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One Non-Roster Invitee to Watch from Each Grapefruit League Team

Spring training begins this week and that means baseball is officially back. Spring games provide fans the opportunity to see stars in new places as well as top prospects getting some time with the MLB talent. Then there are the unsung heroes: the non-roster invitees. For young prospects looking to make a good impression or aging veterans trying to land an MLB role for this season, non-roster invitees provide an extra level of competition in spring.

The non-roster invitees on this list aren’t necessarily the biggest names joining each team’s spring camp. While some are talented prospects that most fantasy players should get to know, others are more under-the-radar types that could carve out MLB roles in 2023. They’ll all be players to watch as competition for some final roster spots begins to heat up.

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One Intriguing Non-Roster Invitee for Each Grapefruit Team

Atlanta Braves – LHP Jared Shuster

A flurry of recent trades and graduations by the Braves has left Jared Shuster as one of the top prospects in a pretty barren system. The 24-year-old lefty posted a 3.29 ERA through 139.1 Double-A and Triple-A innings in 2022. Before joining Triple-A Gwinnett, he had a 2.78 ERA with a 10.5 K/9 but took a step back when facing older competition. Atlanta has a fairly deep rotation but if anyone gets injured, specifically Michael Soroka or Spencer Strider, Shuster will be among the top replacement options. His priorities in spring will likely be keeping the long ball in check and tapping back into his put-away ability.

Baltimore Orioles – 2B/OF Connor Norby

A second-round draft pick out of Eastern Carolina in 2021, Connor Norby pushed his way through Baltimore’s system faster than expected last season. He went from High-A to Triple-A in 2022, compiling a .279/.360/.526 slash line with 29 homers and 16 steals through 547 plate appearances. Interestingly, he posted just a .736 OPS in 209 plate appearances at High-A before breaking out in the higher levels. Baltimore has a fairly deep infield with both MLB talent and prospects. Norby may not break camp as a non-roster invitee but he should debut this season and eventually own the job at second.

Boston Red Sox – C Jorge Alfaro

Jorge Alfaro is the most experienced non-roster invitee on this list. The 29-year-old catcher has registered a career .701 OPS over 1,658 MLB plate appearances, though that number has fallen to .642 over his last three seasons. He’ll be competing for the backup catcher role and it seems that Ronaldo Hernandez is the only one that could be standing in his way. Whichever one lands on the Opening Day roster could carve out a solid chunk of playing time behind Reese McGuire, who saw a career-high 274 plate appearances in 2022. Alfaro has plenty of pop and can barrel the ball well, but his severe lack of plate discipline has pushed him to a backup role after he was once a top-100 prospect.

Detroit Tigers – 3B/OF Justyn-Henry Malloy

Acquired from Atlanta this offseason, Justyn-Henry Malloy is now much more likely to see MLB playing time in the near future with Detroit. The 23-year-old looks like a potential OBP machine. He posted an OBP over .400 in each of the three levels he played in last season (High-A through Triple-A) and a .438 OBP in the AFL. After leaving High-A, Malloy saw his numbers drop a bit but the discipline remained, drawing walks at an 18.5% rate in the top two levels. He’ll likely start the year with Triple-A Toledo but could quickly force his way to the big leagues and steal some playing time from Detroit’s current all-lefty outfield.

Houston Astros – 3B/OF Corey Julks

Corey Julks was one of just two MiLB hitters with at least 30 homers and 20 steals in 2022, and he did it while slashing .270/.351/.503 with Triple-A Sugar Land. Even more impressive is that Sugar Land has just a home-run factor of 74. The 27-year-old outfielder has yet to make his MLB debut and it’s somewhat surprising that he wasn’t snagged in this offseason’s Rule 5 Draft. However, he now has the opportunity to earn some big-league playing time. Julks has primarily played third and corner outfield, making him flexible enough to be a bench bat. If he continues to impress this spring, he could take a roster spot from Jake Meyers.

Miami Marlins – IF Joe Rizzo

The Marlins will have some exciting arms in camp, including Eury Perez and Dax Fulton, but it’s Joe Rizzo that could put his name on the map. He knocked 51 extra-base hits (21 homers) with a .191 ISO and an .810 OPS with Double-A Arkansas (Seattle’s affiliate) last season. Looking at just his final 74 games, the 24-year-old slashed .303/.375/.503 with a strikeout rate just under 20%. Rizzo would fill a need as a lefty utility infielder with some much-needed pop as the Marlins’ current roster is heavily right-handed.

Minnesota Twins – SS/OF Austin Martin

Austin Martin was traded from Toronto to Minnesota just one year after he was the fifth selection in the 2020 MLB Draft. He was regarded as an elite college bat but the hit tool hasn’t translated to pro ball yet. He slashed .242/.373/.329 with 37 steals and 22 extra-base hits in 96 games. The 23-year-old showed promise down the stretch by posting an .828 OPS with eight extra-base knocks and more walks than strikeouts over his last 20 games. Martin then swiped 10 more bags while hitting .374 in the AFL. His plate discipline keeps the floor reasonably high but the bat needs to catch up if he’s going to match the draft hype.

New York Mets – OF Alex Ramirez

The Mets’ roster is deep and it doesn’t seem like any non-roster invitee has a shot at the Opening Day roster. Alex Ramirez broke out in 2022 and will have plenty of eyes on him this spring. After posting an .802 OPS in 67 Low-A games, Ramirez appeared in 54 High-A games as a 19-year-old. There, he slashed .278/.329/.427 with 23 extra-base hits. He also flashed potential on the basepath but he was caught stealing on 16 of his 37 attempts. The athletic 6-foot-3 outfielder is already ahead of schedule as one of the Mets’ top prospects.

New York Yankees – C Austin Wells

The Yankees are gearing up for a youth movement led by Anthony Volpe and Austin Wells may not be far behind. The 23-year-old was one of just two MiLB catchers with at least 15 home runs and 15 steals last season. He slashed .277/.385/.512 with a .235 ISO and a 13.9% walk rate while spending most of the year with Double-A Somerset. His primary competition in camp will be fellow non-roster invitee Josh Breaux, who’s knocked 42 homers over the last two MiLB seasons. Unfortunately, a rib injury has delayed Wells in camp. Still, the 2020 first-round pick is viewed as the long-term answer at catcher in the Bronx and a 2023 debut seems pretty likely.

Philadelphia Phillies – RHP Andrew Painter

Alright, I have to break the “not the biggest names” rule for this one. Andrew Painter is a budding superstar and an outrageous 2022 campaign has made him the best pitching prospect in baseball. He soared from Low-A to Double-A and compiled a 1.56 ERA and a 32.4% K-BB rate, the best of any minor leaguer with at least 55 innings. As his last name suggests, Painter is an artist on the mound with a deep arsenal, led by a flamethrower fastball. He now has a chance to crack the Phillies’ starting rotation as a teenager. Painter’s main competition is the incumbent, Bailey Falter, but Griff McGarry and Mick Abel are also exciting non-roster invitee pitchers.

Pittsburgh Pirates – 1B/OF Matt Gorski

Matt Gorski saw time at four different MiLB levels last season. In 81 total games, he complied a .280/.358/.598 slash line with 24 long balls and 21 stolen bases. The 25-year-old had previously shown some power but his improved plate approach allowed the hit tool to shine in 2022. His slow development made him old for every level, so his spring performance will be important for his 2023 placement. Gorski will most likely join Triple-A Indianapolis to start the year with his eyes set on a 2023 MLB debut.

St. Louis Cardinals – 3B/OF Jordan Walker

Like Painter, Jordan Walker is just too exciting to pass up here. The 20-year-old slugger will almost certainly debut at the top level in 2023 and has a chance to land a spot on the Opening Day roster. The Cardinals pushed Walker from third to the outfield in an attempt to get him to the majors faster and it’s paying off. He spent all of 2022 at the Double-A level where he was the youngest position player to begin the season. The 20-year-old slashed .306/.388/.510 with 53 extra-base hits and 22 steals. Walker will make an impact as soon as he earns an MLB role and will eventually be a five-category contributor.

Tampa Bay Rays – OF Kameron Misner

Among the 36 MiLB players with at least 15 homers and 30 steals in 2022, Kameron Misner ranked second with a 16.9% walk rate. The athletic outfielder racked up 42 extra-base hits and 32 steals with an .816 OPS at the Double-A level last season. While he may not skip Triple-A altogether, he does fill a need for the Rays’ current roster. Their lineup is heavily right-handed, including all three protected outfielders. Misner’s main competition for a lefty bench slot is Luke Raley, who has nothing left to prove in the minors but can’t find a groove at the top level. If Raley continues to struggle in spring, Tampa Bay could look to Misner as a younger option with more potential.

Toronto Blue Jays – LHP Ricky Tiedemann

Toronto’s non-roster invitee list is nearly all pitchers, so we’ll cheat the game one last time with Ricky Tiedemann. The 20-year-old southpaw struck out 117 batters with a 2.17 ERA through 78.2 innings while moving from Low-A to Double-A last season. He’ll need some more time to polish his command in the minors but a strong impression in spring could push his expected debut a little closer. Toronto’s staff is mostly set but the last spot looks to be Yusei Kikuchi, someone that could certainly drop the job to Tiedemann later this season. Among the few hitters invited to camp by the Blue Jays, it’s worth a quick shoutout to outfielder Wynton Bernard and his Hollywood-esque journey to the majors.

Washington Nationals – RHP Tommy Romero

Once an exciting prospect in the Rays’ system, Tommy Romero took a huge step back in 2022. He registered a 2.61 ERA with an 11.8 K/9 between Double-A and Triple-A in 2021. Last season, he struggled with a 10.80 ERA in 8.1 MLB innings and a 3.24 mark at the Triple-A level, but his K/9 dropped to 7.5. His home run rate jumped at the Triple-A level, partially due to Durham and Rochester being hitter-friendly, but he also coughed up five in his lone outing with the Nationals. Romero’s upside isn’t very high but Washington’s rotation is… less than great. He doesn’t have much MLB-ready competition for an injury replacement role aside from veteran non-roster invitees such as Chad Kuhl and Wily Peralta.

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