With pitchers and catchers reporting last week, spring training has officially arrived. Over the next eight days, right up until games begin March 1, we’ll look at all 30 clubs and how they’re shaping up before the exhibition games get underway. Specifically, a player to watch for.
But instead of All-Star-caliber player profiles, we’ll look at one guy from each club who’s a long shot to make the 25-man rostera��someone who has much more to prove: a non-roster invitee.
Starting with the AL East, let’s get right to it.
Toronto Blue Jays
Player To Watch: Brad Penny
Brad Penny is 37 years old; he’ll turn 38 in May. He’s played for six different teams in his 14-year career, and even was a two-time All-Star. But that was back in 2006 and 2007.
However, Penny is no longer the pitcher he once was, and he hasn’t been for a while. He didn’t pitch in 2013, and he was exclusively a minor league arm last season. The Blue Jays brought him on in December, and as the saying goes: you can never have too much pitching.
Yet, too much bad pitching is something you’d like to stray from, especially if you’re looking to defend the divisional crown. Here’s the thing: the last time he started a full slate of games (2011 with San Detroit), the results were horrendous. He logged 181.2 innings, but finished with a 5.30 ERA, 5.05 FIP, and 5.36 DRA.
While he’s never been a big strikeout guy (6.0 per nine over his career), even that rate plummeted: 3.7 in 2011, 3.2 in 2012, and up to 4.5 in 2014. He’s been worth less than 2.0 WARP every season since 2007a��finishing four of those years with negative value. The days of Penny as a rotation regular should be long gone.
And if he doesn’t have an incredible spring, the likelihood of him sticking around the game much longer is slim.
New York Yankees
Player To Watch: Pete Kozma
Kozma, like Penny, was brought in on a minor league deal. Unlike Penny, Kozma was a first-round draft pick. St. Louis took him 18th overall in 2007. The shortstop is also 10 years younger than the pitcher, not turning 28 until April.
Parts of five seasons in the majorsa��with a full slate in 2013a��have not been kind to Kozma, particularly from an offensive standpoint. With a touch under 700 plate appearances, Kozma has slashed .222/.288/.293. In his full season with the Cardinals, those numbers were slightly worse: .217/.275/.273. If he can catch on as backup in New York, it’ll be because of his glove.
That same year with St. Louis, Kozma finished with a UZR of 6.7 and UZR/150 of 8.0 in just over 1,000 innings of work at shortstop. Baseball Prospectus recorded a FRAA of 19.1 for him that year. In very sporadic small sample sizes throughout the rest of his career, Kozma has had very promising batting lines. But those samples are much too small to even present numbers on.
Kozma is not even remotely an offensive shortstop, but if his glove work continues the way it has, he’ll always have a shot at sticking around.
Player To Watch: Pedro Beato
Beato was the 32nd overall pick (Baltimore) in the 2006 MLB Draft, one year after the Mets took him in the 17th round. He was even ranked as a Top-100 prospect by both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus before the 2007 season, but the 29-year-old has bounced around between the Mets, Boston, and Atlanta all in a four-year spana��all with little-to-no success.
In fact, he’s never pitched at the big-league level for Baltimore, the team that not only drafted him in the first round but signed him to not one, but two minor league deals since March of last year. Four years after the Orioles selected Beato, the Mets nabbed him in the Rule 5 draft.
Beato has only logged 93.1 innings in the majors. Again, pitching depth is incredibly important. Recently, we’ve seen the rise of dominant bullpens and it’s led to immediate success (see: Royals, Kansas City). That said, I can’t imagine Beato will offer much going forward based on his brief track record. He holds a career 4.34 ERA, 4.11 FIP, and 4.47 DRAa��all while striking out just 5.7 per nine.
If the 6’6″ former first-rounder has anything going for him, it’s that he doesn’t turn 30 until October, meaning time is still on his side to get things sorted. For now.
Tampa Bay Rays
Player To Watch: Dana Eveland
Eveland, like those mentioned before him, was also brought in on a minor league deal. He has actually had quite the careera��10 yearsa��which comes as a surprise to me as he wasn’t drafted until the 16th round of the 2002 draft by the Milwaukee Brewers. Including his days in Milwaukee, he’s pitched for nine different teams.
He started 28 games back in 2008 with Oakland, but if he does make the 25-man roster, it’d be better for everyone if he was used primarily as a reliever. What makes his lengthy career even more interesting is the fact that he’s never been all that good. His best season came in 2014 after logging just 27.1 innings with the Mets: 2.63 ERA, 3.18 FIP, 3.28 DRA, and a strikeout rate of 8.9 per ninea��much higher than his career mark (6.1).
If he can replicate that type of production at age 32, there’s hope for him yet. That said, his career numbers aren’t nearly as promising: 5.27 ERA, 4.37 FIP, and 5.69 DRAa��all in just a touch over 400 innings of work.
But like Roman Reigns, apparently, I suppose you can never count Dana Eveland out of a fight.
Boston Red Sox
MA?rmol, 33, was 26th in MVP voting during the ’07 season and an All-Star the following yeara��finishing with a 2.06 ERA, 3.13 FIP, and a very impressive 2.14 DRA over those two seasons. He struck out batters at a rate of 12.1 per nine, but issued 4.3 walks per nine innings as well. 2010 was arguably crazier on just about every front: 2.55 ERA, 2.04 FIP, 2.19 DRA, and a strikeout rate of 16 batters per nine innings.
And we’re not talking small sample herea��MA?rmol tossed 77.2 innings in 2010, but his erratic control remained. He averaged six free passes per nine, a mark that increased to 7.3 in 2012 and 2013a��going so high as 8.0 with the Dodgers during his 2013 season split between two clubs. There’s a reason MA?rmol pitched exclusively in the minors last season, and it’s unlikely we’ll see the best of him ever again.
Craig, an eighth-round pick by St. Louis in 2006, was a Top-20 MVP candidate in back-to-back seasons (’12, ’13). He slashed .312/.363/.511 while averaging 15 home runs per year with the Cardinals from 2011 through 2013a��all in just under 1,300 plate appearances. Since, injuries and deplorable plate production have taken over.
Between St. Louis and Boston, Craig has slashed .184/.259/.259 in just under 600 plate appearances since that magical three-year stretch. Craig, who turns 32 in July, doesn’t even have defense to fall back on. It looks like the first baseman/outfielder burned out early and I don’t see much of a way back. Of course, I’ve been wrong before.
Of the names listed, who do you think has the best shot to make their respective 25-man roster?
Statistics courtesy of Baseball Prospectus, Baseball Reference, and Fangraphs