Spring training has begun and soon enough the Royals will be playing actual baseball games with scores and everything. Those games will feature familiar names - Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez - but they'll also includes unfamiliar names with jersey numbers like 72 and 85. These players are non-roster invitees, players not on the 40-man roster but are in big league camp with the Royals anyway.
There are two types of non-roster invitees. There are seasoned veterans with Major League experience who signed with the Royals as minor league free agents. Next week, we will look at the minor leaguers not on the 40-man roster who were invited to camp.
The veteran non-roster invitees will not be on the 40-man roster unless the Royals put them on the active roster. Dillon Gee and Chien-Ming Wang were two minor league free agents who ended up making the Major League roster last year. Here are the veteran former big leaguers in camp as non-roster invitees.
Alburquerque should be fairly familiar to Royals fans, having pitched in the Tigers bullpen from 2011 to 2015. He was non-tendered last winter, and spent most of last year in the minors with the Angels organization before they let him go and he finished the season in the Mariners organization. He has 243 Major League games under his belt with a decent 3.21 ERA and 3.41 FIP in that time. He has struck out 11 hitters-per-nine innings in his career, one of the best marks in baseball among relievers over that time. He misses bats because of a plus slider, the sixth-most effective slider since 2011. The problem with Alburquerque is he has trouble throwing strikes, having walked five hitters-per-nine innings in his career. If he can harness his command, he probably has the best shot at making the team over any non-roster invitee. If not, he should probably find some lodging in Omaha.
It wasn't that long ago that Cecchini was considered one of the top 100 prospects in baseball with the Red Sox, having been named to that list by Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, and MLB.com before the 2014 season. But his hitting has declined sharply since then and his power never quite materialized. Still just 25, Cecchini could figure things out with the Royals, his third organization. The left-handed hitter is capable of playing first base, third base, and the corner outfield positions, making him quite valuable to a AAA team shuttling players in and out. Cecchini has shown some speed, having once stolen 51 bases in a season, and has a strong 11% walk rate in the minors. He has a few short stints in the big leagues, and his brother Gavin is a top prospect with the Mets.
League once saved 37 games with the Mariners in 2011, leading to a three-year, $25 million deal with the Dodgers. He was largely a bust in Los Angeles, however, with a 5.30 ERA his first season, missing the entire last season of his deal with a shoulder injury. He did not throw a single pitch at any level last year, but is trying to make a comeback at age 33. The ground ball artist throws a very hard sinker, a slider, and a splitter, inducing a 60% ground ball rate. If his shoulder holds up, he could make a comeback like Ryan Madson did in 2015, after several years away from the game.
The 28-year old right-hander has been an effective middle reliever for the Cardinals since 2013, posting a 3.19 ERA in 237 1/3 innings. Like League, he is not much of a strikeout pitcher at all, but induces high rates of groundballs, around 60%. Maness throws strikes, walking just 1.71 hitters-per-nine innings. His fastball only hits the high 80s, but he frustrates hitters with his sinker, which he throws nearly half of the time. Maness was non-tendered by the Cardinals after an elbow injury that would ordinarily lead to Tommy John surgery. However Maness underwent an experimental procedure that should allow him to be ready for the start of the season.
Parnell saved 22 games for the Mets in 2013 with a 2.16 ERA and 1.4 WAR, but underwent Tommy John surgery in 2014 and hasn't quite been the same since. He regained his velocity with the Tigers last year, throwing in the mid-90s, but spent most of the season in the minors. Parnell is a two-pitch pitcher, throwing just a fastball and a knuckle-curve, inducing groundballs over half the time. The 32-year old right-hander has always had trouble throwing strikes, but his command has been worse since his surgery.
The gregarious switch-hitting catcher played for the Royals from 2009 to 2012. Pena was known for being more of an offensive catcher whose defense was a bit lackluster. Even then, his bat has not been stellar and he has a career line of .259/.299/.351. He missed most of last season with a knee injury, and at age 35, is probably just around as insurance in case Salvador Perez or Drew Butera gets hurt. The Cuban-born Pena shows fierce patriotic loyalty to his adopted country and is an ambassador for the U.S. Army Reserves. Pena has an opt-out of his contract if he is not on the MLB roster at the end of spring training, and again if he on May 1.
His names is a bit of an epithet in Kansas City after his disastrous season in 2012. He started just 12 games for the Royals after being acquired from San Francisco for outfielder Melky Cabrera, but gave up an astounding 47 runs for a 7.76 ERA. Even worse, he had a very emotionless reaction to his performance, which gave some fans the impression he did not care. He was mercifully traded to Colorado for Jeremy Guthrie, and his career imploded after that. His last Major League season was 2013, and his last season in affiliated ball was in 2014. But he has continued pitching in Puerto Rico, and a Royals scout was impressed with his velocity enough to get him an invite to camp. The left-hander is said to be throwing in the mid-90s and could compete for a bullpen role. He has always struggled with command, but if he can throw strikes in a relief role, who knows?
The former first round pick with the Dodgers was emerging as a potential bullpen option for the Dodgers until he injured his elbow in 2014, requiring Tommy John surgery. He was traded to the Braves and came on last year as a decent bullpen option, posting a 3.58 ERA in 37 2/3 innings, although his peripherals were poor with 28 strikeouts an 17 walks. He suffered an elbow injury in August, but had no structural damage and returned in September before being non-tendered last fall. His velocity is down from before his surgery, but he still throws in the low 90s with an effective slider. The right-hander is still just 27 years old, so if he is finally healthy he could be an intriguing option for the bullpen. Withrow can opt-out of his contract if he is not on the Major League roster by June 1.