Minor League Comeback Story Highlights Giants’ Non-Roster Invites

Fans of the San Francisco Giants have their first underdog story of the year to get ready for. The team announced their non-roster invitees to Spring Training yesterday, and perhaps most interesting among them is 30-year-old utility infielder and organizational soldier Mark Minicozzi. Minicozzi might be the most little-known of any Giants player to trot out to the field in Arizona this Spring, but if he hits and fields well enough, he could potentially threaten Tony Abreu for a backup infield job.

The road that Minicozzi took to get this opportunity could best be described as circuitous. Initially drafted by the Giants out of East Carolina University in the 17th round in 2005, Minicozzi performed very well in his first season as a professional. In 70 games in low-A in 2005, he hit .321 and posted a .411 OBP. The following year at high-A, he hit .282 while still showing the ability to draw walks.

Unfortunately, Minicozzi’s early career was derailed by a slew of injuries and a miserable first year in AAA, and he had completely washed out of the Giants’ system by 2008. Not to be deterred, the Pennsylvania native caught on in the Independent League, and from 2009 through 2011, he posted an .834 OPS for four different teams.

In 2012, a happy coincidence changed Minicozzi’s career forever. According to this story by CSN Bay Area’s Andrew Baggarly, Minicozzi apparently noticed that the Giants’ AA affiliate Richmond was in town playing near his home in Reading, PA. Minicozzi decided to drive down to catch the game, and when there, he caught the attention of his old manager. One thing led to another, and Minicozzi was suddenly doing a workout, and within weeks, he was back in the pros.

Minicozzi spent the entire 2013 season with the Giants’ AA affiliate at Richmond, and hit .309/.400/.445 while playing four different positions. Despite obviously being quite old for the level, the Giants were apparently impressed enough with Minicozzi’s perseverance and work ethic to bring him to Spring Training and give him an outside shot at a major league utility infield job. Minicozzi was initially drafted as a second baseman but saw a lot of time at third base, first base, and left field last season, and he has also played extensively at shortstop in the past.

Before you go dismissing this as simply a fun story destined to be forgotten in the sands of time, keep in mind that the Giants have a history of affording legitimate opportunitues to obscure 30-something career minor leaguers. Remember Andres Torres? When he made the big club out of Spring Training in 2009, no one knew who he was, but he ended up as an instrumental player on the 2010 Championship team. Joaquin Arias was also a no-name in 2012, but he has since developed into a valuable bench piece. Finally, lest we forget Ryan Vogelsong, who was essentially dismissed as a prodigal son curio in the Spring of 2011.

So Minicozzi is definitely a dark horse to make the Opening Day roster. The team’s history with successful reclamation projects should provide confidence that there is something legitimate in Minicozzi’s makeup ans skill set. At the least, it’ll definitely be an interesting story in when the exhibition season revs up in March, and it’ll give fans somebody to root for.

Also earning a non-roster invite is a familiar face: Dan Runzler. Runzler is known by Giants fans as the lefty pitcher with an electric arm but little idea where the ball is going. The Giants tried to utilize him out of the bullpen in 2010 and 2011, but major control problems prevented him from establishing himself. In 89 major league games, all with the Giants, he’s walked 5.5 batter per nine innings. He’s left-handed and he can strike guys out, though, so he’ll get roughly a zillion chances to succeed before all is said and done.