Spring Training means a lot of different things for Major League Baseball players.
For established major leaguers, it’s simply six weeks of fine-tuning and workouts to prepare for Opening Day. For young players and prospects, Spring Training offers an opportunity to play with big league players and maybe compete for a job on the big league club. And for some, Spring Training offers an opportunity to revive a career and earn one more shot at the big league level, just as several Washington Nationals players will try to do this spring.
In the last few months, general manager Mike Rizzo and the Washington Nationals have signed several players to minor league deals, with the expectation that they will compete for a spot on the 25 man roster this spring.
Among these players are infielders Jamey Carroll and Mike Fontenot, reliever Clay Hensley and catcher Chris Snyder. All of them have had big league success in the past, all of them will be at Spring Training with the Nationals and all of them will be looking to return to the big leagues in 2014.
Carroll, 39, spent four years with the Nationals/Expos organization before being traded to the Colorado Rockies by then-general manager Jim Bowden. Carroll has played for six teams in his 12 year career, hitting .272 with 13 home runs and 265 RBIs in 1,276 games.
Perhaps the opportunity means even more for Carroll, as he would be returning to the franchise where he first started his career.
Fontenot, 33, spent last season in the Tampa Bay Rays organization playing for the Durham Bulls, the team’s Triple-A affiliate. The left-handed hitting infielder last played in the Majors in 2012 with the Philadelphia Phillies. Fontenot’s best season came as a member of the Chicago Cubs in 2008, when he hit .305 with a .395 on-base percentage.
Carroll and Fontenot will likely be competing with Danny Espinosa for the back up job at second base. While many expect Espinosa to get the position, there’s always a chance that he’ll struggle during Spring Training and either Carroll or Fontenot could get the job. There’s also the possibility that Espinosa could be traded before Opening Day, giving the veterans a chance to battle it out for the position.
Another Nationals player looking to get back to the big leagues is reliever Clay Hensley.
Hensley, 34, last pitched in the major leagues in 2012 with the San Francisco Giants, posting a 4.62 ERA over 50 2/3 innings. The right-hander has plenty of big league experience, pitching four seasons for the San Diego Padres and two for the Marlins before his stint with the Giants. Hensley has a career 4.00 ERA in 517 innings over 271 major league games.
Hensley split time last season between Triple-A Louisville, a Cincinnati Reds affiliate and Triple-A Nashville, a Milwaukee Brewers affiliate. The right-hander also pitched for the Sugar Land Skeeters of the independent Atlantic League. He posted a 2.57 ERA in 35 combined innings last season.
The Nationals’ bullpen is stacked with young talent right now, but Hensley could get his shot if someone like Ryan Mattheus struggles during Spring Training or if there’s an injury.
The Nationals also signed catcher Chris Snyder to a minor league deal with an invitation to Spring Training, where he will compete with Jhonatan Solano and Sandy Leon for the backup catcher’s job. Out of all of these players, Snyder is probably the most likely to be on the Nationals’ Opening Day roster as he has much more big league experience than Solano and Leon.
Snyder, 32, has appeared in 715 major league games with four teams over his ten-year career. The veteran catcher posted a .273/.330/.477 line with 14 doubles and 13 home runs in 73 games and 286 plate appearances with the Angels’ and Orioles’ Triple-A affiliates last season. Snyder hasn’t had a ton of offensive success in the majors, hitting .224 over his career, but his experience and veteran presence could be a major asset for a young team like the Nationals. Snyder will have plenty of motivation, as he could make over $1 million if he makes the team out of Spring Training.
While Snyder is the safest bet to make the 25-man roster, all of these players have an opportunity to prove that they still have what it takes to succeed at the big league level. Year after year we see players on every team who were signed to ‘low-cost high-reward’ minor league deals become major contributors over the course of the season. It won’t be easy and odds are, most of them probably won’t make the big league club. But for Carroll, Fontenot, Hensley and Snyder, they have a chance. And sometimes, a chance is all it takes to revive a career.