2005 Non-Roster Invitees
LHP Nate Bland
2004 Stats: 53 G, 4.68 ERA, 73.0 IP, 45 K, 33 BB, AAA
Among all the non-roster players the Mariners have invited, Bland is probably the least known. He was a fourth round pick by the Dodgers back in 1993, so he must have been highly regarded at some point. His career sidetracked after the 1998 season due to an injury and he ended up in the independent leagues two years later. From there, he signed on with the Mets in 2002 and was selected by the Astros in the minor league portion of the rule five draft the following winter. He's one of only five such players to reach the majors during this decade. Bland isn't a bad pitcher; he provides decent insurance should the other lefties in the organization fail to pan out, but realistically, he's here because no one else was close to being ready.
RHP Felix Hernandez
2004 Stats: 26 G, 2.95 ERA, 149.1 IP, 172 K, 47 BB, A+/AA
When the M's have their Cactus League games broadcast on local TV, set your VCRs in advance, because you might just get a glimpse at the next great pitcher in major league baseball. For those of you still hiding in a bunker from last season, Felix has already handled advanced-A and Double-A with flying colors and is now considered to be one of, if not the top prospect in all of baseball. His mid-90s fastball and 12-6 style curve ball could have easily carried him this far, but his approach and competitive fire are what set him apart from the rest. But don't worry if you miss out this time around, you'll probably see him with the Mariners by the end of the season.
RHP Rett Johnson
2004 Stats: 7 G, 7.97 ERA, 20.1 IP, 32 H, 14 BB, A+
Like many other players in the organization, Rett would probably just prefer to call a mulligan for the 2004 season. Coming into the year, his fastball and slider had made him a minor star, he was showing signs of adding a decent change-up, and was the most eligible candidate to step into the rotation should the need have arisen. Instead, some personal issues that came up in spring training left him on the sidelines for most of the season. When he did come back, he did so in the California League and some veteran managers weren't sure if they were seeing the same pitcher on the mound that had dominated the league two years prior. The ball is in Rett's glove now; it's all just a matter of what he does with it.
RHP Masao Kida
2004 Stats: 19 G, 5.88 ERA, 52.0 IP, 59 H, 42 K, AAA/MLB
One of a growing number of players to jump the pond in search of competition, Kida had a career in Japan that could best be described as solid with the occasional bright or dark spot. A performance most teams would be happy to get out of their fourth or fifth starter, in other words. Those kind of numbers don't translate too well into the U.S., however, and his career minor league earned-run average in the states is just above five while his major league average is closer to six. Though elbow troubles may have hindered his performance a bit last year, Kida is basically the experienced, veteran arm that you can use to throw innings when better options are lacking.
RHP Dan Reichert
2004 Stats: 50 G, 3.70 ERA, 87.2 IP, 74 K, 38 BB, AAA
There's something about former first-round picks, a sort of air of intrigue that leads teams to grab them up when the opportunity presents itself, regardless of their past performance. Reichert was the 7th overall pick in the 1997 draft, and his fastball-slider combo was what got him there. The heater clocks in the low-90s and the slider has a sharp break to it, so the stuff is certainly there, but his control of both is less than perfect and he tends to pick at corners when behind in the count. These factors have led to a career K/BB of 1.88 in the minors and just 1.08 in the big leagues. If he can figure out how to attack the strike zone, then his groundball tendencies may suit this team well.
RHP Aaron Sele
2004 Stats: 28 G, 5.05 ERA, 132.0 IP, 163 H, 51 BB, MLB
Speaking of former first-rounders, there's always Sele. Few players have had their star fall farther than him in recent years, going from the number three starter on the record-setting 2001 M's team to struggling to hold down a spot with the Halos last season. A large part of this has been due to shoulder injuries, which have taken some of the bite from his pitches. At 34-years-old, age isn't exactly on his side either. Like many of the other pitchers, the rebuilt Mariners infield could help Sele out tremendously, but it's still possible that he could collapse at any time, particularly as the season wears on. He'll have to earn his keep if he plans on heading north with the team.
C Ryan Christianson
2004 Stats: 78 G, 15 2B, 37 RBI, .269/.327/.403, AA/AAA
Suffice to say, the past few years have been rough on the former first-round pick. Christianson has battled through a broken foot and a busted shoulder, costing him half of a season for each. The shoulder injury also sapped most the strength from his throwing arm, and since every other part of his game has been screaming "CATCHER!" that could pose a serious problem. The Mariners hooked him up with a strengthening program in the fall that should have helped his arm get back up to speed, but the invitation is there to help the coaching staff figure out if they need to do anything more with him. Best-case scenario has him back behind the plate in either Tacoma or San Antonio.
C Wiki Gonzalez
2004 Stats: 13 G, 5 2B, 5 HR, .308/.333/.692, AAA
Back in early May, former Mariner Ben Davis was hitting awful even for a backup catcher and Wiki, who was hitting .308/.333/.692 at the time, looked to be the heir apparent for the job. Unfortunately for him, Wiki's quad had other ideas and when he was placed on the DL, the Mariners were forced to call up Pat Borders, who would be turning 41 a week later. A short time later while the team was on a roadtrip in Memphis, the 30-year-old tore his ACL and spent the rest of the season warming the bench. Provided rehab went well, Wiki should be ready by spring training, but will mostly take the role of veteran backup in Tacoma.
C Kit Pellow
2004 Stats: 72 G, 25 R, 5 HR, .270/.337/.429, AAA/MLB
Pellow spent seven years languishing about in the Royals system, mostly around triple-A, and came out of the deal with only 63 major league at-bats to show for it. The next two years with the Rockies yielded a bit more, with 139 more at-bats in Colorado, the highlight of which came on May 24th of last year when he broke up a no-hit bid by Mets pitcher Tom Glavine. Pellow's career path is that of a quadruple-A player; a guy who can be a powerful backup in triple-A, but who has never quite turned it into a major league career. His slugging percentage of .519 in the minors compared to .381 in the majors speaks to this very point. The value he has lies in his ability to play the corners of both the infield and the outfield serviceably and even catch a little. If the M's want to trade some hitting for fielding versatility, Pellow is their man.
INF Benji Gil
2004 Stats: 83 G, 41 R, 20 2B, .252/.310/.359, AAA
You may remember Gil from his role with the 2002 World Champion Anaheim Angels, but those years with the Halos were probably the best of his career. While he put up .257/.304/.392 over four years there, he hit .215/.261/.322 over two years in Texas prior to that. The minor league numbers don't indicate potential for much more either. Gil can provide a solid glove at most positions and is ready for whatever comes his way, but his bat tends to be either pretty good or downright awful with very little middle ground. His saving grace is that he has a little bit more pop than that of his competition.
INF Ricky Gutierrez
2004 Stats: 70 G, 8 2B, 21 RBI, .261/.322/.304, AAA/MLB
Gutierrez isn't anything particularly special; he's pretty solid around the infield, he provides offense that is fairly decent, and yet he almost always has a job off the bench or starting for some major league team. Provided he's healthy, that is. In the past two years, that's proven increasingly difficult, and he's only played in 102 games during that time. Before, it was pretty reasonable to assume that he would get at least that amount in one year alone. Injury concerns aside, he's probably the steadiest bat among the candidates for backup infielder and that should help his chances in spring training.
INF Adam Jones
2004 Stats: 130 G, 76 R, 23 2B, .267/.314/.404, A
Sending a teenaged hitter to the Midwest League is a tall order, but Jones performed admirably in his first full season as a pro, going on to be named one of the top ten prospects in the organization by Baseball America and InsideThePark. Jones had a powerful Cactus League showing last season that left a strong impression on team management, so the former first round pick is getting another chance to show off this year. Though he won't have a chance to earn a job with the big club for at least another couple of years, he'll be playing like he intends to get one. That kind of confidence should carry him far within the organization.
INF Mickey Lopez
2004 Stats: 115 G, 20 2B, 5 3B, .286/.370/.438, AAA/MLB
Proving that hard work and determination can pay off, Mickey Lopez finally got his first cup of coffee last season at 30-years-old. This all came after ten years split between the Brewers, Phillies, Cubs, and Mariners organizations. Throughout his minor league career, he's consistently batted around .280/.340/.400, and if the other infield options fail to impress, Mickey might just sneak in and grab the job. Most of us watching would love to see him to do it, but realistically, there are better options defensively and his offense remains relatively untested. Both those factors will hinder his chances of getting the job.
INF Ramon Santiago
2004 Stats: 90 G, 43 R, 26 RBI, .191/.284/.245, AAA/MLB
Look back at last year's spring training and you'll notice that the Mariners as a team went 18-10, while Ramon Santiago hit .377 and slugged above .500. We all know that happened when the team went north, but Santiago's performance also underscores why you can't invest too much in the early numbers. The 25-year-old didn't break the Mendoza line in Seattle or Tacoma last season, and that's even more depressing than his .231 average during the year and a half he played for Detroit. Suffice to say, the Tigers got the better end of the deal when they traded him and shortstop Juan Gonzalez for Carlos Guillen, but he's the best defensive player of this group and could still have some uses if the team felt like it could take a hit in the offense department.
INF Matt Tuiasosopo
2004 Stats: 49 G, 11 2B, 6 HR, .314/.420/.521, R/A-
Few things about last season elicited as much enthusiasm from the ITP staff as the drafting of Tuiasosopo with the M's first pick. Tui did not disappoint either; far exceeding the expectations one could have for a multi-sport high school player. Ranked as one of the top athletes available in last year's draft, he has the potential to become a franchise player for years to come. That's a little while off though, and for now he'll have to settle for a starting job in Wisconsin and the hope that he'll be able to make as much of an impression on the M's brass as Jones did last year.
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