COMMENTARY | Over the past few seasons, the San Francisco Giants have had a run of incredible luck with non-roster players they've invited to Spring Training. From 2010-2012 alone, the Giants have plucked Santiago Casilla, Ryan Vogelsong, Joaquin Arias and Gregor Blanco from the non-roster pile. The Giants have also gotten extended looks at their own prospects through non-roster invitations over that time frame, including Hector Sanchez, Brandon Belt, and Brandon Crawford. All of those players have played important parts in the Giants' run of success, and none of them entered the spring with a guaranteed roster spot.
It was with great anticipation, then, that the Giants announced their non-roster invitees for 2013. Well, maybe not "great anticipation" exactly...more like "general curiosity." Chances are one or more of the players the Giants invited to camp will have an impact on the team this season, if recent history is any indication. Here's a look at some of the prime candidates:
Ramon Ramirez, RP: With Andres Torres also back in the fold, the Giants have now collected every piece of last year's Angel Pagan trade. Ramirez was a quality reliever for the Giants from 2010-11, albeit a nondescript one. He posted a 4.24 ERA over 63.2 IP for the Mets last year and probably has a very good chance of breaking camp with the Giants, considering their need for another middle reliever. It's unclear whether or not Ramirez has enough left to be as effective as he was during his last stint in San Francisco, but he's likely to get plenty of innings this spring to prove himself.
Boof Bonser, SP: The Giants' spring-of-collecting-guys-they-once-traded continues. Bonser, who was part of the ill-fated Joe Nathan trade, battled injuries last season but still managed to start a handful of games for the Giants' Triple-A Fresno team. He makes this list because the Giants' starting pitching depth is paper thin outside of their Major League rotation. Their best pitching prospects are still a few years away from the Majors, so if a starter goes down the Giants will have to look for veteran help in their minor league system. Bonser has a chance this spring to do a halfway-decent Vogelsong impression and be the first guy called upon should something happen to one of the big league starters.
Chad Gaudin, RP: Like Ramirez, Gaudin is a fairly nondescript reliever who's had some success at the big league level. If the Giants are looking to replace Guillermo Mota with another long reliever/mop-up man, Gaudin fits the bill since he can be stretched out and eat innings out of the bullpen. He's also been known to sport ridiculous facial hair, which never hurts in the Giants bullpen.
Kensuke Tanaka, IF: One of the more intriguing names on the list, Tanaka makes his American debut after a productive career in the Japanese Pacific League. He batted .300/.350/.363 for his Japanese team last year to go along with 13 stolen bases. Tanaka will be competing for a utility infield job, but his natural position is second base which could prove valuable considering the age of Marco Scutaro. If Tanaka proves he can hit Major League pitching over the spring, he has an excellent chance of beating out the likes of Tony Abreu and Wilson Valdez and joining Arias as one of the Giants' utility infielders.
Gary Brown, OF: The shine may have worn off a bit after a down '12, but Brown remains the Giants' best position prospect and will get a chance to prove himself this spring. With Pagan playing in the WBC, there will be plenty of at bats for Brown to show he can hit at the next level. If he can, there's a good possibility that Brown makes his Major League debut in '13 should the left field platoon of Blanco and Torres falter at the plate.
The names don't exactly jump off the page, but neither did Casilla, Vogelsong, Blanco, or Arias when they were announced as non-roster invitees. Will any of the players on this year's non-roster list have the same kind of impact? Hard to say. But more than likely, at least one of them will end up making major contributions to the team this season.
And if they happen to help the Giants to another World Series, that's just a bonus.
Dave Tobener has written about the Giants for the better part of a decade. You can find him on Twitter @gggiants.