Red Sox non-roster spring training invitees who could make an impact in 2021

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JULY 16: (NEW YORK DAILIES OUT) Stephen Gonsalves #59 of the New York Mets in action during an intra squad game at Citi Field on July 16, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JULY 16: (NEW YORK DAILIES OUT) Stephen Gonsalves #59 of the New York Mets in action during an intra squad game at Citi Field on July 16, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /

Non-roster invitees who could make an impression on the Red Sox

The Boston Red Sox have announced that they added nine non-roster invitees to their 2021 Spring Training roster. These players aren’t expected to break camp with the major league team but they will have an opportunity to make a strong impression next spring that could land them on the radar for a potential mid-season call-up if a spot on the 40-man roster were to open.

Five of the players on this list are pitchers, a current area of weakness on the major league roster. Boston is expected to be active in free agency to add a starting pitcher and patch holes in the bullpen but depth will be essential.

The Red Sox struggled to patch together a full five-man rotation last season. The return of Chris Sale and Eduardo Rodriguez will help but it’s unclear when the former will be activated and the latter’s workload should be monitored following a lost season. Factor in that the rest of Boston’s projected rotation is either an injury risk or has limited major league experience and you can count on the Red Sox needing to plug in some spot starters along the way.

One option who stands out is left-handed pitcher Stephen Gonsalves. He impressed at the alternative site in Pawtucket last summer after he was claimed off waivers from the Mets and earned a minor league deal from the Red Sox. He made encouraging progress in Pawtucket and saw his fastball velocity jump from the low-90s to the 94-96 mph range, drawing praise from PawSox pitching coach Paul Abbott.

Former Yankees prospect Raynel Espinal owned a mediocre 4.32 ERA in 18 appearances (12 starts) at the Triple-A level in 2019 but showed promising command with a 9.5 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9. He’s currently pitching in the Dominican Winter League where he owns a 0.87 ERA in seven appearances (two starts).

The volatile nature of relief pitchers means teams often turn over the bullpen throughout the season. You can never have too many options in your organization so those who aren’t in the mix for spot starts could get a shot in a relief role.

Kevin McCarthy has the most major league experience among these non-roster pitchers. The right-hander owns a 3.80 ERA in 169 career relief appearances with the Kansas City Royals. He has an absurdly low strikeout rate of 5.6 K/9 but McCarthy is an extreme ground ball pitcher who aims to avoid hard contact.

Caleb Simpson owns a respectable 3.41 ERA in 121 minor league relief appearances with an appealing 11.8 K/9. Unfortunately, control is a major issue that might keep him from reaching the major leagues. Simpson’s 6.8 BB/9 is comically high and it’s hard to believe he can maintain that high strikeout rate against big league hitters if he can’t prove that he can throw it near the plate.

Looking for a lottery ticket? Seth Blair is an interesting long shot. The former first-round pick was out of baseball for several years before returning in 2019 to pitch for the Padres High-A affiliate. The Red Sox signed him to a minor league deal in August and he was a pleasant surprise at the alternate site.

Blair made changes to delivery, dropping his arm slot while maintaining his velocity. The 31-year-old failed to live up to his pedigree in his first opportunity to climb the minor league ladder but he still has the good stuff that made him a coveted arm out of college. Perhaps his revamped style will help him realize his potential.

As for the bats, there isn’t too much to get excited about. The Red Sox already have four catchers on their 40-man roster so it’s hard to find a path for Roldani Baldwin or Jhonny Pereda.

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Boston still intends to sign a center fielder but at the moment they have very little depth behind Alex Verdugo, Andrew Benintendi and Hunter Renfoe. Assuming they prefer to keep J.D. Martinez locked in the DH role as often as possible, the only other outfielders on the 40-man roster are Jeisson Rosario and Marcus Wilson, a pair of appealing prospects who have flashed in the minors but aren’t close to major league ready.

The limited options means there could be a chance for César Puello. He went 3-for-8 (.375) with a pair of walks  in his brief time with the Red Sox last year. Puello is capable of playing all three outfield positions and his right-handed bat could help compliment an outfield that leans to the left.

The impressive raw power of Josh Ockimey has been on our radar for years but he piles up strikeouts in a hurry and owns a woeful .239 batting average in the minors. The Red Sox thought enough of him to re-sign him when he became a minor league free-agent. Boston has plenty of options to fill in at first base but Ockimey will be waiting in the wings at Triple-A in case injuries open a spot.

Next. Two-team race for Springer. dark

We should never put too much stock in the spring performances of non-roster invitees but these players will have an opportunity to make an impression that could add them to the list of minor league depth options. Free agency and trades might create additional roadblocks for some of them but based on the current roster construction, there is a viable path for a few of these players to make an impact next season.