Non-roster invitees are usually a collection of has-beens, never-wases and not-yets, but usually one or two players can end up making an impact in the majors later in the year. Three years ago, the Sox took a chance on D.J. Carrasco and his 6.68 ERA for Arizona's Triple-A team, and he became everybody's favorite stirrups model. Last year, Erick Threets was Randy Williams insurance -- lucky him.
That's the reason why I like taking a good hard look at the NRI pile, which includes 14 players this year. That, and the complete lack of other White Sox news. Like I did last year, let's divide them into four groups.
Baby's first spring
I listed this four-pack of prospects in the order of who needs a good spring the most. At the top is Lantern Jaw Junior, who failed to hit at both Double-A and Triple-A. Danks might have the blessing of Buddy Bell due to his defense, but he needs to establish some semblance of offensive momentum. No time like the present.
(Correction: As Larry points out, Danks was invited last year.)
Likewise, it would help if Kyle Bellamy retired a few major-league hitters. He crashed into the wall at Birmingham last season, and that isn't a great sign for a collegiate reliever who relies on deception.
Brandon Short brings up the rear because he's years away, and everybody knows he has to work to do to close the walk-strikeout gap.
I skipped past Miguel Socolovich because his name is the most intriguing -- literally and figuratively. He's a 24-year-old Venezuelan who quietly struck out 30 batters over 26 innings in his first stint at Charlotte last year. Part of the reason why it was quiet is because he also walked 18, and has a history of command issues. Another reason is because the Sox got him from Boston for David Aardsma after the 2007 season in a trade nobody cared about.
He has the advantage of youth over the rest of the NRI relief field, so a great spring could put him on the map and our minor league roundups. At any rate, I'm pulling for him, mainly because I want to hear Hawk Harrelson say "Socolovich," and I want to make personal injury attorney jokes.
Somebody has to catch the pitchers
A lot of eyes will be on Josh Phegley, who had his spleen removed in November in an effort to raise his blood platelet count as he battles ITP. The initial tests were encouraging, so he just needs to get out of Glendale in working order to call his spring a success.
Lest I draw death threats from the Donnyacs, this seems like as good a time as any to remind the nice people that enrolling in the Donny Lucy Fan Club is the world's best way to collect unique and hard-to-find Donny memorabilia for your home, office, and car. And members get the Donny Discount! Details here.
(On an unrelated note, does anybody want to start my truck this morning?)
Live arms and longshots
Charles Leesman is an organizational favorite who could start laying track to the 25-man roster by pitching well in front of Don Cooper, but the Will Ohman signing and Chris Sale's role ambiguities make his left-handedness less necessary in the near future.
The rest of the pack is uninspiring at best. Brian Bruney seems like the best bet to appear in a White Sox uniform at some point in 2011, only because he threw 144 innings for the Yankees over four seasons. But he wasn't good at any point in New York, and he was nothing short of terrible with the Washington Nationals last season. Still, stranger things have happened, as Carrasco would tell you. Nobody else has much potential, although I'm pulling for Shane Lindsay so the Sox can have their first Australian.
Jeff Gray is the only new name of the bunch. He's bounced around the last few seasons, getting a brief appearance with the Cubs. He can get a grounder, but he struggles for strikeouts. Hynick is the only guy who was in the Sox organization last year, and he sits solidly in Jack Egbert Memorial Triple-A Ceiling territory.
Antique road show
What this group lacks is the pitching phenom gone wrong. Two years ago, it was John Van Benschoten. Last year, it was Daniel Cabrera. Both came into camp getting a little bit of ink as possible Coop'll-fix-'em redemption stories. Then reality set in and everybody realized they had nothing.
McPherson is the closest we can get, a 30-year-old minor-league home run king whose balky back and lack of strike-zone judgment prevents him from sticking in the majors. We might get another Brad Eldred experience out of him -- he's brought in for organization depth, hits a ton of homers at Charlotte, and a few people think he should be promoted.
Looking back at least year's non-roster invitees, it's worth noting that three of them aren't back this year -- Jared Mitchell, Miguel Gonzalez and C.J. Retherford, who all suffered through miserable seasons in 2010 for various reasons. If the first two names aren't on the list in 2012, that's not a good sign for the farm system.