By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
With pitchers and catchers reporting in just 18 days, the Red Sox continue to put together their Spring Training roster, announcing 13 new non-roster invitees Friday morning.
The list includes names Red Sox fans will find familiar, chief among them 32-year-old Rusney Castillo. The Red Sox signed the outfielder to a seven-year $72.5 million contract back in August of 2014 following his defection from Cuba. Considered an elite offensive prospect at the time, Castillo never quite lived up to the hype. He hit .262 in 99 major league games spread out over three seasons, with just seven home runs and 35 RBIs. Failing to make his contract financially viable, he was waived midway through the 2016 season and sent to Pawtucket in order to stop his contract from counting against the luxury tax. Given their current tax situation, it's highly unlikely (at best) that Castillo will make the club. His deal expires at the end of this season.
Two members of last year's bullpen were also added to the list. Left-handers Brian Johnson and Bobby Poyner received the non-roster invite.
Johnson was at one point considered one of the top pitching prospects in the Red Sox organization, but has struggled being moved to the bullpen midway through the 2018 season. Last year, he posted a 6.02 ERA in 40.1 innings. The 29-year-old was removed from the team's 40-man roster back in November.
Poyner spent 13 games with the Red Sox in 2019, recording a 6.94 ERA in 11.2 innings. Primarily a lefty specialist, the 27-year-old was DFAed by the Red Sox on January 15, then outrighted to Pawtucket.
Infielder Marco Hernandez was also named as a non-roster invitee. The 27-year-old infielder missed most of 2017 and all of 2018 with a left shoulder injury, but played in 61 games for the Sox last season, hitting .250. Hernandez was DFAed on January 10th, then outrighted to Pawtucket.
The Red Sox are also inviting three of their top five prospects to camp, in pitchers Bryan Mata and Tanner Houck (ranked 3rd and 5th in the organization by MLB.com), and outfielder Jarren Duran (4th).
Mata signed with the Red Sox as an international free agent in 2016. The 20-year-old Venezuelan righty possesses a four pitch combination highlighted by a fastball that tops out at 98 MPH. Between Single-A and Double-A in 2019, Mata made 21 starts, going 7-7 with a 3.43 ERA. While he still looks to be at least a season away from his MLB debut, it will be good to get a chance to see him face big-league hitting.
Tanner Houck was the Red Sox first round pick in 2017, taken 24th overall. The former Missouri Tiger began his career as a starter, but was moved into a relief role midway through last season as the organization searched for a quick-fix to its bullpen issues. He made 16 appearances in Triple-AAA Pawtucket last year, 14 in relief, with a 3.24 ERA in 25 innings. With the Red Sox needing pitching across the board and Houck expected to be ready to make his major league debut this season, it will be interesting to see if Chaim Bloom leaves him in the bullpen, or reverses Dave Dombrowski's decision and puts him back in a starting rotation.
Outfielder Jarren Duran was the Red Sox 7th round pick in 2018. A second baseman in college, Duran moved to center field after being drafted to fit an organizational need. He thrived his first season, hitting .357 between Lowell and Greenville. He led all of baseball (majors and minors) with 11 triples in 2018, despite only playing in 67 games. Duran continued to succeed last season, hitting .303 between class-A Salem and AA Portland. The Cal State Long Beach product played in the 2019 Futures Game, was named Class-A Advanced player of the year by Baseball America, added to the Baseball America top 100 prospects list, and awarded Red Sox minor league baserunner of the year. A smart, technique-driven hitter with plus-plus speed, the 23-year-old Duran could potentially become a long-term replacement plan in the Red Sox outfield if Mookie Betts and/or Jackie Bradley Jr are traded. It's unlikely he will be MLB ready this year but if things go as planned, Duran could assume a major league role as early as Opening Day 2021.
The rest of today's non-roster invitee list includes catcher Roldani Baldwin, infielders Chad De La Guerra and Josh Ockimey, and pitchers Trever Hildenberger and Daniel McGrath.
Pitchers and catchers report to Fort Myers February 11th, with the team's first full workout scheduled for February 17th.
Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Hate mail? Let him hear it on Twitter @RealAlexBarth