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Tigers search for hidden gems among non-roster invitees

The Tigers will soon announce their list of non rostered players who are invited to spring training, hoping to find a few diamonds in the rough.

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Pitchers and catchers will report to the Detroit Tigers’ spring training camp in Lakeland in February, followed by the full squad. Some will arrive early to get their work in, and to make an impression. Those in attendance will include all of the players on the 40 man roster, plus about 15 to 20 non-roster invitees (NRIs).

There are two types of NRIs. There are prospects, such as Tyler Collins and James McCann last year, who are thought to be close to major league ready. Many of these players are invited to spring training even if their odds of earning a spot immediately are not very good. There are also major league veterans such as Ezequiel Carrera and Danny Worth who have cleared waivers and been signed to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.

In 2014, the list of Tigers NRIs included Collins, a prospect who made the team out of spring training. It also included Carrera, who was called up during the season and played 45 games with Detroit, and relief pitcher Blaine Hardy, who was one of the more effective relief pitchers with the club all season. Also on the list were Worth, McCann, Drew VerHagen, and Robbie Ray, who spent some time in the major leagues during the year.

The Tigers published the list of 2014 non-roster invitees on January 9, 2014. They will soon announce the list of NRIs for 2015. One of the veterans will be relief pitcher Joel Hanrahan, who was signed to a $1 million contract with incentives. He has yet to be placed on the major league roster. The club is hoping that the former All-Star closer can bounce back from surgery and help their beleaguered bullpen in 2015.

Also among the list of NRIs will be several catchers, none of whom have a realistic chance of making the team. They are there to help the pitchers to get their work in during spring training. They will be reassigned to the minors as the major league roster is pared down for Opening Day. We can expect to see seven or eight catchers in camp before the first exhibition game is played, but the team has three catchers on the 40 man roster, with only two spots available for them.

Some players who have been removed from the 40 man roster are hoping to receive invitations to big league camp. Those would include first baseman Jordan Lennerton, relief pitchers Melvin Mercedes and Luke Putkonen, and Carrera. All of these players were removed to make room on the roster for other players after the season, but they could make it back with a strong performance in the minor leagues next season.

A player doesn't have to get an invitation to spring training in order to be called up during the season. Buck Farmer, Kyle Ryan, Chad Smith, Corey Knebel, and Pat McCoy did not receive invitations last season, but made their major league debuts in 2014. Farmer, Ryan, and Smith remain on the 40-man roster and will be in Lakeland with the major league team.

The Tigers have made some low key signings during the winter, some of whom could receive an invitation to spring training. Following is a short list of minor league signings.

Name Position Age
Rafael Dolis RHP 26
Jefry Marte 3B 23
Omar Duran LHP 24
Tim Melville RHP 25
Xavier Avery OF 25
Alberto Cabrera RHP 26
Francisco Martinez 3B 24
Michael Torrealba RHP 25
Gabe Speier LHP 19

The Tigers may also extend invites to players not currently with the organization. One familiar name that may make his way back to Lakeland is outfielder Andy Dirks. Tom Gage pitched the idea at the Detroit News yesterday, and Dave Dombrowski said that Dirks is "still exploring his options."