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Fresh chances abound with Sox's spring invites

Lefty Johnson, utility man Hernandez among latest NRIs
@IanMBrowne
January 24, 2020

BOSTON -- The Red Sox released their latest list of non-roster invitees on Friday, and the group included some familiar faces as well as some highly touted prospects who will be in camp for the first time. Lefty Brian Johnson, who spent the last two seasons on the Major League

BOSTON -- The Red Sox released their latest list of non-roster invitees on Friday, and the group included some familiar faces as well as some highly touted prospects who will be in camp for the first time.

Lefty Brian Johnson, who spent the last two seasons on the Major League roster but was designated for assignment in the offseason, will get a chance to reclaim his place on the team as a non-roster invitee.

Johnson was a valuable depth piece for Boston’s 2018 World Series championship season but struggled with injuries and performance last season. His versatility as a swingman makes him a good fit for the roster if he can regain his groove.

It has been a roller-coaster offseason for utility player Marco Hernández, who was non-tendered, then re-signed, only to be designated for assignment weeks later and then outrighted to Triple-A Pawtucket. With his NRI status, Hernandez will have a chance to earn his spot back. The left-handed hitter showed something just by getting back to the Major Leagues in 2019 after missing nearly two full seasons with left shoulder woes.

Among the prospects making their debuts in big league camp are righty Bryan Mata and outfielder Jarren Duran, who finished 2019 ranked Nos. 3 and 4, respectively, among Red Sox prospects by MLB Pipeline. Mata dominated in 10 starts last season at Class A Salem (1.75 ERA) and hit a predictable learning curve when he was promoted to Double-A Pawtucket (5.03 ERA in 11 starts). Mata has a mid-90s fastball and a solid cutter that he added to his repertoire last season. Assistant general manager Eddie Romero is one of the scouts who signed Mata in January 2016.

Splitting last season between Salem and Portland, Duran stole 46 bases. At this stage, he doesn’t have much power. But if he can get on base, he can still be an impactful player. An infielder when he was first drafted, Duran has shown the potential to be a plus center fielder.

This will be a big Spring Training for former first-round pick Tanner Houck (24th pick overall, 2017 Draft) as the righty is an NRI for the first time. Houck was ranked fifth among Boston prospects by Pipeline in the most recent rankings. Though Houck can reach 98 mph with his four-seamer, his best pitch is his two-seamer, which ranges from 92-96 mph and is described as heavy by scouts.

This could at last be the final Spring Training in a Boston uniform for Rusney Castillo, who signed a seven-year, $72.5 million contract in August 2014 and has played just 99 games in the Major Leagues during that time.

The 32-year-old has been an effective player in Triple-A, but his salary has kept him off the 40-man roster since early in 2016 due to luxury-tax implications. Many talent evaluators think that Castillo has the talent to at least be a fourth outfielder in the Major Leagues, so when his contract with Boston expires next season, it will be interesting to see if he can find a spot on a big league team.

Friday’s list of invitees also includes catcher Roldani Baldwin; infielders Chad De La Guerra, Tommy Joseprighth and Josh Ockimey; right-handed pitcher Trevor Hildenberger; and left-handed pitchers Daniel McGrath and Bobby Poyner.

Overall, the Sox have 21 non-roster invitees coming to Spring Training. The 40-man roster stands at 40.

Red Sox pitchers and catchers will have their first official Spring Training workout on Feb. 12. The full squad will have its first workout on Feb. 17.

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.