Red Sox non-roster invitees for 2020 spring training include several top prospects
By Sean Penney
The Boston Red Sox have announced 13 non-roster players they have invited to spring training, including a few of their best prospects.
Spring training is right around the corner with pitchers and catchers reporting to camp in a few short weeks. The Boston Red Sox will begin to migrate south to Fort Myers where they will be joined by a collection of players who aren’t on the 40-man roster but will aim to make an impression.
On Friday, the Red Sox announced 13 new non-roster invitees to their spring training camp. The club has now invited 21 players to Major League spring training camp as non-roster invitees.
While these players are a long shot to break camp with the team for Opening Day, there are some familiar faces and a few intriguing prospects to keep an eye on this spring.
Outrighted to the Minors
Left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson has made several appearances as a spot starter or long reliever over the last few seasons. He was brutal throughout an injury-plagued 2019 and out of minor league options, pushing the Red Sox to place him on outwright waivers earlier this offseason. He cleared waivers to remain in the organization but is no longer on the 40-man roster. He’ll serve as pitching depth in Triple-A with the chance to make his way back to Boston if injuries clear a path for him.
Bobby Poyner was outrighted to Pawtucket earlier this week. The lefty reliever had a solid rookie campaign in 2018 but was a disaster last season. His career splits peg him as a lefty specialist and the Red Sox may be hesitant to waste a roster spot on a pitcher with limited versatility.
This offseason has been a roller coaster for Marco Hernandez. He was non-tendered in December, making him a free agent. He signed a split contract to return to the organization only to be designated for assignment and removed from the 40-man roster this month. Hernandez cleared waivers and was outrighted to Pawtucket. He fought his way back from multiple injuries to appear in 61 major league games last season but didn’t do quite enough to cement a roster spot for himself.
The consensus top prospect in the Red Sox organization is Triston Casas, a 20-year old who has yet to play above High-A Salem in his brief career. He has a ways to go before he’ll get an invite to big league camp. Bobby Dalbec is ranked by MLB.com as the No. 2 prospect in the organization. He’s already on the 40-man roster so he’s assured a spot in camp and has an opportunity to earn a role on the Opening Day roster.
The next few prospects in Boston’s farm system are among the non-roster invitees.
Bryan Mata is the system’s top pitching prospect. He has three above-average pitches with a fastball that brings high-90’s heat, a power slider and a deceptive changeup. He struggled a bit when he reached Double-A last year and the Red Sox should take their time developing him but Mata could be a middle of the rotation starter by 2021.
Tanner Houck is closer to major league ready after reaching Triple-A last season, although he was mostly utilized as a reliever in Pawtucket. He will ideally develop into a mid-rotation option but Houck will need to improve his control and prove he can handle left-handed hitters.
The crowded Red Sox outfield has no room for Jarren Duran but that could change depending on the futures of Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. Duran was the only Red Sox prospect to appear in the MLB Futures Game last July. He hasn’t shown much power at the plate but he has the ability to hit line drives into the gaps. He posses great speed on the base paths and in the field.
Others to Watch
The Red Sox signed Trevor Hildenberger to a minor league deal with an invitation to camp. The right-hander saw his ERA jump drastically in each of his three seasons with the Minnesota Twins. He’s among the low-cost relievers the Red Sox have scooped up this winter hoping that some will stick in the bullpen.
Josh Ockimey is nowhere to be found on the list of top prospects but his power is appealing. He strikes out a ton and probably will never hit for average but he bashed 25 homers with a .811 OPS in 122 games for Pawtucket last season.
We would be remiss not to mention Rusney Castillo. The 32-year old hasn’t appear in the majors since 2016 but gets an annual invite to camp before going on to light up Triple-A as one of the best hitters in Pawtucket.
Unfortunately, his contract remains an anchor weighing him down. There’s no chance of Castillo appearing in Boston this year since adding him back to the 40-man roster means his salary will count toward the luxury tax. At least we’ve finally reached the last year of that albatross contract. This time next year, Castillo might legitimately be fighting for a spot on a big league roster.
Teams load up with players every spring for the additional depth that allows them to limit the workload of their regular starters and have enough options available for split-squad dates on the schedule. The roster will slowly dwindle as spring training moves along but each of these players will get an opportunity to shine. A strong camp could make a lasting impression, potentially leading to the club opening up a spot for them at some point this season.