Non-roster spring training invites are out, which means our long nightmare of no Braves baseball is nearly over. It was a collective effort to survive this dark time, but we made it.
We have already covered the announcement of the invitees (you can read Kris’ article right here), but for the sake of keeping track here is the list again.
This list is markedly different from last year’s invitees as there were a lot of young guys who got invites last year (some who had not played above A or high-A including Braxton Davidson, Ozzie Albies, etc) whereas the only player of such a profile in this round is Travis Demeritte who played at high-A last season. Non-roster invitees are generally in two camps: prospects and then vets/journeymen who are trying to snag a roster spot. Lets look at the prospects first...
Prospects who got non-roster invites
Patrick Weigel - RHP - Weigel has a cannon for an arm with a fastball that can touch the triple digits, both a curve and slider that flash plus and play up because his fastball and his ability to react to batters from at-bat to at-bat, and a changeup that should at least be average. He jumped up organizational prospect rankings in a hurry last season and with good reason. We interviewed him last year and he was terrific.
AJ Minter - Reliever - One of the least surprising names on this list if you followed the minors at all last year. His fastball-slider combination was essentially unhittable last year as he rocketed through the minors despite recovering from Tommy John surgery. He may not make the big league club right out of spring training, but he won’t be waiting long if he doesn’t.
Sean Newcomb - LHP - Has a lot to prove some scouts have begun to sour on him a bit due to command and control issues, but Newcomb’s big fastball and curve positions him as having some of the best pure stuff in the Braves farm system. He seemed to be turning the corner late in the season and with a good showing in Spring Training and strong start in 2017, he could push for playing time sooner rather than later. Very unlikely to make the club out of spring training though.
Ozzie Albies - 2B - Depending on whether you count Dansby as a prospect or not, Ozzie is arguably the top prospect in the Braves farm system. The best thing about his invite is that it seems to indicate that Ozzie will be able to participate in baseball activities after suffering a broken bone in his elbow in the Double-A playoffs. This is great news of course, although asking him to break camp with the team after a long recovery is asking a lot. His ability to be a plus hitter from both sides of the plate, plus defense, and baserunning prowess are things the Braves want and unless he goes wild, it seems likely the Braves will be cautious and start him at AAA or on a rehab assignment depending on his recovery timetable.
Travis Demeritte - 2B - The other awesome second baseman in the system, Demeritte getting a spring training invite was a bit surprising. He has some very real pop in his bat and may have as good if not better defensive ceiling than Albies and if he can stop swinging at everything that moves he could be a steal for the Braves. We will be watching to see if he gets some time at other positions in Spring as well as he could be an interesting fit at third base and elsewhere.
Dustin Peterson - LF - Dustin hit the cover off of the ball in Double-A despite playing in a minor league park that can best be described as a black hold. He has improved every year in the minors and answered a lot of questions about his ability to put together a strong season start to finish in 2016. He could push for a bench spot on the Braves coming out of spring and would be an intriguing right handed bat off the bench if he does.
Joseph Odom - C - Odom has some pop especially for a catcher and was excellent in high-A before a decent showing in Mississippi following his promotion. He has a decent arm, but excels primarily as a receiver and moves well behind the plate. He has to be accurate on his throws to second to catch guys, but for the most part he is. Seems destined for AAA or even a repeat at AA depending on roster decisions elsewhere.
Kade Scivicque - C - Another surprising invitation, but the Braves need help at catcher so they likely want to give their existing options as good a lot as is possible. Did not look great at the plate to start his Braves career, but has a .272/.322/.368 slash line over two seasons in the minors and had a good stint in the AFL in limited action. Likely will repeat AA if I had to guess.
Veteran non-roster invitees
John Danks - LHP - Was among the better pitchers in baseball several years ago, but injuries have cost him a bunch of time. Only pitched 22.1 innings last year, but if he looks good in Spring then the Braves could have some tough decisions to make.
Sam Freeman - Reliever - Lefty arm that started with the Cardinals before moving around a bit the last couple of years. Walk rate of over 4.5 per 9 innings is less than desirable, but has had success at getting right handed bats out in his career. Long shot to make the big league club.
Adam Kolarek - Reliever - Another lefty arm who has spent 7 seasons in the minors mostly with the Mets. Strikes out about a batter per inning and is lights out against lefties. Could be a lefty specialist.
Eric O’Flaherty - Reliever - Has struggled the last couple of years coming off of injury, but the Braves love what EOF does in terms of teaching other guys how to prepare and conduct themselves. Would not be surprised to see him make the team or become a coach.
Blaine Boyer - Reliever - Another Baby Brave comes home. Boyer has put together a good career as a reliever for 7 different teams including the Braves with whom he debuted way back in 2005. Wouldn’t put the odds of him making the team at particularly high, especially since opposing batters were hitting better than .300 against him last year, but he could stay in Gwinnett.
Rhiner Cruz - Reliever - Has not played in the big leagues since 2013, but played his way to a big league camp invite in the Mexican League. Long shot, but could stick as a AAA relief arm.
Joel De La Cruz - RHP - Depth arm extraordinaire, Cruz played a good bit for Atlanta last year with less than great results. He is a AAA arm that can fill in in a pinch, but the time for guys like him making 9 starts in a season is hopefully over soon.
Jordan Walden - Reliever - Was a Brave and good as one at that, then was sent with Jason Heyward to the Cardinals in a trade that brings out the best in Braves fans. Injuries have stolen the last couple of seasons since from him, but if he is healthy he could make the bullpen with a good spring. At the very least, strong option down in Gwinnett.
David Freitas - C/1B - Minor league journeyman that has split time between first base and catcher. Has had decent offensive results in his career, but his inability to stick with an org is not the best sign. Could be a AAA depth piece.
Blake Lalli - C - He is likely to stay what he was last year for the Braves, catcher at AAA that can fill in in an emergency.
Braeden Schlehuber - C - Basically the same as Lalli except better defensively and worse at the plate.
Emilio Bonifacio - INF/OF - Super-utility option that is likely to stay at Gwinnett unless Snitker really wants someone that can play almost every position but none particularly well. I hope he gets a long look because Ivan the Great will have a stroke if it happens.