MLB Spring Training: 5 non-roster invitees to keep an eye on

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March 20th, 2021

For many MLB players, especially non-roster invitees, Spring Training offers a chance to showcase themselves in a competitive setting. A mixture of prospects that might need more time to develop and veterans looking to resurrect their career, NRIs are often interesting to follow at this time of year.

Here are five NRIs that could make it to the majors this season.

5. Matthew Liberatore

The St. Louis Cardinals looked awfully foolish during the 2020 playoffs, when former prospect Randy Arozarena was hitting everything in sight for the Tampa Bay Rays. But the Redbirds could get the last laugh if Matthew Liberatore, whom they swapped Arozarena for, lives up to the hype.

Drafted 16th overall in 2018, Liberatore turned heads with two spotless innings against the Miami Marlins last Saturday. With Dakota Hudson out of the picture (elbow), Miles Mikolas hurt (shoulder) and Kwang Hyun Kim’s status up in the air (back), there could be room for Liberatore on the Cardinals roster.

4. Brandon Kintzler

The Philadelphia Phillies need all the bullpen help they can get, so they invited veteran relievers Tony Watson, Hector Rondon and Brandon Kintzler to Spring Training. The latter has the best chance to break camp with the team.

Kintzler had a 2.22 ERA and 12 saves with the Marlins last year. He has yet to allow an earned run in seven innings of work this spring (1.286 WHIP).

3. Andrew Vaughn

Andrew Vaughn appears poised to take the Eloy Jimenez/Luis Robert path to the majors – that is, sign a contract extension before even suiting up for a Major League game. That’s how highly the Chicago White Sox think of their potential designated hitter of the future.

Vaughn has never played above High-A, but he was a man among boys in college baseball, recording a 1.183 OPS. He has a .887 OPS in 38 at-bats this spring. Considering Chicago DHs slashed .157/.250/.377 in 2020, there’s room for Vaughn to make the Opening Day roster.

2. Jay Bruce

Jay Bruce has struggled with injuries over the last three seasons, which explains why this 34-year-old slugger with 318 home runs to his name was a non-roster invitee for the New York Yankees this spring. But Bruce is making a convincing case to break camp with the Bombers.

The left-handed Bruce is 6-for-23 (.261) with two homers and three RBI in 10 games. Not only would he fit in on a roster loaded with right-handed power, he might fit in anywhere based on a recent scouting evaluation.

1. Bobby Witt Jr.

Could a player who’s never hit above rookie ball make an MLB Opening Day roster? It could happen with shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. – the No. 2 overall pick in 2019 – and the Kansas City Royals.

“I’m very open minded on him being on this team as we break camp,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore told SiriusXM’s Fantasy Alarm show. “The fact that Bobby Witt is still in camp and [manager] Mike [Matheny] continues to play him…he’s earned the respect of his teammates.”

Witt is batting .289 with three homers and seven RBI through 38 Spring Training at-bats. He’s baseball’s No. 7 overall prospect, according to MLB.com.