After two years of a relatively stable 40-man roster, injuries forced the White Sox to dig deeper last year. Seven non-roster invitees played for the White Sox last year, reflecting the sense of crisis as the team tried to keep its postseason hopes afloat.
It wasn’t all desperation. Tim Anderson and Carson Fulmer were preseason favorites for midseason call-ups, and Jason Coats looked like a likely September addition before injuries accelerated his timetable a little.
Tyler Danish, though, was given a look before his talent demanded it, and Matt Purke was an emergency measure from the left side. That’s nothing compared to the chaos at catcher, where injuries made the White Sox burn through Hector Sanchez before reaching all the way for Omar Narvaez, who somehow looked like a big-league player despite the lack of experience.
When I update the list of non-roster invitees to make it to the active roster next season, it’s going to look a little more cluttered at the top.
- 2015: Geovany Soto, Carlos Rodon, Scott Carroll, Micah Johnson, Chris Beck.
- 2014: Zach Putnam, Chris Bassitt, Scott Snodgress, Andy Wilkins
- 2013: Erik Johnson, Marcus Semien, Jake Petricka, Ramon Troncoso, David Purcey, Bryan Anderson.
- 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
I feel like I should start chopping years off the back end of this list, but this list is the only time we see some of these names during the year. Their lives are in my hands.
On Monday, the White Sox released their list of non-roster invitees to spring training. It doesn’t include new White Sox prospects like Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, all of whom are already on the 40-man roster.
Baby’s first spring, pitchers:
- Spencer Adams
- Michael Kopech
- Zack Burdi
- Aaron Bummer
- Brian Clark
- Jace Fry
The first-spring list is longer than usual this year, so let’s break it into two parts. Hell, the pitchers can be divided into two groups, too. Adams and Kopech are both 20 years old, right-handed, still on track as starters and will be developed as such. Adams could stand to throw a little bit harder to capitalize on his polished approach, while Kopech could stand to throw softer, lest he draw the scrutiny of the league for some kind of bionic implant.
Then you have the relievers. On the subject of hard throwers, Burdi was a lock for a spring-training invite after the fast track brought him from the draft to the doorstep in 2016. The Downers Grove kid probably won’t be in the immediate bullpen plans since the White Sox have out-of-options candidates to negotiate, but he’ll be heavily involved once the Sox whittle down the roster.
Bummer, Clark and Fry are all lefties who look destined for relief roles. Clark is the most advanced, having thrown 56 innings over 37 games between Birmingham and Charlotte last year.
Bummer and Fry come from far further off the board. Fry, a third-round pick from the 2014 draft, missed all of 2016 due to his second Tommy John surgery. He hasn’t pitched above A-ball, although he was pegged as a fast-track candidate as a third-rounder out of Oregon State before his injury limited him to 61 pro innings. Bummer, a 19th-rounder from the same year, missed all of 2015 (a Google search shows him on minor-league Tommy John surgery lists), and he has fewer than 40 pro innings under his belt.
Baby’s first spring, position players:
- Zack Collins
- Nicky Delmonico
- Danny Hayes
Collins makes his spring debut on the heels of an encouraging pro debut. He hit .258/.418/.467 at Winston-Salem and posted a similar line in the Arizona Fall League (.227/.393/.500). He cracked Keith Law’s Top 100 list at No. 95, although Law expresses doubt that his catching will be able to keep up with his bat. If the White Sox take this rebuilding seriously, he should have plenty of time to work behind the plate.
For the first time in years, the White Sox enter this spring without a backup first baseman as a DH. That’ll open reps for guys like Delmonico and Hayes. Delmonico, 24, is the rare position player to rake at Birmingham, but he didn’t stand out in his first 72 games at Charlotte. Hayes, on the other hand, emerged from 13th-round obscurity by showing power and a good eye in Triple-A in 2016. Injuries limited him to just 55 games and a subpar Arizona Fall League stint, and now that he’s 26, he’s getting a valuable opportunity to make up for lost time.
Right-handed pitching depth:
- Blake Smith
- Anthony Swarzak
Smith switched to pitching after hitting the wall as an outfielder in the Dodgers organization, but all his options were used up along the way. That meant that the White Sox had to take him off the roster at the end of the season to make room for new guys, even though he pitched well enough in Charlotte to get a look in Chicago in September. After a flurry of contradictory reports involving San Diego, the 29-year-old returned to the White Sox on a minor-league deal.
Swarzak is a familiar name, as he made 18 appearances against the White Sox as the long reliever in the Minnesota Twins bullpen from 2009 to 2014. He then bounced to the Indians and Yankees. With New York, he went from a fastball-slider pitcher to a slider-fastball pitcher. He improved his strikeout rate, but his home run rate also ballooned.
Left-handed pitching depth:
- Matt Purke
- Cory Luebke
- David Holmberg
The Purkelator lost his spot on the 40-man roster to Derek Holland, but he was able to climb from the NRI list to the 25-man roster for 12 games last season, so there’s a precedent.
Luebke was once a pitcher on the rise in San Diego before back-to-back Tommy John surgeries forced him out of MLB action for three consecutive seasons. He resurfaced in Pittsburgh last year, but had massive control problems, issuing 11 walks to go along with 15 hits over 82⁄3 innings. His contract is for $1 million if he makes the majors, but John Danks got $1.5 million from the Braves for some context.
Holmberg, who is only 25, made 28 starts between Birmingham and Charlotte last season. Of his 176 minor-league appearances, 167 of them have been as a starter.
Catchers for those pitchers:
- Geovany Soto
- Roberto Pena
Soto is in the same situation as two years ago -- he’s technically a non-roster invitee on a minor-league contract, but he’s already penciled into the 25-man roster if his knees can make it to Opening Day. Pena, 24, is a defense-first catcher the White Sox signed away from the Astros in November. He’s thrown out 44 percent of baserunners during his career, but has just 15 games of Triple-A experience.
He’ll probably be the low man on the totem pole, because Collins is also a catcher for those pitchers, as well as the three other catchers on the 40-man (Narvaez, Kevan Smith, Alfredo Gonzalez).
New organizational players:
- Cody Asche
- Everth Cabrera
- Courtney Hawkins
Asche, 26, played 371 games between third base and left field for the Phillies over the last several seasons, but he was below replacement level for his work. He’s a lifetime .297/.359/.491 hitter at Triple-A, which makes him a model citizen for the “AAAA” label.
Cabrera was once an above-average shortstop with the Padres, hitting .264/.339/.352 with 81 stolen bases and good defense from 2012 to 2013. His career has since fallen off, with multiple run-ins with authorities and agencies along the way.
Hawkins took a major step backward at Birmingham last year, hitting .203/.255/.349 over 106 games in his second try at the level. He’s only 23, but there’s nothing resembling progress, and injuries have eaten away at his athleticism, too. Besides the problem controlling the strike zone and making contact, he’s just 1-for-7 in stolen bases over his two years with the Barons.
If Jake Peter received an NRI, he’d probably be on this list since he’s a utility man with a pile of second/third baseman in front of him, and every impression would count. But he was only drafted in 2014, and he found Charlotte to be a challenge after acing Birmingham. He’ll probably hang out at Triple-A and play at a bunch of positions while waiting for a crack in the depth chart. Fellow seventh-round pick Tyler Saladino would be a good role model here.