NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 13: Nick Evans #6 of the New York Mets strikes out in the sixth inning against the Washington Nationals at Citi Field on September 13, 2011 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
The Pirates have 19 non-roster invitees in camp this year. Who among them has the best shot at making the team?
You know how you read news items once a week or so each offseason about the Pirates signing players to minor-league contracts? Well, most of those guys get invited to big-league spring training. A lot of them aren't intended to do more than provide depth at Class AAA Indianapolis, but some have chances of making the team. Also, the Pirates give out non-roster invites to many top prospects, as well. Here's a list of the Pirates' non-roster invitees, and blurbs about the ones who bear watching.
Gerrit Cole probably won't be in camp long, but fans will be curious to get one of their first glimpses of the 2011 No. 1 overall draft pick, who flashed ridiculous velocity (100 MPH!) while pitching in the Arizona Fall League.
Juan Cruz is an experienced reliever with good stuff who has a shot at making the team. There are some obstacles mostly because the Pirates already have plenty of right-handed relief options, including several (Joel Hanrahan, Chris Resop, Jason Grilli, Chris Leroux) who are out of options. It wouldn't be hard, however, to imagine a scenario in which those four plus Evan Meek all made the team but the Pirates only kept one lefty, and Cruz ended up making the team over fellow righty Daniel McCutchen. Cruz pitched for the Rays last season.
Shairon Martis is worth watching not because he has much of a shot at making the team (he doesn't), but because he's young enough (he turns 25 in late March) and good enough that he could wind up contributing at some point. He was once a strong prospect for the Nationals, but the Pirates scooped him up as a free agent this winter.
Ramon Cabrera won't make the team and is probably ticketed for Class AA, but this short, squat backstop is a lot of fun to root for. Cabrera ran away with the Florida State League batting title last year.
Jake Fox is listed as a catcher, but the Pirates will probably use him more as a first baseman. Either Fox or Evans could make the team as a bat off the bench.
Jose Morales could end up winning the Pirates' backup catcher job over Michael McKenry, simply because Morales has an out clause in his contract that could allow him to leave the organization if he doesn't make the team, whereas the Pirates are allowed to send McKenry to Indianapolis. Keeping Morales as the backup catcher would therefore allow the Pirates to keep them both. Morales, who has played for the Rockies and Twins, is a relatively strong hitter for a backup catcher.
Nick Evans fits in the same category as Fox above. He's only 26 and has posted pretty good minor-league numbers, and he handled himself fairly well in brief trials with the Mets over the past couple of years. He looks like he'd be a strong addition to the Pirates' bench as a first baseman and outfielder, if the Pirates can find a spot for him.
Robbie Grossman will probably play this season at Class AA and isn't likely to be in camp for more than a couple weeks, but Grossman opened eyes by posting a .418 on-base percentage at Class A+ Bradenton last year, then hitting seven homers and batting .375 in 104 at bats in the Arizona Fall League. Unfortunately, he then broke his hamate bone. He's supposed to be ready to play, but we'll see if the injury ends up affecting him.
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