Every spring, players across all of Major League Baseball fight for a spot on a big league squad. Some of these players have a high salary; others are top prospects and than there are the guys who just need a job.
The latter usually come in the form of non-roster invites that have a higher chance of spending the 2013 season in the minors for clubs such as the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, Lehigh Valley IronPigs or the Albuquerque Isotopes rather than with a big market club such as the New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies or Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Mets currently have nine non-roster invites ready to show up to spring training. The nine include pitchers Aaron Laffey, Cory Mazzoni, Rafael Montero and Carlos Torres, catcher Juan Centeno, infielders Brian Bixler and Josh Satin and outfielders Andrew Brown and Matt den Dekker. These nine players hope that a good performance may catch the eyes of manager Terry Collins and his coaching staff landing them a spot on the opening day roster.
A player such as Centeno, who has never played above Double-A, is a long shot to make the team out of spring training. The 23-year old Puerto Rican is below John Buck, Anthony Recker and Travis d’Arnaud on the team’s depth chart, so it is unlikely you will see him playing at Citi Field on April 1.
Centeno was a 32nd-round draft pick back in 2007. He’s moved slowly through the system, playing two years in both the Gulf Coast League and the New York-Penn League. Last year in 79 games at Double-A Binghamton, he batted a solid .285, albeit with very little power. Still, it’s quite a rise for such a low-round pick. Because catcher is still a relatively weak spot in the system, Centeno has a shot to make the majors one day.
As Centeno shows, NRIs happen for a reason. Aside from the fact that teams are interested in building depth across their organization, they hope that they might find a diamond in the rough.
Of the Mets’ nine non-roster invites, Laffey could be the brightest diamond of them all. The lefty has seven seasons of experience at the MLB level having pitched in both a starting and bullpen role for the Indians, Mariners, Yankees and Blue Jays. He has had varied amounts of success in his career (25-29 record, 1.50 career WHIP), but he could be a welcome addition to the Mets if he performs similarly to last season.
Laffey was decent for the Blue Jays last season, starting 16 games, pitching over 100 innings and posting an earned run average of 4.56. He could be a third left-handed option out of the bullpen along with Josh Edgin and Robert Carson or shift to a long relief role if Jeremy Hefner struggles in his second MLB season.
Laffey also has a shot at the Mets’ rotation which currently projects as Johan Santana, Jonathon Niese and Dillon Gee with youngsters Matt Harvey and Jenrry Mejia at the backend. Harvey looked good in ten starts for the Mets last season, but that was a small sample size, while Mejia is unproven in a starting role. If one of the youngsters struggle Laffey’s starting experience could earn him a look in the rotation.
Versatility and being left-handed could be become valuable attributes for Laffey in his quest to make the team’s opening day roster and he certainly has a good shot of doing so.
Honorable diamond in the rough mention goes to Brown. The first baseman/outfielder tore up AAA Colorado Springs last season posting a slash line of .308/.364/.597 with 24HR and 98RBI, while also getting some MLB time with the Rockies. He could produce his way onto the Mets’ bench and become a valuable pinch hitting option as well as a back-up first baseman and outfielder for the squad.