Today the Mariners announced they’ve invited 32 players to their 2023 Spring Training. Every year, teams invite a group of players not on their 40-man rosters (NRIs, or non-roster invites) to their spring training camps. NRIs are often long-term minor-leaguers getting a crack in a new system, or MLB vets who didn’t sign a big-league free agent contract looking to catch on with a new team; at the other end of the spectrum, they can also be non-40-man prospects being given a test drive against tougher competition to help the team make decisions about placement for next season.
While admittedly the less-glamorous side of spring training and baseball’s imminent return, there are usually players in the NRI group worth paying attention to; last year, big-club mainstays George Kirby, Matt Festa, and Sam Haggerty were all NRIs. In recent years, Austin Adams, Drew Steckenrider, and Paul Sewald all made their way to the big-league club via this route (insert “Paul Sewald was Tacoma’s Opening Day starter in 2021” well-worn factoid here). Between looking for the next hidden gem and getting to know some of the fringier-but-still-potentially-impactful Mariners prospects, it’s worth getting at least a little familiar with the NRIs. Bookmark this page and come back to it when you’re watching a spring training game so you can find the answer to “who was that again?”
RHP Taylor Dollard: Bryce Miller gets all the hype in Seattle’s system, but it’s Dollard who Baseball America named as the Mariners’ 2022 Minor Leaguer of the Year after the 23-year-old dominated the Texas League all season, earning Pitcher of the Year honors for the league. The Cal Poly product doesn’t possess wipeout stuff, posting a modest 22% strikeout rate, but he commands the zone as well as anyone and does have a swing-and-miss slider. The question around Dollard has been how his stuff will play against tougher competition; after succeeding in the high minors, Dollard will get a chance to test his mettle against more seasoned batters in big-league camp.
RHP Emerson Hancock: Injuries have slowed the rise of 2020’s sixth overall pick, and there’s a real question about how many bats he can miss after back-to-back seasons in Arkansas posting a strikeout rate around 23%. That’s especially concerning if, unlike Dollard, his walk rate continues to hang out dangerously near the double digits. Exposure to a tougher level of competition will hopefully help to make up for some missing reps and answer at least a few questions about what Seattle has in their prize from the 2020 draft.
RHP Travis Kuhn: This will be Kuhn’s second time earning a big-league camp invite. With a bulldog’s build and similar mentality on the mound, Kuhn has big strikeout stuff with an incredibly nasty slider, but the power pitcher has to do a better job of limiting some natural wildness in order to work his way into consideration for the big-league pen.
LHP Nick Margevicius: Nicky More Cabbages lost his nickname partner when Anthony “More Sandwiches” Misciewicz went to Kansas City, and lost his 2021 season after being diagnosed with TOS. Nicky Marge returned to the mound for Tacoma in 2022 and got, unfortunately, blistered and bamboozled by Triple-A hitters, who posted an obscene .422 BABIP against him over 33 games. But TOS surgery is notoriously difficult to come back from, so take Margevicius’s 2022 numbers with a grain of salt and cheer for him on his comeback trail this spring.
RHP Darren McCaughan: A mainstay of Tacoma’s rotation the past few years, D-Mac (or Dashing Darren, as I like to call him for his fantastic mop of sunshine-blonde hair) actually appeared in a couple of games for the Mariners in 2021—remember that? Pitchers hitting is dead, but this image of D-Mac with a bat in his hands will stay with me forever. McCaughan’s line in Tacoma doesn’t look impressive but a four-and-a-half ERA is just kind of what it is for pitchers condemned to the blast furnace that is Triple-A. He’s still the same pitcher he’s always been: controlling the zone, limiting free passes, and getting by with pitchability rather than big stuff.
RHP Bryce Miller: The current “they can’t keep getting away with this” poster child for Mariners pitching development, expect a lot of eyes on the 2020 fourth-rounder when he gets up on the mound to challenge upper-level hitters. Miller rocketed up through the system last season after laying waste to the Northwest League (ignore his A-ball stats, he was only there on no-vaccine timeout while the AquaSox were in Canada) and catapulted himself onto Top-100 lists after repeating that performance in Double-A. Miller has the loudest stuff out of anyone on this list, with a mid-90s fastball with late life that can climb up to triple digits and a hard slider that also collects its fair share of whiffs, and a changeup he can dip into as need be. He’s aggressive in the zone and an exciting pitcher to watch, full stop. Make a point to catch his outings this spring.
LHP Tommy Milone: It is 2074. Earth is ruled by a species of invasive sentient moss, and humans have retreated underground, where they subsist on peanut butter and cans of Rockstar. Tommy Milone is today’s starting pitcher for the Tacoma Mosschildren.
RHP Riley O’Brien: Somehow I blocked out the fact that Riley O’Brien pitched an inning for the Seattle Mariners in 2022. Huh. O’Brien, a local kid who graduated Shorewood HS, is a Driveline trainee and can get up to 98 with his fastball and has a nasty slider, but has to command the zone better than he has at Triple-A in order to crack the big-league ‘pen for more than a “break glass in case of emergency” appearance.
RHP José Rodríguez: Rodríguez was signed to a minors deal this off-season and thus I will just plagiarize myself from what I wrote then: “Rodríguez, a soft-contact merchant with a low-90s fastball and fringe curve/change, came up with the Angels and got a big-league cup of coffee in before electing free agency; Seattle will be his third organization to test out if it was Angels pitching development or just subpar stuff that’s been standing in his way.”
RHP Ryder Ryan: Same thing for Ryan as Rodríguez above: “Ryan has been traded twice for New York baseball fixtures, Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier, with the second trade sending him to division-rival Texas. As much as a guy named “Ryder Ryan” seems destined to be a Ranger for life, he joined up with the Mariners this off-season, where his flyball tendencies shouldn’t be as much of a problem in the spacious Tacoma outfield. He’s a fastball-slider reliever who could stand to improve his command of the strike zone, but there’s interesting raw stuff here, with a mid-90s heater.”
RHP Casey Sadler: We are all rooting for certified Nice Guy Casey Sadler and his new shoulder to make a serious run at a job in the Mariners’ pen this season.
LHP Justus Sheffield: After being DFA’d off Seattle’s roster to make room for Tommy La Stella, Sheffield cleared waivers and will remain with the organization, still trying to find enough consistency to land himself a role with the big-league club: a challenging proposition if it is to be believed that the lefty specialist has gone the way of Rolodexes.
LHP Blake Weiman: The career Pirates farmhand joined up with Seattle in 2022 and re-upped on a minors contract this off-season; he’ll likely start 2023 in Tacoma.
RHP Taylor Williams: Taylor Williams’ greatest Mariner legacy might be getting Matt Brash for free from the Padres; he’ll look to get back to form with his hometown organization after his command issues outpaced his strikeout stuff over the past couple seasons.
RHP Bryan Woo: If Bryce Miller is the Mariners prospect everyone will be watching this spring, Bryan Woo is the hipster version of that, having collected attention in the industry first with a strong debut season (although drafted in 2021, he had to sit out his draft year due to injury) and then a star turn in the Arizona Fall League. His outings should also be appointment viewing for those looking for immediate impacts to the big-league club.
Jake Anchía: A 14th-rounder in 2018, Anchía is beloved by his pitchers for his game management abilities and strong defense behind the plate, where he has a cannon for an arm. He still struggles to make contact but did cut his strikeout rate down markedly in a second season at Double-A in 2022.
Harry Ford: Ford will split time between big-league camp and the WBC, where he’s on the roster for Great Britain. While it’ll more likely be on the backfields than in prime-time action, Harry will look to build on a strong finish to his first full pro season and also at least temporarily silence those who question when the Mariners will move him off catcher, an inexplicable fascination with the prospect hound community.
Jacob Nottingham, Brian O’Keefe: Nottingham and O’Keefe have two jobs: to serve as insurance for the big-league catching tandem, and to help mentor the young arms who have been invited to camp (and maybe young Harry, as well). With a combined 19 years of pro ball experience between the two of them, they’re more than up to the task.
Matt Scheffler: Local kid Scheffler, signed as an UDFA in 2020, showcases solid strike zone command and an ability to hit for contact if not for power.
Jose Caballero: We’ve reached the point now where Caballero, acquired in the Mike Leake trade, has been a Mariner longer than he was a Diamondback, but nagging injuries have slowed him down and seemingly stalled out his career in the minors despite solid plate discipline and an ability to make contact.
Drew Ellis: Drew Ellis was with the big-league club last season when Ty France hit the IL, but faces a tougher road to playing time at first with A.J. Pollock and Tommy La Stella in the fold, although he does have the bonus of no significant history of lower body problems.
Mike Ford: Another first baseman/DH type, Ford faces the same hurdles as Ellis to playing time but with slightly less defensive flexibility—Ellis can, in a very big pinch, play third base.
Mason McCoy: McCoy is the most defensively gifted of this bunch, able to play across the diamond and make highlight-reel plays wherever his feet are. He also walloped a career-high 21 taters for Tacoma last year—more than he had in his entire minor-league career combined up until that point—and also swiped 22 bags, making him Tacoma’s first-ever 20/20 player. He was quietly the most fun player on Tacoma’s roster last season, and if you don’t catch him at spring training, make sure to catch him at Cheney.
Colin Moran: Moran fits the “MLB vet trying to catch on with a new team” part of this description, as he’s attempting to bounce back from a poor season with the Reds that saw him released in September. He’s another one for the cold corner pile.
Kaden Polcovich: The Mariners’ 2020 third-rounder out of OSU (Oklahoma, not Oregon), the switch-hitting second baseman sadly probably won’t be unseating the DWo platoon at second base any time soon, as a second trip through Double-A didn’t yield particularly sterling results.
Leo Rivas: A long-term Angels prospect flipped to Cincinnati as the PTBNL in the Raisel Iglesias trade, Rivas is a light-hitting 2B/SS with plus speed who excels at getting on base despite struggling to hit the ball with authority in the upper minors.
Zach DeLoach: The 2020 second-rounder has had a rough go of it in pro ball, running into a brick wall at Double-A in 2021; 2022 brought some marginal improvements. DeLoach will be playing for a roster spot in Tacoma, where the hitter-friendly confines of the PCL parks beckon like the fields of Elysium.
Jack Larsen: The hardest answer to “name every Mariners player who got at least one plate appearance in 2022,” Larsen didn’t quite blaze a trail through Double-A like he did in his electric 2021, but he remains a rare success story: an UDFA who managed to solve some pretty significant strikeout issues on the fly in pro ball and now looks poised to at least a comfortable life as a Quad-A replacement player who could really wreak some havoc in the Triple-A hitters’ parks.
Robert Pérez Jr.: Pérez is curiously listed as an outfielder here, but he played first base or DH’d almost twice as often as he was out in RF. Not that it should make a difference; Pérez, who is Venezuelan baseball royalty, is mostly known for his thunderous power, hitting 27 bombs last season over two levels. The Mariners sent him to the AFL this off-season and he snuck on to the All-Star roster as a fan vote, and proceeded to win the AFL home run derby, outslugging other higher-profile prospects like Heston Kjerstad and Andy Pages.
Alberto Rodríguez: Our beloved Berto was DFA’d off the 40-man to make room for J.B. Bukauskas, who was later cut in favor of Tayler Saucedo. It was a down year for the player acquired in the Taijuan Walker trade; not only did he see regression at the plate, but his best friend Noelvi Marte was traded away to the Reds. For more on Alberto, read Nick’s “already wrote the 40 in 40 before he was DFA’d but published it anyway” piece here.
Jake Scheiner: Acquired from Philly in the Jay Bruce trade, Scheiner has now been in the Mariners organization as long as he was with Philly but has yet to progress above Double-A despite turning in solid, if unspectacular, performances year after year. Fun fact: last year during spring training Scheiner had a big moment when, as a call-up from minor-league camp, he clobbered a massive walkoff homer off then-Milwaukee Brewer and current Mariner teammate Trevor Gott.