Baseball is right around the corner.
One of the most exciting parts of Spring Training is the constant battle for roster spots that takes place over the course of the month-long schedule. The Washington Nationals have a few spots up for grabs, and they were busy over the offseason.
The club has released their non-roster invitees for 2023 Spring Training and there are plenty of familiar names on the list. For those who don't know, a "non-roster invitee" is a player who is not currently on the 40-man roster, but will participate in Spring Training games.
A name that will jump out to every Nationals fan is left-handed reliever Sean Doolittle. Doolittle, a member of the 2019 World Series team, only appeared in six games in 2022 before suffering an elbow sprain that sat him out for the rest of the season. He was re-signed in November to a minor league contract with hopes to make the active roster by Opening Day.
As of now, the only left handers on the 40-man roster are Patrick Corbin, MacKenzie Gore, Jose Ferrer, and Matt Cronin. The latter two are top prospects with slim to no chance of ending up on the big league team in March. With the other two lefties expected to be a part of the starting rotation, it seems like the spot is Doolittle's to lose.
A challenger for that same spot is Francisco Perez. The Dominican southpaw saw 8.2 innings for the Nationals last season, but spent most of the year in Class AAA with the Rochester Red Wings. While he does have some familiarity with the organization, his performance wasn't particularly reliable in 2022.
Other invitees that have seen major league time with the Nationals but are no longer on the 40-man roster are Andres Machado, Jackson Tetreault, Evan Lee, Tommy Romero, Alberto Baldonado, Matt Adams, Lucius Fox, and Yadiel Hernandez.
Perhaps the most intriguing prospect among the invitees is Zach Brzykcy. The 2020 undrafted free agent signee ripped through three minor league levels last season, ending the year in Class AAA. While Spring Training will be his first time facing big league hitters, his pitch repertoire is good enough to keep him in the conversation for innings with the big league club this season.
Among the non-roster invitees are a handful of free agent signees that came aboard over the offseason. To name a few: Chad Kuhl is a starting pitcher who tallied 137 innings for the Rockies in 2022. Michael Chavis is an infielder with four years in the bigs, looking to earn a bench spot. Derek Hill and Travis Blankenhorn are a pair of relatively young outfielders with something to prove.
For the more hardcore baseball fans, the names Alex Colome and Wily Peralta should ring a bell. Both pitchers are 10-year major league veterans that have struggled recently, but could provide bullpen depth if they can show any consistency over the next month and a half.
Candelario will almost certainly get the nod at the hot corner, but there are many questions surrounding who will fill a back-up infield spot along side Ildemaro Vargas. 2016 first-round pick, Carter Kieboom is coming off Tommy John surgery and has his work cut out for him if he wants to make the 26-man roster.
Jake Alu, Kieboom's competition, rose the ranks in 2022 after a stellar season, slashing .299/.365/.506 across Class AA and AAA. Alu was added to the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft in December making it a real possibility that he lands on the big league squad. The left-handed hitting third baseman also has experience at second base and left field - a luxury that Kieboom doesn't offer.
Opening Day is almost here and the Washington Nationals still have decisions to make regarding their roster. This is the time those questions are answered. Who knows? Maybe an offseason signee impresses during Spring Training and the Nationals strike gold.