In eight days pitchers and catchers will report to Spring Training and begin the long journey that is the 2019 season. Position players will follow five days later, then, five days after that, the Yankees will play their first Grapefruit League game. We’re closing in on real live baseball. Thank goodness for that.
With Spring Training coming up, the Yankees announced their non-roster invitees late last week, and by and large the 21 names were as expected. There are veteran journeymen on minor league contracts, notable prospects like Estevan Florial and Mike King, and mid-range prospects like Kyle Holder. Same thing year after year after year.
There are, inevitably, a few surprise non-roster invitees each spring. Surprise invitees and surprise omissions. Some guys you don’t expect get invited to camp and some guys you expect don’t get invited to camp. Here are two surprise non-roster invitees and three notable omissions from big league camp.
Surprise Non-Roster Invitees
RHP Cale Coshow
The Yankees brought Coshow, now 26, to Spring Training as a non-roster player last year, so I suppose it is not that surprising he was invited again this year. Coshow struggled with Triple-A Scranton last year, however, throwing 56.1 innings with a 4.95 ERA (4.61 FIP) and a good strikeout rate (26.3%), but too many walks (11.2%) and too many homers (1.44 HR/9). Here is a snippet of 2080 Baseball’s most recent scouting report:
His plus to double-plus fastball was sitting comfortably at 93-to-96 mph (T97) and it’s a real weapon that he uses aggressively, but his command of the offering is below average … His slider is average, but inconsistent … It’s hard to see the stuff playing at the major league level if the fastball command and control profile don’t improve, and the best outcome is that of high-risk Role 30, AAAA emergency arm used in sixth-or-seventh innings, as there’s too much risk deploying him in the high-leverage, late-inning situations that the Yankees might have envisioned his raw stuff being suited for.
Hey, there’s value in being an up-and-down depth arm. It’s not glamorous but it gets you a big league paycheck every once in a while. If the Yankees believe Coshow can be a shuttle reliever — inviting him to camp suggests the team believes he can have some sort of MLB role — then it’s worth bringing him to Spring Training for a look. See what the big league coaching staff thinks and make an evaluation.
There are a few reasons I thought Coshow would not get an invite to camp. One, he had a tough year in Triple-A last season. Two, he looks to be no higher than 12th on the bullpen depth chart. And three, he’s now been passed over in the Rule 5 Draft three times, which is a pretty good indication the rest of the league doesn’t see much MLB value. Instead, Coshow will be back in big league camp this spring, and that means he’ll have a chance to show teams they were wrong to overlook him.
1B Mike Ford
This will be Ford’s first big league camp with the Yankees. He was in camp with the Mariners as a Rule 5 Draft last spring, did not make the team, then was returned to the Yankees before Opening Day. In his first full Triple-A season the 26-year-old put up a decidedly meh .253/.327/.433 (114 wRC+) batting line with 15 homers and the lowest walk rate (9.0%) of his career in 410 plate appearances. For a bat-only first baseman, that’s not good.
Luke Voit and Greg Bird are set to compete for the big league first base job in Spring Training — Brian Cashman and Aaron Boone have indicated it is Voit’s job to lose — plus DJ LeMahieu figures to see time at the position as well. The Yankees are planning to use LeMahieu as something of a super utility guy and getting familiar with first base will be a necessity. Other non-roster guys like Ryan Lavarnway and Francisco Diaz have first base experience as well.
To me, Ford is at best fourth on the first base depth chart behind Voit, Bird, and LeMahieu, and my hunch is if Voit and Bird don’t work out, the Yankees would look outside the organization for help rather than play LeMahieu and his non-first base caliber bat at first base full-time. Ford figures to play in the late innings of Grapefruit League games, against minor leaguers, and I’m not sure there’s anything he can do in those spots to show the Yankees he’s a viable first base depth option. There’s no harm in bringing him to camp, of course. I just didn’t expect it to happen.
Notable Non-Roster Omissions
RHP J.P. Feyereisen
Feyereisen, like Coshow, is a hard-throwing righty with bad command who’s been passed over in numerous Rule 5 Drafts. The 26-year-old who had a 4.95 ERA (4.61 FIP) in Triple-A last year was invited to big league camp. The 25-year-old with a 3.45 ERA (3.75 FIP) in Triple-A last year was not invited to big league camp. There is of course much more to life than Triple-A ERA and FIP. A quick glance at the surface stats is enough to make you go “huh” though.
This will be Coshow’s second big league camp and it would’ve been Feyereisen’s third. Maybe the Yankees give these fringy bad command relievers two camps to strut their stuff and that’s it? The simplest possible explanation is the most likely explanation: The Yankees like Coshow better than Feyereisen. Feyereisen, the fourth piece in the Andrew Miller trade, may’ve had the better Triple-A numbers last year, but the analytics may like Coshow more. I expected Feyereisen to get a non-roster invitee before Coshow. Shows what I know.
RHP Nick Nelson
The Yankees have several interesting power arms slated to begin the 2019 season with Double-A Trenton and Nelson is chief among them. The 23-year-old had 3.55 ERA (3.12 FIP) with 27.5% strikeouts and a few too many walks (12.1%) in 121.1 innings at three levels last year, including Double-A. Here’s a piece of 2080 Baseball’s latest scouting report:
(He) generates plus velocity (touching 98 mph at best, sitting 94-to-96 mph) from core muscles and efficient mechanics. A high-70s curveball shows sharp bite and tight two-plane depth at best, though he struggles to keep the pitch for strikes right now. His 86-to-89 mph changeup is thrown too hard but shows promising armside dive at best … his three-pitch mix gives the best-case ceiling of a power back-rotation type. It’s easy to see Nelson in a bullpen role if he needs a long-term fallback.
Nelson was a two-way player in college who has been pitching full-time for only two and a half seasons, so while he reached Double-A last year, he’s not the experienced pitching prospect. He will be Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season though, and I thought the Yankees would want to get him in front of the big league coaching staff at least once before the 40-man roster decision. I guess not.
Even with limited full-time pitching experience and some control issues, the 23-year-old Nelson topped 100 innings each of the last two seasons, and his stuff is plenty good enough to face rusty big leaguers in exhibition games. Bringing Nelson to camp this year would’ve been akin to bringing Dillon Tate to camp last year. That big-armed righty coming up on Rule 5 Draft eligibility who, if you squint your eyes, you could see helping the Yankees in a relief role in the coming season.
RHP Trevor Stephan
Stephan is another one of those interesting arms slated to begin the season in Double-A. He spent way more time at Double-A last year than Nelson (83.1 innings to 8.2 innings), and his overall performance was very good. Stephen tossed 124.1 total innings with a 3.69 ERA (3.60 FIP) and strong strikeout (26.8 K%) and walk (7.3 BB%) rates. He’s a fastball/slider guy with a funky delivery who is hell on righties.
Stephen not being invited to big league camp surprises me more than any other non-roster non-invite this year. He’s a quality prospect with bat-missing stuff and Double-A experience, and once you’re in Double-A, you’re an MLB option. Ask Jonathan Loaisiga. He jumped from Double-A to MLB last season. Skipped right over Triple-A. Stephan throws enough strikes that debuting in a bullpen role this year is not impossible. Likely? No. But I thought the Yankees would want to get a look at him in big league camp given his proximity to the show. Guess not.
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Receiving a non-roster invite does not mean the player is destined for a big league role. Coshow could just be an inventory arm to pitch those late innings in the first few Grapefruit League games. Also, not receiving an invitation to big league camp is not the end of the world either. Stephen Tarpley did not get a non-roster invite last year and he wound up on the ALDS roster. Force the issue and the Yankees will give you a chance.
Given the first base depth chart, I was surprised to see Ford get a non-roster invite — how much has to go wrong for him to start at first base in the Bronx at some point this year? — and I definitely thought one of those Double-A arms like Nelson or Stephan would get a look in camp. The Yankees have a lot of pitching prospects at the moment. An awful lot. Other than King, none of them will be in camp. From a selfish “I want to see prospects in Spring Training!” perspective, it’s a bummer.