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Getting to know all of the non-roster invites in Red Sox camp

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Here are the guys to know as games get going this week.

Bobby Dalbec
Kelly O’Connor; https://sittingstill.smugmug.com

Today, Monday, is the first full-squad workout of spring training. Most of the Red Sox players had been in camp prior to today anyway, but for any stragglers enjoying the last moments of their offseason, they had to report today. After a few days of these full-squad workouts, games will start on Friday and before we know it the regular season will be upon us. As for when the game starts, as we all know spring training is filled with a whole lot of players we don’t really know that well. To help with that, let’s quickly run through every non-roster invitee in Red Sox camp this year. Remember, this doesn’t include anyone on the 40-man roster, so guys like Michael Chavis and Darwinzon Hernandez will be there but are not NRI’s. There will also be players that play in games that aren’t technically NRI’s. Yoan Moncada did it a few years ago on a consistent basis, and I’d expect Durbin Feltman and Jenrry Mejia are a couple of players I’d expect to do the same this spring. Anyway, with those two notes out of the way we can get onto the list.

Pitchers

  • Among the veteran pitchers brought in this winter and extended a non-roster invite to big-league camp, Zach Putnam is probably the one most likely to make an impact at the highest level in 2019. The 31-year-old has dealt with injury issues through his entire career and has only pitched 8 23 innings since the start of 2017. However, when he has pitched in the majors he’s been pretty impressive. Over 152 career innings he’s pitched to a 3.20 ERA, a 3.36 FIP and a 3.05 DRA. You never know how someone will return from such a long absence, but if Putnam looks like his old self he’s a major-league reliever.
  • Most of the minor-league signings from the Red Sox have been pure relievers, but they did also sign a couple of swingmen with real potential. Erasmo Ramírez is the best of the group. The former Mariners and Rays righty has extensive major-league experience with 192 career appearances at the highest level, 92 of them coming as a starter. Only 28 years old right now (he’ll turn 29 in early May), Ramírez isn’t going to strike out many batters, but he has solid control and generally carries low BABIPs. The ceiling isn’t huge here, but if the Red Sox need starting pitching depth, Ramírez will be in competition for a high position on the depth chart.
MLB: Boston Red Sox-Workouts
Erasmo Ramírez
Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports
  • As far as in-house options go, Mike Shawaryn is hoping he’ll get the call to make his major-league debut in 2019. The 2016 fifth round pick has been solid throughout his professional career. He moved away from a strikeout-heavy approach last year in the high minors, but he made up for the lesser stuff with more consistent command. Shawaryn got six starts (and one relief appearance) at Pawtucket last year, so they’ll probably try to get him at least half the year in Triple-A if they can help it. In the second half, though, if there’s an open rotation spot he’ll get a shot. He could also help in the bullpen at some point, though keep in mind most don’t see him as the type whose stuff will play up significantly in that role.
  • Carson Smith was surprisingly brought back on a minor-league deal after injuring himself by throwing his glove in frustration and then throwing some shade at the coaching staff afterwards. It’s going to be mostly rehab for Smith this year, who could potentially miss the entire 2019 season.
  • Josh Smith came over on a minor-league pact early last season, and he opened some eyes in Pawtucket. The 31-year-old does have 127 innings at the major-league level, but he’s never been able to stick anywhere. In Pawtucket in 2018, the righty pitched to a 4.14 ERA but struck out over a batter per inning with fewer than two walks per nine. He finished the year with a 2.88 FIP and a 3.53 DRA. He’s further down the depth chart, but a good spring could put him on the radar.
  • Domingo Tapia was a longtime Reds farmhand who opened some eyes in the lower minors before stalling out for a few years in Double-A and Triple-A. The 27-year-old was converted to relief in 2015, still making a few spot starts here and there but largely pitching in a bullpen role. His control can be lost at times and his stuff is inconsistent at best, but he does keep the ball on the ground and generally limits big damage. If the Red Sox can find a tweak to find more consistency in other areas, Tapia could be an interesting name.
  • Fitting a similar mold as Tapia, Ryan Weber does have some limited major-league experience and has converted into something close to a full-time reliever after starting his professional career as a starter. He’s still started more than Tapia in recent years, but Weber is another low-strikeout guy who relies on ground balls and weak contact in general.

Catchers

  • Presumably, the Red Sox are going to trade one of their three catchers currently on the 40-man roster, meaning someone not currently on the roster will serve as crucial depth in case of in-season injury. Juan Centeno is the favorite to take over that role. He signed a minor-league deal this year, and has some major-league time in each of the last four years. The 2016 season in Minnesota was his most consistent major-league time and that year he put up an 88 wRC+ in 55 games. That’s solid production for a catcher. However, over his career he has a wRC+ of just 63. Centeno doesn’t have a huge ceiling, but he plays solid defense and has the experience. That’s enough at this position.
MLB: Texas Rangers at Oakland Athletics
Juan Centeno
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
  • Oscar Hernández signed a minor-league contract with the organization prior to last season and missed significant time in 2018 due to a PED suspension. He only played in 47 games with Pawtucket last year and wasn’t impressive. Hernández had a bright future at one point before being taken in the Rule 5 draft straight out of A-Ball in 2015, and the jump from A-Ball to the majors was too much for him. His play has never recovered, but he’s also still only 25 years old. Hernández has the most upside of this group, though the chances he reaches it are slim.
  • The homegrown option in this group is Austin Rei, who was taken in the third round back in 2015. This is his second consecutive camp invite. Rei has hit decently well in his professional career besides that 2015 season right after being drafted, and his defense has improved and is one of his better qualities. There is a limited ceiling here, though, and while I’d expect him to get a chance as a major-league backup at some point, I’d be surprised if it was this year.

Infielders

  • This group is led by in-house prospects. C.J. Chatham has battled injury issues throughout his professional career to this point, but finally got to play a full season in 2018. He wasn’t great at the plate in Salem, but Chatham should be able to stick at shortstop and has some power potential that could be unlocked at a better hitter’s park. There’s no real path to him making his debut in 2019, but this is a nice early taste of the majors.
  • The top prospect among non-roster invitees is certainly Bobby Dalbec, who exploded onto the scene in 2018. The power-hitting third baseman is enthralling when he’s at his best with his enormous raw power and underrated defense at the hot corner. Of course, he’s also very frustrating when things aren’t going well. There are real holes in his swing that need to be solved for him to reach something close to his best-case scenario, and working with the major-league coaches and seeing high-level pitching should help with that. He’s almost certainly not going to debut this season unless he absolutely explodes in production.
  • Chad De La Guerra was a hot name heading into camp last year, but he struggled mightily in Triple-A in 2018 before getting demoted back down to Portland. He recovered there, and hopefully that momentum can carry over to 2019. De La Guerra doesn’t have any sort of ceiling, but he can play all around the infield and can be a solid hitter off the bench.
  • Josh Ockimey was left unprotected for the Rule 5 draft and did not get selected. The first base prospect has real upside, particularly if he can continue to tap into his power more and more each year, but there’s also some faults. He can’t hit lefties, his defense is average-at-best, he can be patient-to-a-fault and he strikes out too much. In a best-case scenario he’ll be in consideration for a platoon role at first base in 2020, but he needs to make real strides to get there.
  • Tony Renda scored a game-winning run in that big August sweep of the Yankees last year in his signature Red Sox moment. He’s veteran infield depth at this point, though he’s probably highest on the depth chart of anyone on this section of the list.

Outfield

  • Bryce Brentz is back! The longtime Red Sox farmhand left the organization last year, playing with the Pirates and Mets before an injury ended his season prematurely, but he’s back now. We all know Brentz by now. He doesn’t provide a ton of defensive value, but he does provide legitimate power from the right side of the plate.
MLB: Spring Training-Boston Red Sox at Pittsburgh Pirates Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports
  • Speaking of guys we all know, Rusney Castillo season is back! He’s never playing in the majors due to his contract, which is kind of sad. Chances are he never would have stuck like we originally hoped, but we’ll never know for sure.
  • The big position player added on a minor-league deal this winter was Gorkys Hernández. The former Giants outfielder has played quite a bit in the majors including 142 games and 451 plate appearances last year. He’s far from a star, of course, but he had an 83 wRC+ and has spent time all around the outfield. That’s fine from a fifth outfielder, and with the Red Sox not having a ton of outfield depth Hernández is a name to remember.
  • Tate Matheny is not the most exciting prospect in the system and probably is not an everyday player at the highest level, but he can be fun to watch. It would be nice if he made more contact, and Double-A pitchers did expose some more holes in his swing. Still, he has solid athleticism, can play all over the outfield and do some damage on the bases.
  • Cole Sturgeon absolutely demolished Double-A last season with a .214 Isolated Power (SLG - AVG) and a 178 wRC+. Of course, it should be mentioned it was his fourth taste of the level. Sturgeon is exciting to watch when he’s on (I saw him a few times during that run last year) but he’s an up-and-down outfielder at best.