The Non-Roster Players Invited to Red Sox Camp
Fresh off their 2013 World Championship, the Red Sox appear to be strong contenders to capture the AL East once again, which usually means that non-roster invites have less of a chance to make an impact. Nonetheless, the Red Sox certainly have a few intriguing names in camp who could play a role in the upcoming season.
John Ely: Originally a third round draft pick by the White Sox, Ely was traded to the Dodgers as part of the Juan Pierre salary dump trade in 2009. At the time he was traded, Ely was coming off of his best minor league season while pitching in Double-A (2.82 ERA, 1.22 WHIP over 27 starts). In 2010, Ely achieved his 15 minutes of fame. Due to injuries in the Dodgers’ rotation, Ely was called up to the majors at the end of April. After getting knocked around in his first major league start, Eli was downright fantastic over his next seven starts as he turned in a 3-1 record with a 2.40 ERA. Although he had never pitched above Double-A and had a fastball that did not touch 90 mph, Ely exhibited terrific control (at one point he faced 89 batters without issuing a walk). Ely was a mainstay in the Dodger rotation through the end of June, holding his own with a 3.62 ERA. However, Ely gave up a combined 12 runs and did not make it out of the third inning in either of his two July starts, earning a demotion to Triple-A. During a September call-up, Ely got shelled to the tune of an 8.85 ERA over four starts.
After 2010, Eli pitched a total of 14.2 innings in the majors. Due largely to his solid performance in Triple-A in 2012 (3.20 ERA with 165 strikeouts over 168.2 innings), Ely was named the Pacific Coast League’s pitcher of the year and the Dodgers named him the team’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year. Despite these accolades, the Dodgers traded Ely to Houston last offseason, where he injured his elbow and underwent Tommy John surgery on April 25, 2013. Ely is on track to return from the surgery in May and will provide depth for the Red Sox in Pawtucket. Ely, who never had a blazing fastball, is still only 28 years old and may be a useful asset during the second half of the season.
Rich Hill: Hill, who was born in Boston and drafted in the fourth round out of the University of Michigan, was listed as the Chicago Cubs number five prospect after the 2005 season.
In 2006, Hill had an up-and-down rookie season. One memorable moment came when Hill was the starting pitcher in a White Sox-Cubs game where A.J. Pierzynski ran over Michael Barrett at home plate and Barrett punched Pierzynski. After the game, Hill called Pierzynski “gutless,” to which then White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen responded, “Who is Hill?” and explained that “Hill, he should be in Triple-A. He’s going to make Dusty Baker be fired.” However, over Hill’s final seven starts of the season, he compiled a 1.84 ERA with 52 strike outs over 49.0 innings pitched.
After a solid 2007 season, Hill lost his ability to throw strikes and spent the majority of the 2008 season trying to find his form in the minors. Unable to regain his control, Hill was unceremoniously traded to the Baltimore Orioles for “a player to be named later” after the season. After undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2011, Hill reinvented himself as a lefty reliever, and he was highly effective in that role for the Red Sox in 2012 (1.83 ERA over 19.2 innings pitched). Last season Hill appeared in 63 games for the Cleveland Indians, but had a dreadful 6.28 ERA. The Red Sox re-signed Hill this offseason and he will compete for role in the bullpen. To make the roster, Hill would likely have to beat out Drake Britton or Andrew Miller, who, like Hill, was once a well-regarded starting pitcher prospect who was converted to reliever when the Red Sox signed him in 2011.
Tommy Layne: As a starting pitcher, Tommy Layne progressed well through the Arizona Diamondbacks minor league system until reaching Triple-A in 2011 (6.21 ERA over 15 starts). After that season, the Padres acquired Layne for cash considerations, but Layne continued to struggle at the Triple-A level (7.77 ERA over 5 starts). Eventually, Layne was demoted to Double-A, and he was converted into a reliever, with mostly positive results (4.50 ERA, 8.0 K/9 but with 5.3 BB/9). Layne made a total of 40 appearances in 2012-2013 for the Padres, notching 2 saves with a 2.84 ERA. Additionally, since becoming a reliever full-time, Layne has been dominant against left-handed batters (.175 BA, .544 OPS) but also has held his own against right-handed batters (.246 BA, .659 OPS). Thus, he does not necessarily have to be treated as a LOOGY. Unfortunately for Layne, he appears destined for Triple-A to start the season due to the presence of other lefty relievers already on the forty man roster (Breslow, Miller, Britton, and Franklin Morales) as well as fellow non-roster invitee Hill.
Mike McCoy: The longtime minor leaguer, McCoy appeared to be a late-bloomer as his best season came in his eighth minor league season. At age 28, McCoy slashed .307/.405/.400/.898 with 102 runs scored and 52 RBIs. McCoy followed up with two more very good season with the Blue Jays’ Triple A affiliate (.805 OPS in 2010, .881 OPS in 2011). However, McCoy’s three best minor league seasons all occurred in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, which is the league where Bubba Crosby once hit .361/.410/.634/1.046. McCoy received 331 at-bats as a reserve infielder for the Blue Jays from 2010 to 2012, but, somewhat unsurprisingly, he failed to show well offensively at that level (.190/.273/.256/.529). McCoy’s greatest asset at this level is his versatility, having played every position except first base and catcher.
Brandon Snyder: A first round selection by the Orioles in 2005, Snyder returns to Boston on a minor league contract after appearing in twenty-seven games with the Red Sox last season. Snyder, originally a catcher, was drafted thirteenth overall in the 2005 star-studded draft (Alex Gordon, Justin Upton, Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitzki, Cameron Maybin, Andrew McCutchen, and Jay Bruce were all selected within the first twelve picks). In 2009, a twenty-two-year-old Snyder gave Orioles’ fans hope for the future when he hit .289/.362/.460/.822 with 12 homeruns and 88 RBIs while splitting time in Double-A and Triple-A. However, Snyder largely struggled over the next two seasons in Triple-A, and only saw a total of 33 major league at-bats. In 2012, the Orioles gave up on Snyder and traded him for cash considerations to the Texas Rangers when they needed to clear a spot on the forty-man roster for Jai Miller. With Will Middlebrooks struggling last season, Snyder was called up to the Sox in late June and looked great over his first six appearances (1 HR, 6 RBI) but things unraveled quickly from that point. By August 7th, Snyder’s average was down to .209 with an abysmal on-base-percentage of .227, and he had only picked up one additional RBI over . He was placed on the disabled list on August 15th with an elbow injury, which coincidentally enough allowed him to remain on the 40-man roster while Middlebrooks was recalled from the minors. Snyder was activated in September but saw only 7 at-bats and finished the season batting .180. He was outrighted off the 40-man roster in November and selected free agency. Ultimately, he was re-signed by the Red Sox to a non-guaranteed minor league deal.