Now that we've got all the fine print out of the way—see Out Of Options and Much More On Options—we can take a look at a handful of players who enter the 2010 season with no minor league options remaining. For these purposes, we're going to focus only on players who played in Triple-A in ’09 on their third and final option. For such a player, his organization must decide in the next two weeks if it's in or out. For keeps.
Because the seven players detailed here cannot be sent to the minors without first clearing waivers, look for them either to make the big league club or be traded to an organization where they can do so. At the tail end of spring training a year ago, players such as Josh Anderson, Robert Andino, Jason Hammel, Jeff Keppinger, Edward Mujica and Hayden Penn all were traded because they were out of options. All six stuck in the big leagues in ’09. Other players who were out of options, like the Angels' Jason Bulger and the Rays' Jeff Niemann, made the big leagues and played well.
Visit MLB Trade Rumors for a detailed list of players who are out of options.
Young Players Who've Lost Their Prospect Sheen
Not every top prospect develops into a all-star. Some must settle for being platoon outfielders or reserve middle infielders or low-leverage relievers. But teams need those players, too.
A player who reaches the out-of-options juncture of his career has both his strengths (he's been good enough to spend at least three seasons on a 40-man roster) and his shortcomings (he's failed to establish himself in multiple big league stints). Big league performance simply does not tell us enough about such a player because of the small samples involved. Sure, we may be able to glean a few general truths about his strengths and weaknesses, but a more nuanced look at minor league performance may reveal areas of specific utility.
So to attempt to find these areas of utility, I examined Triple-A split data. Not just ’09 split data, but a composite stretching back through a player's entire time at that level. For position players, that can mean going back to ’06 and gathering a sample of more than 1,000 plate appearances. We'll examine standard left/right and home/road splits to form a more complete picture of our out-of-options all-stars.
But then minor league data has its own flaws. Many pitchers at the Triple-A level simply are not big league material—no matter how hard we squint—making projections based on such batter-pitcher confrontations a bit dicey. Also, the various ballpark contexts, especially in the Pacific Coast League, can distort performance. Combine those distortions with less-efficient defenses and inferior playing surfaces (especially on the hard, sun-baked infields of the Southwest) and you have a recipe for enhanced offense. This is why I've considered road data so prominently, as it offers us a more neutral vantage point.
A key to the abbreviations: plate appearances (PA), contract rate (CT), isolated power (ISO), walk-to-strikeout walk ratio (BB/K), walk rate (BB), ball-in-play average (BIP) and weighted on-base average (wOBA). Detailed explanations follow this post. And for more on league context, see 2009 Minor League Averages, which we published last September.
• Brandon Wood, 3b, Angels
Age: 25. Bats: Right. Position splits in AAA: SS (55%), 3B (43%), 1B (2%).
Optional assignments: 2007-09 with Triple-A Salt Lake.
Last Prospect Handbook appearance: No. 1, Angels, 2008.
Career Transactions: Selected by Angels in first round (23rd overall) of 2003 draft; signed June 6, 2003.
|BRANDON WOOD • 2007-09 TRIPLE-A SPLITS
Merits: Wood's power is elite, regardless of home park—and Salt Lake City's Covey Field certainly favors the offensive side of the equation. Over the course of the past three seasons, the average Bees batter (including Wood) hit .298 and slugged .472 at home, while the corresponding road figures were just .267 and .415. (That's over roughly 7,400 at-bats in each case.) Most every player hits better at home than on the road, but Covey Field super-sizes those effects. Walks and power are more prevalent, strikeouts less, and more balls in play land for hits. Encouragingly, Wood maintained an impressive .243 isolated power figure on the road. He also handled Triple-A righthanders with aplomb, making more contact and hitting for more power against them than he did versus lefties.
Drawbacks: Wood's contact rate straddles the borderline, even at the Triple-A level. Only the 30-home run sluggers get away with low-70 percent contact rates, e.g. Adam Dunn, Ryan Howard, Mark Reynolds, and Wood has yet to prove he's a 30-home run hitter in the big leagues. In his favor, though, his contact rate rose from 73 percent in ’07 all the way to 79 percent last year. If he maintains those gains, the strikeouts become an acceptable trade-off. His power-heavy road production (.517 slugging) speaks to his very real bat speed and strength, but how will the .328 road OBP translate?
Educated Guess: With the free agent departure of Chone Figgins, the deck is cleared for Wood to take over third base in Anaheim. He may not hit for average in his first year as a regular, but 15-20 homers or more seems like a distinct possibility. Playing third base is an under-appreciated endeavor, requiring quick reflexes, an infielder's agility, a strong arm and average-to-above power, but Wood can deliver all four.
• Jake Fox, 1b/lf, Athletics
Age: 27. Bats: Right. Position splits in AAA & AA: 1B (55%), LF (23%), RF (14%), C (5%), 3B (2%).
Optional assignments: 2007-08 with Double-A Tennessee and 2007-09 Triple-A Iowa.
Last Prospect Handbook appearance: No. 24, Cubs, 2009.
Career Transactions: Selected by Cubs in third round of 2003 draft; signed June 29, 2003 … Traded by Cubs with 2B Aaron Miles to Athletics for RHPs Jeff Gray and Ronny Morla and OF Matt Spencer, Dec. 3, 2009.
|JAKE FOX • 2007-09 DOUBLE-A & TRIPLE-A SPLITS
Merits: Fox demolished the Pacific Coast League in ’09, batting .409/.495/.841 through 45 games, which coupled with an injury to third baseman Aramis Ramirez, emboldened the Cubs to install Fox at the hot corner. It was not a match made in heaven. By the end of the season, he was back at his old haunts of first base and the corner field. But Fox's Triple-A resume is surprisingly light: he spent 25 games there to close ’07, then 29 more in ’08 before a demotion to Double-A. Add in last year's abbreviated stay in Des Moines and we have less than a season's worth of data in all. So what you see above is weighted two-thirds Double-A and one-third Triple-A output. In his time in the big leagues last year, Fox actually handled righthanders slightly better than lefties, which makes sense given his aggressive approach. It's an approach that has led to above-average power everywhere he's played, as evidenced by a consistent .250-plus isolated power figure. "There are scouts who swear that Fox's plus power would produce 25 homers if he got the chance to play every day in the majors," Jim Callis wrote in the ’09 Handbook, prior to Fox's big breakout.
Drawbacks: Fox produces the power but may lack the secondary skills to hold down first base on a regular basis. And that's really the only position where his poor glovework would not overshadow his strengths. Though his power is impressive, Fox was out of his mind on the road in the PCL, batting .371 and slugging .812. He made the most of being in the right place at the right time in ’09, bashing eight of his 17 homers in just 12 games at Albuquerque, Colorado Springs and Salt Lake, perhaps the three best power hitter's parks above the California League. (My apologies to Las Vegas and Reno.)
Educated Guess: Fox would have a stronger case to be Oakland's starter at first or at DH if it weren't for the presence of Jack Cust, Chris Carter and Daric Barton. Perhaps more telling, they signed Cust even after they had traded for Fox. Still, Fox should not lack for suitors if the A's decide to trade him. In the right situation—as primary DH?—he could hit those aforementioned 25 home runs.
• Eric Patterson, lf/2b, Athletics
Age: 27 (on April 8). Bats: Left. Position splits in AAA: 2B (72%), CF (16%), LF (9%), 3B (3%).
Optional assignments: 2007-08 with Triple-A Iowa and 2008-09 with Triple-A Sacramento.
Last Prospect Handbook appearance: No. 12, Cubs, 2008.
Career Transactions: Selected by Cubs in eighth round of 2004 draft; signed Aug. 30, 2004 … Traded by Cubs with RHP Sean Gallagher, OF Matt Murton and C Josh Donaldson to Athletics for RHPs Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin, July 8, 2008.
|ERIC PATTERSON • 2007-09 TRIPLE-A SPLITS
Merits: With Patterson's option clock set to expire, the A's last summer hit on the idea of trying him out as a multi-positional sparkplug. After his callup at the tail end of August, he batted .344/.456/.484 with five steals in six attempts over his final 27 games, playing three games at second base and a whole lot of corner outfield. The model the A's had in mind was Chone Figgins, and while the offensive profile fits loosely (minus the switch-hitting), Patterson spends more and more time in the outfield each season. (Figgins was a pure middle infielder in Triple-A.) As to Patterson, he has a strong track record versus righthanded pitchers, hitting for average, drawing walks and profiling as a top-of-the-order hitter. He's a high-percentage basestealer, too, nabbing 94 bases in 111 attempts (85 percent) in Triple-A and 175 in 217 attempts (81 percent) in the minors as a whole.
Drawbacks: Based on past performance, Patterson figures to be a non-factor when southpaws take the hill. His walk and strikeout rates have been largely unaffected, but he just doesn't get hits with the same frequency, suggesting that he's not barreling the ball up because he's not seeing it well. Patterson's contact rate also falls in the low range for a speed-oriented player who won't hit for a ton of power. That he appears to be migrating away from the middle of the diamond hurts his long-term value. He could help himself out by establishing his credentials in center field and at second and third base.
Educated Guess: Oakland's .328 team on-base percentage last year ranked ahead of just three AL teams, so Patterson could provide real value at the top of the lineup—at least against righties. He won't supplant Mark Ellis or Cliff Pennington as regular second baseman, but perhaps he'll have more luck platooning with Kevin Kouzmanoff at third base, now that Eric Chavez has picked up a first baseman's mitt. The A's have an outfield chock full of lefthanded hitters already—Ryan Sweeney, Gabe Gross, Travis Buck—which could mean that Patterson makes the team at the expense of one of that trio.
• Mitch Maier, cf, Royals
Age: 27. Bats: Left. Position splits in AAA: CF (75%), RF (15%), LF (9%).
Optional assignments: 2007-09 with Triple-A Omaha.
Last Prospect Handbook appearance: No. 23, Royals, 2009.
Career Transactions: Selected by Royals in first round (30th overall) of 2003 draft; signed June 4, 2003.
|MITCH MAIER • 2007-09 TRIPLE-A SPLITS
Merits: Maier is the rare lefthanded batter who fares better against lefthanded pitchers. The above split persisted even in his time in the big leagues, with Maier compiling a .755 OPS versus southpaws compared to .610 against righties. "You know, the first time you see a guy's curveball, it can be tough. But when you've seen the curve 15 times, you can get a read on it," he said in a recent phone interview. His roots in football carry over to the diamond, where he runs the bases aggressively and plays an all-out, quality center field. On the offensive side, he's no worse than average in terms of hitting, hitting for power and reaching base.
Drawbacks: Though Maier derived a pronounced advantage from playing in Omaha's Rosenblatt Stadium, his fellow Royals did not. Over the course of the past three seasons, the team hit for nearly the same average (.271 home, .269 road) and slugged just as much (.431 home, .424 road), regardless of ballpark. While he doesn't have a glaring weakness, Maier lacks that one outstanding tool that would guarantee him a starting job.
Educated Guess: While no club would mistake Maier for a first-division regular in center, the Royals don't seem to think he fits as a reserve either. Kansas City stockpiled veteran center field types this offseason, adding Brian Anderson, Rick Ankiel and Scott Podsednik to a stable that already included incumbents David DeJesus and Jose Guillen. As such, Maier appears to be a prime trade chip. He would fit best with a team looking to add lefty balance and flexibility to its outfield mix. As an added bonus, he would not have to be reflexively removed whenever a lefthander takes the hill.
• Josh Fields, 3b/lf, Royals
Age: 27. Bats: Right. Position splits in AAA: 3B (98%), SS (2%).
Optional assignments: 2007-09 with Triple-A Charlotte (also spent ’06 there).
Last Prospect Handbook appearance: No. 2, White Sox, 2007.
Career Transactions: Selected by White Sox in first round (18th overall) of 2004 draft; signed June 18, 2004 … Traded by White Sox with 2B Chris Getz to Royals for 3B Mark Teahen, Nov. 6, 2009.
|JOSH FIELDS • 2006-09 TRIPLE-A SPLITS
Merits: Fields has the type of isolated power figures to rival his Pacific Coast League comrades. But he's been an International Leaguer all the way. Of course, Charlotte's Knights Stadium may be the most power-friendly in the IL. During Fields' time with the club, 2006-09, the average Charlotte batter hit .267 and slugged .421 at home, versus .257 and .380 on the road. But Fields has demonstrated strong pull power in the big leagues, too, having clubbed 23 homers in 100 games with the ’07 White Sox. Though he's been adequate against minor league righthanders, Fields' entire game gets a boost when a southpaw is on the mound. He hits the ball harder, farther and more frequently, and when he's not putting the bat to the ball he's walking at a high rate. He's not Gold Glove material at third base, but he has sure hands and a strong arm.
Drawbacks: Fields did enough damage on his weak-side splits (vs. righthanders and on the road) to succeed in Triple-A, but he can't afford to slip too far in the big leagues if he's to hold down a full-time job. The high volume of strikeouts make it difficult for Fields to stand out in short looks, but like Brandon Wood, he made a lot more contact in ’09 (78 percent) than he ever had previously. He hasn't done much at all against big league righthanders, batting just .206/.280/.348 with strikeouts in 35 percent of his at-bats.
Educated Guess: As an offseason acquisition by the Royals, Fields would seem to have the inside track on a job. As such, he's been given a full allotment of at-bats this spring, in which he's hit for power, drove in runs . . . and struck out a lot. The Royals do not boast an excess of righthanded power—only Billy Butler and Jose Guillen—so Fields, if spotted primarily against lefties, could be a useful complementary piece on the infield and outfield corners. After all, it only feels like he's too young to begin the Matt Diaz phase of his career as a lefty killer.
• Alexi Casilla, 2b, Twins
Age: 25. Bats: Both. Position splits in AAA: 2B (57%), SS (43%).
Optional assignments: 2007-09 with Triple-A Rochester.
Last Prospect Handbook appearance: No. 7, Twins, 2007.
Career Transactions: Signed as nondrafted free agent by Angels, Feb. 21, 2003 … Traded by Angels to Twins for LHP J.C. Romero, Dec. 9, 2005.
|ALEXI CASILLA • 2007-09 TRIPLE-A SPLITS
Merits: Most switch-hitters are stronger from the left side of the plate because of all the additional repetitions. But not Casilla. Even in his extended big league time, he's hit more consistently and more soundly from the right side of the plate. He's a high-contact, slap hitter with a quick swing who draws his share of walks and isn't afraid to hit with two strikes. Casilla has advanced body control and can handle either second base or shortstop, though the Twins have kept shortstop mostly off-limits to him in the big leagues.
Drawbacks: Because he's a backward switch-hitter, Casilla is a bit of a tough sell because teams face lefty starters only about a quarter of the time. The walks are nice, but he offers no power whatsoever. Casilla runs very well but hasn't combined that with any consistency on the bases. He has 29 steals in 32 attempts in the big leagues but has made an atrocious 38-for-60 (63 percent) showing in Triple-A.
Educated Guess: The Twins really want to believe in Casilla. And while he delivered the AL Central-clinching hit in game No. 163 against the Tigers last October, he's come to the plate 903 times for the Twins in the past four regular seasons and managed a batting line of .244/.301/.314. The Twins seem determined to give him one more spin, which is certainly defensible seeing as he's competing with Matt Tolbert, a similar player who lacks Casilla's raw tools. But assuming that J.J. Hardy starts at short, Orlando Hudson at second and Nick Punto at third, Minnesota also will have to find a place for Brendan Harris, who also is out of options.
• Joaquin Arias, 2b/ss, Rangers
Age: 25. Bats: Right. Position splits in AAA: SS (87%), 2B (13%).
Optional assignments: 2006, 2008-09 with Triple-A Oklahoma City.
Last Prospect Handbook appearance: No. 27, Rangers, 2009.
Career Transactions: Signed as nondrafted free agent by Yankees, July 12, 2001 … Traded by Yankees to Rangers, April 6, 2004, completing deal in which Yankees sent 2B Alfonso Soriano and a player to be named to Rangers for SS Alex Rodriguez (Feb. 14, 2004).
|JOAQUIN ARIAS • 2006-09 TRIPLE-A SPLITS
Merits: Arias hasn't made much progress on the offensive side in the two full seasons since being derailed by the shoulder injury that cost him all but five games in ’07. (The Rangers had been working him out as an outfielder that spring when he injured his shoulder.) Arias remains an elite contact hitter and an efficient basestealer, with 74 steals in 92 attempts (80 percent) at Triple-A, but most of his value is tied to his defensive work. He's an energetic player with solid range and soft hands at shortstop. Reports from spring training indicate that his throwing arm has bounced back to at least average.
Drawbacks: Seen as a potential middle-infield starter when the Rangers acquired him in their trade of Alex Rodriguez, Arias simply hasn't grown into the power envisioned at the time. He likes to swing at fastballs early and often, so he never will walk much. In fact, he hasn't done a whole lot with his 1,500 plate appearances at Triple-A even when he's put the ball in play, showing no power and only rudimentary hitting ability. His chief offensive assets boil down to speed and any value his contact-oriented approach generates, such as advancing runners and hitting the occasional sac fly.
Educated Guess: The Rangers want a utility infielder who can handle shortstop, which they thought they had addressed with the signing of Khalil Greene. So much for that. Arias cleared another hurdle when the Rangers this week traded Ray Olmedo, who signed a minor league deal in December, for catcher Matt Treanor. Recent trade acquisition Gregorio Petit (a shortstop) and waiver claim Hernan Iribarren (a second baseman) pose a bit of a threat, but each is in camp as a non-roster player. They may form the double-play duo at Oklahoma City as the Rangers wait to see what they have in Arias.
Contact rate (CT) is percentage of at-bats that don't end in strikeout. The average batter makes contact 80 percent of the time. Isolated power (ISO) measures a player's extra-base power, where .135 is in the average range for the Triple-A player. Here, we've counted triples as doubles because they measure speed just as much as they do power. Walk rate (BB) is figured per plate appearance. Eight percent is about average at Triple-A. Intentional walks are excluded in this case and also for walk-to-strikeout ratio (BB/K). Balls in play average (BIP) figures the rate at which struck baseballs—excluding home runs—evade defenses and are scored as hits. It tends to correlate positively with line-drive hitting ability (and speed). The Triple-A average falls between .310 and .315. Weighted on-base percentage (wOBA) assigns a run value to common offensive outcomes (single, walk, double, triple, home run, hit by pitch) and scales it to plate appearances. The final number resembles on-base percentage, such that .330 to .340 is about average.
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