Each year as spring training approaches, most big league clubs will have a crop of non-roster invitees that join the guys on the 40-man roster at big league camp. Typically, that group is made up of some combination of top organizational prospects who have had a year or two of minor league experience, and major league and/or upper-minors veterans who are trying to crack an opening day roster one last time.
Last year, none of the Mariners’ 21 NRI’s played their way onto the 25-man for the Mariners when they opened their season in Houston, but eight of them did end up seeing time in the big leagues at some point last season. The theme of this year’s batch of non-roster invitees seems to be “guys you’ve already seen play for the Mariners,” but we wanted to take some time to introduce you to the guys you might be less familiar with. First up: John Andreoli.
If you were closely following last year’s World Baseball Classic, you may already be familiar with Andreoli who, while not being born in Italy himself, has several grandparents and great-grandparents of Italian descent. Andreoli lead a surprise run for Team Italy, slashing .316/.350/.842 and hitting three home runs in just four games, including this mammoth shot off stud Twins’ pitcher Jose Berrios:
And this one off of another pitcher you might recognize:
And here he is coming through for the walk-off hit in a victory over Team Mexico in that same game, again punishing a former-Mariner:
He can also take hits away from former-Mariners, like he does here to Ji-Man Choi:
And he takes advantage of a defensive lapse by former Mariners farmhand Jabari Blash to hit an inside-the-park home run off current Mariners reliever Nick Vincent:
John Andreoli was one of four players signed to a minor league deal back on December 8 and is--in my opinion--the most exciting of the bunch. After putting the finishing touches on a college career in which he shared an outfield with George Springer at UCONN, he was selected by the Cubs in the 17th round of the same 2011 draft class that produced Dan Vogelbach. Andreoli climbed the minor league ranks of the Cubs’ system slowly, and mostly on the back of an advanced ability to draw walks and utilize his baserunning prowess to parlay those walks into stolen bases. Outside of a 9.3% BB% he posted in a 59 game debut at the Double-A level, the right-handed outfielder never posted a walk rate lower than 11.2% at any stop where he amassed a meaningful sample size. His 26 stolen bases in 119 games last season was a career low, and he’s actually swiped 40+ bags in each of his two professional seasons he’s hit the 125 game mark. Back in spring training of 2016, Cubs manager Joe Maddon gave this ringing endorsement of him:
“He’s nice. He plays with his hair on fire all the time. He’s a strong kid. He’s a five-tool guy. He’s the kind of a guy that people refrain from putting that label on just because I think they’re concerned that he’s not had enough publicity so you can’t say that. But this guy hits, hits with power, can run, fine arm and plays defense. And the sixth tool, man the guy comes to play every day. I’m telling you he’s very, very interesting.”
All that said, Andreoli’s offensive profile shifted in 2016, when he followed up an impressive major league camp with the Cubs where he slashed .270/.341/.649 and hit four homers by setting a new career high in home runs with 12 and strikeout rate at 26.3%. In case that raised any concerns that the speedster was selling out for power, let me put those concerns to rest with this: his 15.2% walk rate was a new career best as well. Andreoli’s power development took yet another step forward in 2017 when he increased that mark again, going deep 14 times in just 118 games. He attributes the newfound pop to working with then-Cubs’ hitting coach John Mallee and first base coach Eric Hinske, who encouraged him to tap into his physical strength by better utilizing his lower half and “sequencing his body.” While the walk rate slipped a bit (12.9%) and the strikeout rate crept up slightly (27.3%)—something Andreoli acknowledged and mentioned he’s been working to correct this offseason by working to improve his body control—Andreoli still managed a 104 wRC+ while continuing to prove dangerous on the basepaths.
Andreoli, who will turn 28 this season, was a fan favorite for Cubs fans, who often wondered why his minor league success never translated to a big league opportunity. Despite successful campaigns at the upper level of the minors from 2013-2017, he was consistently blocked by a star-studded Cubs outfield and leapfrogged by blue chip prospects. Also worthy of note, with teams in today’s game often opting to go with extended bullpens consisting of eight men, any right-handed hitting outfielders with hopes of cracking a big league roster better be able to play center field. While Andreoli’s had success manning the position in the past, he divulged that he’s been training this offseason with “NFL Combine guys” to further his athleticism, which should bode well defensively for the fleet-footed New England native.
He went on to mention that some of his Cubs teammates who’d previously been in the Mariners organization encouraged him to consider the Mariners when he hit free agency this offseason, advising him that if he were able to continue developing his baserunning ability, there could very well likely be an opportunity for him in Seattle. He mentioned specifically that former M’s utilityman Mike Freeman spoke positively about his time with the Mariners, which influenced his decision to sign in Seattle.
All signs seem to point to Guillermo Heredia being ready to go as the primary fourth outfielder--or maybe a Ben Gamel platoonmate--come opening day, but a solid spring could go a long way in positioning himself at the front of the pack consisting of Cameron Perkins, as well as fellow NRI’s Andrew Aplin, Braden Bishop, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, and Ian Miller, should Guillermo experience any setbacks this spring.