Late last week the Yankees announced their list of non-roster invitees to Spring Training, a list that runs 20 players deep and includes top prospects like Estevan Florial and Justus Sheffield. It also includes journeymen like Danny Espinosa and Dave Hale. Non-roster players are always a mix of exciting youngsters and veteran retreads. Same story every year.
Given the sheer volume of players invited to big league camp each year — 20 is actually on the low side, there’s usually 24-26 invitees to Spring Training — there are bound to be some surprises. Players who weren’t necessarily expected to be in camp as non-roster players, but will in fact be there, even if only for a few weeks. Based on the last few years, these surprise players are players the Yankees like more than I realized.
So, with that in mind, here are the three biggest surprise invitees to Spring Training, at least in my opinion. I previewed potential non-roster invitees a few weeks ago and nailed 17 of the 20 players coming to camp. These were the three I missed.
RHP Cale Coshow
Coshow, 25, was the team’s 13th round pick in 2013, and a few weeks ago Baseball America ranked him as one of the five best players available in the Rule 5 Draft. When I saw that, I did the blinking guy GIF. Not because I don’t think he has a chance to pitch in the big leagues. It’s just that there are sooo many power righty relievers in the Rule 5 Draft each year. I didn’t think Coshow, who went unpicked, would be among the best. Here is Baseball America’s blurb:
The Yankees have an enviable stable of hard-throwing righthanders, and Coshow has touched 100 mph with his fastball. He couples the pitch with a slider that will flash 55-grade on the 20-to-80 scouting scale. He’s big, strong guy at 6-foot-5, 270 pounds, but his delivery is pretty clean too.
Last season, at mostly Double-A Trenton, Coshow had a 3.75 ERA (2.97 FIP) with 27.6% strikeouts and 7.6% walks in 60 innings. It was his third straight season spending time at the level, though he did make four late-season appearances with Triple-A Scranton. Coshow is fairly far down the righty reliever depth chart, or at least I thought so until he got a Spring Training invite. The Yankees aren’t bringing him to camp out of the kindness of their hearts. They think he has a chance to help as soon as this year, and they want the coaching staff to get to know him.
RHP Raynel Espinal
The biggest non-roster surprise of them all. The 26-year-old Espinal has been in the farm system since 2013 and it wasn’t until 2016 that he got out of the Dominican Summer League. He moved to the bullpen full-time last year and took off, throwing 74.1 relief innings with a 1.09 ERA (2.23 FIP) and great strikeout (33.5%) and walk (5.4%) rates at three levels, including Double-A Trenton. Here’s some video:
Clearly, the Yankees like Espinal enough to bring him to camp as a non-roster player, even if he’s only there for a few weeks and is among the first players sent down. They like something about him and want to see more. Espinal isn’t young in prospect years and he’s only had one good year in his career. Still, that was enough to get him an invite to Spring Training. The Yankees won’t care how old he is if he can get big leaguers out.
RHP Taylor Widener
Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised Widener is getting an invite to camp. He is one of the better pitching prospects in the organization — Keith Law (subs. req’d) ranked him as the 15th best prospect in the system last week, for what it’s worth — and that alone usually equals a Spring Training invite. I thought two things would hold him back. One, Widener has only been a full-time starter for one season. And two, he has basically zero experience above Single-A.
Given the overall pitching depth in the farm system (especially at the upper levels) as well as Widener’s own developmental needs, it is extremely unlikely he will pitch in the big leagues this season. The same was true of Justus Sheffield last season, but he got a Spring Training invite anyway, mostly because the Yankees wanted to challenge him against quality hitters and give him a chance to work with the big league coaching staff. It’s a development opportunity more than a reward for being a top prospect.
It goes without saying Widener is not the same caliber of prospect as Sheffield last season, but the same principles apply. The Yankees will challenge him with some outings against big league hitters — big league hitters in the middle of their spring routine, but still big league hitters — and also have him work with Larry Rothschild and the other big league coaches. They see him as a potential big league option down the road, and an invite now is part of the journey.
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Usually when I put this post together each spring, I include three notable players who are not coming to big league camp, but there aren’t any this season. Pretty much everyone I expected to be there will be there. The most notable omission is probably lefty Stephen Tarpley, who had a great minor season last year (0.88 ERA, 2.85 FIP, 26.9 K%, 11.5 BB% in 41 innings), but he was passed over in the Rule 5 Draft and it’s unclear if he has the control or breaking ball to succeed at the next level. I thought he’d get invited to camp. He wasn’t. Not a huge deal.
For the most part, the most exciting young players who will be in Spring Training this year are already on the 40-man roster. That group includes Gleyber Torres, Miguel Andujar, Domingo Acevedo, Albert Abreu, and Jonathan Loaisiga. It’s really unlikely Abreu and Loaisiga will pitch in the big leagues this season, but Acevedo might, and of course Torres and Andujar will compete for starting infield jobs in camp. Coshow, Espinal, and Widener will be fun to watch in their on way. The 40-man roster prospects are where it’ll really be at.