The Pirates announced that they have extended non-roster invitations to major league spring training to 19 players, a list highlighted by Austin Meadows and Kevin Newman. These are in addition to NRIs already extended to veteran pitchers Dan Runzler, Josh Lindblom and Jason Stoffel, and outfielder Eury Perez. In contrast to prior years, the recent NRIs leaned heavily toward the Pirates’ own prospects, rather than veterans on minor league deals. Of course, it’s likely the team will still sign a player or two to minor league deals closer to, or even during, spring training. It’s done this in past years with players like Vance Worley and Matt Joyce.
The announced NRIs, with a few comments:
Obviously, it takes lots of catchers to get through spring training. Kelley is a good defensive catcher who was drafted in 2015. He’ll be the starter at Bradenton this year. Williams is a very good defensive catcher with an extremely weak bat who signed recently as a free agent. He has some brief major league experience and could end up, with Jhang, at Altoona. If everybody is healthy, Elias Diaz and Stallings will probably do the catching at Indianapolis.
All of these players may join what could be an extremely crowded infield cast at Indianapolis. The Indians could also have Max Moroff, Gift Ngoepe, Jose Osuna and Chris Bostick.
Ortiz, who spent last year at Indianapolis, apparently re-signed with the Pirates recently. The signing may have been a reaction to the loss of Willy Garcia.
Cumpton, Sadler and Sanchez are all returning from major arm surgeries. All three could serve as very useful AAA depth, although if they’re all healthy it’s hard to see how the Pirates will find space for them. One or more could start their comebacks at Altoona, which won’t be getting a lot of help from last year’s Bradenton staff. Lakind, a converted first baseman who still has very limited experience on the mound, re-signed with the Pirates before becoming a minor league free agent. He and Santana both could conceivably provide bullpen help in the majors later in the season. Dickson is very similar to Zack Dodson, being a lefty with fairly good stuff but weak command. Eppler put up unimpressive numbers at Altoona in 2016, but he was pitching in AA despite having very little prior experience in full-season ball. Duncan parlayed marginal stuff and excellent command into probably the most surprising season of any pitcher in the team’s farm system in 2016.