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Anthony Swarzak took the concept of a White Sox spring training non-roster invitee to new heights last season. Signed to a minor-league contract in his last year of team control, Swarzak cracked the 25-man roster out of spring training, transformed into one of Rick Renteria’s most reliable relievers and became valuable enough to headline his own deadline trade to Milwaukee for a non-negligible outfielder in Ryan Cordell.
Swarzak wasn’t alone in his jump from journeyman to White Sox, but he was the most successful of the non-roster invitees to appear in Chicago. Updating the list from the decade, which might be handy study material for a future Sporcle Saturday …
- 2017: Swarzak, David Holmberg, Aaron Bummer, Jace Fry, Nicky Delmonico, Geovany Soto, Cody Asche
- 2016: Tim Anderson, Tyler Danish, Carson Fulmer, Jason Coats, Matt Purke, Hector Sanchez, Omar Narvaez
- 2015: Soto, Carlos Rodon, Scott Carroll, Micah Johnson, Chris Beck
- 2014: Zach Putnam, Chris Bassitt, Scott Snodgress, Andy Wilkins
- 2013: Erik Johnson, Marcus Semien, Jake Petricka, Ramon Troncoso, David Purcey, Bryan Anderson
- 2012: Brian Bruney, Leyson Septimo, Eric Stults, Hector Gimenez, Ray Olmedo, Jordan Danks, Brian Omogrosso
- 2011: Bruney, Donny Lucy, Jeff Gray (and his journal), Josh Kinney, Shane Lindsay, Dallas McPherson
- 2010: Donny, Erick Threets
Thanks to the full 40-man and a host of worthy prospects hanging around just off the roster, there isn’t much room in camp for fliers, at least according to the crop the White Sox unveiled on Monday. Only six of the 22 non-roster invitees came from minor-league free agency, and only four of those six are total strangers.
Here’s how they break down:
Baby’s first spring, pitchers
Cease’s first full pro season with the White Sox will open in big-league camp as he tries to reclaim top-100 prospect status by proving his durability, both in-start and week to week. New top-100 prospect Dunning tipped his inclusion with a tweet, and fellow high-riser Hansen joins him with a more crowded bandwagon in tow.
Stephens’ rocky health history at Rice University resurfaced last year. Forearm tendinitis delayed his debut and limited him to 90 innings at Birmingham. He was successful enough as a starter to continue on that path to start this this season, but if and when high-minors rotations get crowded, he could shift to the bullpen. Walsh doesn’t really qualify as a baby at age 25, but the White Sox were sufficiently intrigued by him to give him some run in the Arizona Fall League. He struggled there, so the Sox didn’t concern themselves with protecting him from the Rule 5 draft. Still, he’s a righty who can hike his fastball into the upper 90s, so that will buy him multiple looks.
Baby’s first spring, position players
Burger and Robert probably wouldn’t have received invitations to spring training this early into their careers under normal circumstances (the same can be said for Cease above). Burger had a so-so pro debut at Kannapolis, and Robert hasn’t faced competitive pitching in the United States. Entering the second year of a rebuild, though, the first few weeks at Camelback Ranch might look more like an extension of Todd Steverson’s minicamp, with a close eye on key prospects, a focus on messaging, and maybe a little more Yoan Moncada time for Robert. (Worth noting: The White Sox’ press release gives the pronunciation of Robert’s name as “RAH-bert,” so they’re rolling with the anglicization.)
Zavala is in a separate category as a traditionally accomplished non-roster prospect. He launched 21 homers over 107 games between Kannapolis and Winston-Salem, then followed that up with a strong showing in the AFL. Rick Hahn has cast him as a serious challenger to Zack Collins for catcher of the future.
Right-handed pitching depth
Beck, Volstad and Ynoa combined for 113 rough innings for the White Sox last season, and all have returned for another bite at the apple. Maybe Beck or Ynoa can pull off a Swarzak, but familiarity won’t allow anybody to raise hopes. Volstad seems more like a comforting presence in Triple-A, as he’s used to filling in starts around highly touted pitching prospects.
Scahill, 30, has appeared in 118 MLB games over six seasons with the Rockies, Pirates and Brewers. The Chicagoland native (Willowbrook) is a sinker-cutter guy who throws 94 and gets grounders, but has been consistently susceptible to homers when hitters get lift.
Left-handed pitching depth
House had a nice partial-season as an extra starter for the Indians back in 2014, posting a 3.35 ERA over 19 games and 102 innings thanks to a crafty lefty’s typical sinker-slider-changeup array. He hasn’t been able to generate an encore in the three seasons since. Shoulder problems limited House to 13 MLB innings in 2015 and led to a grievance, and he only appeared in four games for the Indians in 2016. A line drive to the head dashed dreams of a fresh start in Toronto. He recovered to pitch a full season, but he spent all but two games in Triple-A. Now 28, House is a candidate to fill David Holmberg’s role in the organization.
Catchers for those pitchers
Collins made his big-league camp debut last year, and his advanced batting eye against non-roster pitchers and spring training umpires won’t tell us much. Perhaps we’ll get camera angles of swing changes. Gonzalez fell off the 40-man after failing to make headway in Birmingham the last two seasons, but he has a decent idea of the strike zone, both at the plate and behind it. Zavala is also in this group, with Welington Castillo, Omar Narvaez and Kevan Smith above them all.
New organizational players
We know May, who won last year’s spring training battle for center field only to start the season 0-for-26. He was usurped by Leury Garcia and Adam Engel, among others, and was recently designated for assignment to make room for the return of Miguel Gonzalez.
Leonard, 25, has posted respectable performances at the plate while climbing up the ladder in the Tampa Bay Rays system, but he hasn’t developed a carrying tool. He’s a third baseman with gap power and a 3-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio, although he’s fast enough for an impressive success rate on the basepaths over his minor-league career (58-for-68). Maybe that’s why he spent more time in the outfield in 2017. Skole joins Casey Gillaspie and Daniel Palka in the group of slugging natural first basemen who have stalled at Triple-A.
Guerrero and Clark are in the same boat. They’re fastball-changeup lefties who looked vulnerable to the Rule 5 draft thanks to high-minors success, but weren’t taken. Guerrero is a starter and Clark is a reliever, and both could see time in Chicago if they get the right breaks. It’d behoove both to start building cases early due to their lack of 40-man roster spots.
Danish is overcoming his own bad break, suffering a dislocated left shoulder in a September car accident that likely cost him a call-up if the promotions of Volstad and Al Alburquerque are any indication. This came after season-ending knee surgery in 2016, so he’s spent the last two springs trying to build himself back up. The lack of progress cost him his 40-man roster spot, but his determination has always been a positive in his scouting reports. That’ll be put to the test.
Kopech stands alone as the one non-roster guy who can make March media sessions a little awkward for Rick Hahn. Kopech only threw 15 innings in Triple-A last year, so it’s easy to justify starting him in Charlotte beyond simple service time concerns. Hahn can say that he wants Kopech to prove he can get deep into starts against International League lineups, and that’s true enough.
That said, when Kopech is right, he’s obviously the most talented pitcher the White Sox have. Should he show up to Cactus League play throwing straight-up porn for radar gun and GIF enthusiasts, he might make all merit-based talks just a teeny bit silly.