Riding The Layne Train
In every spring training camp, there are three groups of players. Group one are the players on the team’s 40 man roster, from which the bulk of the opening day 25 man roster will be formed. The second group are non-roster invitees, anywhere from a handful to upwards of twenty players (when Tommy Lasorda managed the Dodgers, he sometimes brought in as many as 30 invitees).
The non-roster group consists of some players from the organization, but are made up mostly by minor league free agents signed in the winter to add depth to the team’s Triple A squad. They toil along with the 40 man roster players during workouts and see game action, hoping to impress the manager and coaching staff enough to break camp with the big club or be remembered for a possible major league callup later in the season.
Third is the largest group at any spring training site, the rest of the minor league organization broken up into work groups by level. Some of these players also see major league game action each spring. Known as “camp guys”, a half dozen or so players with no realistic shot at making the major league club that spring dress out and see late inning action each game, also hoping to be remembered later in the year by the decision makers.
The first non-roster player I can remember making the Red Sox team was left handed pitcher Rick Jones, who pitched well enough in spring training of 1976 to make the opening day squad. Jones spent the year in Boston and was drafted by Seattle in the expansion draft later that winter.
Every spring, I look at the Red Sox non-roster group, and pick a player who I think may have an impact during the spring enough to earn a roster spot or a recall from the minors during the year.
This is a hit or miss endeavor. For every Brian Daubach (spent 5 seasons in Boston) or Morgan Burkhart (parts of 2 years with the parent club) I have chosen, there have been too many that have never seen a big league clubhouse again, (anyone remember the return of Josias Manzanillo as a spring invite for his second stint with the Red Sox after some success with the Mets, Pirates and several other clubs ? Nah, me either).
Last spring, as I scanned the list of non-roster invitees, I resisted talk I had heard about pitcher Dalier Hinojosa who some people thought would break through and earn a spot in the Sox bullpen, and instead settled on Tommy Layne as my 2014 “pick to click”.
I was familiar with Layne, a left handed relief specialist who had spent the previous two seasons with the Padres. 2-0 with a 3.24 ERA over 16 2/3 innings in 26 games in 2012, and a 2.08 ERA in 14 games the following year. 8 2/3 innings that time….according to Baseball Prospectus, a LOOGY (lefty one out guy).
So, spring training 2014 starts and several weeks in, Tommy Layne has had a number of appearances and hasn’t given up a run, only a couple of hits and had been averaging at least a strikeout per appearance (usually only going one inning or less) . In a game on the road versus the Braves, Layne came in with runners on base and struck out the side. I asked several media members what they thought of his effort, and none of them saw it….they were down in the clubhouse talking to the game’s starting pitcher during the late innings.
I was starting to worry that my pick would slip through the cracks and be forgotten, but finally there was some talk about maybe Tommy Layne making the major league club as a third left hander in the bullpen along with major league returnees Andrew Miller and Craig Breslow.
Manager John Farrell deflected that talk though, and seemed to be leaning toward using a 40 man roster pitcher, Brandon Workman as the third lefty “because he can start and relieve”…He wasn’t throwing scoreless innings in spring training like Layne was, but whatever…
Many times, teams are reluctant to add a non-roster player since his contract has to be purchased from the triple A club (baseball legal mumbo jumbo here, forgive me) and a player has to be removed from the 40 man roster. This is more difficult for some organizations to do than others.
Anyway, the final cutdown day comes just hours before the major league club broke camp to fly north for the opener in Baltimore, and not long before the Red Sox final spring training game versus the Twins. Brandon Workman was told he would be making the club and Tommy Layne was sent to triple A Pawtucket to begin the 2014 season.
BUT, not before being asked to pitch in the game versus Minnesota where he proceeded to allow his first runs of the spring on two home runs, one a grand slam to slugging Twins prospect Adam Brett Walker. Methinks his head and heart were somewhere between Boston and Pawtucket that day.
Undaunted, Layne went to Pawtucket, where his 5-1 record with 11 saves and 1.50 ERA over 37 games (48 innings this time as the defacto lefty closer) earned him a callup as the “26th player” in a rescheduled doubleheader versus the Orioles. Last spring, Baltimore also discovered a reliever cast away by San Diego, Brad Brach, who is now an important member of the O’s bullpen.
After Boston’s trade of Andrew Miller to the Orioles, Layne was recalled once again and spent the rest of the season with the Red Sox, compiling a 2-1 record in 30 games, with 14 strikeouts in 19 innings (again with the LOOGY status) and a 0.95 ERA.
Tommy Layne figures to be a key member of the 2015 Boston bullpen, so now my attention must turn to another non-roster invitee to keep tabs on this coming spring. Hello, Mitchell Boggs ? Hello, Casey Crosby ?
(Photo Credits: Gerald Herbert/AP and Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports)