Every year fans get excited when players surprise them in spring training with terrific performances. And whether it's by a non-roster invitee or a rookie player, fans are always surprised on Opening Day when that player doesn't make the team despite outplaying his competition. These spring surprises are facing an uphill battle: No matter how well they perform, they have next to no chance at cracking the roster.
Take Ian Happ of the Chicago Cubs -- he has been on fire, hitting .452 with three home runs. He has no chance. Even though he might be outplaying Ben Zobrist, Albert Almora Jr. and Javier Baez in Arizona, he is not making the Cubs. The plan is for him to start the year in Triple-A, and no matter what he does in the spring, those plans aren't changing.
Similarly, the Houston Astros are really impressed with left-handed reliever Framber Valdez. He pitched in Rookie and A-ball last year going 4-5 with a 3.19 ERA and 79 strikeouts in 73 innings pitched. The Astros have been so impressed with him that GM Jeff Luhnow told me this week that he won't be surprised if he pitches in the big leagues for them this year. For a player not listed on anybody's prospect list, that says a lot. However, as much as the Astros have been impressed, they're not changing their plan for him out of spring training.
The reason for this is simple: Most general managers go into spring training with a blueprint of what his roster looks like from Nos. 1-25, as well as Nos. 1-32 (preparing for the first two months of injuries). This plan is based on the players' performances the previous year. There might be some competition at a couple of positions and/or a few roster spots, but that's usually about it. For top prospects, the organization has a specific plan on where they want them to start the year. Most non-roster invitees (NRI) are there more for injury insurance than for having a serious shot to make the team.
"As far as the young players go, I always tend to lean toward having a plan for timing and ETA, then stick with it," Seattle Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto said.