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N-R-ME? No, N-R-I!
by Derek Smart
All three majorChicagopapers ran an apparently compulsory "Everything's Going to be Dandy With Nomar's Achilles" piece this morning, but the Daily Herald's version had a little extra info at the bottom about non-roster spring invites. Here's the list of gentlemen mentioned in the article:
We've talked about some of these guys before, Fox and Williamson chief among them, but Peter Bergeron jumps out at me for some reason. Perhaps it's because so many thought he was the real deal after a breakout campaign in 1999, splitting action between AA and AAA as a 21 year-old. He's only 27 now, but it's become obvious after failing multiple times to produce at the Major League level that his window of opportunity is nearly closed.
If I had to guess, I'd say he's invited because of his relative youth and because there really isn't an outfielder on the roster who should be allowed to back up Corey Patterson. I sincerely doubt Bergeron makes the cut, but since the other available choices for the gig are Todd Hollandsworth and Jose Macias, it certainly doesn't hurt to give him a look. Nice invite.
I'll also admit to having a perverse soft spot for Angel Echevarria. Oddly, his career numbers over eight years add up to about one full season's worth of playing time, and he's put together a solid .280/.343/.469 line in that time. Not what you want from your first base/corner outfield/DH types, but useful off the bench just the same.
He's spent the last two years in Japan with the Nippon Ham Fighters where he was decent, but not overwhelming. Realistically, he won't make the club, and probably shouldn't, but he could serve as a useful right-handed bat with some pop off the bench - something the Cubs were surprisingly short of last season - and much like Bergeron, could come in handy at some point in the season if he's willing to hang out in Des Moines.
The rest of the NRIs with experience in the Bigs besides Fox, Williamson, Bergeron and Echevarria are of the "break glass in case of emergency" variety, and when I say emergency, I'm talking spine tingling cataclysm. If you need a lefty reliever badly enough that the 33 year-old Oropesa's 7.34 career ERA looks attractive, maybe you should forgo lefties all together, or simply make one of your right-handers throw with their mittened paw.
I know little more about the minor league invites than what their stat lines tell me, and since I couldn't find anything on Valdez, or even anyone on last year's minor league rosters whose name was even close, I'm going to let him pass and move on to the rest.
UPDATE: I knew I'd heard Valdez' name before. I'll claim sickness since I was in the throes of my bout with plague when this transaction occurred, but he's the 27 year-old Cuban pitcher the Cubs signed in December. He's had some nice numbers in the Dominican Leagues, and it will be very interesting to see how that translates when he's facing a higher level of competition. The organization seems pretty hot to trot, so he should at least be fun to watch.
Jermaine Van Buren hadn't played above A-ball his entire career, but when the Cubs signed him last year after he spent his age 23 season with the Fort Worth Cats of the independent Central League, they converted him from a starter to a reliever. The result was a year that began in Lansing and ended in Iowa, with the most time in one spot being the 53 IP he accrued in West Tenn, sporting a 1.87 ERA while striking out 10.9 men per nine. That's some pretty impressive stuff, and I'd guess the Cubs are looking at him as another bullpen right-hander, possibly a closer-in-training.
Greenberg got his first taste of AA last year (277/366/455) after starting the season down in Daytona (291/381/424). Heís currently hitting 310/355/408 in the Arizona Fall League.
I donít think Greenberg is really considered a premium prospect in the Cubs organization, so heíll likely face an uphill battle if he wants to realize his goal of leading off at Wrigley. But youíve gotta root for the little guy who understands exactly what value he can bring to his organization.
That pretty much covers it. He's a small man without much power, but he gets on base, and if he hits well enough and is good enough in the outfield, he's got a way outside shot at a bench spot.
UPDATE: I gave a shout out to A-B prospect kingpin (and fellow Cub fan), Bryan Smith, of Wait 'Til Next Year for a little more info on the minor league gents. He was good enough to offer these thoughts on Van Buren and Greenberg:
Van Buren has a decent chance of becoming Joe Borowski 2.0, another Cubs find from the Independent Leagues. He actually came recommended by super-scout Gary Hughes upon his entrance into the organization, and having that as reference on your resume always is a good thing. He was fabulous in the Southern League last year, and while he won't make the team, should become an effective reliever in Iowa. He'll likely get lost somewhere in the Mitre, Wellemeyer, Leicester, Wuertz group, but there's no question that Van Buren would be better than a lot of guys that will be pitching in Major League bullpens this year.
As for Greenberg, he's a former ninth-round draft pick out of North Carolina, where he spent the 2000-2002 seasons playing better offensively than first-round draft pick Russ Adams. Alex mentioned the other day that Dave Kelton is likely the 25th man, but I think Kelton's inability to play centerfield will hurt his chances. Greenberg could be a very good 25th man, offering a bit of speed, power, selectivity and versatility, along with a left-handed bat. But he's not too far removed from Daytona, so waiting one more season is a good idea. I'm just saying he would be better than trotting out Tom Goodwin again.