If you're going to use the crop of 2013 non-roster invitees to just tell friends that there's a second Jesus Montero, or tweet out that there's a player in the Royals organization whose birth name is Sugar Ray Marimon, then there's probably no place for you in a deep Fantasy league. You don't even deserve a kind-of deep league.
Non-roster invitees are a thing of beauty -- a collection of veterans trying to find a home with another team, injury returnees, former speedsters looking for third chances, and a host of familiar names trying to make some sort of impact -- all coupled with some of the organization's most prized prospects. Last year, an astute NRI follower might have pegged Juan Pierre as a player to watch; he was vying for a role on the Phillies against Scott Podsednik and able to take advantage of a hole in the roster and turn it into what eventually became almost full-time at-bats.
This year, there are a handful of players who could make an impact, from Chone Figgins to Erik Bedard. There's no guarantee they make the team, or will even play a major role if they do, but if there's room for a little risk-taking in your Fantasy-playing life, here are some names you may want to consider on Draft Day 2013.
Two formerly successful high-strikeout starting pitchers
Erik Bedard (Astros) and Rich Harden (Twins): Bedard had a nightmarish 2012, finishing with a 5.01 ERA before being released by the Pirates in August. But he actually got off to a nice start -- a 2.65 ERA through five starts -- before back issues in May sent him on a downward spiral. Bedard is far from a young fireballer (he's 35 years old), but it's interesting how quickly people forget that he has a career 3.85 ERA with just about a strikeout per inning. And in the five seasons prior to 2012, Bedard had a 3.44 ERA and 1.24 WHIP with a strikeout per inning. The Astros have plenty of holes in the rotation, and Bedard can slot nicely at No. 5. Where you want to take him: At the end of an AL-only draft.
Harden, 31, has a career 3.76 ERA and 1.30 WHIP, with a K/9 over 9.0. This is even more impressive considering he put up a career-ERA-damaging 5.36 ERA in 174 2/3 innings over his past two injury-plagued seasons. Harden missed all of 2012 after undergoing rotator cuff surgery and manager Ron Gardenhire has made comments that suggest Harden isn't ready for the rotation just yet. But the Twins are hurting for back-end pitching, and if Harden can prove worthy, he could be a nice boost to a deep Fantasy team by midseason. Where you want to take him: In the final reserve round of AL-only leagues.
A former speedster looking for a shot at redemption
Chone Figgins (Marlins): From 2005 to 2010, Chone Figgins hit .285 and averaged 46 steals per year, topping out with 62 stolen bases in 2005. But after three ugly years in Seattle -- the last two of which he hit .185 -- Figgins was cut loose. Now 35 years old, Figgins has joined the Marlins, a team decimated by unpopular trades and full of roster holes, in hopes of making a comeback. Figgins can play third base, second base, or any of the outfield positions. He gets a fresh start on a team from which nobody is expecting much. He's just two years removed from stealing 42 bases. There's not a lot of hope for Figgins to make a widely-felt Fantasy impact in 2013, but there is a chance that he at least makes the team and plays enough to steal 20 bases, making Figgins an asset in NL-only Roto leagues. Where you want to take him: At the end of an NL-only draft.
A pair of outfielders who could crack their teams
Rick Ankiel (Astros) and Marlon Byrd (Mets): Ankiel, 33, was no longer needed in Washington last year after the arrival of Bryce Harper. While his .244 lifetime average isn't the prettiest of numbers, he does have a 25-home run season under his belt (in 2008) and could snag a starting outfield spot as a veteran presence on a very young team. Ankiel may benefit from the smaller home stadium with the Astros, and could return the value of a reserve bid in auction leagues (although I wouldn't pick him there unless he absolutely has a starting role). Where you want to take him: Off waiver wires in AL-only leagues if he wins a starting spot and gets off to a hot start.
Byrd, meanwhile, took a 50-game PED hit last year while hitting a career-low .210 in 143 at-bats. While he put up miserable numbers with the Cubs over his first 13 games, a trade to the Red Sox seemed to give Byrd a boost -- he hit .270 over 100 at-bats before the suspension. The Mets have a handful of younger and more exciting outfielders, but Byrd could sneak his way into the mix, knocking down someone like Mike Baxter in the process. Even if he makes the team, though, Byrd will probably not do enough (think a .265 average and seven-ish home runs) to justify a spot on all but the deepest of NL-only teams. Where you want to take him: Off waiver wires in NL-only leagues if he wins a starting spot.
A player I'd really like to see start at second for the Royals
Brandon Wood: If you paid any attention to the minor leagues or prospect rankings over the last eight years, the name Brandon Wood means something to you. He tore apart pitching on his path to the majors, at one point ascending to a lofty ranking as the No. 3 prospect in baseball. Wood hit 43 home runs and 53 doubles over two levels in 2005 at the age of 20. He followed that with seasons of 25, 23, 31, and 22 home runs. He's gotten to double-digit steals three times. He has a .281 career minor league average. And then, when he saw the majors for the first time in 2007 ... nothing. He hit .152 in that first season. Over 55 games in 2008, Wood hit .200. He also has seasons of .195, .146, and .216. But he did see somewhat erratic playing time, and the constant failures had to have messed with his head a little bit.
Wood is now 28, and he has a legitimate shot at making the Royals as a utility infielder. He has played shortstop, first, and third base so far this spring, but with Chris Getz and Johnny Giavotella doing a lesser-of-two-evils battle at second, it didn't seem totally out of the question to think Wood could have worked his way into that battle. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like the Royals have much interest in crafting a spring training redemption story for a once-prospect. But with the way Chris Davis -- another former top prospect -- came into his own last year after being all but left for dead, there's at least a glimmer of hope that Wood can stick around as a utility player and work his way into some playing time, possibly delivering on the potential that has been long forgotten. Where you want to take him: Off waivers, but only if and when Ned Yost pulls that whole, "we're going to try Wood at second base," line when things go awry for his starter.
That random guy who could stumble into playing time
Kensuke Tanaka (Giants): San Francisco's middle infield is pretty much locked down, with Marco Scutaro at second and Brandon Crawford at shortstop, but Tanaka is a slick-fielding product of Japan's Pacific League, who gave up a contract that would have paid him around $3 million to come and essentially try out for the Giants. He doesn't have the most exciting stats, but if injury strikes -- or if Crawford stumbles and Scutaro is asked to play shortstop -- Tanaka can slide right in, hit about .275, and steal a handful of bases. Don't expect a lot of power here, but Tanaka could score a decent amount of runs and be a cheap source of steals. Where you want to take him: Off waiver wires in NL-only leagues when the above scenario plays out.
A quick assortment of less-interesting players who still could make an impact
• Kelvim Escobar (Brewers): The Brewers have enough holes in their pitching staff for Escobar to find a spot somewhere..
• Kevin Slowey (Marlins): He'd be NL-only reserve material if he finds his way into the rotation. Slowey is a smart pitcher who could put up a decent line.
• Freddy Garcia (Padres): Garcia had interesting starter (5.93 ERA/1.48 WHIP) versus reliever (2.42 ERA/0.94 WHIP) splits last year, but his value will come as a starter. Don't expect much better than a 4.40 ERA and 1.35 WHIP, but as a starting rotation filler in a deep NL-only league, there may be something there to use.
• Shelley Duncan (Rays): Given fewer than 235 at-bats in each of the last three seasons, Shelley Duncan still managed 11 home runs and at least 10 doubles per year in that span. Granted, his average has suffered, but Duncan has flexed some nice power. With the Rays employing a "moving parts" system, Duncan could actually see an at-bats increase, slotting in at first base, DH, and the corner outfield positions. With more at-bats and consistency, Duncan could see his average jump a little, as well.
• Juan Rivera (Yankees):, 1B, New York Yankees : Fun fact! Juan Rivera has averaged 15 home runs per season over the last four years and has hit .263 in that span. He's also only 34 years old. And he has the inside track to start in left field for the Yankees, being one of the few right-handed power bats in the lineup. Rivera is AL-only fodder, and you can't wait on him to see if he'll produce -- with Curtis Granderson coming back, Rivera's going to be useful early, then probably settle into a role as sometimes-first baseman until Teixeira returns, eventually becoming a part-time DH in a platoon with Travis Hafner.
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