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A look at some Spring Training invite candidates

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With one or two exceptions, the remaining free agents available are a group made mostly of depth players. Here are a few the Phillies could look to invite to Clearwater

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Colorado Rockies Russell Lansford-USA TODAY Sports

With only the occasional exception — Josh Donaldson, Yasiel Puig — the remains of this offseason free agent battalion are now down to players who aren’t commanding a big payday. But even without the hope of a big contract, there are still 100 or so Major League free agents still out there, looking for work in 2020. Those free agents, by and large, are of a particular class of player at this stage in their careers: Serviceable, able to log respectable inning and AB totals in the high minors, and available as cavalry for the Major League team in case of injury or ineffectiveness. These are the guys who get signed to minor league deals with an “invite to Spring Training,” and can also be called non-roster invitees or NRIs.

Just last year, the Phillies signed players like Phil Gosselin, Logan Morrison, Jose Pirela, and Sean Rodriguez to minor league deals and eventually (for varying reasons) promoted each to the top club. Others, like Lane Adams and Ali Castillo, didn’t see MLB time, but filled a valuable role within the organization just the same; in Adams’s and Castillo’s case, each shared time in the Lehigh Valley outfield after Dylan Cozens was lost for the season with an injury. It’s far from glamorous work, but players like these guys are necessary to maintain order in the upper minors; there simply aren’t enough internal promotion candidates to fill every roster spot every year.

With the club’s focus now likely turning to the margins, and with plenty of names out there waiting for a chance, let’s scan for some interesting players who might miss out on a Major League deal, but be worth a look in camp when Spring Training rolls around.

MLB roster players are provided for reference below, and only listed with their primary position. Roles may change during the season itself.

Catcher

MLB: J.T. Realmuto, Andrew Knapp
Also on 40-Man Roster: Deivy Grullon
Free Agents of Note: Welington Castillo, Nick Hundley, Jonathan Lucroy, Russell Martin, Matt Wieters

The Phillies seem an unlikely destination for a catcher looking to eventually get a shot at extended playing time in the Majors. It would be nice to have an experienced backup in the wings, but (heaven forbid) if something happened to Realmuto, the team would probably feel comfortable splitting time between Knapp and Grullon. The recent signing of Christian Bethancourt also relieves some of that pressure.

First Base

MLB: Rhys Hoskins
Also on 40-Man Roster: None
Free Agents of Note: Matt Adams, Greg Bird, Lucas Duda, Mitch Moreland, Mark Reynolds, Neil Walker

To their credit, the Phillies seem to be coming into this season well-prepared with left-handed and switch-hitting bats. Just among the reserves, Jay Bruce, Roman Quinn, Andrew Knapp, and Nick Williams all fit that description. A RHB (or another SHB) might be my preference here, if the Phils want to get a look at a landlocked guy like Reynolds or revive a specter of multi-position play with Walker to check two boxes. Mark Trumbo’s out there, too!

Second Base

MLB: Jean Segura
Also on 40-Man Roster: None
Free Agents of Note: Gordon Beckham, Brian Dozier, Scooter Gennett, Jason Kipnis, Joe Panik, Yolmer Sanchez, Ben Zobrist

In the middle of writing this, the Phillies announced they had signed Ronald Torreyes to a minor league deal and invited him to Clearwater. I will take the appropriate amount of credit.

There are a lot of second base-types still available, including former Toronto prospect Devon Travis, whose flashes of potential in 2015-16 may earn him a spot in camp.

Third Base

MLB: Scott Kingery
Also on 40-Man Roster: None
Free Agents of Note: Matt Duffy, Todd Frazier, Brock Holt, Brad Miller, Pablo Sandoval, Yangervis Solarte

Bypassing the obvious missing name that will definitely not be getting a minor league deal, third base feels ripe for the picking. Frazier stands out as the leader of this pack, and he may still get a guaranteed MLB deal somewhere. The Phillies probably love Holt’s ability to play everywhere on the field. Miller may have left a bamboo plant or two behind in the clubhouse.

Shortstop

MLB: Didi Gregorius
Also on 40-Man Roster: Arquimedes Gamboa
Free Agents of Note: Adeiny Hechavarria, Jordy Mercer, Addison Russell

Yikes. The Phillies are kind of thin here as it is, and would move Segura or Kingery into the starting SS role if Gregorius goes down, but these depth options really don’t do it. Hechavarria at least plays very, very good defense and actually even managed to look good on offense for the Braves (because of course he did). Mercer’s best days are behind him, and the club won’t touch Russell with a 50-foot pole.

Outfield

MLB: Bryce Harper, Adam Haseley, Andrew McCutchen, Roman Quinn, Jay Bruce
Also on 40-Man Roster: Odubel Herrera, Nick Williams
Free Agents of Note: Carlos Gomez, Matt Joyce, Cameron Maybin, Hunter Pence, Domingo Santana

Like Donaldson at 3B above, Marcell Ozuna is intentionally left off this list. Maybin is my personal favorite, but he was good enough last season to earn more than a minor league deal. A reunion with Pence would be cool — and the irony of his being a free agent at the same time as Santana isn’t lost on me — but he’d almost certainly have an early opt-out in his deal if he didn’t break camp with the team. Gomez could add some flair and sass to the field. Again, the lefties (like Joyce above) feel less likely since the bats already lean left, especially in the outfield, but none can really be ruled out on that alone.

Starting Pitcher

MLB: Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, Jake Arrieta, Zach Eflin, Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta
Also on 40-Man Roster: Enyel De Los Santos, Cole Irvin, Mauricio Llovera, Adonis Medina, JoJo Romero
Free Agents of Note: Andrew Cashner, Jerad Eickhoff, Marco Estrada, Matt Harvey, Felix Hernandez, Shelby Miller, Danny Salazar, Aaron Sanchez, Drew Smyly

After Alex Wood, what we’re left with is a mishmash of intriguing names who either have significant injury baggage, are well past their prime, or just turned out to be something well short of their prospect hype level. It feels like a near-lock that the Phillies will find someone (or two!) to come to Clearwater on an invite and throw a few innings, even if they’re already pretty deep with org guys they like for the upper-level rotations.

Right-Handed Relief Pitcher

MLB: Hector Neris, Seranthony Dominguez, Victor Arano
Also on 40-Man Roster: Edgar Garcia, J.D. Hammer, Trevor Kelley, Robert Stock
Free Agents of Note: Cody Allen, Greg Holland, Jeremy Jeffress, David Phelps, Arodys Vizcaino

Left-Handed Relief Pitcher

MLB: Jose Alvarez, Adam Morgan, Ranger Suarez
Also on 40-Man Roster: Garrett Cleavinger, Austin Davis, Cristopher Sanchez
Free Agents of Note: Ryan Buchter, Tony Cingrani, Francisco Liriano, Jonny Venters

There are a slew of reliever types out there, as always. The vast majority of the free agent relievers on the wire are guys looking to rebuild some sort of value, with the possible exception of Phelps and Buchter, who had pretty good 2019 seasons already. Only three current Phils RPs on the 40-man — Neris, Morgan, and Alvarez — are out of options, leaving the team with a ton of internal flexibility for in-season moves. They probably don’t feel a pressing need to add another bullpen option, but someone like Buchter could be a really nice get.

For a more complete list of remaining free agents, click here.