Dodgers looking at 11 pitchers to fill out staff
Non-roster invitees have yielded hidden gems in years past
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Dodgers have had their share of big-ticket free agent flops, but also found some gems on the scrap heap with non-roster invitees.
From Mike MacDougal and Ronald Belisario to Takashi Saito, Jeff Weaver and Jose Lima, some of the best pitching acquisitions they've made in recent years have been reclamation projects signed to Minor League deals who have become Major League surprises.
This year, there aren't many openings on the pitching staff. The signings of Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano locked up the starting rotation. Although Jonathan Broxton and Hong-Chih Kuo are gone from the back end of the bullpen, Javy Guerra and Kenley Jansen have emerged to handle the eighth and ninth innings. Scott Elbert is now the primary lefty. Right-handers Matt Guerrier, Todd Coffey and MacDougal have guaranteed salaries.
And that doesn't count Belisario, who has his considerable baggage and a 25-game drug suspension to start the season but still has a nasty sinker.
Barring injury, maybe one spot is open for a second lefty, or a long reliever to squeeze out Josh Lindblom, who stepped up last year after a promotion from Double-A but has options left.
Right-handers Jamey Wright and Angel Guzman and lefty Wil Ledezma seem to have made the best early impressions. Wright, with more than 13 years, has more big league experience than anyone in camp. John Grabow has the most big league experience among the lefties.
Here's how the 11 non-roster pitchers in camp shape up:
Alberto Castillo (LHP, 36) -- Castillo is a left-hander who defected from Cuba in 1993 at a tournament in Canada. He had a 2.31 ERA in 17 games for the D-backs last year, missing August with shoulder tendinitis. From 1999-2006, he played independent ball but battled back to make Major League appearances the past four seasons. In 2001 he switched from pitcher to first baseman and switched back in 2002.
Matt Chico (LHP, 28) -- The former Trojan made 31 starts for the Nationals in 2007 and eight more in 2008, but after Tommy John surgery in 2008, he has made only one Major League appearance. His mentor was fellow Fallbrook, Calif., native Duke Snider, but he somehow grew up an Angels fan.
John Grabow (LHP, 33) -- Grabow grew up in Southern California a Dodgers fan. A workhorse from 2004-08, he tore a knee ligament in 2010 and avoided surgery, but pitched last year for the Cubs with a brace that he jettisoned this spring. His best year was 2008, when he had a 2.84 ERA in 74 appearances for the Pirates.
Angel Guzman (RHP, 30) -- Made 55 appearances for the Cubs in 2009, but underwent shoulder surgery in 2010 and said he made baby steps last year and believes he's back now. His early bullpen sessions have been impressive.
Wil Ledezma (LHP, 31) -- With 192 Major League appearances, Ledezma has the experience. He spent most of 2011 in the Minor Leagues and appeared in five games for Toronto. Has struggled through his career with command.
Shane Lindsay (RHP, 27) -- Lindsay is an Australian who pitched four games with the White Sox in 2011 but spent most of the year at Triple-A. He missed 2007 with shoulder surgery and has been slowed already this spring with a strained latissimus dorsi muscle. He operates an excavator for an Australian construction company during the offseason.
Fernando Nieve, (RHP, 29) - Missed two years after 2007 Tommy John surgery and a hamstring injury and spent last year pitching in Korea after being released by Houston. He can start or relieve.
Scott Rice (LHP, 30) - A former first-round pick of Baltimore, he's pitched three different seasons in independent ball and has 13 seasons of professional experience but never in the big leagues. He was released by the Cubs last June. He signed with the Dodgers in 2008 but was released and had flexor tendon surgery later that year. Pitched for the Dodgers at Double-A last year.
Will Savage (RHP, 27) - A Minor League free agent, he returns to the Dodgers after going 12-6 for them at Double-A last year. Originally with the Phillies, he was released in 2009 and played independent ball but persevered to reach the Major League clubhouse. He doesn't throw hard, but he wins. Another Southern California product that dreamed of playing in Dodger Stadium.
Ryan Tucker (RHP, 25) - A former sandwich pick of the Marlins, he appeared in 13 Major League games in 2008 and not again until last year's brief callup with the Rangers. He missed 2009 with knee and oblique injuries but is another Southern California product that grew up a Dodgers fan.
Jamey Wright (RHP, 37) - This year's Jeff Weaver. Wright pitched in relief for Seattle last year, appearing in 60 games with a career-best 3.16 ERA. A one-time innings-eating starter, Wright has pitched in relief exclusively since 2008. He had a deal worked out with the Dodgers for 2009 but failed a physical, a curious result considering he's been a workhorse ever since.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.