Spring training has arrived. Camps across Arizona and Florida opened this week, and one week from Sunday, Cactus League and Grapefruit League play will begin. I can't wait. I am so ready for the offseason to be over.
Spring training games are fun in their own way, mostly because they allow us to see players we usually don't get to see during the regular season. Top prospects, reclamation project veterans, and many other minor leaguers will rub elbows with the big-league team during exhibition games before heading to the minors in April.
Over the last few days the 30 MLB clubs announced their non-roster invitees (NRIs) to spring training. Those are players who will be in big-league camp despite not being on the 40-man roster. Some NRIs are top prospects, some are journeymen veterans, and most are somewhere in between. The big-league coaching staff will get a look at all of them.
As always, some NRIs are more interesting than others. Two years ago Yordan Alvarez and Pete Alonso both went from NRI to Rookie of the Year. Trevor Rosenthal went from NRI to closing games for a postseason team in 2020. Inevitably, a few NRIs will make an impact in 2021. And, inevitably, some will have a big spring and show it was all a fluke in April. That's baseball.
With spring training arriving and exhibition games coming next week, this is as good a time as any to examine each team's most exciting NRI. As a reminder, all players on the 40-man roster will be in big league camp automatically, a list that includes top prospects like Luis Patino and Alex Kirilloff. Now here is each team's most exciting NRI.
|1B Seth Beer. The Diamondbacks have three of the most exciting outfield prospects in baseball in Corbin Carroll, Kristian Robinson, and Alek Thomas, but, sadly, none will be in big-league camp as an NRI. Lame, D-Backs. Lame. As a result, Arizona's NRI list is heavy on veterans, so Beer gets the nod here almost by default. The No. 28 pick in the 2018 draft came over in the Zack Greinke trade and is a three true outcomes type with a knack for elevating the ball from the left side of the plate. Beer just might be Arizona's first baseman of the future.|
|SS Braden Shewmake. The No. 21 pick in the 2019 draft, Shewmake is a scout's favorite because he does everything well. He's improved his defense and gets the bat on the ball consistently, and he's a very smart and instinctual player. Shewmake lacks power, the most difficult tool to project in the juiced ball and launch angle era, but he does everything else is a very fun to watch. The Braves also brought defense-first catcher Shea Langeliers, the No. 9 pick in the 2019 draft, to camp as an NRI.|
|C Adley Rutschman. With all due respect to Felix Hernandez and Matt Harvey, who are trying to revive their careers, and Heston Kjerstad, the No. 2 pick in the 2020 MLB Draft, Rutschman is the easy call here. The No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft is one of the best prospects in the game and the future face of the Orioles franchise. He's a switch-hitter catcher who projects to hit for average and power, walk a ton, and play excellent defense. He's also lauded for his leadership skills. A potential franchise player, through and through. This should be his last spring training as an NRI. Rutschman will be a big leaguer before long.|
|OF Jarren Duran. Really fun group of NRIs for the Red Sox. They brought their top two prospects, infielders Jeter Downs and Triston Casas, to camp, ditto shortstop and 2020 first-round pick Nick Yorke. Duran gets the call here following his MVP winning performance in winter ball in Puerto Rico. The former seventh-round pick reportedly made some adjustments geared toward elevating the ball more often at the alternate site last year, and that was after hitting .322/.376/.446 in the minors from 2018-19. Duran is a fast riser and not far from the big leagues.|
|RHP Brendon Little. Sorry, Cubs fans, but your team has the least-exciting group of NRIs in the game this spring. That's because many of their top prospects are already on the 40-man roster and will be in big-league camp automatically (Adbert Alzolay, Miguel Amaya, Brailyn Marquez, Christopher Morel, etc.), and others like 2020 first rounder Ed Howard and 2020 second rounder Burl Carraway did not get a camp invite. Little, the No. 27 pick in the 2017 draft, has a very nice curveball and it's not out of the question that he can pitch his way into a bullpen job.|
|1B Andrew Vaughn. Look at the White Sox roster and it is painfully obvious they are keeping a spot warm for Vaughn. They currently have Adam Engel and Eloy Jimenez penciled into left field and DH, and while Engel is a nice player, it feels like only a matter of time until Vaughn takes over at DH and pushes Jimenez back into left field. Vaughn, the No. 3 pick in the 2019 draft, has a devastating offensive skill set and was a career .374/.495/.688 hitter in college. Expect the ChiSox to turn him loose early in 2021, after a few weeks in the minors to get up to speed after the lost season (and/or manipulate service time).|
|RHP Hunter Greene. The Reds brought infielder Jonathan India, the No. 5 pick in 2018, and lefty Nick Lodolo, the No. 7 pick in 2019, to camp as NRIs, but all eyes will be on Greene, the No. 2 pick in 2017. He completed his Tommy John surgery rehab last year and was at the alternate site -- Greene has not pitched in an official game since July 2018 -- and now it's time to get the show on the road. Greene has touched 100 mph when healthy and he is simply one of the most exciting prospects in the game. It'll be good to see him in games again.|
|OF George Valera. Valera turned only 20 in November and will be one of the youngest players in a big-league camp this spring. He's raw but he has power -- Valera swatted eight homers in 46 games against mostly college-aged kids in the short season New York-Penn League in 2019 -- and the sort of whippy swing and bat-to-ball ability that point to huge offensive upside. Cleveland will have several of their top prospects in camp as NRIs this spring, including catcher Bo Naylor and infielders Brayan Rocchio and Tyler Freeman, though few prospects in the sport are as exciting as Valera. Get a look at him while you can, before he's reassigned to minor-league camp.|
|LHP Ryan Rolison. The Rockies opted not to invite 2019 first rounder Michael Toglia nor 2020 first rounder Zac Veen to big league camp, so Rolison, the No. 22 pick in 2018, is the guy here. He is the organization's top pitching prospect as a southpaw who succeeds with command and pitchability rather than overpowering stuff. The lost 2020 season threw a wrench into Rolison's development, but he could see the big leagues in 2021.|
|1B Spencer Torkelson. With all due respect to Riley Greene, the No. 5 pick in the 2019 draft and one of my favorite prospects in the minors, Torkelson is an easy call. The No. 1 pick in the 2020 draft has the look of a monstrous middle-of-the-order hitter, someone who hits for average and power and posts huge on-base percentages. The Tigers are loaded with young pitching (Matt Manning, Casey Mize, and Tarik Skubal, all of whom are on the 40-man roster), and now they're starting to add some position player talent in Torkelson and Greene. Torkelson could be up at some point in 2021. It would be an upset if he's not, really.|
|C Korey Lee. The Astros have a pitching-heavy farm system and just about all their top arms are on the 40-man roster (Bryan Abreu, Luis Garcia, Forrest Whitley, etc.). Lee, the No. 32 pick in the 2019 draft, has power but hits the ball on the ground too often, and Houston is working with him to elevate the ball more. He's a good receiver and athletic enough to dabble at shortstop and in the outfield in college. This spring will be our first real chance to see Lee in games, and see how well he's progressing at the plate.|
|SS Bobby Witt Jr. My heart wanted to go with Wade Davis, who is on a minor-league contract and looking to revive his career outside Coors Field, but I just can't do it. Not when a prospect as good as Witt is sitting right there. Witt, the No. 2 pick in the 2019 draft, is a tools freak who grades out as above-average across the board. He projects to hit for average and power, steal bases, and save runs in the field. Witt is a potential franchise cornerstone, someone whose game could look a lot like Trevor Story's at his peak. Top pitching prospects Jackson Kowar, Asa Lacy, and Daniel Lynch will all be in camp this year as well, giving Kansas City one of the most exciting groups of NRIs in the game.|
|OF Jordyn Adams. The Angels had a thing for ultra-tools outfielders under former GM Billy Eppler, and Adams is next in line after Jo Adell. He's an electric athlete who was committed to play baseball and football at North Carolina, and he brings top of the line speed and big power potential to the table. Squint your eyes and you can see 30/30 potential with defense that approaches Gold Glove caliber. Adams is only 21 and he's yet to play above High Class-A, though he's one of those players you can't take your eyes off when he's on the field.|
|RHP Josiah Gray. The Dodgers always have a fun collection of NRIs and this year's group includes three recent first rounders (righty Bobby Miller and infielders Kody Hoese and Michael Busch), though we're going with Gray here. Acquired from the Reds in the big Yasiel Puig/Alex Wood trade a few years ago, Gray broke out as a prospect in 2019 and now ranks among the most exciting young arms in the sport. He has a big fastball and a wipeout slider, and even Los Angeles' incredible rotation depth may not be enough to prevent him from making his MLB debut in 2021.|
|RHP Max Meyer. Very prospect-laden group of NRIs for the Marlins. They'll have three recent first-round pick outfielders in camp (JJ Bleday, Kameron Misner, Connor Scott) as well as Meyer, the No. 3 pick in the 2020 draft. He struck out 46 batters in 27 2/3 innings in college last spring and was the consensus most MLB-ready player in last year's draft class, though the Marlins opted not to call him up. Meyer has an upper-90s fastball and a wipeout Brad Lidge-esque slider. It is devastating. It's unlikely spring training will be the only time we see Meyer on the field with big leaguers in 2021.|
|OF Garrett Mitchell. For a team without a top-tier farm system, the Brewers sure will have a lot of fun prospects in camp this spring. Shortstop Brice Turang is a slash-and-dash speedster and lefty Ethan Small was the team's first-round pick in 2019. Mitchell gets the nod here because he's a freak athlete with tremendous speed and Gold Glove-caliber defensive tools, and he will put a mistake into orbit. Will he improve his approach enough for that power to play in games? Unclear, but the development process for the No. 20 pick in the 2020 draft begins as an NRI this spring.|
|SS Royce Lewis. Lewis was the No. 1 pick in the 2017 draft and I feel like prospect fatigue is setting in. He hasn't had that huge breakout season yet and is merely a great prospect rather than a super-duper-elite prospect, though the athleticism and tools remain tantalizing. Lewis might wind up in center field long-term rather than shortstop. He's an exciting prospect wherever he lands and I'm looking forward to seeing him in camp this spring. It may not feel like it at this point, but Lewis is still only 21.|
|RHP Matthew Allan. The Mets are bringing all their top prospects to spring training as NRIs, including catcher Francisco Alvarez, infielders Brett Baty and Ronny Mauricio, and 2020 first rounder Pete Crow-Armstrong. Allen is the club's top pitching prospect and he's the pick here thanks to his big fastball and hammer curveball. He is a certifiable pitching nerd who is into analytics and has a very advanced feel for his craft for a 19-year-old. Few things are an exciting as a high-end pitching prospect who knows what he's doing.|
|C Austin Wells. Alas, the Yankees did not bring uber-prospect Jasson Dominguez to camp, which is understandable seeing how he's a just-turned 18-year-old who has yet to play a professional game. They did, however, bring Wells, their 2020 first round pick, to spring training. He has some similarities to Kyle Schwarber as a power lefty bat who probably won't catch long-term, but could hit his way to the big leagues the year after being drafted. The Yankees tend to be conservative with their NRIs and the fact Wells will be in camp tells us they have big plans for him in 2021.|
|SS Nick Allen. Jed Lowrie! No, kidding, but Lowrie is in camp as an NRI and vying to have a third stint with the Athletics. Allen, meanwhile, is an undersized (listed at 5-foot-8 and 166 lbs.) bat control freak who checks every gritty and scrappy and gutty cliche box there is. Will he hit for enough power to keep pitchers honest? That's the big question. We almost certainly won't see Allen in the big leagues this year, but he will win over many fans during Cactus League play with his hard-nosed style.|
|SS Bryson Stott. I hoped the Phillies would bring Mick Abel, their 2020 first-round pick and one of the most exciting pitching prospects in the sport, to camp this year, but no luck. The 19-year-old will report to minor-league camp, which is where he belongs at this point in his career. Stott, the No. 14 pick in the 2019 draft, gets the nod here instead. He's one of those "do everything well but nothing exceptionally" players who draws rave reviews for his instincts and makeup. Just a solid, no nonsense ballplayer. Also, did you know Neftali Feliz is still pitching? He'll be in camp with the Phillies as an NRI.|
|RHP Quinn Priester. Not many prospects managed to improve their stock while at the alternate site in 2021, but Priester did it. His velocity jumped into the upper-90s and his curveball, which was always great, also stood out. Priester, the No. 18 pick in the 2019 draft, is a pitching nerd who used analytics to better himself and that's exciting. The Pirates are rebuilding and will have many of their best prospects in camp as NRIs, including outfielder Travis Swaggerty (No. 10 pick in 2018) and infielder Nick Gonzalez (No. 7 pick in 2020). Gonzalez hit .399/.502/.747 in his college career. True story.|
|IF Nolan Gorman. Few prospects in the minors have as much power as Gorman. The problem? The No. 19 pick in the 2018 draft is a natural third baseman, and Nolan Arenado has the hot corner locked down in St. Louis long-term. No matter, Gorman recently approached the Cardinals about playing second base, and has been working out there in the early days of camp. You can hide a poor or inexperienced defender at second these days thanks to the shift and the fly ball/strikeout heavy nature of the game. Gorman at second base will be a #thingtowatch this spring. Shoutout to lefty Matthew Liberatore, the prospect the Cardinals received in the Randy Arozarena trade. He's another NRI to watch.|
|SS CJ Abrams. Despite all their high-profile offseason trades, the Padres still have a dynamite farm system, and will bring top pitching prospect MacKenzie Gore and 2020 first rounder Robert Hassell to spring training as NRIs. Abrams, the No. 6 pick in the 2019 draft, is a WOW player with electric tools who projects to be a true impact player at the MLB level. Chances are he'll play center field long-term now that Fernando Tatis Jr. is signed through 2034. No matter where he plays, Abrams will add to San Diego's fun and exciting (and excellent) team. He's a must-watch player this spring.|
|SS Marco Luciano. Had the 2020 minor-league season not been canceled, Luciano might've been in the conversation for the best prospect in baseball right now. He's that talented. The 19-year-old has Gary Sheffield-esque bat speed and there is an explosiveness to his game that is just not normal. Luciano is a special talent and the next great Giants superstar. He is still a few years away from the big leagues, however, so make sure you get a good look at him while you can this spring.|
|OF Jarred Kelenic. Tough, tough call here. Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez might be the two best outfield prospects in the game, and fortunately for Mariners fans, they won't have to pick between the two this spring. They can watch both. I'm going with Kelenic here because he's more of an all-around player who impacts the game at the plate, in the field, and on the bases. Rodriguez is more of a brute force masher, and hey, that's fun too. Whenever the Mariners return to the postseason, those two figure to lead the way.|
|SS Wander Franco. Franco is the best prospect in baseball and maybe the best prospect the game has seen since Bryce Harper in 2012. He's a do-it-all wunderkind who is MLB ready or damn close to it despite not yet turning 20 and spending last year at the alternate site rather than playing in actual games. The Rays have the game's best farm system and there will be prospects galore in camp as NRIs (righty Shane Baz, infielders Greg Jones and Xavier Edwards, catchers Blake Hunt and Heriberto Hernandez, etc.), but Franco stands out from the pack. He is special and he will be in the big leagues soon.|
|3B Josh Jung. I am looking forward to seeing hard-throwing righties Cole Winn and Hans Crouse, but Jung has to be the call here. The No. 8 pick in the 2019 draft is starting to pull the ball, allowing him to tap into his natural power, giving him exciting offensive upside. Jung is a good defensive third baseman and there are rumblings the Rangers may have him work out at second base at some point. At either position, he figures to be a central figure on the next great Texas team.|
|IF Austin Martin. Martin was arguably the top prospect in the 2020 draft class and the Blue Jays were thrilled to get him with the No. 5 pick. They have him listed as an infielder on their roster, though his position is unsettled and he could wind up in center field long-term. Wherever he lands, he's going to hit. Martin has star-caliber offensive tools and it won't be long before he joins Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and George Springer in the lineup. Fellow top prospect Orelvis Martinez deserves a mention here. He just might be the long-term third baseman in Toronto.|
|RHP Jackson Rutledge. The Nationals have the consensus worst farm system in the sport -- that's easier to swallow when you're one year removed from a World Series title -- and Rutledge and Cade Cavalli, their last two first-round picks, stand out as the system's best. Both righties will be in camp as NRIs this spring and Rutledge gets the nod here because he is a 6-foot-8 monster with a 100-mph fastball and an analytics-friendly high-spin curveball. Washington is not shy about rushing prospects to the big leagues (see: Juan Soto jumping from Low Class-A to MLB in a matter of weeks) and you may see Rutledge in the show this year. You will see him in spring training though. That's for sure.|