In the fourth and final part of this series where we look at the non-roster invitees we are going to look at the last group: The Outfielders. Here’s the list of guys who are non-roster invitees that also fall into the outfielder category:
The Cincinnati Reds picked up Brennan Boesch on a minor league deal in November. In very limited action in 2014 with the Angels he struggled, hitting .187/.203/.293 with just two walks and 19 strikeouts in 79 plate appearances. He did absolutely obliterate the Pacific Coast League in 2014 though, hitting .332/.381/.636 in 407 plate appearances. Boesch has struggled with plate discipline in the past and it was not better in 2014, even at the minor league level his strikeout-to-walk ratio was 3-1. He provides plenty of power in his bat, but his plate approach leaves a lot to be desired. His power could buy him a long look for a bench role for the Reds coming out of spring.
Last spring Ryan LaMarre was in camp as a roster invitee, but he was designated for assignment during the 2014 season. He came back to the Reds and got an invite to Goodyear for 2015. He’s been injured for the better part of the last three seasons, including most of the 2014 where he only played in 17 games (he played injured on a bad foot for almost the entire 2012 season, which required surgery following that season). LaMarre is easily the best defender of this group and the only one who can realistically play center field. He’s also easily the fastest runner, with above-average speed and once stole 55 bases in a minor league season. His bat is probably the weakest among the group though. He’s got a solid idea of what he’s doing at the plate, but he’s also carrying a .367 slugging percentage in his minor league career. His chances aren’t good of breaking with the big league club, lacking that Triple-A experience where he had less than 75 plate appearances.
The Reds picked up Felix Perez in 2010 after he defected from Cuba and served a one-year suspension by Major League Baseball for lying about his age and having his original contract with the Yankees voided. He has spent parts of the last four seasons in Triple-A with Louisville with the 2014 being the best of the bunch as he hit .280/.325/.450. Much like Brennan Boesch, Perez had 29 walks and 85 strikeouts, hovering on that poor strikeout-to-walk ratio line. After the season he went to Venezuela for winter ball and obliterated his way through the league, hitting .360/.393/.572 in the regular season before hitting .321/.386/.615 in 78 at-bats in the playoffs. Offensively he doesn’t so anything that really stands out, but he’s been solid across the board. Defensively he can cover center field in a pinch, but he profiles much better in the corners where he’s got solid range and a quality arm. For a spot on the bench he’s got a little bit of everything and provides a left handed bat. It’s not likely that he grabs a spot out of the spring, but if he performs well he could steal the final roster spot.
The biggest name of the group, Jesse Winker is a Top 50 prospect in all of baseball and the top position player in the organization. After hitting .287/.399/.518 during the 2014 season before being shut down with a wrist injury suffered in a car accident, he returned to lead the Arizona Fall League in average and OPS where he hit .338/.440/.559 in 19 games. The bat is his calling card where he does everything well. He can hit the ball to all fields, hit for power, he has solid contact rates and draws nearly as many walks as he has strikeouts. Defensively he tends to catch a bad rap, and I think that goes two-fold. First, when a guy has a big time bat and isn’t an up-the-middle player, they tend to be dinged for their defense whether it’s right or not. Secondly, he’s spent most of his time in left field, which isn’t known as a defenders position. While he is limited to left or right field because of his speed, he’s not a poor defender. Winker is the future left fielder for the Reds, but that time isn’t going to be in April.
Who fits a need?
Right now, all of the players but Winker have a skillset that the Reds bench could use (Winker does too, but there’s no chance the Reds bring him north to be a bench player). Boesch has the big power off of the bench that the team could use. LaMarre has speed and defense that could help as a pinch runner or in double switches of outfielders and not skip a beat defensively. Perez has a bit more rounded game where he could fill a variety of roles. Winning a roster spot as a non-roster player isn’t easy, but you could see any of those three taking a spot with a good spring if someone else falters.