(Jeff Gross-Getty Images)
(EDIT: I forgot to include Dan Meadows, the sixth pitcher NRI, so I just put the paragraph on him in. Sorry about that. -NP)
Every year, the non-roster player is an overlooked-yet-essential part of spring training baseball: A minor league guy who is invited to big league camp for the purposes of making sure the regulars aren’t pressed into duty too suddenly. This is usually a pretty good deal for both sides, as the player gets some time in front of the major-league brass while eating better clubhouse food for a couple weeks, while the club gets a look at their prospects and minor-league free agents against better competition. Sometimes, however, these guys stick around in camp, with some even making the opening day roster, and some still making an impact at the highest level.
Over the next few days, I’m going to do a quick blurb of each of the prospects, organizational soldiers, and minor free agents who will be in camp this year, starting with the pitchers today and the catchers and infielders later in the week:
After a great full-season debut and solid stint in the Arizona Fall League, Thornburg has seen his prospect status right, while still being limited by concerns surrounding his ability to remain a starter. The 5’10 former outfielder has a fine track record as well the repertoire (fastball that can get up to 95 and a good curve) to succeed as he moves up, but, between his size and struggles to hold velocity as games go on, has many projecting him as a reliever: Some of the same folks also see him as someone who could help the big league club sooner than later in that role. Thornburg’s upside has been well documented, but it’s hard to say what kind of role he may fill or when he could reach it until the Brewers make that decision or Thornburg’s development forces the issue.
The Brewers first first-rounder last June, Jungmann is a big Texan (6’6) with a long history of college success, making his debut in the instructional league last fall. Jungmann has a three-pitch arsenal headlined by a low-to-mid 90s fastball, and is pegged as having the upside of a midrotation starter, and maybe something more. The righty almost surely won’t start the season in the majors, but if things break right, Jungmann could be slated to take over for one of Zack Greinke/Shaun Marcum/Randy Wolf, who are all eligible for free agency after this year and will almost certainly not all be back.
Selected three picks after Jungmann last year after falling a bit lower than expected, Bradley is another big college pitcher who signed too late to get any minor league time in last year. However, Bradley is left handed and brings four average-or-better pitches to the table: There are a few prospect people who have him ranked higher than Jungmann. Bradley has excellent upside, but might not be able to move as quickly. Likewise, the spring training invite shouldn’t be taken as a sign that he is competing for a spot on the Opening Day roster, though the 2013 timetable is mentioned in respect to him as well.
The guy the Brewers received from the Rays for Gabe Gross, Butler was once an OK prospect who even got a September callup in 2009. He wasn’t the most exciting guy, but he was big, had a decent three pitch mix, and got enough guys out in the minors for people to think he couldn’t be much worse than some of the arms the then-pitching-starved Brewers were putting out on the mound at the time. Since then, he has largely fell flat, struggling in the high minors (pitching in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League probably didn’t help) while largely having lost the luster of a guy who might be able to one day help the club in some capacity. However, as long as the Brewers need guys to eat innings in Nashville and during spring training, and Butler retains enough of his former pedigree to remain interesting, he should stick around.
Perez has put a few miles both on his arm and airline card over his career, appearing in 429 games with six different organizations over the last 12 years, and is now going for lucky number seven with Milwaukee. (He has a little bit of big league time, with cups of coffee with Pittsburgh in ’06 and ’07 and a stint with the Phillies last year.) Still, the 33 year old (has surprisingly good stuff, with low 90s heat from the left side and a sweepy slider. However, Perez walks guys like crazy with no signs of getting it under control, and has had enough chances that it’s not likely he’ll suddenly figure things out now. Either way, Perez has a good deal more upside than your average minor-league free agent, but with the Brewers already well stocked with bullpen lefties, the chances of him sticking don’t look too good unless he can finally have the breakthrough that teams have been hoping for for a decade.
Meadows isn’t a guy you will see on a whole lot of (or any) prospect lists, thanks to his sub-90 MPH fastball, but he has done nothing but produce since being selected in the 49th round of the 2008 draft. His stuff isn’t really conducive to big-league success, but he has already been successful at the upper levels, striking out 8.8 per nine in AAA last year. Also, he retains the quality of being left-handed, and apparently has some believers in the organization, given the invite to camp. Meadows has made it far enough that he would seem to have some legitimate middle-reliever possibilities in the future, but he still would be far from the club’s first emergency option this year.