Breaking down Brewers' non-roster invitees

January 23rd, 2024

This story was excerpted from Adam McCalvy's Brewers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

If you can remember them all, from Jared Koenig to Brock Wilken, then congratulations. For the rest of us, as the Feb. 14 arrival of Brewers pitchers and catchers creeps closer, it’s worth a reminder of which players either signed Minor League contracts with Milwaukee that include invitations to Major League Spring Training camp or have been invited to big league camp from within the system. 

Some of these names will prove important in 2024. Right-hander Colin Rea, for example, was a non-roster invitee a year ago and wound up logging the third-most innings for a division-winning team. Andruw Monasterio was an even deeper sleeper, since he signed the previous October, but he earned a place in Milwaukee’s everyday lineup as the team searched for production at third base. 

Who will be this year’s surprises?

Here are the NRIs so far, listed by the date we learned of them: 

Jan. 19: INF Tyler Black, 1B/C Wes Clarke, LHP Robert Gasser, RHP Evan McKendry, RHP Jacob Misiorowski, RHP Tobias Myers, RHP Carlos F. Rodriguez, 3B Brock Wilken invited to Major League camp
These are the bulk of the invitees from within Milwaukee’s farm system, including MLB Pipeline’s Brewers Top 30 Prospects Misiorowski (No. 3), Black (No. 4), Gasser (No. 5), Rodriguez (No. 6), Wilken (No. 7) and Clarke (No. 30). Those names are on top of No. 1 Brewers prospect Jackson Chourio, No. 2 prospect Jeferson Quero and No. 23 prospect Oliver Dunn, who will be in big league camp by virtue of being on the 40-man roster. 

It’s unprecedented in Brewers history for this many top prospects to be in camp at one time, and it’s sure to add some more youthful energy to an already young group. Of the non-roster invitees, Black may have the best chance to make a big impact, given the Brewers’ unsettled situation at first base and third base as of mid-January. Black, regarded for his strike zone recognition and bat-to-ball skills, posted a .930 OPS between Double-A Biloxi and Triple-A Nashville last season while impressing coaches at both stops with his commitment to defense. Wilken will provide some good competition; Milwaukee’s top Draft pick last summer made it all the way to Double-A by season’s end and has a chance to move fast considering how thin the Brewers are at third base. 

It’s also worth keeping a keen eye on the pitchers -- Myers and McKendry because they could easily contribute in the bullpen if needed during the year, and Gasser and Rodriguez because they represent the first wave of reinforcements for the starting rotation. 

Of course, we’ll all ignore that and focus on Misiorowski, the 6-foot-7, 100 mph-throwing, 21-year-old right-hander who is a real wild card going into this season. The Brewers want to continue developing him as a starting pitcher after he struck out 110 batters in 71 1/3 innings over 20 starts combined between Single-A Carolina, High-A Wisconsin and Biloxi in 2023. But it’s easy to dream about what that kind of stuff could do in short relief stints in the Majors, and it’s not inconceivable that Misiorowski could force his way to the big leagues in that role if needed.

Jan. 5: C Austin Nola signs Minor League contract with invitation to big league camp
Nola, 34, has primarily operated as a backup for the Mariners and Padres over the past five seasons. With Milwaukee, he provides depth for the catching tandem of William Contreras and recently acquired backup Eric Haase, and could help mentor the club's No. 2 prospect, Quero, at Nashville. Nola owns a .696 OPS over 1,196 Major League plate appearances. He's the brother of Phillies right-hander Aaron Nola, and the two became the first brotherly pitcher and hitter to face off in MLB postseason history when Austin singled off Aaron in Game 2 of the 2022 NLCS. 

Jan. 3: C Brian Navarreto invited to Major League camp
Now 29, Navarreto was in big league camp last year to help handle the bullpen workload early on, giving him invaluable exposure to the Major League coaches. He’ll be back in camp this year and is part of the club’s catching depth with Nola and Quero.

Dec. 12: LHP Rob Zastryzny signs
Zastryzny is a reliever who appeared in 21 games last season with the Pirates with a 4.79 ERA. He’s held left-handers to a .586 OPS in the Majors since 2016.

Nov. 30: RHP Sam Carlson signs
Carlson, drafted 55th overall by Seattle back in 2017, was MLB Pipeline's top-ranked Mariners pitching prospect going into 2018 before Tommy John surgery altered the course of his career. Between rehab and the pandemic, he didn't pitch again until 2021, and he's spent the past three seasons between the Single-A and High-A levels, compiling a 4.84 ERA over 204 2/3 innings. He converted to relief in 2023 at High-A Everett and had a 5.25 ERA with a promising 61 strikeouts in 48 innings.

Nov. 28: RHP Easton McGee and OF Brewer Hicklen sign
It’s a two-year Minor League deal for McGee, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery in May. A starting pitcher who turned 26 the day after Christmas, McGee made his Major League debut in relief for the Rays in 2022 and landed with the Mariners for 2023. He was called up to the Majors for a start against Toronto on April 29 and pitched brilliantly, holding the Blue Jays scoreless on one hit and one walk over 6 2/3 innings. It proved to be his final outing at any level in 2023.

Hicklen, 27, appeared in six games with the Royals in 2022 before spending all of ’23 at Triple-A with the Royals and Phillies. He posted a .236/.350/.455 slash line with 10 home runs and 21 stolen bases while lowering his strikeout rate from 36.1 percent at the Triple-A level in ’22 to 24.5 percent in ’23.

Nov. 17: INF Yonny Hernández, LHP Jared Koenig and RHP Enoli Paredes sign
Hernández, 25, is the sort of depth player teams covet at this time of year, a switch-hitting middle infielder with a bit of Major League experience. He's a career .261/.389/.327 hitter in the Minors who has logged 69 big league games for the Rangers (2021), D-backs ('22) and Dodgers ('23), going 36-for-189 (.190) without a home run. He has a Minor League option remaining, according to FanGraphs.

Koenig is a reliever who pitched for the A's in 2022 and split '23 between Double-A and Triple-A in San Diego's system. Paredes, 28, made 37 appearances for the Astros from 2020-22. He has 37 strikeouts in 32 1/3 Major League innings.