Normally a major league club's non-roster invitees don't evoke much excitement. Each spring, MLB teams invite a quirky mix of older veterans, players coming off serious injury, and up-and-coming prospects to participate in their major league camp. For most, the invite comes with very little chance of making a major league roster.
Yet every year a few players make the most of their opportunity and earn a job with the big league club, either through an injury that opens up a spot on the roster or through simply impressing enough in spring training. The same will likely hold true this year, as a number of NRIs have the chance to win a job this spring. Here is a list of five players who just might earn themselves a job on a major league roster by the end of spring training:
A hip injury caused Colby Lewis to miss all of the 2013 season for the Rangers. Prior to the injury, however, Lewis was an effective starter in Texas, finishing with a 4.40 ERA in 200.1 innings back in 2012 and a 3.72 ERA in 201.0 innings during 2011. More importantly, though, there could be opportunity for Lewis to earn a spot in the Rangers rotation after Derek Holland injured his left knee this offseason. The right-hander will be competing with Nick Tepesch and Tommy Hanson for the vacant fifth spot in the club's rotation, but Lewis could have the upper hand considering his previous major league track record. The Rangers might prefer that Tepesch get a little more experience down in Triple-A, while Hanson has shown little evidence that he can stay healthy in recent seasons. This reality could open up a spot for Lewis, who has shown the ability to be a dependable starter in the past.
Despite another underwhelming season, Daisuke Matsuzaka has a strong chance to earn a spot with the Mets after signing a minor league deal with the club this offseason. A change of scenery did little to help Matsuzaka in 2013, as the right-hander compiled a 4.42 ERA in just 38.2 innings after battling injuries once again. But injury concerns for Jonathan Niese and Matt Harvey, who will be out for nearly all of 2013 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, have opened up a spot in the Mets rotation. At the moment, Dice-K is competing with fellow NRI candidate John Lannan for the final spot in the club's rotation after Bartolo Colon, Dillon Gee, Zach Wheeler, and Jenrry Mejia. With a career 4.52 ERA and a history of ailments, much of the luster has faded off Dice-K's big league credentials. Even so, the 33-year-old looks to be in a good position to make the Mets when Opening Day arrives despite three straight injury-shortened seasons.
Jason Giambi is still plugging along at the age of 43 and has carved out a role as a pinch hitter for the Rockies and Indians in recent seasons. The left-handed slugger batted just .183/.282/.371 for the Indians over 216 plate appearances in 2013, but he did hit nine home runs after hitting only one round-tripper with Colorado in 2012. The long-time MLB veteran doesn't provide much versatility or upside, but he is well respected in the Indians clubhouse as someone who can serve as a leader and help mentor younger players. Providing he is healthy, Giambi is expected to make the Indians roster once again in 2014, which would be his 20th MLB season. His days of hitting 30 home runs are long gone, though Giambi still provides enough on-base ability and veteran know-how to potentially earn a roster spot with the Indians.
After bouncing around with the Yankees and Indians in 2013, Mark Reynolds is hoping to earn a job with the Brewers this season. Last year, Milwaukee's first basemen struggled mightily, as the combination of Juan Francisco and Yuniesky Betancourt proved a subpar pair. Betancourt is gone, though Francisco is still around and will likely earn some at-bats at first in 2014. The Brewers could still use some depth at the position, however, and Reynolds might just make a solid platoon partner with Francsco. The 30-year-old Reynolds hit .220/.306/.455 with 21 home runs in 2013, but has been better against left-handed pitching, owning a career .238/.359/.475 mark against southpaws. As a result, Reynolds appears to be a worthy candidate to spell the left-handed hitting Francisco, who batted just .156/.206/.219 against lefties in 2013. Reynolds isn't a star by any means and he won't top the 44 home runs he hit for the Diamondbacks in 2009, but the seven-year veteran is a dependable performer who can provide power and on-base ability at first base. At the very least, Reynolds would be an upgrade on Milwaukee's first base options from a year ago.
Scott Sizemore has had problems staying healthy after tearing his left ACL twice in the past two years, but the infielder was a decent performer prior to his injuries. Back in 2011, Sizemore batted .245/.342/.399 for the Athletics and Tigers, while playing third and second base. The Yankees have very little depth in their infield despite signing Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson this offseason. Roberts has been even more injury prone than Sizemore, and Derek Jeter appeared in just 17 games last year, meaning opportunities could be there for Sizemore if he can stay healthy. The 29-year-old can play multiple positions and has shown solid on-base skills in the past. This could make him a potential solution for a Yankees infield that looks likely to be shaky in the season ahead. He might not get Yankees fans excited about the team's prospects in 2014, but Sizemore has a chance to nab a major league job once April arrives.