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Yankees announce 14 non-roster invitees for spring training

The strange offseason led to a smaller crop than normal, but the NRIs are here.

Philadelphia Phillies vs New York Yankees, 2012 Spring Training
ManBan: The Return
Set Number: X86947 TK1 R3 F327

Every year, the Yankees’ list of spring training non-roster invitees offers an intriguing look at quite a variety of players. They’re usually either top prospects looking to impress, or veterans of the major and league level, hoping to take advantage of perhaps one last shot to earn an Opening Day roster spot.

The 2022 lockout and delay to the start of camp has already had numerous ripple effects. One of them is that prospects will not make up many of these non-roster invitees. Usually by this point on the calendar, they’ll have been sent back to minor league camp anyway because the only prospects with at least a remote shot at making the big league club likely began March on the 40-man roster and thus already in major league camp.

Hope springs eternal for the 14 fellas who the Yankees invited to spring training this year. They got an even better batch than normal in 2021 when Nestor Cortes Jr. and Lucas Luetge were among the crew; both ended up making significant impacts on the MLB roster. They also found their Opening Day first baseman in Jay Bruce, and while that obviously didn’t last long, it was a sign of the importance of keeping depth around through these non-roster players.

Most of these 14 players were already revealed through minor league signings earlier in the offseason, so we’ll just give you the quick rundown on each, including some past excerpts as needed.

Pitchers

LHP Manny Bañuelos
Age as of Opening Day: 31
2021 team: Fubon Guardians (CPBL), Sultanes de Monterrey (MEX), Tomateros de Culiacan (MXPW)
2021 stats: 22 G, 21 GS, 111 IP, 2.51 ERA, 136 K, 1.261 WHIP, 3.5 BB/9, 11.0 K/9
Likely role: Triple-A pitching depth

Few things have made my back hurt more this spring than writing “Age as of Opening Day: 31” for Bañuelos. He was one of the Yankees’ top pitching prospects when I first started writing for Pinstripe Alley in 2012, but his esteemed status got waylaid by a litany of injuries. He eventually made it to the majors in 2015 for the Braves but didn’t last long and it took him four years to return to The Show with the 2019 White Sox.

Since the start of COVID, Bañuelos has been a bit of a vagabond, pitching a season and a half in Taiwan before joining Mexico’s Olympic baseball team and making 13 appearances between two different teams in the Mexican League (one this past winter). What does he have left? Probably not much, but hey, maybe the Yankees can work some old magic with those strikeout numbers and he could become a lefty out of the big league bullpen. More likely, he’ll just serve the “Remember a Guy” depth role that Adam Warren held in Triple-A last year.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need an Advil.

RHP Matt Bowman
Age as of Opening Day: 30
2021 team: Yankees
2021 stats: Did not play (recovering from Tommy John surgery)
Likely role: Triple-A pitching depth

From PSA’s post on the original Bowman signing in December 2020:

Bowman also sports a high ground ball rate with a career 56.6-percent clip. In a hitter-friendly park like Yankee Stadium, keeping the ball out of the air is vital, and Bowman is equipped with that skill.

The reliever obviously does have some things to work on once he recovers from his surgery. His strikeout numbers are relatively low, averaging a career 7.4 K/9. Missing more bats is definitely something he should strive to work on. Although he is a ground ball pitcher who can live without putting up crazy strikeout numbers, the amount of strikeouts he’s gotten so far hasn’t really worked out for him. Increasing the K numbers will add another element to his game that he’s missed

RHP Jimmy Cordero
Age as of Opening Day: 30
2021 team: None
2021 stats: Did not play (recovering from Tommy John surgery)
Likely role: Triple-A pitching depth

Cordero appeared in 83 games for the Nationals, Blue Jays, and White Sox between 2018-20 and peaked late in 2019. In 30 games in the second half, he had a 2.75 ERA and 0.972 WHIP in 36 innings out of the Chicago bullpen. He wasn’t able to sustain it in 2020 though, and in March 2021, he went under the knife. Whenever Cordero returns, it will be in the Scranton ‘pen.

RHP Reggie McClain
Age as of Opening Day: 29
2021 team: Yankees (Triple-A)
2021 stats: 36 G, 55.1 IP, 1.79 ERA, 57 K, 1.139 WHIP, 9.3 K/9, 4.2 BB/9
Likely role: Triple-A pitching depth

McClain joined the Scranton bullpen after appearing in 19 games with the Phillies from 2019-20, and he actually did a pretty nice job down in Triple-A. The walks are concerning though, and considering that he never got called up in 2021 despite the COVID-induced absences and the seemingly solid ERA probably speaks more to his actual abilities.

RHP Vinny Nittoli
Age as of Opening Day: 29
2021 team: Mariners (MLB/Triple-A), Twins (Triple-A)
2021 stats: 30 G, 41 IP, 5.05 ERA, 51 K, 1.195 WHIP, 11.2 K/9, 2.2 BB/9
Likely role: Triple-A pitching depth

Nittoli has some good strikeout numbers and made his MLB debut last season in an unsuccessful one-game cameo for Seattle on June 23rd. Although that was it, his K potential must have at least raised some eyebrows in the Yankees’ front office last year.

RHP Ryan Weber
Age as of Opening Day: 31
2021 team: Red Sox, Brewers, Mariners (all MLB/Triple-A)
2021 stats: 4 G, 9.2 IP, 12.10 ERA, 8 K, 1.966 WHIP, 7.4 K/9, 3.7 BB/9 (MLB); 19 G, 103.1 IP, 4.18 ERA, 102 K, 8.9 K/9, 1.1 BB/9
Likely role: Triple-A pitching depth

Catchers

Rob Brantly
Age as of Opening Day: 32
2021 team: Yankees (Triple-A, 6 games at MLB level)
2021 stats: 68 G, .290/.379/.456, 9 HR, 41 K, 127 wRC+
Likely role: Third-string catcher to stash in Triple-A

In all likelihood, Brantly will be the backup catcher on Opening Day if either Gary Sánchez Ben Rortvedt or Kyle Higashioka gets hurt during spring training. The organization likes him, he has 133 MLB games under his belt, and the only catching prospect mildly close to the bigs anyway is Josh Breaux, who has just 26 games in Double-A under his belt.

Rodolfo Durán
Age as of Opening Day: 24
2021 team: Phillies (Double-A/Triple-A)
2021 stats: 35 G, .202/.237/.403, 6 HR, 28 K, 61 wRC+*
Likely role: Organizational depth

*wRC+ figure from 31 G at Double-A only

David Freitas
Age as of Opening Day: 33
2021 team: Kiwoom Heroes (KBO) and Rays (Triple-A)
2021 stats: 43 G, .259/.297/.374, 2 HR, 29 K, 79 wRC+ (KBO); 16 G, .245/.364/.434, 3 HR, 11 K, 115 wRC+ (AAA)
Likely role: Triple-A catching depth (if he stays with team after camp)

If all hell breaks loose and both Sánchez Rortvedt and Higashioka get hurt, Freitas could back up Brantly. He appeared in 59 big league games between 2017-19 with the Braves, Mariners, and Brewers before spending 2020 in limbo and then 2021 between the KBO and the Rays’ organization. Let us hope that it does not come to this.

Max McDowell
Age as of Opening Day: 28
2021 team: Yankees (Double-A/Triple-A)
2021 stats: 50 G, .217/.381/.294, 1 HR, 43 K, 100 wRC+*
Likely role: Triple-A catching depth

Like Freitas, McDowell is another “break glass in case of emergency” option to help at the big league level in the event of disaster. He spent a good deal of 2021 on the Yankees’ taxi squad, ready to step in if there was a COVID outbreak behind the plate, hence the comparatively small number of games.

*wRC+ figure from 45 G at Triple-A only

Infielders

2B/3B José Peraza
Age as of Opening Day: 27
2021 team: Mets
2021 stats: 64 G, .204/.266/.380, 6 HR, 26 K, 80 wRC+
Likely role: Triple-A utility depth

From PSA’s post on the Peraza signing:

The last time that Peraza had a season worth remembering was in 2018, when he seemed to be hitting his stride with the Reds and hit .288/.326/.416 with 14 homers, a 96 wRC+, and 2.6 fWAR in 157 games. Not much has gone right for Peraza since then, though, and if he makes the 2022 Yankees, it will be as a bench piece. (In fact, Peraza may share the infield in Triple-A with another fellow who has the same surname: esteemed prospect Oswald Peraza.) Frankly, the Yankees can do a lot better, as Peraza’s probably not even an upgrade on the departed Tyler Wade.

Once upon a time, Peraza was a highly valued prospect as well, and GM Brian Cashman was reportedly interested in him back in 2015. Cashman is nothing if not determined to eventually get His Guys, even if their peak talents are past the expiration date.

Outfielders

OF Michael Beltre
Age as of Opening Day: 26
2021 team: Yankees (Double-A)
2021 stats: 109 G, .256/.344/.470, 16 HR, 110 K, 121 wRC+
Likely role: Organizational depth

OF Ender Inciarte
Age as of Opening Day: 31
2021 team: Braves (MLB/Triple-A) and Reds (Triple-A)
2021 stats: 52 G, .215/.276/.316, 2 HR, 22 K, 59 wRC+ (MLB); 21 G, .263/.337/.325, 0 HR, 17 K, 84 wRC+ (AAA)
Likely role: Triple-A outfield depth (if he stays with team after camp)

From PSA’s post analyzing the Inciarte signing:

Yes, Inciarte’s offensive production has fallen mightily, but his glove has remained consistent. He’s put up above-average defensive numbers since his fall off in 2019 and into 2021. During his Gold Glove winning seasons in 2016-2018, Inciarte was credited with 61 outs above average in those three seasons combined, mostly coming from center field. However, he has only 5 combined OAA over his last three years. It’s a big drop off, yes, but he hasn’t produced a negative number in that category and has shown he can still flash the leather. If Hicks is unable to find his old self and Inciarte is, an outfield of Gallo, Inciarte, and Judge would be among the best in baseball defensively.

Inciarte most likely won’t show much at the plate. As previously alluded, he was never really a great hitter and his bat has made him borderline unplayable since the start of 2020. He’d have to rely on his speed and defense to get a shot to make the major league roster out of spring training, especially if Gardner returns. He could be in a Greg Allen type of role if the Yanks keep him in the organization throughout the 2022 season.

OF Blake Perkins
Age as of Opening Day: 25
2021 team: Royals (Double-A)
2021 stats: 72 G, .202/.319/.332, 7 HR, 81 K, 81 wRC+
Likely role: Organizational depth