The non-roster invitees to Spring Training intrigue me every year. It’s always a strange and wonderful mish-mash of guys desperate for one last shot to top prospects getting some big league experience in a low-key setting. I thought I’d take a look at this year’s list of long-shots to make the Opening Day roster. Below are the pitchers. We’ll look at the position players next week.
Scott Downs, LHP
Downs turns 39 on St. Patrick’s Day. One could say he’s been around the block a few times. He was selected by the Atlanta Braves in the 12th round of the 1995 draft but opted for the University of Kentucky (he’s from Louisville, right down I-71). He was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 1997 amateur draft and made his major league debut on April 9, 2000. He’s played for the Cubs, Expos, Blue Jays, Angels, Braves, White Sox, and Royals. That’s quite a collection of team caps. Lifetime, he has a 3.56 ERA in 619 games played over 13 years. He throws a sinker (which tops out at 90.4 but averages below that), curve, and slider. As you might expect, his velocity has drifted down year-over-year. One more good season? Maybe.
Jeff Manship, RHP
Manship spent four seasons with the Twins before moving to the Rockies and then the Phillies. Career, he has a 6.46 ERA with a 1.622 WHIP. He relies on his fastball about half the time. He’s been clocked as high as 94.5, but his fastball seems to linger around 91. Manship also throws a curve and a changeup. He seems to be another “What could it hurt?” invitation. If nothing else, he has an amusing last name.
Shaun Marcum, RHP
Marcum is a familiar face, as he attended the Indians 2014 Spring Training camp and pitched eight games for the AAA Columbus Clippers in 2014. He came up through the Blue Jays organization, spending five (non-consecutive) seasons in Toronto as well as two with the Brewers and 2013 with the Mets. Marcum underwent Tommy John surgery at the end of the 2008 season and missed all of 2009. He had some problems with his shoulder during extended Spring Training with the Tribe last season. He only pitched 15.1 innings for the Clippers last season but had a 2.35 ERA. He has a 3.88 ERA lifetime in the majors. If he can stay healthy, he might be helpful in the bullpen.
Nick Maronde, LHP
Maronde was originally drafted by the Oakland A’s in the 2008 draft but opted for higher education and played in two College World Series for the University of Florida. The LA Angels drafted Mardonde in 2011. While he’s spent most of the last few seasons in their minor league system, he appeared in 33 games for the Angels over three seasons. The Indians acquired him in July 2014 and he played at the low-A, AA, and AAA levels as well as in the Arizona Fall League for Cleveland in 2014. If he can work out his control issues, he’s looked at as a future starter
Dustin Molleken, RHP
Molleken has yet to play in the US major leagues, however, he played for the Canadian National Team in the 2011 Baseball World Cup and Pan American Games and played in the Nippon Professional Baseball league in Japan for the Hokkaido-Nippon Ham Fighters. Molleken has a 4.90 ERA over 11 seasons in the minor leagues. He’s 30, so if he’s going to get into MLB, the clock is ticking.
Bryan Price, RHP
Okay, we all know Bryan Price–acquired from the Red Sox organization along with Nick Hagadone and Justin Masterson for Victor Martinez in 2009. Price lost his spot on the active roster in December when the Indians signed Brandon Moss but has the non-roster invitation to Spring Training. Price made his major league debut on September 1, 2014, and gave up a home run to Miguel Cabrera in his first game. In three games and 2.2 innings pitched for the Indians, he has a whopping 20.25 ERA (but a 3.53 ERA in his minor league career). Things can only get better.
Will Roberts, RHP
Roberts was first drafted by the Angels in the 49th round of the 2008 draft but didn’t sign. He attended the University of Virginia and was drafted by the Indians in 2011. Roberts is a command and control guy, with a fastball that averages around 89-91. Roberts did well with the Class A Lake County Captains but struggled in 2013 with the High A Carolina Mudcats and in the Arizona Fall League that season. He went 12-12 with a 4.08 ERA in 2014 for the AA Akron Aeros, pitching 161 innings. According to the Indians’ official roster, he’s 6′ 5″ but weighs only 195 pounds, which is pretty darn skinny. Maybe he’ll fatten up eating some innings for Cleveland.
Michael Roth, LHP
The Indians signed Roth to a minor league contract in December 2014, but they actually drafted him back in the 31st round of the 2011 draft. Roth opted to return to school and was drafted by the Angels in the 9th round of the 2012 draft. Roth has primarily worked as a reliever in his limited major league experience (22 games for the Angels) and as a starter in the minors. He had a 2.63 ERA for the AA Arkansas Travelers in 2014, but was designated for assignment by the Angels at the end of the season, refused it, and became a free agent. Roth has dual US-British citizenship (through his mother) and pitched for Great Britain in the 2013 World Baseball Classic Qualifiers.
Anthony Swarzak, RHP
Swarzak was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 2nd round of the 2004 draft. Career, he has a 4.48 ERA over five (non-consecutive) seasons in the majors. He was one of the top prospects in the Twins’ system but tested positive for marijuana in 2007 and served a 50-game suspension. He spent all of 2010 in the minors after a comeback ball hit and shattered his foot. In January 2013, he fractured two ribs while “playing around and wrestling” with teammates after the Twins’ Fest. (I rather enjoyed some of these explanations for the injury.) And in August 2014, he severely sprained his ankle during a game when he “threw a pitch and kind of rotated a little bit to watch the play behind me. I came down on that side slope of the mound and it just rolled.” He’s one of those people that makes you ask: Bad luck or bad choices?
I wouldn’t be surprised to see any of these on the roster at some point this season, even if only for a few games. My guesses right now for most likely to make the Opening Day roster would be Price or Marcum in the bullpen, with Maronde being the first to get called up as a replacement. Those guesses will probably change once we see how Spring Training goes.