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.

Rangers win Dragmire Sweepstakes

It’s official, the Rangers have won the sweepstakes on Brady Dragmire as he cleared waivers today and the club sent him to Round Rock on outright assignment. Dragmire has also been invited to the spring training camp and will compete for a spot in the bullpen or at least show his value as depth while he remains at Round Rock.

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The club has also signed Wesley Wright to a minor league deal with an invite to spring training. This brings the spring training camp size to 57. Wright will add depth as a left handed bullpen arm and compete for a spot on teh 40-man roster. Wright did not pitch in the majors this season, however he is an establish relief arm with a respectable body of work. In 307 major league innings Wright has a 4.16 ERA, 4.28 FIP & 7.9 SO/9. Command has been the biggest issue for Wright in the majors, yielding a 4.8 BB/9. There must be someone in the front office that is a big believer in effectiveness of a pitcher/reliever through measure of spin rate. In 2015, Wright’s four-seam fastball averaged a spin rate of 2,394 rotations per minute. The major league average is 2,241.

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If Wright is able to command his pitches in spring, he could be the man that replaced Prince Fielder on the 40-man roster come time. The club have similar players in a position to compete for this spot and spring training could not come quicker.

2017 Non-Roster Spring Training Invitees

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The club today announced the signing of James Loney to a minor league contract and a handful of other spring training invites from the current organization. Of the pack, one of the clubs most prized arms, Ariel Jurado, will work with the big league club during the spring.

Since coming over to the states in 2014, Jurado has put up some very impressive numbers working his way up to Double-A this season. No one will ever describe him as “electric”, “exciting” or “high up-side”. However, after establishing a body of work, and seeing him deal, he definitely is a guy I’d describe as having a high floor. Jurado has excellent control exhibited by his lifetime 1.7 BB/9 and 1.159 WHIP. Jurado features a Sinker, Change, Curve, Slider repertoire and has been very effective so far and has impressed both the Rangers this season and sources outside of the organization. In Keith Law’s top 100 prospects in baseball, Ariel Jurado lands in at #64 with Yohander Mendez right behind him at #75. I don’t believe the Jonathan Lucroy trade would have went down if the organization didn’t feel strongly about these two in comparison to what they gave up. Their names are getting circulation now and the Rangers rank about middle of the pack in farm system depth even after unloading quite a bit of it prior to the 2016 trade deadline.

Joining Jurado and Loney, here is the entire list of 2017 spring training non-roster invitees:

This brings the spring training roster to 55 players, and if the Rangers choose to do so, may add up to another 5 players to invite to Surprise, Arizona this next month. 68 days to go until opening day…

Logan Forsythe to the Dodgers

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Baltimore Orioles

Today, the Dodgers made their move for a second basemen by trading Jose De Leon to the Tampa Bay Rays for Logan Forsythe. Forsythe is an extremely talented and for the most part under the radar player. That might have all changed with this move to his new team, the Dodgers. Forsythe was the 46th overall pick in the 2008 MLB amateur draft by the San Diego Padres who came over to the Rays in a 2014 trade for Jesse Hahn and Alex Torres. Forsythe, for the most part, has been the Ray’s every day second baseman since. In the past two seasons he’s combined .273/.347/.444 slash line with +9 DRS at second base. Forsythe is contacting the ball much harder since 2015, and got off to a great start in 2016 but declined later in the season:

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Forsythe’s opponents approach changed, offering more pitches away in the zone and outside of the zone, while Forsythe’s approach might have unintentionally changed as well by swinging at more pitches inside and even ones inside not in the zone:

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It didn’t take long for him to make yet another adjustment and realign himself with his normal plate discipline simply a month later in August:

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The Dodgers picked up a great second basemen, one that cost the price of a young stud pitching prospect who ranked 23rd by Baseball America in their 2016 pre-season release. De Leon’s fastball and change-up mix are highly touted reaching 96 mph while his change is said to have made impressive improvement. He also features a low-80s slider that is effective as well. De Leon’s walk rate is very impressive as well as his strikeout rate. He ended up making 4 starts this past season for the Dodgers, and although his overall numbers aren’t impressive, he did prove he had the stuff to and makeup to be an impact rotation arm in 2017.

Shohei Otani & the new CBA

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Shohei Otani, the now 22 year old Japanese phenom who can both hit and pitch extremely effectively (or the modern day Babe Ruth) has expressed interest coming to the majors in 2018 prior to the new CBA agreement on December 2nd. If the Nippon Ham Fighters do in fact post him next off-season, then he will be subject to the new CBA regarding international amateur free agents. The new CBA states that international players below the age of 25 are restricted to a team’s international bonus pool. The old CBA’s cutoff for age was 23, hence why Otani wanted to wait until 2018. This means that teams will only be able to sign Otani for a maximum of $4.75m – $5.75m depending on the team’s cap bracket. This of course includes debits or credits to the pool if they have already signed other players during the term or have traded to receive additional cap from another team. This small detail is very important because typically the posting fee starts off at $20m.

You may be wondering at this point when Otani becomes a free agent. Well the NPB is a lot more restrictive than the MLB on this matter. It takes 8 years of service to reach domestic free agency and 9 years of service to reach unrestricted free agency. I don’t believe teams are going to be looking to wait around until 2022 to spend big on Otani. This means that teams and the Ham Fighters will have to wait until Otani turns 25 on July 5th during the 2019 season to post him for MLB teams to fight over. Now Otani has mentioned, he is seeking to play baseball at the highest level, and not so much worried about the money. That is great, but the main concern for the Ham Fighters is that they get healthy portion of money. Seeing how this is the case we could see a huge posting fee possibly eclipse that of Yu Darvish, where Otani is then signed to a similar contract or possibly even more modest than that of Yu.

Yu has some very encouraging words for Otani, mentioning that “He’s the type of person who really prepares well every time, that’s why he’ll be able to fix things.” Jeff Passan states that they “are close. Workout partners. Darvish mentors him on conditioning. Otani looks up to Darvish.”

I wish at this point Otani had some free will, as the Rangers could leverage this relationship to bring in another high caliber pitcher and focus on extending Yu to a deserving contract. That is not the case, but I believe the posting fee will be the largest we have seen to date, and Otani will settle for a modest contract compared to his extremely high skill level. The Rangers could opt out of Cole Hamels for 2019, which could free money up for Otani, or his option could vest automatically, at which point the Rangers would potentially want to hang onto Hamels anyways. Yahoo! expects MLB to address Otani’s situation and possibly even amend or make an exception for him to circumvent the new CBA’s restriction on his age. Eitherway, it will be interesting to see how Otani’s situation plays out.

Texas signs Hamilton & Gee

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The signing is official. Texas inks Josh Hamilton to a minor league contract with a 3/31 opt out if he doesn’t make the opening day roster. He will earn league minimum if he is to make the roster out of spring training but the Rangers will still owe him $2m this season of his $28.41m salary owed from his final year of his buried contract. He is said to get work in at 1B and looks to be a left-handed option at 1B to give Gallo more time to develop. This is also a cheaper option than spending more on the open market for what is essentially a stop gap. Hamilton is said to have been working with Lance Berkman on transitioning to 1B. Hamilton spoke to Steve Buechele yesterday regarding 1B and attempting to play there to stay healthy. He said he had “planted the seed” and now the deal is done and Hamilton will go to work a first baseman.

Texas also inks Dillon Gee to a minor league deal with 3/29 a 6/1 opt outs. He will earn a $2m base if he joins the major league roster with incentives to reach a total of $3m. He is a great low risk medium reward guy. He will compete for a spot in the rotation along with Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross. Gee, like Ross, is also making a comeback from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.

Diekman to miss half of season

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A huge blow has come to the Ranger’s bullpen as Jake Diekman will miss the first half of the season to recover from stomach surgery for ulcerative colitis which has flared up for him during the holidays. The surgery is set for January 25th. Diekman has been a huge spokesperson for UC awareness through his Gut it Out campaign meeting with kids and others who suffer with this chronic illness. In the past, prior to his last Phillies spring training camp and up until now, he was able to avoid surgery through the use of new medications available at the time. Now it has become more of a threat to his well being and will require surgery. We wish you the best of luck during surgery Jake, and hope you a speedy and successful recovery.

You can support his cause by visiting his Shirt for a Cause page supporting Chrohn’s & Colitus foundation of America fund by purchasing one of his Gut it Out shirts yourself.