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9 long shots that could pay off big time

February 9, 2019

Ryan Brasier 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

Ryan Brasier 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. Mark Reynolds, 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. Jordan Lyles, RHP, Pirates
Remember how Charlie Morton 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. Jenrry Mejia, 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. Matt Joyce, 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. Francisco Peña, C, Cardinals
Right place, right time. The Cardinals re-signed Pena to a Minor League deal that positions him to be Yadier Molina's backup after the Paul Goldschmidt acquisition sent Carson Kelly 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. Hunter Pence, 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. Martin Pérez, 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. Alex Meyer, 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. Henderson Alvarez, 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.

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.