9 long shots that could pay off big time

February 10th, 2019

got the telephone call a month after he'd emailed all 30 teams last year and invited them to watch him throw a bullpen session. Only 10 showed up. None offered a contract.

But in late February, after Spring Training had already begun, the Red Sox offered him a Minor League contract. Expectations? There were none right up until Red Sox manager Alex Cora used Brasier to pitch an inning in a split-squad game against the Twins.

"He's throwing 98 mph," Cora said. "Yeah, that got our attention."

At 30 years old, the clock was ticking. Brasier had spent time with the Angels and A's. He'd undergone Tommy John. He'd spent a year in Japan.

When the Red Sox gave Brasier a shot last spring, he ran all the way to the World Series with it. One of the most interesting parts of any Spring Training is watching long-shot candidates and barely noticed acquisitions like Brasier compete for jobs. Here are nine to keep an eye on this spring:

1. , 3B/1B, Rockies

Reynolds is returning to the place where he hit 30 home runs two seasons ago, when he helped the Rockies make their first postseason appearance in eight seasons. He had an .803 OPS and 13 home runs in 86 games for the Nationals last season.

2. , RHP, Pirates

Remember how was transformed during two seasons with the Astros? The Pirates are thinking Lyles might be a good comparison. With a little nudge from the Brewers' analytics department, Lyles pitched the best baseball of his career down the stretch last season, and the Pirates have him penciled in for the No. 5 spot in their rotation.

3. , RHP, Red Sox

Mejia was 20 years old when he made his Major League debut for the Mets in 2010. While the potential -- a 95-mph fastball and tremendous slider -- has always surpassed the performance, Mejia once seemed to have the skillset to be an elite closer. Now 29 and coming back from a third suspension for performance-enhancing drugs, no one knows what he's still capable of after the Red Sox signed him to a Minor League contract. But a year after Brasier, Mejia has a chance to change his career narrative.

4. , OF, Indians

Joyce batted .208 for the A's last season while being limited by back injuries. But in 2017, he had an .855 OPS against right-handed pitching, and the Indians, who signed Joyce to a Minor League contract, have openings in their outfield.

5. , C, Cardinals

Right place, right time. The Cardinals re-signed Pena to a Minor League deal that positions him to be 's backup after the acquisition sent to the D-backs. Pena started 30 games for the Cards last season and impressed the organization with his work with the pitching staff.

6. , OF, Rangers

Pence is returning to his hometown of Arlington after a 12-year career with the Astros, Phillies and Giants. He's a three-time All-Star and a two-time World Series champion. At 35, Pence may have found the perfect way to write the final chapter of his career. For a young, rebuilding team, he could be precisely the kind of lead-by-example player to assist with the transition.

7. , LHP, Twins

Perez is the very definition of a low-risk signing that could pay big dividends. Twins general manager Thad Levine was with the Rangers when Perez was a top prospect, and his willingness to give $3.5 million to a guy with a 6.22 ERA in 2018 speaks volumes about how he sees the left-hander with a 93-mph fastball and assortment of other pitches.

8. , RHP, Angels

Once one of the crown jewels of the Nationals' farm system, the 6-foot-9 righty hasn't thrown a pitch in the big leagues in 18 months and was re-signed by the Angels after being released. Meyer's pure stuff remains excellent, and if he can just stay healthy for a stretch, he has a chance to help the Angels return to the postseason.

9. , RHP, Nationals

Alvarez is 28 years old and has had two shoulder surgeries since his last Major League appearance in 2017. But he's healthy enough that the Nationals are bringing him to camp to compete for the fifth spot in their rotation. His last healthy season was 2014, and he was excellent: 187 innings for the Blue Jays, with a 2.65 ERA. He finished the previous season by no-hitting the Tigers.