Spring Traning means finally getting to see James Shields, David Price, and Matt Moore pitch again after a long winter. It's our first look at acquisitions like Fernando Rodney, Burke Badenhop, and Josh Lueke. Prospects like Chris Archer, Wilking Rodriguez, and Albert Suarez will also pitch in. But with everyone on tight pich counts in March, the 40-man roster isn't enough to cover the needed innings. Enter the non-roster invitees. In years past, the Rays have made good use of the NRIs, bringing in Carlos Pena, Joaquin Benoit, Al Reyes, and Juan Cruz into camp under that classification.
This year, the odds don't look so good. The Rays have seven pitchers as NRIs. Marquis Fleming, Ryan Reid, Ricky Orta, and Matt Torra were with the organization last year (though Torra was released and then brought back) while Jhonny Nunez, Bryan Augenstein, and Romulo Sanchez are new faces. While none have a real path to a big-league spot, here's some info on the ones you might be unfamiliar with.
Ricky Orta, RHP - A fourth-round pick by the Mariners out of Maimi in 2006, Orta signed with the Rays in May of 2010, after Seattle placed him on waivers following Tommy John surgery. He missed the whole season and didn't return to the field until August with the Rays' GCL squad, where he threw all of eight innings. Orta posted good strikeout numbers in three seasons as a starter in the Mariners org, but didn't post an ERA below 4.74. Moved to relief in 2009, he struck out 41 and walked 18 in 41.2 innings at double-A with an ERA of 1.94. Because he's pitched so little over the past two seasons, it's unlikely the Rays take the leash off completely early in the season. He's likely headed for Durham's bullpen (maybe Montgomery), but I wouldn't expect to see him pitch back-to-back days for the first two months or so.
Jhonny Nunez, RHP - He bounced from the Dodgers to the Nationals to the Yankees early in his career, but settled in with the White Sox the last three seasons. He rode the bus between double-A and triple-A with a sip of coffee in 2009. Aside from an Appalachian rehab stint, Nunez spent 2011 with triple-A Charlotte, where he struck out more than a batter per inning (50 in 47.1) but was hurt by seven home runs coughed up. In the Dominican Winter League, Nunez allowed only 13 hits and three walks in 25 innings, leading to a 1.08 ERA. He has the best live arm of the NRI group, so if I had to choose, Nunez is my best bet to break through and impress in the spring.
Romulo Sanchez, RHP - Sanchez comes to the Rays via Japan, hoping to re-create the trail blazed by Gary Glover, who was another NRI to make the Rays roster (and who didn't love the Gary Glover era? Oh, yeah, everyone). Sanchez is listed at 6-5 and either 255 or 270 depending on who you believe, but either way he's not hurting for size. In his last three stateside seasons, he's pitched at triple-A for the Pirates and Yankees so he's a logical choice for Durham as yet another 5th starter/reliever option (see also: Matt Torra, Jim Paduch, Richard De Los Santos, and others). He's tallied 35.2 innings in the majors as well, with a pedestrian 19-17 K-BB rate and a 4.04 ERA.
Bryan Augenstein, RHP - Another big guy at 6-6/230, Augenstein comes to the Rays as, I believe, the only player in the organization with a World Series ring. Okay, so he only pitched 5.2 innings (and allowed 6 earned runs on 11 hits) for the Cardinals last year, but still. The second-youngest of the NRI group (Fleming edges him by two months), he's entering his age-25 season. Like other NRIs, he's split time between multiple levels the past few seasons, though in 2011 he pitched only 4.1 innings below triple-A. His best asset is his control, with a career BB/9 mark of 1.9, a talent he'll take to Durham.
So those are your fresh face NRIs. They are, as usual, a mix of org guys and minor-league free agents simply there to provide depth. But now when that 6-5/270 Romulo Sanchez guy takes the mound in the 7th inning of an 8-1 game on March 5th, you can impress your friends by having heard of him.