It's always the same story with the list of non-roster invitees: Nobody gets goosebumps from studying the names at the start of the year, but we end up seeing a handful of them by the end of it.
Last year, six of the 20 NRIs from spring training went on to make appearances for the White Sox at some point in the season. That's half good and half bad -- three promotions were the result of progress (Erik Johnson, Marcus Semien, Jake Petricka), and the other due to a lack of depth (Ramon Troncoso, David Purcey, Bryan Anderson).
Thanks to the prospects making the leap, that list looks far more appealing than the success(?) stories from seasons past:
- 2012: Brian Bruney, Leyson Septimo, Eric Stults, Hector Gimenez, Ray Olmedo, Jordan Danks, Brian Omogrosso
- 2011: Bruney, Donny Lucy, Jeff Gray (and his journal), Josh Kinney, Shane Lindsay, Dallas McPherson
- 2010: Donny, Erick Threets
On Tuesday, the White Sox announced a list of 21 names. Let's categorize them like we do every January, because if you pretend it's a tradition, it feels a little less like homework.
Baby's first spring
- Chris Bassitt
- Chris Beck
- Cody Winiarski
- Micah Johnson
Last year, Semien and Erik Johnson catapulted themselves from this group to Chicago in September. Johnson's first MLB stint wasn't much of a surprise, since he boosted his stock the previous season and had a path to the majors if he could stay healthy. Semien was thought to be a couple of years away, but he tore up Double-A pitching and looked good enough in Charlotte to warrant a look-see in September.
This time around, two or three of these players could be called up, but they're closer to Semien than Johnson in terms of odds. Winiarski and Bassitt each ended their 2013 seasons with successful Birmingham debuts, but their thin track records make regression a possibility. If they can hold onto their gains, they could appear in the White Sox bullpen during the second half. Bassitt's still on a starting track at this point, but left-handed hitters give him a hard time.
Here's Winiarski talking about his background, including the rib removal that cost him all of 2012:
Beck, like Johnson, is a second-round pick whom the White Sox regard highly. He's not as advanced as Johnson, but he turned it up a notch after his promotion to Birmingham, so the breakout potential is there. There probably won't be any early conversion to a relief role, though.
Micah Johnson still has to find a defensive position, and Double-A wasn't as hospitable to him, so he'll start 2014 with an awful lot on his plate. But hey -- the Sox invited him to Chicago to honor his Southern League Championship Series MVP and minor-league stolen base crown, so why not an invite to major-league camp in February?
- Dylan Axelrod
- Parker Frazier
- Brian Omogrosso
- Omar Poveda
- Zach Putnam
We are quite well acquainted with Axelrod and Omogrosso. Frazier and Poveda are command-oriented righties with some minor-league success, but both ran out of time on their original development curve, so they'll both start anew with the Sox. Frazier is a sinker-slider guy, Poveda is fastball-changeup, and both are behind Axelrod when it comes to emergency starters, barring unlikely improvement.
Putnam is a right-handed reliever with 15 major-league appearances over three seasons. The White Sox tagged him for his only career loss on Sept. 20, 2011, during which he pissed off Paul Konerko with one of those classic Cleveland plunkings.
That HBP escalated the whole "Why don't White Sox pitchers defend their hitters" discussion, so I guess you can credit Putnam with being the straw that stirred the camel's drink.
- David Purcey
- Mauricio Robles
Purcey was a footnote in the 2013 season. Robles appeared in his first four MLB games for the Phillies last year, a minor triumph given his rather insane peripherals across four Triple-A seasons: 98⅓ innings, 87 strikeouts, 87 walks. That's rather Septimo-ish, except he doesn't throw as hard. His best anagram brings to mind an invasive species (Malicious Borer).
Catchers for those pitchers
- Hector Gimenez
- Miguel Gonzalez
- Kevan Smith
Gimenez and Gonzalez were both unceremoniously removed from the 40-man roster, but as long as Josh Phegley and Tyler Flowers occupy the top two spots on the depth chart, they still have a chance to make an appearance at some point in 2014. Smith had a nice year at Winston-Salem (.286/.370/.464), but he did that as a 25-year-old, which is less nice.
New organizational players
- Alex Liddi
- Denis Phipps
Liddi's progress stalled after a breakout season as a 22-year-old in Triple-A Tacoma back in 2012. He hit .259/.332/.488, but the power he showed with his 30 homers was eventually undermined by the contact problems indicated by his 170 strikeouts. He did manage to hit six homers with the Mariners, but it's been a steady slide downhill otherwise. He'll probably man third base at Charlotte.
Phipps has spent all of his eight years in professional baseball with the Reds organization, but after a brief surge in 2011 and a cup of coffee in 2012, he's been relegated to minor-league outfield depth. Still, nobody can take this sweet MLB line away from him:
Still around, but not on the 40-man
- Mike McDade
- Blake Tekotte
Most White Sox fans probably didn't know that McDade manned first base or DH at Charlotte for most of the season, and that he was on the 40-man roster for all of 2013. We're familiar with Tekotte, but he's gotten three cracks at MLB pitching without ever solving Triple-A pitching first, and reality is setting in.
- Scott Snodgress
- Andy Wilkins
- Keenyn Walker
All of these guys started the season with promise and non-roster invitations to big-league camp, but the year didn't end on satisfactory notes. Snodgress had a rough second half with the Barons, while Walker could never quite get started at Birmingham. Wilkins actually had a respectable year across Birmingham and Charlotte, but he couldn't earn a September callup after 234 Triple-A plate appearances. All three will have a shot to do it all over again.
- Mike Blanke
- Tyler Saladino
They started last spring with the big boys, but didn't receive the opportunity this year. That's a little bit of a signal, and an unwelcome one at that.