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Grading the chances for the Giants’ non-roster invitees to make the 2018 Opening Day roster

The Giants have invited 18 players to spring training. Will any of them make the roster?

Atlanta Braves v Washington Nationals Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

The Giants announced a couple of weeks ago that they have invited 16 non-roster players to spring training. Since then, they’ve signed Gregor Blanco and Andres Blanco to minor-league deals with an invitation to sprint training, and it’s possible that more minor deals are coming. For now, though, let’s take a look at all of the NRIs and see if they have a Casilla’s chance of making the Opening Day roster in 2018.

Do you like right-handed relievers and utility infielders? Sure you do.

Tyler Cyr

Cyr is a right-handed reliever with a high strikeout rate and a high walk rate who pitched in Double-A last year, and the Giants thought highly enough of him to send him to the Arizona Fall League. It’s never a stretch to assume that a Double-A reliever with a high strikeout rate has a good chance of appearing in the majors this year.

But on Opening Day? That would take some new information. It’s not impossible for new information to surface. Derek Law was the setup man coming after spring training last year, and new information (that his breaking ball was suddenly prone to floating up in the zone) pushed him to the bubble of the roster for this Opening Day. If Cyr comes in throwing the ball wherever he wants and hardly walks anyone, he could become a favorite.

That seems really optimistic, though.

Grade of Opening Day chances: C-

Jose Flores

Flores is another right-handed reliever who had success in Double-A last year, except there’s a big difference between him and Cyr: he’s almost 29, and he’s been around the world.

Here’s another big difference: Flores started in Triple-A after getting promoted, which was the first time he had been a regular starter since 2008, when he was player in rookie league for the Indians. He didn’t do too poorly, either, with a solid 4.04 ERA (fine for the PCL) and a 9.0 K/9.

I have no idea if he’s gunning for Ty Blach’s role or Derek Law’s, which makes this a hard grade to hand out. His sneaky veteranness might give him an unexpected advantage if he’s throwing well in Arizona.

Grade of Opening Day chances: C-

Dereck Rodriguez

Rodriguez pitched in the Twins system, and that was an organization that had a pitch-to-contact philosophy for years, so it’s tricky to parse his minor-league numbers. But he seems like a command-sinker type with a low strikeout rate.

The most relevant piece of information is that while he pitched well in High-A last year, he was still a 25-year-old pitching in A-ball. I wouldn’t think he would be a secret rotation weapon this year.

Grade of Opening Day chances: D-

Andrew Suarez

Suarez is probably an alias of Ty Blach, and he exists as part of a scam to get Blach two paychecks and two pensions. Probably. If you’re such a hotshot investigative journalist, prove me wrong.

But, like Blach, he’s a candidate for that fifth spot in the rotation. Baseball Prospectus described Suarez thusly ...

None of his four pitches—save perhaps the change—really project better than average, and his control is ahead of his command due to the funkiness in the delivery

Still, it described him as “ready to be a serviceable major league starting pitcher,” too. I’ll take serviceable!

Grade of Opening Day chances: B

Jose Valdez

Another right-handed reliever, if you’re looking for a pattern of what the Giants are looking for. Valdez has major league experience, getting cups of coffee with the Tigers, Angels, and Padres. His cup last year allowed him to show off a small-sample K/BB ratio that was nice, though it came with a 7.94 ERA, which ... isn’t ideal.

Valdez was blown up in Triple-A last year, too, so I’m guessing that his stuff is ahead of his results. He’s 28, so there’s every reason to think his 4.4 career walks-per-nine is just who he is, and he doesn’t have the strikeouts to make up for it.

On the other hand, he seems like the typical rando who sneaks onto a Giants roster every year. There has to be one, right?

Grade of Opening Day chances: D-

Madison Younginer

DON’T WASTE YOUR JOKES JUST YET. It’s a long spring. But the other Madison ___g_ner is a right-handed reliever who can miss bats, but he’ll walk more batters than you’re comfortable with. Which means he’s not alone on this list.

Like Cyr, something would need to change for him to be considered. If he’s hitting his spots like he’s never done before, there’s probably something there. The Dodgers liked him enough to bring him in last year, and they’re much smarter than the Giants. That’s probably a good sign! About Younginer, I mean. Generally, it’s a horrible sign for everything related to baseball. But it makes me feel better about Younginer, at least.

Still, not likely.

Grade of Opening Day chances: D-

Trevor Brown

In case of injury, break glass.

Grade of Opening Day chances: C

Justin O’Conner

He’s like Trevor Brown with a prospect pedigree. O’Conner came over as a minor-league free agent out of the Rays system, where he used to be a top prospect. He doesn’t seem to be much of a hitter, even though he’s somewhat interesting because he’s only 25.

Still, I would think he’s third on the NRI depth chart, which puts him a fair distance from the majors.

Grade of Opening Day chances: D-

Hector Sanchez


Grade of Opening Day chances: A+++

Orlando Calixte

He really had a chance to impress the Giants last year in the majors. And like almost every other player, he did not impress. His defense in the outfield is rough, just like his defense in the infield. Just like his bat.

Still, if he can show that he can field all of his positions just enough, his speed and versatility makes him a possibility. He’s not exciting, but he has a chance.

Grade of Opening Day chances: C-

Chase d’Arnaud

d’Arnaud projects for a .674 OPS according to Baseball-Reference, which is extremely utility infielder. He’s already 31, so it’s not like he’s going to morph suddenly into a valuable contributor. He’s the kind of player who gets 50 at-bats in the majors and then DFA’d because of various dominoes falling.

He’s probably not the kind of player who blows away the Cactus League and forces his way onto a roster.

Grade of Opening Day chances: D

Alen Hanson

Winner of the 2018 Hey, This Guy Could Be Gregor Blanco Award — which was created by me just now — Hanson has tools. He’s a switch-hitter with vroom vroom speed, and he played every position last year except for first base, catcher, and pitcher. He’s not adept at any of those positions, really, but he can play them.

He’s Calixte with a better prospect pedigree, then. It was just a couple years ago that he was making top-100 lists, and the White Sox were really hoping that he would stick for them last year. He did not stick for them last year, hitting .231/.276/.375.

Still, I get the sense that the Giants would be thrilled if Hanson emerged as a bench candidate in the spring. We could call his home runs mmm-bops.

Grade of Opening Day chances: B-

Andres Blanco

You can read more about Blanco here, but I’m secretly down on his chances to make the team. My guess is that Gregor Blanco will make the team, which would mean that another player making more than $1 million will push the Giants closer to the luxury tax threshold, and they’re not going to want two of those.

If Gregor looks like he’s lost yet another step, though, Andres would suddenly have a better shot. The fates of the two Blancos are intertwined, it would seem. They would make too much combined money to both be on the team.

Grade of Opening Day chances: C-

Gregor Blanco

He has a real shot of making the team. The Giants want a left-handed caddy for Austin Jackson until Steven Duggar is ready, and Blanco knows all the local restaurants and everything. The biggest threat to his Opening Day slot is Duggar forcing his way into the starting role, at which point the Giants might go with the cheaper Gorkys Hernandez as the fifth outfielder.

Still, the Giants were looking for a left-handed center fielder for a reason. I’m guessing he makes it.

Grade of Opening Day chances: B+

Kyle Jensen

Left-handed beef from Walnut Creek! Do you like dingers? Well, here you go. Do you like strikeouts? Sorry, those come along with this package deal. But focus on the dingers. Dingers!

It’s hard to see how the Giants carry a left-handed player limited to a corner position unless they ditch Pablo Sandoval. Which certainly could happen with a hot spring from Jensen. From here, though, this looks similar to Chris Marrero in a lot of ways. There’s a chance injuries will force the Giants’ hand, but that probably won’t happen before April.

Grade of Opening Day chances: D

Josh Rutledge

With more than 1,200 plate appearances in the majors, this is the NRI with the most MLB experience. When he was 23, he had a fair amount of success with the Rockies, which suggested he had a possible future as a regular at one point.

Since then, there’s been a lot of bouncing around and some injuries. His projection on Baseball-Reference gives him a .690 OPS, which makes him like the Chase d’Arnaud of utility infielders. He isn’t 30 yet, though, so maybe there’s something more there?

Grade of Opening Day chances: C-

Steven Duggar

The Giants don’t want to give him a starting job. The Giants would really, really, really want him to wrest the starting job away from Austin Jackson and whomever else they wrangle to player center. Part of the hell season last year was that they couldn’t even get looks at some of their prospects like Duggar. We should know if we want to see him get 400 at-bats in the majors next year.

We don’t know that. But he probably will anyway.

Grade of Opening Day chances: B+

Chris Shaw

Last on the list is Shaw, who might have had a slightly plausible chance of making the roster before the Andrew McCutchen trade. He’s a prospect worth watching, but he really doesn’t have much of a chance of squeaking onto the roster unless there’s an injury.

Reminder that the Giants have a pair of over-30 outfielders in the starting lineup and a baseball magnet of a first baseman. It could happen.

Grade of Opening Day chances: C-

I’ll guess the roster looks like this on Opening Day:

Buster Posey
Nick Hundley

Brandon Belt
Joe Panik
Brandon Crawford
Evan Longoria
Kelby Tomlinson
Alen Hanson

Hunter Pence
Austin Jackson
Andrew McCutchen
Gregor Blanco

Madison Bumgarner
Johnny Cueto
Jeff Samardzia
Chris Stratton
Tyler Beede

Mark Melancon
Sam Dyson
Hunter Strickland
Will Smith
Derek Law
Cory Gearrin
Random Reliever
Ty Blach

That random reliever could be Julian Fernandez, Rule 5 pick, it could be someone already on the roster, like Reyes Moronta, or it could be someone on the NRI list. This roster would have drawbacks (exposing Jarrett Parker and Mac Williamson to waivers, for two), and my prediction of Hanson making it is more of a guess than anything else, but at least one of these NRIs will be considered late in the spring.

You might as well pick one and get behind him now so you can look smart when it happens.