Pitchers and catchers for the Seattle Mariners reported to Peoria, Arizona earlier this week for the start of what hopes to be an exciting season for the American League West squad. Familiar faces such as Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, a healthy James Paxton and projected starting catcher Mike Zunino were all on hand to play long toss and reunite with last season’s teammates.
Not everyone in camp this year is a familiar face, however – and I’m not referring to the array of trades the Mariners pulled off during the offseason.
What the heck is a ‘non-roster invitee’? Technically, I could be one…if the Mariners need an overweight bald man who can’t hit, field, run or throw due to a prior shoulder cuff injury. I wouldn’t even pass the physical. Other non-roster invitees COULD include the likes of Beyonce, Danny Almonte, Tagg Bozied, B.J. Surhoff, Christopher Walken or your grandmother. You get the idea.
More traditionally, however, teams us this concept to bring in players in the twilight (NOT the movie) of their careers simply looking to make a major-league team somewhere, players currently in their farm system who are NOT on the 40-man roster or essentially any free agents.
WHY BRING IN NON-ROSTER INVITEES?
The primary purpose is to find a very inexpensive solution to fill maybe one or two remaining roster spots – or at least set up a competition among players for said one or two spots. When it comes to minor league prospects who get the non-roster invite, the common trend is the big-league team wants to give these prospects a ‘taste’ of the majors. Often, they get reassigned to minor league camp within a week or two into spring training.
WHO DID THE MARINERS INVITE?
Looking over their list of players, Seattle and the upper bras are identifying a bullpen spot available – perhaps a lefty specialist. I just discovered the seemingly, unnecessarily-elaborate acronym LOOGY, which stands for Lefty One-Out GuY. I have seen very few baseball acronyms as ridiculous as this one, so I will stick with lefty specialist.
They invited left-handed pitchers Nick Hagadone, Dean Kiekhefer and Pat Venditti, who can also throw right-handed if he has to (he uses a six-finger glove to easily switch hands mid-inning). The right-handed pitchers who will start in camp are Jonathan Aro, Cody Martin and Jean Machi. The lone bat on the list is outfielder Tyler O’Neil (more on him later). I hope O’Neil doesn’t feel awkward being surrounded by a bunch of pitchers when all of the non-roster guys have to sit at the kids table during team meals.
I purposely left off the most significant name on the list because he gets his own little blurb. Mariners 2016 minor league pitcher of the year, Andrew Moore, will get his first major-league spring training experience this season. Moore will likely fall under the umbrella of ‘after a few weeks, he will get reassigned to minor league camp,’ but that doesn’t mean his major league debut won’t come in 2017.
WHO IS ANDREW MOORE?
Moore, a product of Oregon State, went 12-4 with a 2.65 ERA split at two levels of the minor leagues last season including a 9-3 mark in AA. The 22-year old, right-handed pitcher has only been in professional baseball for two seasons, but has been nothing short of impressive.
His style of pitching isn’t typical to your high-ceiling prospects that come up when talking about minor league pitchers. He’s not Tyler Glasnow, or an Alex Reyes (sorry about the Tommy John surgery, buddy) and he’s not a Lucas Giolitto.
Simply put – he doesn’t throw hard, but he doesn’t have to. With a career 7.3 strikeout/9 innings and 1.7 walks/9 innings, he simply gets out. Control is the name of his game – not power – and he is starting to get noticed.
Some scouts and baseball writers have compared him to hall-of-famer Greg Maddux, but whoa buddy! Let’s pump the brakes. Personally, I haven’t seen him pitch, so I have no idea if it is an accurate assessment or not. According to Baseball America, Moore is listed as No. 6 on the Mariners top prospect list with the only other pitcher ahead of him being 19-year old fireballer Nick Neidert at No. 4. The aforementioned non-roster invitee O’Neil was also on the list at No. 2 – just behind outfielder Kyle Lewis.
It is kind of a quirky system, a little confusing to pretty much everyone – even those who follow baseball regularly, but the concept of non-roster invitees is pretty cool. Mariners fans have a bonus this year of following two top prospects in Moore and O’Neil. They also may witness six relievers battling for one final bullpen spot – if the Mariners have room. If not, all of them will either accept minor league deals, get picked up other teams or re-evaluate their lives and become car salesmen.
If I had more time for research, I would make a top-10 list of non-roster invitees who had successful big-league careers. I bet it’s a pretty good list of players.
Watch out for the pot holes, please don’t drown in all the rain and remember: March Madness is almost here!