainty surrounding Boston’s first-base situation. The job is Bobby Dalbec’s to lose, but he’s a rookie with swing-and-miss tendencies from the right side. Marwin Gonzalez, a switch-hitter, and Michael Chavis, another right-handed hitter with strikeout issues, are the next options, with the former likely serving in a utility role to begin the season while the latter reports to Triple-A Worcester.
De La Guerra, 28, is on the periphery right now, as he’s somewhat redundant for an organization that has Gonzalez, Chavis, KikÃ© HernÃ¡ndez, Christian Arroyo, Jonathan Arauz and Hudson Potts as infielders on the 40-man roster beyond shortstop Xander Bogaerts and third baseman Rafael Devers.
Same goes for Munoz, 26, although the former St. Louis Cardinal performed well in a small sample size with the Red Sox last season and has played all three outfield spots, as well.
Puello, who turns 30 on Opening Day, appeared in five games with the Red Sox in 2020 and could be called upon in a pinch if things don’t shake out as expected in Boston’s outfield in 2021.
Gettys, 25, signed as a minor league free agent this offseason and essentially serves the same purpose as Puello — organizational outfield depth — although he’s yet to debut in The Show.
Starting pitching depth
Stephen Gonsalves, LHP
Daniel Gossett, RHP
Matt Hall, LHP
Kyle Hart, LHP
Ryan Weber, RHP
Hall (four appearances; one start), Hart (four appearances; three starts) and Weber (17 appearances; five starts) all pitched for Boston last year in what was a very forgettable season from the mound.
Gonsalves, claimed off waivers last July, and Gossett, signed to a minor league deal in December, have major league experience, too. Just not with the Red Sox.
The hope, obviously, is that these pitchers’ services won’t be required in 2021, when the Red Sox have Eduardo Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi, Garrett Richards, Martin Perez, Nick Pivetta, Matt Andriese, Tanner Houck, Garrett Whitlock, Connor Seabold, Bryan Mata and eventually Chris Sale as starter options.
Relief pitching depth
Seth Blair, RHP
Matt Carasiti, RHP
Raynel Espinal, RHP
Zac Grotz, RHP
Kevin McCarthy, RHP
Kaleb Ort, RHP
Caleb Simpson, RHP
We won’t spend too much time here, as it’d more or less be a crapshoot trying to pinpoint which of these relievers could make their way to Boston this season. Bullpens always are volatile. So while the Red Sox have plenty of capable relief arms on the 40-man roster now, there’s really no telling what the situation will look like down the road.
For what it’s worth, McCarthy totaled 169 appearances across the last five seasons with the Kansas City Royals, during which he posted a respectable 3.80 ERA.
Triston Casas, 1B
Jeter Downs, 2B/SS
Nick Yorke, 2B
Jarren Duran, OF
York, the Red Sox’s first-round pick in 2020, will turn 19 on April 2. He’s just getting his feet wet. Don’t expect to see him in Boston on Opening Day or at any point this season.
Same for Casas, 21, although the hulking slugger could thrust his name into the conversation if he rakes down on the farm.
Downs, 22, and Duran, 24, are completely different stories. They’ll probably debut with the Red Sox in 2021, perhaps sooner rather than later in Duran’s case. Boston doesn’t really have a natural center fielder in wake of Jackie Bradley Jr. hitting free agency.
Durbin Feltman, RHP
Frank German, RHP
Andrew Politi, RHP
Thad Ward, RHP
Josh Winckowski, RHP
Mata, 21, and Seabold, 25, are on the cusp of reaching the majors, as far as pitching prospects go. They’re both on the 40-man roster and probably will debut in 2021.
This group, meanwhile, is a bit further down the list, with their respective invitations to big league spring training mostly geared toward giving the organization a closer look at their development.
Again, don’t count on any of the non-roster invitees breaking camp with Boston. If so, it’d probably be the product of something gone wrong, like an injury, more so than a player forcing the club’s hand.
The Red Sox have viable alternatives on their 40-man roster, and the organization presumably will look to preserve as much depth as possible, top to bottom, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic still posing a threat. Any non-roster invitees that log major league innings in 2021 likely will do so only after the regular season gets underway.
If you’re looking for a couple of long-shot Opening Day candidates, other than a reliever pitching his way onto the map this spring, consider Munoz and Duran.
Munoz, a sparkplug in limited action last season, offers valuable defensive versatility. Duran is a natural fit in center field, which would allow for Alex Verdugo to hold down right field while Hunter Renfroe and Franchy Cordero form a left-field platoon.