Scouring minor league free agent pitching

Texas does very well at scouting minor league free agents and identifying low-risk, medium/high-reward players. Most pitchers who were minor league free agents in November have found a team, but a few still remain that could add impact to the major league roster this coming season or the next if the club decides to sign or add to the 40-man roster. Here are a few that I believe have some potential:


Major League Experience:

Minors:


Aaron Barrett

Barrett has the best major league experience of the group with 70 innings pitched over 90 games yielding a 3.47 ERA & 2.43 FIP. Barrett has struggled a bit with command, allowing 3.5 BB/9 but only allowing 7.8 H/9 and 0.3 HR/9 and yielding an impressive 10.8 SO/9. Barrett, if healthy, has the highest up-side of the group.

In June 2015, Barret was placed on the 15-day DL due to biceps strain and was able to make it back to the big league club in July. Barrett was later optioned in August but the option was later voided when the found out that he had suffered an elbow strain and was placed on the 15-day DL and later transferred to the 60-day DL. In September of 2015 he had discovered he would need TJ surgery and went under the knife 3 days later. Barrett also underwent surgery in December of 2015 to remove bone chips and spurs from his left ankle. Barrett was back to throwing two months later in February 2016 but his recovery process was halted after he had fractured his elbow in July 2016 while on rehab. The initial report was that he will be out of comission until well into the 2017 season.

It’s been a frustrating go for Barrett since June 2015, and he would have been a super-two arbitration eligible player but the Nationals decided instead place Barrett on outright waivers. Barrett chose free agency instead of rehabilitating in the National’s minor league system. The Nationals “remain  strongly interested in bringing back” Barrett. It’s unclear if Barrett is looking for a major league deal, but he won’t find one, at least one with any guarantees. His best bet is to take a minor league deal and maybe a team will give him a $1m+ rate if he ends up in the majors at the time the club targets him to be major league ready. I think Barrett is a great candidate to give a flyer to in order to shore up any bullpen inefficiencies in late August, early September.

Andrew Bellatti

Bellatti’s past is somewhat similar to Matt Bush, who was also a draftee of the Rays. After his first professional season, in January of 2010, Bellatti was involved in a car accident that killed the driver (David Reid) he wrecked into. Bellatti faced vehicular manslaughter plus other charges that could have put Bellatti behind bars for more than 7 years. The wife (Lynette Reid) of the man he had killed pleaded to a judge to have leniency on Bellatti. Bellatti, through a plea agreement, was sentenced to 8 months in jail but between time served and time off only spent 90 days behind bars.

Past history aside, Bellatti had a brief stint with the Rays in 2015 and featured a 93.4 average mph fastball with an average spin rate of 2,463 rpm. His secondary pitches hurt him the most. His change-up is fringe to average at best, and his slider is virtually developmental. His change-up averaged 85 mph and his slider at 82 mph. His change will get him some outs but he needs to work on his slider or another breaking pitch to be effective in the majors. Bellatti only pitched 4 games in 2015 until he was sent to the 15-day DL with shoulder tendinitis. He was activated and returned to the big league club in September and for the most part was effective the rest of the season posting a 2.31 ERA and 1.11 WHIP. However, his walk rate was high and his strikeout rate was low.

In 2016, Bellatti did not make the big league club out of spring training and was optioned to Durham. In June of 2016 he was designated for assignment, cleared waivers and was sent outright to Durham. Bellatti went on the minor league 7-day DL twice timesin 2016 in May and July. Therefore, he only pitched 14.1 innings in 13 games across three minor league levels in 2016 . At least one of the times, in July, was due to a shoulder injry as listed on his mlb profile. It appears Bellatti’s shoulder might not be alright, and I fear the worst, TJ surgery is in his future. However, Bellatti is currently 25 and pending a physical I’d sign this guy just to see if he could add some value to at least bullpen depth. However, the  fate of his shoulder would be the key to any team signing Bellatti in 2016.

Drake Britton

Britton, a Waco, Texas native and former 97th prospect in baseball (2010), has had two stints at the major league level, in 2013 & 2014. Both times he featured a fastball that averaged 92 mph but at below average spin rate of 2,173 & 2,210 rpm. His two-seam sinking fastball is his bread and butter pitch, averaging 92-93 mph with an average spin-rate of 2,497-2,568 rpm which is very well above major league average. Statcast also suggest he throws a sinker, averaging 92 mph with an average spin-rate of 2,638 and a slider that averages 80-81 mph. Both seasons he combined for a 2.93 ERA in 27.2 innings over 25 games pitched. Although not terrible, his 2.9 walk rate and 6.8 strikeout rate leave a bit to be desired.

In 2015 and 2016, Britton was unable to win a role out of spring training, and struggled to come to the form he had established at the major league level in 2013 and 2014 posting a 5.08 and 4.57 ERA respectively. His home-run rate is low due to his sinker but misses too much with his slider to be more effective. To make matters even worse, Britton tested positive for amphetamines on August 2nd and was suspended for 50 games. Britton has stayed healthy over the years and pending suspension time remaining, could be a good addition to the minors for bullpen depth in the Ranger’s system if he can improve his secondary pitch command or off-speed offerings.

Matt Buschmann

Mainly a fastball/slider guy, he features a two-seamer that averages at 90 mph and a tick above major league average spin-rate. Buschmann has not been impressive over the past two seasons at the Triple-A level but also has bounced around teams from the A’s, Rays, Reds, Orioles to the Diamondbacks. The Diamondbacks bullpen was atrocious in 2016 so Buschmann got the call although he posted a 5.26 ERA in 24 game starts at Triple-A Reno. Buschman for the most part pitched OK in 4.1 innings over 3 games allowing only 2 hits, 1 ER/HR, 1 walk while striking out 3 with a 2.08 ERA. Buschmann would likely be a fringe addition for bullpen depth in the spring.

Dylan Axelrod

Axelrod, with perhaps the most major league service time of this group of 2.015, has spent 5 seasons in the majors with 228.2 innings pitched over 59 games. With some glimmer of greatness in 2011 and 2014 posting 2.92 ERA in 37 innings, Axelrod has less savory numbers when heavily utilized in 2012-2013 posting a 5.62 ERA in 179.1 innings over 44 games. His stuff is fringe to average at best, and while his walk rate at Triple-A New Orleans improved this seasons, his strikeout rate is a measily 5.8. Axelrod still possess valuable experience, and has shown some slight improvements this season along his journey back to the major leagues.

Chris Brewer

Brewer pitched in 6 innings over 4 games for the Diamondbacks back in 2013. Since then, he has spend time at Arizona’s double and Triple-A affiliates with a 2015 stay at Cleveland’s Double-A Akron club sandwiched between 2014 and 2016. Brewer has only pitched in 8 professional games over the past two seasons due to organization changes and injury. As with some of the other players on this list, Brewer has experienced elbow injuries that sidelined some of his playing time in 2015 and 2016 so buyer beware. However, if healthy looks like he could be useful and add depth to a major league bullpen in the minors.


Omar Bencomo

Bencomo, for the most part has been successful in his 7 season professional career. Bencomo is 27 years of age. Bencomo did not pitch in 2012, and went back to his native country of Venezuala to pitch in the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League before returning to domestic baseball in 2015 where he played for American Association Independent League’s Wichita and Laredo. In 2016, Bencomo was a solid contributor for the Double-A and Triple-A affiliate of the Twins posting a 3.86 and 3.49 ERA in 84.1 innings over 24 games. He struggled with walks at Chattanooga but at the Triple-A level at Rochester yielded a 1.6 BB/9 with 7.3 SO/9. If his health is sound, Bencomo might be a smart pickup for the Rangers.

Alex Burgos

Once a the #9 prospect in the Tigers organization in 2012, his command has been absolutely atrocious over the years. This lefty’s stuff does not lack, and has attempted to improve his command by lowering his arm slot in 2016 which gained him some slight performance increase. But the process is ongoing and not close to finished. Burgos would be a frugal pickup if the front office believes pitching development could refine his command. Burgos has some dancing skills too:

Geovanny Acosta, Angelo Almonte, & Jose Alonzo

Acosta has fielded a 2.32 ERA in 62 innings over 44 games in 3 seasons at 3 different Dominican summer league camps. However, he has struggled terribly with command, yielding a 4.2 BB/9. I believe, due to this, he has bounced between the Diamondbacks, Angels, Mariners and now free agency once again. Acosta is now 23, and his next likely jump would be to domestic A or Low-A ball. Like with Burgos, if pitching development coaching staff can constrain his walk rate, Acosta would likely be a frugal pickup.

Almonte is 22 years of age and has spent one season at the Dominican summer league camp with the Diamondbacks in 2016. Prior to this year, he has been affiliated with the Phillies where it appears he has battled injuries between 2013 and 2014. The Diamondbacks signed him in 2016 and was later placed on the restricted list on July 20th for testing positive for Stanozolol(Winstrol) a anabolic steriod and was suspended for 72 games. Almonte, now a free agent, posted a 1.67 ERA in 27 innings over 7 games, 3 of which were starts. Hitters only managed a .154 batting average against, and Almonte posted a 2.33 BB/9 with an impressive 11.66 SO/9. It’s hard to know by how much if any of his performance was enhanced by the steroid, but pending his prior undocumented performance and remaining suspension time left the Rangers could take a flyer on Almonte and send him to one of their two Dominican Summer League camps.

Finally, Alonzo signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2010 and has been in the Rays organization ever since until he elected free agency in November of 2016. Alonzo has posted a career 3.62 ERA in 6 professional seasons. Alonzo did not pitch in 2015, but was very effective at Short-A Hudson Valley in 2016 yielding a 2.23 ERA in 32.1 innings over 13 games in which 4 were starts. Travis Ott and Alonzo combined for 6+ no hit innings on June 20th but Cardinals prospect Vincent Jackson broke up the no-hit bid in the 7th inning with a lead-off single.  Alonzo has an impressive 1.4 BB/9 & 1.02 WHIP to go along with a 6.7 SO/9 during his 2016 campaign. Alonzo will turn 24 at the end of February and still has time for his career to blossom. The Rangers could take a flyer on Alonzo and see how well he does as a #DEWD with the goal of him performing at the Double-A level in 2017. Alonzo could very well even add depth at the minor league level to the bullpen.

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