What I've always imagined an "invitation to spring training" looked like.
Every year since I've started this blog, I've done a quick little review of each spring's non-roster invitees (or, at least, those of which I have cards), ranking them based on the likeliness of each making the roster.
Notably, this might be the first year in which I've done this that no NRI's make the cut out of spring training. Seeing as this current Cubs roster is much more well-rounded than it has been in a LONG time and a good chunk of my time spent writing Wrigley Roster Jenga has come during the rebuild era, this certainly hasn't been the case previously.
Still, an injury can happen at any given time and change everything; plus, one or more of these guys could appear mid-season as reinforcement during the dog days. So, they still have chances to become official Cubs.
However, here and now, let's take a look at who's in camp and rank them in order of least likely to break camp with the Big Leaguers to those with the best chance:
Leathersich and Crow are a couple of bullpen guys with potential. Leathersich was a highly regarded prospect in the Mets system (and you know how stacked they are in pitching talent) and Crow has had some solid seasons coming out of the Royals pen. However, I can say pretty definitively that neither is going to make the team. Why's that?
Well, both guys are coming off Tommy John surgery and are still well within the rehab process. While both might be ready by mid-season, there's a snowball's chance in hell that either will be ready by April. Their invitation to MLB camp was likely just a formality.
Next up, we have a couple of prospects who still have something left to prove before they'll be making the ultimate ascent.
Albert Almora was Theo and Co.'s first draft pick (1st round, 2012) and has yet to make his MLB debut. The outfielder is thought to be Major League ready when it comes to defense (in fact, he's already made some pretty flashy catches this spring); however, his consistency at the plate has been lacking. He'll head to AAA to prove that he can hit high-level pitching. Not to mention, the Cubs have about a million outfielders at the moment.
Armando, on the other hand, could have been in line to make his debut last summer when the Chicago bullpen was in shambles. However, his timing was anything but impeccable - at the same time, he was going through a super rough stretch his second time through the PCL. He did rebound by the end of the year, posting respectable overall numbers (3.16 ERA in 57 frames). That said, like Almora in the outfield, the race to make the Northside bullpen is overly crowded. Rivero is likely ticketed for Iowa again in order to prove that he's truly worked out his issues.
As you can see, Matt Murton is no stranger to the Cubs organization. After some productive years in the Wrigley outfield from 2005-08, Murton was given up in the trade that brought Rich Harden in for the 2008 pennant race. After that, his career in North America tanked and he brought his talents to Japan. All he did there was become a superstar, breaking the league's all-time record for hits in a season in his first go-round. After finishing up his contract with the Hanshin Tigers, he figured this was his final opportunity to make it in the MLB.
Unfortunately for Matt, as I've already mentioned, the outfield depth in Chicago is just that - deep. Further complicating things, he recently had to undergo and emergency appendectomy and has been kept out of spring action. Unless there's a strong rash of injuries, he'll go to AAA to serve as an emergency backup.
Meanwhile, Jesus Guzman was brought in exclusively for the reason that there aren't a lot of people around who can play first base, beyond the MVP candidate that is Anthony Rizzo. As someone with a fair amount of MLB experience, he'll likely be teammates with Murton at Iowa unless, God forbid, something terrible happens...
Here are a couple more faces in that crowded race for the MLB bullpen, as I alluded to earlier.
Though both have a good amount of MLB experience and Machi even has a World Series ring in his name, the fact that both are righties pretty much ensures that they'll also serve as minor league depth, should they accept the assignment.
Ironically, Pettibone does do one thing on the diamond left-handed - bat. It's a shame he doesn't pitch that way, as well.
On the other hand (puns!), Parra might have an outside shot of making the team, seeing as he is a southpaw. The Cubs don't have a traditional lefty-specialist as things stand right now; however, it should be noted that Clayton Richard, though he's being groomed as more of a long reliever, has had success in that role before. Furthermore, Joe Maddon likes roster flexibility and may prefer a "utility pitcher" like Richard moreso than a strict LOOGY.
As for Federowicz, I think he has a chance to become a real Cub; that said, it probably won't be at the end of spring training. Tim will be the starter for the Iowa Cubs and be ready in case something happens to Miguel Montero or David Ross (Chicago doesn't feel comfy with Schwarber catching more than once a week). Then, when the rosters expand in September, teams like to have that extra backstop - in steps Federowicz.
And now, drum-roll please, the man I think is most likely to break camp with Chicago (though it's still a longshot, in my eyes):
Matt Szczur is younger, more versatile, currently on the 40-man roster and has more potential that Shane, who has clearly been on the decline over the past few seasons. However, Matt hasn't been healthy himself this spring and, in what feels like a desperate attempt to gain an advantage, Victorino has decided to take up switch-hitting again. If that takes, Szczur stays hurt/ineffective and the Cubs brass decide to take an extra bench guy over a bullpen arm, then we might just see this guy in Cubby blue.
That is a lot of ifs. though.
Other notable names also in camp, whose cards I do not have any of, are Juan Perez, Kristopher Negron, Stephen Fife and, everybody's sentimental favorite, Munenori Kawasaki. All of these guys are just as unlikely to crack the active roster, but I think we'd all like to see Kawasaki defy the odds.
Between his karaoke sessions, inspiring matching team headbands and general goofball personality, he seems like he would be a good presence in the clubhouse. After all, Maddon likes to keep the mood light and no one would be better suited at that than Muney. Furthermore, last year's resident class clown, Jonathan Herrera, has moved on; so, somebody needs to come up with antics like the helmet rub and the gum-bucket rally helmet.
What a card!
There you have it, a mostly complete rundown of this year's non-roster invitees in Cubs camp. Like I said, I wouldn't bet on any of these guys cracking the roster come April; but, I'll be mostly ready with the cards above should any of them surprise and necessitate being added to my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection.
In the meantime, it's just nice being able to root for a team that isn't relying on NRI's to make meaningful contributions for the first time in a long time. Yay for no more rebuild!