Every year at spring training, there there are a numbers of non-roster invitees (NRIs) that may seem surprising; some are there more as instructors and mentors while others are projects returning from injuries or just looking for another shot at the big leagues. This year the Blue Jays have 29 players in camp who aren’t on the 40 man roster – twelve pitchers and seventeen position players. Fourteen (eight pitchers, six hitters) of these players have some major league experience while the remaining eighteen players comprising of minor league fodder mixed in with legitimate prospects.
Over the next three days, BP Toronto will be breaking down these NRIs into three groups – veteran pitchers, veteran hitters, and prospects – and assessing their odds of making the opening day roster.
Without further ado, let’s get to the veteran pitchers in camp looking for a job.
David Aardsma – Right Handed Relief Pitcher
PECOTA Projection: 41.2 IP, 4.00 ERA, 4.72 DRA, 8.7 K/9, 3.7 BB/9
Aardsma, the guest on the debut episode of Artificial Turf Wars, was as one of the best college pitchers during his time at Rice University. An eventual first round draft pick, he is most remembered as the Mariners closer in 2009 and 2010. During that time, Aardsma posted a 2.90 ERA and saved 69 games. Following those two terrific years, he struggled with injuries. After undergoing hip labrum surgery and then two Tommy John procedures he managed to throw only 71.1 innings with an ERA of 4.54 between 2011 and 2015. Finally healthy, Aardsma’s 2015 was spent with the middling Braves where he posted a 4.70 ERA in 30.2 IP and struck out 35 with a fastball that sat 91-92 MPH. He was excellent at the start of the year, posting an ERA of 1.80 over the first 20 innings, but over his final ten innings his ERA was an abysmal 10.13.
How he fits: Aardsma is likely mostly just depth in the bullpen should they need him, and he can provide some decent innings for the Blue Jays as long as he isn’t over exposed.
Chance of Making the Opening Day Roster: 3.5/5
If Soriano (below) isn’t healthy, Aardsma should have a leg up on Steve Delabar for the final bullpen spot, who seems far removed from the pitcher who made the 2013 AL All-Star team.
Scott Copeland – Right Handed Swingman
PECOTA Projection: 118.3 IP, 5.05 ERA,5.13 DRA, 4.5 K/9, 3.2 BB/9
In with a bang and out with a whimper is the best way to describe Copeland’s 2015 with the Blue Jays. In his first start with the team threw seven innings of six hit, one run ball, then gave up seven runs in his following 1.1 innings. A control specialist, Copeland doesn’t have a lot of upside and has already been on and off the 40-man once and cleared waivers.
How he fits: For a guy who is 1o-12th on the organizational starting chart he is fine, but a lot will have to go wrong for Copeland to ever make it back to Toronto.
Chance of Making the Opening Day Roster: 0/5
Unless the rotation is hit by a meteor in ST, Copeland has no chance of making the team.
Scott Diamond – Left Handed Starting Pitcher
PECOTA Projection: 122.7 IP, 4.89 ERA, 5.19 DRA, 4.0 K/9, 2.3 BB/9
The Blue Jays decided to bring in a soft tossing lefty who relies on control and mixing pitches. No, it’s not Mark Buehrle. A veteran of 58 major league starts, the Canadian-born Diamond has posted a respectable 4.43 ERA over 343 innings. While he has never been a strikeout pitcher, he has produced very solid strikeout to walk ratios. His best season came in 2012 when he posted a 3.54 ERA for the Twins while striking out batters at a 12.6 percent rate and walking less than five percent of all batters. To accompany his strong control stats he also posted a 53.4 percent ground ball rate.
How he fits: He is a quality depth and a spot start candidate who will probably be in line to get starts before someone like Copeland.
Chance of Making the Opening Day Roster: 0/5. Much like Copeland there would have to be four or five serious injuries in the rotation for him to get his shot.
Roberto (Fausto Carmona) Hernandez – Right Handed Swingman
PECOTA Projection: 15 IP, 5.01 ERA, 5.30 DRA, 5 K/9, 3.4 BB/9
Hernandez is yet another depth piece for the Blue Jays rotation. Formerly an All-Star with the Cleveland Indians under his alias Fausto Carmona, Herhandez is probably the best of the non-roster starters brought to camp. Despite declining velocity, he has posted a very respectible 4.19 ERA in 249 innings over the past two seasons. This is entirely due to his ability get good sink which makes him a sure bet to post a ground ball rate greater than 50 percent.
How he fits: Likely the 9th man in line should a starter go down, he could provide some quality long relief outings out of the bullpen.
Chance of Making the Opening Day Roster: 1/5
Hernandez likely has no shot at making the opening day rotation, but he gets one point for his ability to provide help in relief.
Wade LeBlanc – Left Handed Swingman
PECOTA Projection: 34.7 IP, 4.27 ERA, 4.56 DRA, 6.5 K/9, 2.6 BB/9
LeBlanc is a 31 year old veteran with 446 innings in his big league career who spent last season in Japan. Another soft tossing left hander, he never has shown a terrific ability to command the ball or strike out batters. In addition to not having any sort of defining characteristic as a starter, he doesn’t have much of an identity or path to playing time in the bullpen. For LeBlanc’s career he has a triple slash of .313/.368/.532 against left-handed batters, so Aaron Loup’s injury concerns don’t appear to help his chances.
How he fits: Depth starter at AAA to keep the Buffalo Bisons owners happy. Maybe he gets called up if the Jays need a long man who they don’t mind losing on waivers, but that’s really his only value.
Chance of Making the Opening Day Roster: 0/5
There is just no chance. LeBlanc is even behind Copeland on the depth chart.
Patrick McCoy – Left Handed Relief Pitcher
PECOTA Projections: 57.7 IP, 4.65 ERA, 4.93 DRA, 5.8 K/9, 3.3 BB/9
One of the few true lefty relievers in camp, Pat McCoy has one of the clearest paths to the majors of any non-roster invitee. With Aaron Loup dealing with flexor tendon issues and possible extended time off, the Blue Jays will need another lefty. McCoy throws 91-92 mph and has a decent slider, but is relatively unproven at the major league level, with only 14 career major league innings under his belt. While his Triple-A ERA isn’t great by traditional standards (4.03 in 89.1 innings) either, he has been used against right-handers and left-handers which doesn’t suit him entirely. Where he excels is as a lefty specialist, or LOOGY; against lefty minor leaguers he allowed an OPS of .593 in 2015 and .575 in 2014. To go along with this dominance he throws 91-92 and has a useable slider.
How he fits: McCoy could either be a left handed specialist or a long man for the Blue Jays. In AAA he was used in multiple innings fairly regularly.
Chance of Making the Opening Day Roster: 3/5
There is a strong chance that with a solid spring McCoy could be chosen as the temporary second lefty out of the pen while Loup recovers from injury.
Brad Penny – Right Handed Starting Pitcher
PECOTA Projections: 104.3 IP, 4.66 ERA, 4.93 DRA, 4.5 K/9, 2.8 BB/9
Easily the most experienced non-roster pitcher the Jays brought in, Penny is a veteran of nearly 2000 MLB innings. Despite his age (38 in May), Penny still throws in the low 90’s with a sinking fastball. However, while he has spent plenty of time in his career on big league rosters, Penny hasn’t truly seen regular duty in the majors since 2011 when he posted an ERA over 5.00 in 31 appearances. Since then, Penny has flipped between the bullpen and starting for the Giants, Marlins and White Sox. From 2003 to 2007 he was a very solid pitcher for the Dodgers and Marlins putting up a 3.72 ERA over 911 innings. That may not sound that impressive, but because baseball was just starting to come out of the steroid era, the 3.72 ERA was actually 15 percent above league average.
How he fits: Yet another AAA starter who will provide depth for the Blue Jays should they be targeted by a sociopath who removes arms.
Chance of Making the Opening Day Roster: 0/5
There just are too many pitchers ahead of Penny at this time to give him a legitimate shot of even light hope to make the team.
Rafael Soriano – Right Handed Relief Pitcher
PECOTA Projection: 38 IP, 3.92 ERA, 4.54 DRA, 7.8 K/9, 2.9 BB/9
Probably the most notable name on this list, Rafael Soriano was one of the best relief pitchers of the last decade. With a career 2.89 ERA (an astounding 44% above league average), one might begin to wonder how he is only a non-roster invite. The reason is that after a fantastic first half in 2014 (0.97 ERA at the all-star break), he imploded down the stretch to the tune of a 6.48 ERA over the second half. He lost his closing job to current Jays reliever Drew Storen, then went unsigned until midway through the 2015 season. Eventually the Chicago Cubs took a chance and Soriano threw only six innings with poor results before a shoulder injury ended his season. Reports are that he was throwing well in the Dominican Winter League, leading to the Blue Jays inviting him to camp.
How he fits: If he regains his old form he provides terrific depth to the Blue Jays bullpen in much the same way Ryan Madson did for the Royals last season.
Chance of Making the Opening Day Roster: 4/5
If the reports out of the Dominican are accurate, and if he can sort out his visa issues and actually show up to camp, there is a very good chance that Soriano could beat out the remaining candidates for the last spot in the bullpen.
Despite a decently large group of non-roster pitchers in camp, the only three who have much of a shot are Soriano, Aardsma, and McCoy. And without the injury to Aaron Loup, this list would be even smaller. There just aren’t a lot of jobs open for Blue Jays pitchers this spring.
Tune in tomorrow for Part Two where we will be taking a look at the non-roster positional players in camp.
Lead Photo: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports