We’re really not all that far away from spring training, as pitchers and catchers report on Valentines Day, which is less than a month away. It doesn’t really feel like we should be all that close, due both to the slow pace of the offseason and Opening Day being moved up this year. We’ll be talking about actual practice and camp events soon enough, though, and that’s always an exciting time of year. On Tuesday, we learned a little more about what camp will be like as the team announced 16 non-roster invitees who will be with the major leaguers in Fort Myers. As a reminder, these are players who are not on the 40-man roster, and you can expect some other additions between now and the middle of February. For now, though, let’s take a quick look at each of the 16 players.
Jeremy Barfield, OF, RHH
I mentioned Barfield last week as a longshot, but possibility, to make his major-league debut in 2018. He’s a former A’s prospect who converted to pitching a few years ago before going back to the outfield and found himself in Indy Ball to start last year. The Red Sox brought him into the organization in the middle of the year and Barfield dominated Double-A pitching and showed off huge power. He and Boston agreed to stick together on a minor-league deal very early this offseason, and it seems as if Boston is at least intrigued by the power potential. Don’t expect a star here, of course, but picking him up last summer could quietly be a very strong move by this Red Sox front office.
Dan Butler, C, RHH
Butler has served as minor-league catching depth in all but one year since 2010, as he and the Red Sox seemingly can’t quit each other. He recently re-upped with the team on a minor-league deal, and he’ll be in a very boring battle to be the team’s third or fourth catcher with a few other names. There’s very little upside here, but he’s solid behind the dish and can hit enough that it won’t absolutely devastate you every time he comes up to bat.
Rusney Castillo, OF, RHH
Castillo may arguably be the most interesting player that will be invited to spring training. After struggling for the majority of his professional career with the Red Sox, he was mostly written off prior to the 2017 season. However, he handled himself very well in Pawtucket and finally got away from the ground ball tendencies that have given him so much trouble over his career. Granted, having success in your third time through Triple-A is far from a guaranteed indicator that one can hit in the majors, but Castillo is as interesting as he’s been in a few years. Unfortunately for him, that contract still makes him a long shot to make the majors again with the Red Sox.
Michael Chavis, 3B/1B, RHH
Although there is an argument for Castillo being the most interesting non-roster invitee, there is no argument against Chavis being the most talented. The consensus number two prospect in the farm system, he was the biggest breakout in 2017. His power is particularly enticing for a Red Sox team that lacks it, and it will be interesting to see where they play him over camp and how he looks where ever he plays. Chavis’ defensive future is his biggest question mark, and if that gets sorted out there’s at least a chance we’ll see him in Boston at some point towards the end of this season.
Ivan De Jesus Jr., IF, RHH
De Jesus Jr. has had plenty of experience in the Red Sox organization. He was originally sent to Boston in the famous Nick Punto trade with the Dodgers, then was sent to Pittsburgh in the Brock Holt/Mark Melancon swap. Eventually, he found himself with the Orioles before being traded back to Boston along with Jemile Weeks. Now 30, De Jesus has never succeeded in the majors but he’s another solid depth piece who has had tons of success in Triple-A. It’s worth gambling that at some point he could carry that success to the majors.
Chad De La Guerra, SS/2B, LHH
De La Guerra is certainly not one of the more well-known minor-leaguers in the Red Sox system, but he quietly had a strong year in 2017. There’s no star upside here, but he can handle both middle infield spots and showed enough with the bat to imagine a solid bench player at some point in the future. The Red Sox have a lot of players like this in the upper minors, of course, but De La Guerra has done enough that he deserves to be added to the mix.
Justin Haley, RHP
Haley is perhaps the minor-leaguer who has the best chance of playing in the majors this year that doesn’t get talked about at all. The right-handed pitcher threw for the Twins last year after they selected him in the Rule 5 draft last winter. He stuck on the roster (though he spent some time on the disabled list) until late-July when he was sent back to the Red Sox. There’s not a huge ceiling here, but he’s major-league ready and could very well turn into a solid back-end starter. He could very well start the year behind Hector Velazquez on the rotation depth chart, depending on how they stretch out Brian Johnson.
Oscar Hernandez, C, RHH
Hernandez was signed to a minor-league contract a couple weeks ago and I discussed what his role could be in this post. I won’t rehash it here, though I’ll add that Butler has since been added to the roster and will compete for depth chart position.
Kyle Martin, RHP
Martin was on the 40-man roster at this time last year after being added to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, but he was removed late in the season. He remains with the organization, and is fighting for a role as an up-and-down middle reliever. There’s really not much special about Martin, but he has a big fastball that plays up in the bullpen and when his changeup is working well he can succeed in the majors. That being said, it’s hard to succeed as a top-level reliever without a strong breaking ball.
Bobby Poyner, LHP
Remember this name, as Poyner is going to be one of the players who will challenge for a bullpen spot at some point in the summer of 2018. He hasn’t pitched above Double-A yet, but the southpaw was phenomenal last year posting a sub-1.00 ERA over 38 innings in Portland in 2017. He has big strikeout stuff to go with average-to-above-average control that can certainly play in the majors. Without a clear-cut top-shelf lefty on the roster, Poyner may have the best chance to make the Opening Day roster of this entire group, though it’s obviously a long shot.
Esteban Quiroz, 2B, LHH
Quiroz was the first semi-notable move made by the Red Sox this winter as they signed the soon-to-be 26-year-old out of the Mexican League. It was a minor-league deal and it seems impossible that he’ll start the year in the majors, but he has professional experience and has shown solid bat-to-ball skills. We saw this kind of under-the-radar move pay off with Hector Velazquez last year, and he’ll be a fascinating player to watch in camp and Pawtucket to star the year. If he hits well, he’ll be on the major-league bench at some point in 2018.
Austin Rei, C, RHH
Once upon a time Rei was someone to be really excited about. He was selected in the third round of the 2015 draft and fell that low largely due to an injury that caused him to miss most of that college season. Unfortunately, he hasn’t done much of anything since joining the organization. He’s a solid defensive catcher, but not good enough to support his lack of offense. Last year seemed like a make-or-break season to me, but clearly the team still has some hope for Rei.
Fernando Rodriguez, RHP
Rodriguez was somewhat quietly signed to a minor-league deal towards the end of last season, and he’s remaining with the organization for this season. The righty has pitched in parts of six seasons in the majors, including in 2015 when he served in a fairly prominent role in Oakland’s pen. There’s no huge upside here, but if he has a good showing in camp and a few injuries occur he could find himself on the Opening Day roster as a middle reliever.
Jake Romanski, C, RHH
Romanski is just more catching depth, and there’s not a lot of excitement here. He’s been in the organzation since 2013 and the most noise he’s made is when he was suspended for 50 games to start last season after testing positive for amphetamines. That being said, Romanski is a pretty solid defensive backstop and can be a valuable type of player to keep around in the minors.
Aneury Tavarez, OF, LHH
Tavarez is another one of these outfielders who has a chance to make it to the majors given the team’s lack of depth there as of now. Signing someone like J.D. Martinez would change things, but Tavarez is a solid all-around player who was selected by the Orioles in last winter’s Rule 5 draft. There’s not really a standout tool here and last year was derailed by injuries, but at his best he gives solid defense in the corners with a passable all-around offensive skillset.
Marcus Walden, RHP
Walden first joined the organization last year as Triple-A pitching depth last season, and honestly served more as a body to have on Pawtucket’s roster than someone who had a chance in the majors. He was decently impressive in 2017, though, and can throw out of the rotation and in the bullpen. He’s not more than an emergency-type arm, but as a 29-year-old he was good enough last year to get a chance in big-league camp.