Spring Training

Non-Roster Invites in Blue Jays Camp: The Prospects

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.

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.

Derrick Chung – Catcher

PECOTA Projection: 250 PA – .238/.288/.323 – 2 HR, 0 SB, 16 BB, 41 K – .222 TAv, -0.8 WARP

As a 28-year-old who’s only played 71 games above Single A, it’s fairly safe to assume that Derrick Chung isn’t much of a prospect. While Chung has shown an excellent batting eye, his two career home runs, and sub .350 slugging percentage leaves much to be desired. Despite his struggles at the plate, Chung comes with a strong defensive reputation for both working with pitchers, and throwing out would be base stealers. This isn’t the profile of a player destined for a major league career. However, those skills usually lead to a long minor league career followed by a career in coaching.

How he fits: Chung is a valuable piece for a major league club, even though he’s incredibly unlikely to don a Blue Jays uniform. His value will come via working with young pitchers as they attempt to make the critical developmental jump to AA.

Likely Opening Day Assignment: AA New Hampshire

*Danny Jansen – Catcher

PECOTA Projection: 250 PA – .211/.273/.335 – 6 HR, 0 SB, 19 BB, 53 K – .221 TAv, -0.2 WARP

Like Chung, Jansen is a player whose primary skill is his discipline at the plate. However, unlike Chung, he has shown at least some power (5 HRs last season). More importantly, Jansen is only 20 years old. With that said, catching prospects are always the most difficult to get a handle on until they reach the upper levels…so it’s tough to predict how he will progress.

How he fits: With A.J. Jimenez having lost all of his prospect sheen, and with Max Pentecost’s status behind the plate in question, Jansen in the Jays top catching prospect. We’re at least two years away from Jansen even sniffing the big league roster, but he’s an interesting player to keep track of.

Likely Opening Day Assignment: Low A Lansing

While there was some promise to Jansen’s season in Lansing last year, I’d think that his .206 BA wouldn’t cut it for a promotion. He’ll probably reach High A Dunedin at some point this season, but it won’t be at the beginning.

*Rowdy Tellez – First Baseman

PECOTA Projection: 250 PA – .229/.279/.388 – 8 HR, 0 SB, 17 BB, 65 K – .229 TAv, -0.3 WARP

When Rowdy Tellez was drafted in the 30th round of the 2013 draft, he was largely seen as unsignable. That all changed when the Jays failed to sign their first round pick, Phil Bickford, and instead devoted all their excess bonus pool money to signing the power hitting first baseman. In 2015, he rocketed through the Midwest League. As well, despite battling a wrist injury, his second half promotion to the Florida State League was a massive success. With enough plate appearances, he would’ve finished second in the league in slugging percentage.

How he fits: Tellez is the Blue Jays’ top power prospect. With both Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista being free agents at the end of the 2016 season, the club may be in need for a power bat by this time next year. With that said, it’s doubtful that Tellez will be ready that soon. It’s also still unclear if he has the ability to hit, and hit for power, at the major league level. Nevertheless, he’s one of the most intriguing prospects to track this upcoming season.

Likely Opening Day Assignment: High A Dunedin.

While Tellez was very successful in Dunedin last year, he only played in 35 games at that level. As a result, you’d expect the Jays to let him prove himself there over a larger sample size. However, there is a chance that they get aggressive and push Tellez up to the Fisher Cats to begin the year.

*Matthew Dean – First Baseman

PECOTA Projection: 250 PA – .217/.257/.358 – 7 HR, 0 SB, 11 BB, 79 K – .219 TAv, -0.9 WARP

As a non-elite prospect who is restricted to first base, Dean is one of my least favourite type of prospects. Throughout his four year minor league career he has achieved just enough to get promoted further up the ladder, but not enough to really stand out. With that said, Dean did lead the notoriously pitcher friendly Florida State League in home runs. That’s more than enough to earn him another year of faith on the potential that he could develop into a second division starter at first base.

How he fits: Dean is at least a full year away from being major league ready (if he’ll ever be). Strangely, his ability to hit both right and left handed pitchers almost equally is one of the biggest drawbacks to his big league future. If he had similar production, but did most of his damage against left handed pitching, you could see him as a platoon bench bat.

Likely Opening Day Assignment: AA New Hampshire

Matthew Dean will likely start the season as the Fisher Cats’ staring first baseman. However, he could potentially be moved to designated hitter when Rowdy Tellez gets the call to AA.

Andy Burns – Infielder

PECOTA Projection: 250 PA – .248/.297/.395 – 6 HR, 4 SB, 16 BB, 51 K – .247 TAv, 0.5 WARP

Burns was drafted as a shortstop in 2011, but he was quickly shifted off the position. Over the past two seasons, he has shifted into a super utility role, having played every position on the diamond except for catcher and centre field. He’s unlikely to ever be an impact defender at any of those positions, but that added flexibility gives him an increased chance to make the big leagues. As does his ability to consistently hit left handed pitching. In every season that he has played as a professional, Burns has posted an OPS of .800+ against southpaws. That has all the makings of a quality bench player.

How he fits: Burns is a low upside prospect, but one who could still provide value to the big league club as a utility bench bat at some point in the near future. Given his success hitting versus left handed pitching it’s even possible that he could emerge as a platoon starter.

Likely Opening Day Assignment: AAA Buffalo

Even with Devon Travis starting the season on the disabled list, Burns is still behind both Goins and Barney on the second base depth chart. He’s also behind Donaldson and Dominguez on the third base depth chart. As a result, he’ll likely spend most of the season in AAA.

Jio Mier – Shortstop

PECOTA Projection: 250 PA – .209/.278/.309 – 4 HR, 3 SB, 22 BB, 61 K – .215 TAv, -0.6 WARP

Mier was acquired via minor league free agency this offseason. At lot of his sheen comes from the fact that he was drafted 21st overall in 2009. Despite some initial success, Mier’s career largely stalled after arriving in AA in 2013. At that point, his contact rate completely collapsed, and scouts were starting to question whether he could stick at shortstop.  Strangely, despite never hitting, the Astros yo-yo’d Mier back and forth between AAA and AA before losing him to minor league free agency past offseason.

How he fits: With Munenori Kawasaki and Jonathan Diaz leaving the organization over the offseason, Mier has replaced them on the depth chart in the middle infield. He’ll provide stability for the Bisons, and be emergency depth in case of middle infield injuries.

Likely Opening Day Assignment: AAA

Mier will begin the year manning shortstop for the Bisons, and with Devon Travis already on the shelf, he’s probably only a single injury away from heading to Toronto.

*Anthony Alford – Center Fielder

PECOTA Projection: 250 PA – .223/.304/.345 – 5 HR, 7 SB, 25 BB, 72 K – .235 TAv, -0.1 WARP

At this point, I think most Blue Jays fans are familiar with Alford’s story. The former football star, who put his baseball career on hold until the end of the 2014 season. In the first full season that he devoted to baseball, Alford had a bigger breakout than any prospect in the game. The most surprising aspect of Alford’s breakout was the true baseball skills he showed. It was expected that Alford had the tools to succeed, but seeing his discipline at the plate, and his efficiency in stealing bases has given me even more faith that he will develop into the star he seems destined to become.

How he fits: Alford fits as the top prospect in the Blue Jays newly depleted minor league system. If things go especially well this upcoming year, it’s possible that we could see Alford for a cameo in September. However, it’s more likely that the Jays hold him down to preserve his service time.

Likely Opening Day Assignment: AA New Hampshire

Considering Alford played 57 games in Dunedin last season, it’s conceivable that the Blue Jays send him back to there to start the season. With that said, he also laid waste to the Florida State League in his cameo appearance there. As a result, I expect the Jays push him up to New Hampshire.

*Dwight Smith Jr. – Outfielder

PECOTA Projection: 250 PA – .236/.297/.364 – 5 HR, 2 SB, 20 BB, 51 K – .238 TAv, -0.3 WARP

Dwight Smith Jr. is a very difficult prospect to get a handle on. He lacks any significant upside, as a likely fourth outfielder. This is largely due to the fact that he lacks a carrying tool. However, while Smith lacks the carrying tool, he also doesn’t have a real weakness either. He isn’t my favourite type of prospect, but he is one who could provide some value to the big league team.

How he fits: With Michael Saunders currently slotted in as the starting left fielder, and a collection of veteran fliers in the mix for the fourth outfield spot, I think it’s incredibly unlikely that Smith gets an opportunity at the major league level this season.

Likely Opening Day Assignment: AA New Hampshire

Given the struggles that Smith showed in the sound half while battling injuries, it’s difficult to justify promoting him up the ladder to AAA. As a result I’m expecting he’ll restart the season down in New Hampshire. Hopefully he can prove he’s ready for the next challenge and his stay there won’t be long.

*Conner Greene – Starting Pitcher

PECOTA Projection: 88.5 IP – 4.75 ERA, 5.04 DRA, 5.9 K/9, 3.7 BB/9

Connor Greene rocketed through the Jays system in 2015, going from Lansing all the way to New Hampshire. In doing so, he emerged as a very legitimate prospect. While the Blue Jays consistently had a highly rated farm system in the Anthopoulos era, it was rarely on the backs of low round draft picks. As a result, seeing someone like Greene emerge from that quagmire is a true credit to the team’s developmental staff.

How he fits: After the Blue Jays traded away 11 pitching prospects at last year’s trade deadline, Greene remains the top pitching prospect left in the Jays system. While it’s unlikely that we’ll see Greene pitch for the Jays this season, he’s a key name to keep in mind if they need to upgrade the major league squad at the deadline.

Likely Opening Day Assignment: AA New Hampshire

Greene will start the 2016 season where he left off 2015 in Double A New Hampshire. I expect that he’ll stay there for the majority of the season, especially with the Jays increased pitching depth decreasing their need for spot starters in 2016.

Chad Girodo – Relief Pitcher

PECOTA Projection: 50.2 IP, 4.12 ERA, 4.42 DRA, 6.9 K/9, 2.9 BB/9

The Jays selected Girodo in the 9th round of the 2013 draft. He was primarily selected because, as a senior, he’d sign for just $10,000, and then the Jays could save money to spend on the rest of their draft picks. However, despite the low expectations, Girodo has climbed the ladder and emerged as a quality relief prospect (even though that is somewhat of an oxymoron).

How he fits: The Jays have an abundance of contenders for the final bullpen slot coming out of camp. Girodo is clearly behind most of the veteran contenders in camp, but if he goes back to Buffalo and posts similar numbers to what he did last year it’s possible we could see him later in the year.

Likely Opening Day Assignment: AAA Buffalo

Girodo got a cup of coffee in Triple A to close out 2015, so he will start the season back there for 2016.

*denotes player has already been reassigned to minor league camp

Lead Photo: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

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