The Dan Duquette era Orioles have been defined by bargain basket shopping hoping to find the one gem that slipped through. One avenue the Orioles of recent years have explored thoroughly is minor league free agency. Sign as many former top prospects, veterans running on empty, and everyone in between to see what can stick at AAA and help out the major league team for at least a little while.
The Orioles released their non-roster Spring Training invitees yesterday and if history is any sort of indicator, one or two of the names on that list will impact the 2017 Orioles season.
Looking back through previous non-roster invitee lists brings up some memories. Folks ranging from as insignificant as Steve Tolleson and Chris Parmelee to future Orioles legend Delmon Young all saw their tenures with the team begin in the NRI ranks.
The 2017 list definitely includes some possibilities to make an impact with the Orioles this year. Below are the three most likely candidates in my mind.
Rodriguez has been in the Orioles organization for the past two seasons. The 26 year old right-handed reliever began his career with the Astros. He was acquired from Houston for the almighty and ever present Cash Considerations. Rodriguez posted a 2.53 ERA and 3.08 FIP over the course of 81.2 innings at AAA Norfolk in 2016.
Rodriguez struck out 24.3 percent of the batters he faced while only walking 7.5 percent. Among pitchers in the International league with at least 70 innings pitched, he ranked 10th in strike out rate.
He posted similarly great numbers in 2015 at AA Bowie, striking out 29.1 percent of hitters and walking only 2.5 percent. His numbers dipped in 2015 when he was promoted to AAA, but he still held it together and clearly improved in 2016.
The arsenal of a career minor league reliever is not something that is well-documented. Still, based on performance alone that Rodriguez has a chance to see the majors in 2017, mostly because he has options.
The recently signed Johnny Giavotella also appears on the Non-Roster invitee list. Giavotella has spent the last two seasons in the major leagues with the Angels. The 29 year old right handed hitting second baseman is somewhat of a internet hero. He grew into some internet fame during his days in the Royals farm system when he would rack up high walk rates and low strike out rates.
The box score scouts love hitters that do that. The real scouts never loved Giavotella though and he never really got a shot with the Royals.
Giavotella broke onto the scene with the Angels in 2015 playing in 129 games. He posted a 95 wRC+, not bad, but not great. Especially for a defensively below average second baseman. In 2016 he only played in 99 games and posted a 80 wRC+. Turns out the suspicions of the scouts may have been correct.
Giavotella’s weakness is his lack of power, only 10 home runs in the past two seasons, so when he got to the top level the pitchers have challenged him in the zone. While his strike out rate has remained pretty low, 10.6 percent in 2016, his walk rate has plummeted from his minor league days, 3.5 percent in 2016.
Even still, Giavotella is a player with major league experience which will greatly improve his chances of seeing playing time with the Orioles in 2017. An injury to an up the middle position player and Giavotella could be the first player called up. He makes contact, something the Orioles lack, and his offensive numbers may have been dragged down due to some bad luck in 2016—his BABIP was only .276 after posting a .301 BABIP in 2015.
You all know Robert Andino pretty well. I included him for three reasons. One, he has played for the Orioles under Buck Showalter which immediately gives him a leg up. Two, he can play shortstop which is valuable in case of injury. And three, I wanted a reason to post this highlight. Fun fact, that actually plays on a loop in my house, 24/7 365, and last year, it was 366.
Regardless of how the 2017 season goes for the Orioles, if the past tells us anything, some names not on the Opening Day roster will make a difference. These are a few of the names that stuck out to me. We know the Norfolk shuttle will be busy, we will just have to wait and see who is on it in 2017.