Tuesday, March 11, 2014

By Invitation Only

Don't worry, I haven't gone all uppity and joined the velvet rope crowd.  Today I want to write about a subject which I've wanted to tackle since spring camp broke, non-roster invitees.  These quasi-Cubs have a chance at making the regular season roster at some point in 2014, so I have to keep these cards on stand-by.

I keep a box full of active players in the event that they end up with the boys in blue.  These guys here just make the jump from that box to my binder.  Luckily, I have a majority of them, so I'm going to rank them in the order of likeliness that they make the club.  This excludes those who have already appeared on the roster, as they are obviously already in said binder.  Number one...

...Emilio Bonifacio.  If he does not make the team, I will eat my dirty, beat-up, smelly old ball cap.  His versatility and speed (as featured in this 2010 Topps Flagship piece) seem to fit well on this team, where he could garner regular playing time subbing all over the field.

A late addition after he was surprisingly cut by the Royals in February, rumor has it that he signed with the Cubs over other clubs who offered a Major League deal.  I'm keeping a spot warm for Emilio "Estevez" (my own stupid nickname).  Next up...

...Chris Coghlan.  Here's a textbook example of the current front office's low risk-high reward acquisitions.  Chris was Rookie of the Year in the NL for the Marlins back in 2009, hitting .321/9HR/47RBI, but he's been average or slightly below since then.  

The Cubs signed him off the scrap heap in the hopes that he re-discovers that form.  Think of him as this year's Brian Bogusevic.  He just may make the team out of camp as the fifth outfielder.  But, it's time we take a look at pitching...

...Jonathan Sanchez has a power arm and a no-hitter (2009) on his resume from his years as a keystone in a strong Giants rotation.  But, his control got away from him and he has bounced around for the past couple of seasons.  

Although, he has made the switch to the bullpen this year in hopes that he can better harness his control and increase his velocity.  His biggest asset is that he is left handed and the Cubs are in need of lefty relievers.  Theo and Jed are high on him and he has a legitimate chance in the crowded bullpen race. But, the outfield race is pretty crowded too and this next guy is right in the thick of it.

...Ryan Kalish.  A former top prospect with the Red Sox (hey, that's a familiar narrative), Kalish suffered from nagging neck problems that eventually caused the Sawx to give up on him.  However, he recently underwent the cervical fusion surgery performed by the same doctor who fixed up Peyton Manning, so if all else fails, they could always flip him to the Bears.  

He stands as a another low risk-high reward type player, but he's younger and has a higher upside than Coghlan at this point.  Rumor has it that if Nate Schierholtz is dealt this spring, Ryan could make the cut.  He could also be stashed at AAA until the inevitable trading frenzy or injuries occur.  Kalish's fate largely depends on others, but this next guy's fate has likely already been determined by others...

...Ryan Roberts.  If only tattoos has a quantifiable statistic, because when it comes to ink, Ryan is Ruth-ian.  With the bat, though, he's pretty ho-hum.  Outside of a career year in 2011 for Arizona where he batted .249/19 HR/65 RBI, he's largely been roster filler.  His glove work and versatility makes him a useful sub.

But, Emilio Bonifacio, who can do all that and a bag of chips better, was the worst thing that could happen to Roberts.  He may have even had the inside track on the utility job before that signing.  There probably isn't room on the roster, as of now.  However, if Olt falters and the Cubs cut ties with Danny Murphy, then maybe he squeezes in.  But, now we go back to the mound to discuss...

...Tsuyoshi Wada, who I hope makes the team for the selfish reason that I want this pretty card in my binder.  A Japanese import with a good arsenal and a funky delivery, he underwent Tommy John surgery almost immediately upon making it to America. Thus, he never actually appeared in an MLB game with the Orioles, despite signing a two-year deal in 2012.  So, the Cubs picked him up as a low risk-high reward diamond in the rough (rinse, wash, repeat).

I see Wada going to Iowa, mostly to prove his health, but he could be shuttled to Chicago soon.  He has been viewed as an option for both the rotation and the bullpen, but with his age (33) and questionable durability, I'd say the bullpen is his best bet to catch on.  Hey, speaking of catch...

...John Baker catches! Please ignore that that was the worst segue in the history of the written word.  Baker is one of two catchers in camp as an NRI, the other being Eli Whiteside (I don't have a card of him though).  He's been with the Marlins and the Padres over the last few seasons, strictly as a back up.  His weak bat (.223 avg since 2012) but solid glove (.991 fielding avg) dictate that placement.

He won't make the roster unless Welington Castillo or George Kottaras get hurt.  His best bet to end up a Cub is to stick around at Iowa and hope to be this years version of J.C. Boscan; Baker is strictly a third-string option.  If he goes to Iowa, he will likely be teammates with...

...Marcus Hatley.  The Cubs see something they like in Marcus, as he was granted minor league free agency this offseason and Theo and crew snapped him back him fairly quickly.  

He's been in the system since 2006, when he was drafted in the 39th (!!!) round of the amateur draft; how's that for dedication?  Still only 25, Marcus has made the Cubs pay attention to him as he hasn't had the attention lauded to early-rounders.  He's spent the last two seasons bouncing from Tennessee to Iowa and back as a swingman.  He likely won't make the big league team, but I predict that the Cubs will keep him in the system as a just-in-case option.  I don't think that I can say that about...

...Aaron Cunningham.  A former prospect with the White Sox, he's bounced around in the majors since 2008 with the A's and Indians, never capitalizing on that potential.  The best thing about this guy is really his socks.  No really, they're pretty sweet, check them out:  http://bit.ly/1giUWiR

The only reason this guy is really in the crowd is because there is a slight chance that he might rediscover the form that made him him a top prospect.  Though low, that potential is still higher for Cunningham than it is for...

...Casper Wells.  Casper is an appropriate name, as he must feel like a ghost that just haunts every Major League clubhouse.  His journey through 2013 took from Seattle to Toronto to Oakland to Chicago (White Sox) to Philadelphia to nowhere.  The Cubs signed him in his quest to become the first player to suit up for every ML team.  Ok, not really, but it sure seems that way.

I see Casper getting cut before spring training ends.  He brings little potential and upside and has too many younger and talented players ahead of him in the pipeline.  Hopefully he hasn't unpacked his suitcase (with his track record, he sure shouldn't have) because he will likely be hopping franchises very soon.

There we have it, a (nearly) complete examination of the non-roster invitees, or at least the ones that I have cards for.  Maybe I'll be sliding a few of these into my binder in the coming months or maybe I'll be using them as coasters for an ice-cold beverage (just kidding, I'd never do that to a baseball card).  Either way, it sure is fun to speculate!


  1. I like Wada. Hope he gets to make your binder. The rest of that motley crew, not so much. Then again, how can I talk? I'm a Mets fan and the Mets have the same money issues and the same low risk-high reward philosophy. And of our NRI, the only one I care to see on the parent club (other than the system kids we didn't have to protect yet) is Socolovich, and we already talked about him. As it stands, looks like Lannan's got the best shot to go north, being as he is a competent swing man. Oh, boy. There better be a trade wind blowing.

  2. It's certainly a frustrating time to be a Cub or a Met fan. Garage sale'ing for players gets frustrating, that's for sure. Hopefully the kids down on the farm can come up and carry the weight soon enough and maybe even some of these low risk/high reward types turn out too be be high reward. Until then, they'll just have to keep trying to squeeze the last drops of value out of guys like Lannan, Coghlan, etc. The future needs to hurry up!