For some ballplayers, spring training is merely a period of reclamation. After over four months of offseason, grizzled veterans and promising prospects alike need time to recharge their batteries and hone their skills for the upcoming season. Most players know what their future holds. For the established, it is another year in the big leagues with their eyes gazed toward the blinding glisten of the Commissioner's Trophy and the sweet scent of champagne showers. For others, the future is not so simple. Every year, there are handfuls of non-roster invitees to spring training. This includes both the juvenile prospects who hope to eventually become regulars, as well as the wily veterans eager for one last shot at the big show.
Some of these non-roster ballplayers will work their way to the Major League club during the spring. Juan Pierre of the 2012 Phillies was not only a capable catalyst at the top of the team's order, but, he was also a player without a guaranteed contract who earned his spot on the roster during spring training. Of course, not every non-roster invitee can make the 25-man roster. Instead, many of them end up being relegated to AAA and spending their summer in the Lehigh Valley with the IronPigs. Dave Bush, Scott Elarton, Kevin Frandsen, Pete Orr, Lou Montanez, and Scott Podsednik are just a few examples of this from 2012. In the cases of Frandsen and Podsednik; their hard work ended up paying off with promotions to the Majors later in the season.
As spring training looms just over the horizon, there is a new crop of non-roster invitees to take a look at. Will they prove their worth, earning a spot on a jam-packed 25-man roster in Philadelphia? Or, will they have to bide their time in Lehigh Valley, waiting for the phone to ring for one more cup-of-coffee with the big club? Here is the first part of a two part series on the Phillies' non-roster invitees and where they stand as pitchers and catchers fire up their engines in preparation for the season to come:
RHP Aaron Cook
2012 Organization: Boston Red Sox
Career Statistics: 76-79, 4.60 (MLB), 54-59, 3.76 (MILB)
Outlook: A seasoned veteran right-hander, Aaron Cook, 33, was signed by the Phillies to a minor league contract early in 2013. From 2005-2009, one would be hard-pressed to find a more consistent Colorado Rockies starter. With a line of 51-39, 4.07 over that span, Cook was able to finagle a 3 year, $30 million contract from the Rockies that ran through 2011. His performance, however, teetered off. The Fort Campbell, Kentucky native struggled through the duration of that contract, going 20-24 with a 4.94 ERA in those three seasons.
A change of scenery may do well for Cook, who has pitched in hitter's havens his entire career. The right-hander's strikeout-to-walk ratio is a cause for concern, however. The game four starter in the 2007 World Series, Cook has never struck out more than 100 batters in a season, and his command has only slipped with age. Still, the crafty veteran is an extreme groundball pitcher, a skill that is critical during the warm summer months. Cook was capable for Pawtucket in 2012 (3-0, 2.41), so he remains a potential bright spot for the IronPigs should he not make the big club.
RHP Juan Cruz
2012 Organization: Pittsburgh Pirates
Career Statistics: 38-36, 4.05 (MLB), 33-22, 3.83 (MILB)
Outlook: On January 15th, the Phillies agreed to a minor league contract with veteran reliever Juan Cruz. There was a time in his career when the 34-year-old was a flamethrower, with a fastball that hit 94 MPH and a low-80s, knee-buckling slider. In fact, Baseball America rated him the sixth best prospect in all of baseball prior to the 2002 season. But, a decade has come and gone, and with age and experience comes mileage on the arm. Cruz has thrown over 1100 innings in his career (major and minor leagues combined). But, he still was able to find the right stuff in 2012.
Pitching for the surprisingly competitive Pittsburgh Pirates, Cruz finished the year 1-1 with a 2.78 ERA. His 33 strikeouts over 35.2 innings were about in line with his career averages, which suggest that he could be a very valuable piece to either the Phillies or the IronPigs. The Phillies' organization will be the eighth of Cruz's career, as he continues to look for that elusive championship. A native of the Dominican Republic, Cruz has not pitched extensively in the minor leagues since 2005 with Sacramento of the Pacific Coast League. But, based on his MLB performance last season, it's unlikely that he would be overwhelmed by International League hitters.
RHP Rodrigo Lopez
2012 Organization: Chicago Cubs
Career Statistics: 81-89, 4.82 (MLB), 51-43, 4.16 (MILB)
Outlook: Rodrigo Lopez is familiar with Lehigh Valley and the Philadelphia Phillies. The 37-year old Mexican-born right-hander was acquired in January and promises to, at the very least, fill out a strong staff with the IronPigs. Lopez made his first stint with the Philadelphia organization in 2009, when he started 5 games during the Phillies' run to their third of five consecutive National League East crowns. His 3-1, 5.70 line with Philadelphia does not inspire much confidence that he will be able to grab the fifth spot in the rotation from the likes of Cook, Tyler Cloyd, Jonathan Pettibone, or the favorite for the spot, John Lannan. His minor league numbers, however, suggest that he could be a capable innings-eater in AAA.
In his first stint with Lehigh Valley, Lopez finished 7-5, 4.31 with a 71:14 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He was sixth on the team in wins and innings pitched that year. Since then, Lopez has found varying levels of success. In 2010, the right-hander led the National League in losses (16), home runs allowed (37), and earned runs (111) whilst a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks. In fact, Lopez has twice led his respective league in losses, topping the American League in 2006 with 18, as well. He then started 16 games in 2011 with the Cubs, finishing 6-6, 4.42. From 2002-2005, Lopez was the de facto ace of the Baltimore Orioles. In his prime, he led the Orioles with 51 wins over that timeframe. At this point, however, one should expect to see Lopez in Lehigh Valley before he sees the field in Philadelphia.
RHP Zach Miner
2012 Organization: Detroit Tigers
Career Statistics: 25-20, 4.24 (MLB), 40-54, 3.76 (MILB)
Outlook: Zach Miner becomes the second Phillies non-roster pickup to have pitched in a World Series. Then 24, the St. Louis native tossed two-thirds of a scoreless inning in Detroit's five-game defeat at the hands of his hometown Cardinals. Now 30, Miner is pitching for the fourth organization of his career (Atlanta, Detroit, Kansas City). The 6'4, 215 lb. hurler has not pitched in the Major Leagues since 2009, when he went 7-5, 4.29 in 51 games (5 starts) for the 86-77 Tigers. In June, 2010, he underwent Tommy John Surgery on his right-arm, causing him to miss the entire 2010 season.
He returned in 2011 aiming to reignite the flame that allowed him to pitch on the world's biggest stage just five years prior. But, he struggled to find his velocity in AA Northwest Arkansas, going 1-6, 7.16 in 11 starts for the Naturals before being promoted to AAA Omaha. With the Storm Chasers, Miner regained his moxie. Pitching solely out of the bullpen, the former 4th round pick of the Braves finished 2-1, 1.59 in 11 appearances. As the 2012 season got underway, Miner was shipped back to the Tigers for cash considerations. On the surface, Miner's 2012 numbers look strong. He pitched 42.0 innings in 27 games, finishing 2-0, 2.79 in AA-AAA. Showing signs of recovery from the 2010 surgery, Miner allowed just 6.2 H/9 and 0.6 HR/9. However, his command took a serious dive, walking 23 batters whilst striking out just 22. At this point in his career, there's no doubt that Miner belongs in the bullpen. But, whether that's with Lehigh Valley or Philadelphia remains to be seen.
RHP Justin Friend
2012 Organization: Philadelphia Phillies
Career Statistics: 17-22, 3.13, 71 SV. (MILB)
Outlook: Turning 27 in June, RHP Justin Friend has abruptly emerged as a top-of-the-line minor league reliever. Time will tell whether or not this will translate into major league success. But, after the past two seasons in Philadelphia's system, there is no doubt that Friend has the moxie to pitch the ninth. Friend's emergence from baseball purgatory began in Oakland's system in 2010 with the Midland RockHounds. After struggling in previous stints above A-ball, Friend held his own, going 3-3, 3.70 in 56.0 innings. This performance was enough to catch the Phillies' attention, and they snagged the then 24-year old in the minor league portion of the 2010 Rule 5 draft.
In two years, Friend has established himself as one of the best closers in the Philadelphia minor league system. He saved 28 games in 2011 with 61 strikeouts in 59 innings. Last season, Friend set out to prove that his performance was no fluke. Beginning the season in Reading, the California native dominated Eastern League hitters (2-0, 0.23, 41 SO, 15 BB) before a call up to Lehigh Valley late in the year. Friend was not as dominant with the IronPigs, but, he still managed to finish eight of his 12 games whilst winning his first two games above the AA level. Friend could be potential trade-bait, seeing as how the Phillies already have a pretty established closer in their midst. But, Friend could be a valuable asset at the back end for the Pigs in 2013.
RHP Kyle Simon
2012 Organization: Baltimore Orioles and Philadelphia Phillies
Career Statistics: 7-10, 2.93 (MILB)
Outlook: When the Phillies traded Jim Thome to the Baltimore Orioles last summer, most considered C Gabriel Lino to be the most valuable acquisition. However, 22-year old Kyle Simon emerged as a potential steal for the Phillies. In 20 appearances between Clearwater and Reading, Simon went 4-0 with a 1.36 ERA. His 35:6 strikeout-to-walk ratio further exemplifies just how dominant the University of Arizona product was.
A 4th round pick in the 2011 draft, Simon stands tall at 6'5." The Orioles had begun converting him into a starter in 2012, as he made 14 starts with the High-A Frederick (2-8, 3.96). It has become clear that the bullpen is the best spot for Simon. If the right-hander can continue to command his pitches, he will be an asset to Lehigh Valley in 2013.
LHP Cesar Jimenez
2012 Organization: Seattle Mariners
Career Statistics: 1-2, 5.40 (MLB), 35-48, 3.40 (MILB)
Outlook: Originally inked by the Seattle Mariners on July 2, 2001, 28-year old Cesar Jimenez was signed to a minor league contract by Philadelphia in December. The southpaw has limited major league experience. Jimenez's finest season came in 2008, when he tossed 34.1 innings (2 starts) for Seattle en route to a 0-2, 3.41 finish. His 2:1 strikeout to walk ratio that year suggested brighter days ahead for the Mariners and Jimenez. However, injuries and inconsistency caused the Venezuelan born lefty to stay out of MLB until 2011. That year, Jimenez appeared in just 8 games for the Mariners (1-0, 5.40). His 2012 season was spent entirely in the minors, mostly with AAA Tacoma. His numbers with the Rainiers, 2-2, 5.75, do not speak volumes about what Jimenez could bring to Lehigh Valley in 2013.
In fact, prior to 2012, Jimenez had been a quality minor league reliever. From 2002 (his debut season) to 2011, the lefty only had one season in which he finished with an ERA above 4.00 and his strikeout-to-walk ratio remained above 2:1 his entire career. Jimenez might not crack the Phillies' bullpen. But, he could make for a potentially great LOOGY (Lefty One-out Guy) in Lehigh Valley.
LHP Adam Morgan
2012 Organization: Philadelphia Phillies
Career statistics: 11-14, 3.01 (MILB)
Outlook: The Phillies' third round pick in the 2011 draft out of the University of Alabama, Adam Morgan has been soaring up the prospect rankings over the past year. After being named the Phillies' 29th best prospect following the 2011 season by Baseball America, the southpaw saw his stock soar up to fifth in the organization following 2012. A crafty-lefty, Morgan relies on his off-speed pitches to baffle opposing hitters on the regular. His changeup was ranked as the best in the Florida State League in 2012 and his dynamite slider was graded as the finest in the Philadelphia system.
After a strong debut (3-3, 2.01) in 2011 with the Williamsport Crosscutters, the 22-year old broke out last season with Clearwater. Morgan's numbers prior to his promotion to Reading (4-10, 3.29, 10.24 SO/9) were imposing. Just as impressive was his ability to maintain that success once he entered the Eastern League. His promotion did not subdue his stats, as Morgan finished the campaign with a 4-1, 3.53 mark in Reading. The Marietta, Georgia native still has a ways to go, but, many believe that he and Jesse Biddle are the next great lefties in the Philadelphia rotation. Roll Tide!
Stay tuned for part two of the Phillies non-roster invitee update, featuring the 10 fielders vying to make a name for themselves this spring.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.