Blue Jays Non-Roster Invitees: Infielders
By Jay Blue
Blue Jays from Away
It’s time to get back to the question of who has been invited to big league spring training among the infielders!
To recap, a non-roster invitee is just that: a player who isn’t on the club’s 40-man roster but has been invited to big league spring training. This is a common designation for players who have signed minor league contracts but are expecting to be able to compete for a spot on the big league team. In addition to actually competing for big league spots, you’ll see some of the club’s prospects who are within reach of the majors getting an audition for a potential call up at some point in the year. You’ll also see some prospects who are a little further away from the majors getting a chance to show what they can do with a bigger spotlight on them. Few NRIs end up making the club but last year had both Roberto Osuna and Miguel Castro getting added to the 40-man roster at the end of spring training. Remember that all players on the 40-man roster (including the two who were added to protect them from the Rule 5 draft, Blake McFarland and Brady Dragmire) are automatically invited to spring training.
There’s a long list of infielders who the Blue Jays invited to spring training. The list of players coming from outside the system who got the invite along with his minor league contract starts with David Adams. Adams is mostly a second baseman who got his start with the Yankees organization and has a .286/.372/.426 slash line over his eight minor league seasons. Adams finally got to the big leagues for 140 plate appearances with the Yankees in the 2013 season, playing mostly third base with the big club and hitting /.193/.252/.286. The 28 year old doesn’t have much power and spent the 2015 season in Double-A with the Marlins organization, hitting .294/.399/.391 with 12 doubles, three triples and six home runs in 116 games.
Casey Kotchman, 32, is a veteran first baseman with 10 years of games in the majors (and is just 61 games short of 1000 for his career) where he has a lifetime .260/.326/.385 slash line. While he’s not a power threat, his best season came in 2007 when he hit 37 doubles and 11 home runs over 137 for the Angels, hitting .296/.372/.467. His skills have been in decline, however, and he hasn’t had a good season in the majors since 2011. Last year, he hit .290/.374/.426 over the whole year in Omaha, Kansas City’s Triple-A affiliate, with 20 doubles and seven home runs.
Jio Mier was a first-round pick of the Houston Astros in 2009 and had been a Top-100-rated prospect before his stock fell. The 25-year-old shortstop has yet to break the majors and, after a good-year in High-A in 2012 (and a very solid performance in the Arizona Fall League), Mier has faltered at Double-A and Triple-a. Last year, however, there was some decent hitting from Mier as he slashed .258/.350/.372 over 109 games in Double-A, with 18 doubles, two triples and seven home runs, stealing 10 bases. Is Mier a longshot? Yes, but he represents a guy who could still figure some things out, and if he does it in the Blue Jays’ system, so much the better. If not, he’s another guy to play the infield in Buffalo.
The rest of the Blue Jays’ non-roster invitees come from their own system. The veteran guys who could very well see Buffalo or the big leagues have Jon Berti at the top of the list. Jon Berti has been one of the Blue Jays’ most versatile minor leaguers, playing both the infield and outfield despite his natural position being at second base. At 25, Berti still has some time but his offensive numbers (aside from stolen bases) haven’t been all that encouraging. He has 40 games in Triple-A under his belt and 199 games at Double-A with a .267/.330/.361 slash line.
Andy Burns is another young, versatile infielder/outfielder coming up within the organization who has time at Triple-A under his belt. Also 25, Burns had a tremendous first half in Dunedin in 2013 to really put his name out there. He’s had very solid numbers in Double-A and had a good season in Triple-A, playing all over the field. Burns has embraced his utility role and wants to be able to play anywhere on the diamond. Coming from shortstop, that’s probably possible but not necessarily desired. The one concern with Burns’s 2015 season was that his power really dropped off from previous seasons. I’d like to see Burns recreate his .293 average and .351 OBP from Buffalo last year but adding maybe 10 doubles (to his 26 last year) and another 10 home runs (to four last year), something that I certainly think he’s capable of.
Matthew Dean is a 2011 13th rounder who, at the age of 23 is starting to enter his “let’s see what you can do” years. He had a solid season last year with Dunedin, hitting .253/.313/.410 and was tied for second in the Florida State League with 14 home runs but he also struck out 139 times and there’s far too much swing-and-miss in his game. I’d like to see him in Double-A and see if he can cut down on the strikeouts.
Rowdy Tellez is another first baseman who is much younger (still 20) and with a little more upside at this point. Rowdy ramrodded his way through A-ball last year, hitting a combined .289/.347/.454 with 14 home runs (seven at each level) between Lansing and Dunedin before his season was cut short by a broken bone in his wrist. He played in the Arizona Fall League and impressed there as well, hitting .293/.352/.488 in 91 plate appearances. All of Rowdy’s value is in his bat and he’ll get a real chance to play in Double-A this year and his left-handed swing should match up well with environment at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium in New Hampshire.
Richard Urena is the final homegrown player to get the invite. Urena shot up the depth charts in 2015 thanks to solid defense, an improving right-handed swing and surprising power. He hit 16 home runs last year including a team-leading 15 in Lansing. The biggest hitch in his game is his inability to walk. If he can be more patient, you’ll see him move up quickly.
Of all of these players, none really has much of a chance to make the big leagues with Adams probably the best fit in case of an injury to Ryan Goins (in the early part of the season). Meir is probably more of a “let’s see if we can get something out of this guy” and Kotchman is a veteran who could step in in case of injury to one (or two) of the three players capable of playing the position in Toronto, but it’ll probably take two injuries to get him to the majors.
Of the younger guys, Burns is probably the closest, with the most time in Triple-A already while Berti is also close. Tellez has a ton of guys ahead of him on the depth chart and so does Dean (including Tellez). Urena is still a good couple of seasons away and the presence of Tulowitzki gives him a ton of time to get there.
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