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. Ben kicked off this series with a deep dive on former Cubs outfielder John Andreoli last week, followed by Kate introducing you to the catching depth and Kate and Isabelle exploring the NRInfielders; today, we take a look at the quartet of invited outfielders.
The Newest Guy - John Andreoli
As we mentioned before, Ben did a pretty comprehensive deep dive into Andreoli, who is arguably the guy from this group with the best chance of cracking the opening day roster. In short, he’s an exciting right-handed bat with an impressive track record as a base stealer and a surprising power surge over the last couple of seasons, which he chalks up as an intentional change that’s come along as a byproduct of increased usage of his lower body. If the 2017 WBC standout can prove his value as a centerfielder this Spring, he could position himself nicely to be the first man up barring an injury to anyone from the Gamel/Gordon/Haniger/Heredia group.
The Jerry Guy - Andrew Aplin
Aplin was acquired via trade by the M’s in exchange for a PTBNL after being DFA’d by the Astros back in late May. He fits squarely into the “Jerry Guy” archetype laid out over the last couple of years in the sense that he’s a high-walk guy, routinely posting walk rates of 15%+ since being drafted out of Arizona State University in 2012. Additionally, after swiping at least 20 bags 2012-2016, he stole just five bases in 77 games in 2017. For much of his minor league career, Aplin’s calling card has been his defense in center field, and if he winds up on the M’s big league roster at some point this season, that could very well be why. He’s yet to impress offensively at the Triple-A level—his wRC+ was just over 100 at the level last season, his third straight year appearing at that level—but he is the most defensively-apt player to step in and replace the likes of Guillermo Heredia should the Mariners need a fill-in, defense-oriented backup center fielder in 2018.
The Local Kid - Braden Bishop
You’re likely familiar with Braden Bishop by now, whether it’s due to his prestigious collegiate career at UW, his continuous presence as one of the most charitable guys in the sport, or perhaps his breakout 2017 season in which he torched the Double-A level just two years removed from being drafted. Scouts raved about his defensive abilities upon being drafted, but there were question marks surrounding his offensive abilities. He made strides to silence (m)any critics by following up an impressive 118 wRC+ through 88 games at Advanced-A with a 146 wRC+ through 31 games facing Double-A pitching. Perhaps most impressively, the team’s #4 prospect matched his 10.3% strikeout rate with an identical walk rate while facing some of the game’s elite prospects. His defensive prowess and 70 grade speed could be enough to propel him to the big leagues on its own, but if he can continue the offensive trend he got started in 2017, he could wind up exceeding expectations.
The Speed Racer - Ian Miller
Ian Miller has stolen bases at a prodigious rate throughout his minor league career. After swiping fifty bags in 2015, he improved his efficiency remarkably in 2016, going 49-for-52 (!!) with Jackson. Miller’s power is near-microscopic with a minor league ISO of just .066, but he was able to hit for a little pop with Arkansas last year and earned a promotion to Tacoma in July. His AAA wRC+ of 57 was rough, but he still went 13-for-14 in base stealing there, and he brings a strong glove in center field to boot. Whether Miller ever adds more power remains to be seen, and today is his 26th birthday (HAPPY BIRTHDAY IAN!!!), but his plus-plus speed and good defense will be intriguing and fun to follow in Tacoma this year.
The Veteran - Kirk Nieuwenhuis
Nieuwenhuis got off to a fast start in his Major League career back in 2012 with the Mets, running a 141 wRC+ in April to go with a couple of spectacular plays in the outfield. Unfortunately, he has never come close to repeating that performance, and has rode the AAA-MLB shuttle intermittently ever since, although he did rack up a career-best 392 plate appearances with the Brewers in 2016. Nieuwenhuis, a lefty swinger, has always hit right-handed pitchers decently while consistently struggling against southpaws, posting a career wRC+ of just 39 against them. He is adept at drawing walks, but has long been hampered by a tendency to strike out (career 32.8% K%), with not quite enough power to offset the whiffs. As a hitter overall, he reminds me a lot of old Mariner cult hero Ryan Langerhans, and can comfortably handle every outfield position. At 30, Nieuwenhuis is the oldest of this group, but he’s also the only one with any Major League experience, and may be higher on the depth chart than one would think. It’s unlikely he’ll see much, if any time with the big club, but he should provide a steady veteran presence down in Tacoma.
The other veteran - Junior Lake
After spending the first eight years of his baseball career with the Cubs, the MLB-experienced Lake has spent the last three years bouncing between systems. Released by the Red Sox last May, Lake went to the Mexican League, where he tore things up to a tune of a 141 wRC+ while walking more than he struck out. As a young prospect, Lake garnered some of the more entertaining writeups you’ll read; his play could vacillate wildly between sublime and stone-footed, sometimes in the same inning. The phrase “car wreck” was used, as was “hot mess.” In 2014, Bleed Cubbie Blue called for him to become a pitcher. In 2015, he pissed off Joe Maddon for showboating on a home run (Maddon called it “a punk move”). At 27, it’s hard to see Lake reclaiming any of the tools that once made him a buzzed-about prospect. Maybe the Mariners see something in Lake they think they can help him with; he can only benefit from sharing a locker room with fellow countrymen Cruz, Canó, and Segura.