2008 NL Central Non-Roster Invitees

Veteran and top prospect non-roster invitees from around the National League Central Division.

In the first three installments of this series, we analyzed the non-roster prospects and veteran players that have the best chance of making the 2008 St. Louis Cardinals out of spring training and how the club might juggle their roster to make room for a few of these NRIs.

Now we'll take a look at the non-roster invitees currently with the five other NL Central clubs this spring that seem to have the best chance of sticking.

Chicago Cubs

With a roster pretty well set, it will be tough to crack the 25-man of the defending NL Central champs from the outside. 22-year-old outfielder Tyler Colvin (right) is the big name on their NRI list, but has literally no chance to make the MLB roster - yet. The Cubs' first-rounder from 2006 will almost certainly head back to the minors to work on his plate discipline.

Coming into camp, unheralded Jose Ceda may have the best shot of any of the Cubs' 20 non-roster invitees. The 21-year-old right-hander held opposing hitters to an ungodly .093 batting average in 46.1 IP in the Double-A Midwest League last season. The 6-foot-4 Dominican native fanned a very impressive 66 in that time, but also issued 31 walks. A name to remember for the future.

Veteran reliever Chad Fox, 38, hasn't appeared in the majors since logging 11 games with Dusty Baker's 2005 Cubs, but has a decent shot of claiming a spot if he pitches well in Arizona in March.

Cincinnati Reds

Two top prospects and two veterans are among the names that stand out in the Cincinnati Reds' NRI list for 2008. 22-year-old right-hander Johnny Cueto may not have the notoriety of ballyhooed Homer Bailey, but he may be just as good – or better. The Dominican jumped from A-Advanced to Double-A to Triple-A last season and seemed to actually improve at each level. In winter ball, he posted a 2.84 ERA in six starts.

If you haven't heard about outfielder Jay Bruce (right), you just haven't been tuned into top prospect reports for several years. At 20 years of age, Bruce also executed the three-level progression last season alongside Cueto. Bruce hit .300 with an OPS over .900 at all three stops.

Veteran NRIs in camp included first baseman Andy Phillips, late of the Yankees, and first-baseman/outfielder Craig Wilson. The latter is a former mainstay of the Pirates who has jumped around in recent years, however upon reporting, Wilson failed his physical and was released.

Phillips could offer some pop off the bench but to get a chance, another top prospect, first baseman Joey Votto, would have to struggle. Incumbent Scott Hatteberg is expected to play behind Votto.

In early March, two veteran players were signed to minor league deals, Corey Patterson and Jerry Hairston. Both are outfielders, though Hairston also has considerable experience at second base. When you are fighting for the last spot on the bench, versatility is important.

Houston Astros

The Astros have a gaggle of former MLB-ers trying to catch on. They include pitchers Runelvys Hernandez (right) and Brian Moehler, catcher J.R. House, infielders Lance Niekro and Tomas Perez and outfielders Jose Cruz, Victor Diaz and David Newhan.

Of the bunch, former Royal Hernandez, Niekro and Cruz are most intriguing, though none should be considered a shoo-in to even make the club out of spring training, let alone become significant contributors in 2008. Unless fragile outfielder/first baseman Darin Erstad gets hurt again, Niekro and Cruz would seem to have no place on the 25-man.

A spot at the back of the rotation could seemingly be had, but Hernandez would have to step up like never before. He pitched inconsistently for three different organizations in Triple-A last season and posted an ERA just under five in winter ball. Hardly impressive.

Milwaukee Brewers

A pair of ex-Cardinals are among the very small (nine) complement of NRIs invited to Brewers camp. Infielder Abraham Nunez (right) was a standout for St. Louis in 2005 when Scott Rolen went down, but did little to nothing the last two seasons after signing a hefty contract with Philadelphia.

Chris Narveson, the Cards' second-rounder in 2000, has good stuff, but has struggled with his health. With little left-handed competition in camp, the 26-year-old could grab a spot in the pen with a good March showing.

In the outfield, former Rangers prospect Laynce Nix is still trying to catch his big break and has the odd advantage of being the one of the few left-handed hitters in camp.

The most interesting name among the nine NRIs is the Brewers' first-rounder from the 2007 draft, outfielder Matt LaPorta. The 23-year-old posted an .851 OPS in the Arizona Fall League just four months after being drafted, but as of yet has no regular-season at-bats above Class-A.

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Bucs may need a bigger spring clubhouse as they have a whopping 25 NRIs in house, including 15 hurlers. Some of the latter are retreads like Hector Carrasco, Elmer Dessens, Casey Fossum and Jaret Wright.

One youngster with great potential is 21-year-old left-hander Daniel Moskos (right). The 2007 first-rounder was a teammate of Cards' second-rounder David Kopp at Clemson. Moskos is a few years away, but has already made his appearance on a number of top prospect lists.

Looking at the veteran position players, former Minnesota Twins second baseman Luis Rivas is among those with a decent chance to stick given a good spring.

Centerfielder Andrew McCutchen, 21, is the Pirates' top prospect. Their first-round pick in 2007 progressed to Triple-A late in his first professional season and posted a .311 average in his first 67 at-bats at the level. He then registered a .286/.381/.378 line in the Arizona Fall League while having success swiping a base in eight of 11 attempts.

22-year-old switch-hitting third baseman Neil Walker is also invited to camp. Their first-rounder in 2004 had a solid season in Double-A, but struggled in his initial Triple-A action in 2007. He then put up a so-so .268/.315/.409 line in winter ball in Mexico. Walker seems not likely to make an impact until 2009.

Links to previous articles in this series:

"Handicapping the 2008 Cards NRIs: Prospects"
"Handicapping the 2008 Cards NRIs: Veterans"
"Making Room for the Cards NRIs: Outrighting"



Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

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