In two weeks, Tampa Bay will break camp in Port Charlotte with seven non-roster position players invitees in attendance: Juan Francisco, Corey Brown, Bobby Wilson, Joey Butler, Eugenio Velez, Allan Dykstra, and Mayo Acosta.
So, of these seven, who could see time with the big league club in 2015? Which player will oversleep, only to leap out of his bed that was placed on the field, and out-sprint two teammates? Did any spend last year in the California Penal League? Can I shoehorn in a third strained Major League reference?
For these and other answers, let's get to know the Rays positional non-roster invitees:
Major League experience
We lead off with Juan Francisco, certainly the most noteworthy of this year's non-roster invitees. Francisco, 28 in June, played 106 games for Toronto in 2014, and was worth a career-best 0.7 fWAR. His value certainly came from his power, as he hit 16 doubles, 16 home runs, slugged .456., and had a .237 ISO. If repeated, that would be the highest ISO on the Rays since Longoria's .238 in 2012 over 74 games.
In his six big league seasons, spent with Cincinnati, Atlanta, Milwaukee, and Toronto, Francisco is a .236/.297/.439 hitter, with a 100 wRC+, and an impressive .203 ISO. His career 20.9% home run to fly ball ratio is likewise outstanding. How that plays to the Trop may be another matter.
In 2013-2014, he hit 34 home runs while platooning for the majority of both seasons. Indeed, his career split is a 113 wRC+ versus right handed pitching, and 14 wRC+ versus left handed pitching.
Steamer projections have Francisco at .222/.284/.415, with a .193 ISO, and 92 wRC+ next season, while PECOTA is slightly more optimistic. While Francisco joins the left-handed hitting infield glut with Jaso and Loney, his experience at first base (97 games) and third base (197 games) offers some flexibility. This versatility, mixed with his tremendous power, make him the player to watch from this group, even with a 35% strikeout rate.
Corey Brown, entering his age-29 season, is a left-handed hitting career outfielder. He played 39 games with the Nationals and Red Sox from 2011-2014, hitting .171/.244/.390. His calling card is a mix of power and speed, if only he could make contact with the ball.
In 2013-2014, Brown showed some power at the Triple-A level. Last season, in 91 games with the Pawtucket Red Sox, Brown hit 15 doubles and 17 home runs. This followed a 2013 season with the Nationals' Syracuse Chiefs in which Brown had 45 extra-base hits and a 121 wRC+ in 107 games.
The excellent Triple-A production, along with his pedigree (Oakland's 2007 first-round pick out of Oklahoma State), make Brown worth a spring training look.
Bobby Wilson represents a type of player not often found on the Rays roster in recent seasons : a catcher/first baseman who hits from the right-side. A 48th round draft pick of the Angels in 2002, Wilson will turn 32 in April.
From 2008-2014, he played in 193 games with the Angels and Diamondbacks, hitting .209/.271/.321/65 wRC+ with eight home runs. Wilson's best big league season came in 2010, when in 106 plate appearances, he hit set career-highs in home runs (4) and ISO (.188), while hitting .229/.288/.417 and posting a 94 wRC+.
For his positions, Wilson does not hit with much power. In 76 games with Arizona's Triple-A Reno Aces last season, he hit just three home runs and slugged .341. Wilson's never hit more than nine home runs at any level, and that output came with the Angels Double-A club in 2006. His glove is perfectly replacement level, and unless the Rays think they can unlock more in Spring Training, he should merely be a depth option in Durham.
Joey Butler is a right-handed hitting outfielder with major league experience, albeit brief. In 2013-2014, Butler had 21 big league plate appearances with Texas and St. Louis, hitting .235/.381/.353. A 15th round pick of the Rangers in 2008, Butler will turn 29 during spring training.
While he has spent the majority of his seven seasons in the minor leagues, Butler posted respectable numbers with Triple-A Round Rock (Rangers) and Memphis from 2011-2014: a line of .304/.400/.472 with at least 26 doubles and 12 home runs in three seasons. Butler seems to provide decent pop from the right-side of the plate, which is not to be dismissed.
Eugenio Velez, 33 in May, has not played in a Major League game since he appeared in 34 game with the Dodgers in 2011, but he offers Tampa Bay some positional flexibility. In parts of five seasons with the Dodgers and Giants, Velez has played 116 games at second base and 91 in the outfield. He is a career .241/.287/.367 hitter, who has shown good speed (15 stolen bases in 98 games in 2008 and 11 stolen bases in 84 games in 2009).
Velez spent 2012-2014 in Triple-A with three organizations--St. Louis, Toronto, and Milwaukee. Last season with Milwaukee's Nashville Sound, he played 116 games, stole 27 bases, and showed good pop (24 doubles, 7 home runs, .309/.363/.441, 110 wRC+). His speed and big league experience at multiple positions make him an intriguing player, plus, if you read his name quickly, it looks like Eugene Levy. How many teams can say that?
No Major League experience
Dykstra turns 28 in May and has never reached the major leagues. A 2008 first-round pick of the Padres out of Wake Forest, Dykstra played 117 games last season with the Las Vegas 51's, the Mets Triple-A team. It was the first time he played above Double-A, and he put up very good numbers: 84 walks, 23 doubles, 16 home runs, .280/.426/.504, 145 wRC+, and a dip in strikeout rate to 22.1%.
In his seven-year minor league career, he has been adept at hitting for power (career .195 ISO, including plus .220 each of the last two seasons) and drawing walks (career .406 OBP and 102 walks at Double-A Binghamton in 2013).
Dykstra has been used exclusively at first base and designated hitter. As a left-handed batter, he could face a log-jam with James Loney, John Jaso, and fellow non-roster invitee Juan Francisco.
The Dominican Republic native has spent his entire eight-year career as a catcher in the Rays system. Acosta, who turned 27 this off-season, has 34 home runs in 466 minor league games, with a career line of .232/.300/.363.
In 41 career games with Triple-A Durham, Acosta has six extra-base hits and a line of .144/.222/.221. Like Bobby Wilson, Acosta's greatest asset might be that he is a right-handed hitting catching option.
The 2015 non-roster invitees include an established Major League slugger, a few former first-round picks yet to breakthrough in the big leagues, and some guys with interesting tools who have hovered between Triple-A and the highest level.
If none of the players stick, maybe the Rays can bring in aging-slugger Jack Parkman for a look.
(That's a Major Leagues II reference. Twist!)