Presumably finding little or no trade interest, the Mariners and Indians each attempted to send an out-of-options reliever to Triple-A in March. Each player stood little chance of making the Opening Day roster, but because each used his final minor league option in 2010, his club either had to carry him on the active roster or outright him to the minors, a process that necessitates first clearing waivers. While navigating those waters, the two players' paths diverged.
Seattle lost lefty Garrett Olson (this spring: 5 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 BB, 3 SO) to the Pirates on a waiver claim, but Cleveland snuck righthander Jensen Lewis (5 2/3 IP, 13 H, 10 R, 3 BB, 1 SO) through the waiver wire on his way to Columbus. Olson's lack of options now muddles Pittsburgh's picture, while Lewis will play out the Triple-A season and look forward to either a return to Cleveland's 40-man roster or minor league free agency in November.
But Olson and Lewis are far from the only players to reach this juncture of their careers. Much as we did last season, we'll take a closer look at seven position players (with bonus tracks) who have not yet established themselves in the big leagues and who now find themselves out of options. For that reason, we will focus on those who used their final option in 2010 and those who offer at least a hint of future utility. Last season, teams gave the benefit of the doubt to the out-of-options players we examined in this space, carrying all 14 on Opening Day rosters. Please see last year's out-of-options features for more on the process and for a refresher on the statistical categories presented here.
• Cameron Maybin, cf, Padres
Age: 24. Bats: Right. Position splits: CF (99%), LF (1%).
Optional assignments: 2008 with Double-A Carolina and 2009-10 with Triple-A New Orleans.
Last Prospect Handbook appearance: No. 1, Marlins, 2009.
Career Transactions: Selected by Tigers in first round (10th overall) of 2005 draft; signed Sept. 23, 2005 … Traded by Tigers with LHP Andrew Miller, C Mike Rabelo and RHPs Eulogio de la Cruz, Dallas Trahern and Burke Badenhop to Marlins for 3B Miguel Cabrera and LHP Dontrelle Willis, Dec. 4, 2007 … Traded by Marlins to Padres for RHPs Ryan Webb and Edward Mujica, Nov. 13, 2010.
|CAMERON MAYBIN • 2008-10 DOUBLE-A & TRIPLE-A SPLITS
Maybin's plus wheels give him a chance to collect hits most times he puts the ball in play, as attested to by his uniformly high averages on balls in play in the high minors. That trait has carried over to the big leagues, too, where he has a sub-.250 career average despite a higher-than-average .334 hit rate on balls in play. (He's hit nearly 54 percent of his balls in play on the ground in the big leagues, a high percentage.) For Maybin, the issue always has been making enough contact to remain relevant as a hitter. With contact rates north of 80 percent against righties and lefties alike in his past two Triple-A campaigns, he appears to be on the right track. His contact rate hasn't made the corresponding jump in the big leagues, however. Maybin also hasn't been as successful duplicating that .987 OPS minor league split (with patience and power) versus southpaws. Big league lefties have cut his OPS nearly in half (.576). As long as Maybin continues to corral fly balls in Petco's spacious middle garden, the Padres will grant him time to get his feet under him at the plate. Perhaps he's a late bloomer like Mike Cameron, Torii Hunter or Chris Young.
Maybin bears at least a passing resemblance to the Angels' Brandon Wood from last year's out-of-options blowout. Both Maybin and Wood have first-round pedigrees, bat righthanded, possess above-average power and defensive ability and struggle to make consistent contact. Out of options prior to turning 25, both Maybin and Wood have struggled early in their careers to cross the threshold between Triple-A and the big leagues.
• Matt Joyce, rf, Rays
Age: 26. Bats: Left. Position splits: RF (71%), CF (15%), LF (14%).
Optional assignments: 2008 with Triple-A Toledo and 2009-10 with Triple-A Durham.
Last Prospect Handbook appearance: No. 7, Tigers, 2008.
Career transactions: Selected by Tigers in 12th round of 2005 draft; signed June 9, 2005 … Traded by Tigers to Rays for RHP Edwin Jackson, Dec. 10, 2008.
|MATT JOYCE • 2008-10 TRIPLE-A SPLITS
The Rays have a well-earned reputation for taking things slow with pitching prospects. For proof, look no further than the slow matriculation of Jeremy Hellickson, Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann—but also Mitch Talbot and Jason Hammel, two righthanded starters who ran out their option clocks in Durham before ultimately being traded to teams that had room in their rotations. But Joyce, B.J. Upton and Reid Brignac, among projected Tampa Bay starters, all would argue that the Rays are equally discriminating when it comes to position prospects. Joyce spent much of the past two seasons in Durham, last year waiting for a break in right field while Ben Zobrist and Gabe Kapler slipped down the charts. Joyce has hit a meek .157 against big league lefties (as hinted at by his Triple-A showing), but in 515 career plate appearances versus righthanders he's hit a starting-caliber .253/.353/.515 with 25 home runs. Zobrist is still kicking around, but the Rays will find a way to get Joyce in the lineup.
• Nick Evans, 1b/lf, Mets
Age: 25. Bats: Right. Position splits: 1B (72%), LF (21%), 3B (8%), RF (4%).
Optional assignments: 2008-10 with Double-A Binghamton and 2009-10 with Triple-A Buffalo.
Last Prospect Handbook appearance: No. 9, Mets, 2009.
Career transactions: Selected by Mets in fifth round of 2004 draft; signed June 16, 2004.
|NICK EVANS • 2008-10 DOUBLE-A & TRIPLE-A SPLITS
Caveat: Evans has done much of his mashing at the Double-A level, batting a less heady .249/.319/.467 in 418 plate appearances with Triple-A Buffalo. But even with severe platoon limitations, Evans hasn't faked his way to that stellar batting line versus lefties. He has hit them consistently and hit them hard, even at the big league level, where he's managed a .891 OPS with three of his four career home runs. The Mets are aware of Evans' limitations, having spotted him more frequently against southpaws (132 PA) than righties (93 PA) during his three brief callups to Queens. Having entered pro ball as a third baseman, Evans has migrated down the defensive spectrum in subsequent seasons, settling in as below-average corner outfielder whose best defensive fit remains first base. As such, he falls third on the Mets' depth chart behind starter Ike Davis and 2010 breakout Lucas Duda, both of whom bat lefthanded. As such, Evans could carve out a career as a platoon player/pinch-hitter against lefthanded pitchers, but in these days of the 12- and 13-man pitching staff, the lefty masher has become almost an endangered species.
• Lucas May, c, Royals
Age: 26. Bats: Right. Position splits: C (100%).
Optional assignments: 2008-10 with Double-A Jacksonville and Chattanooga and 2010 with Triple-A Albuquerque and Omaha.
Last Prospect Handbook appearance: Depth chart, Royals, 2011.
Career transactions: Selected by Dodgers in eighth round of 2003 draft; signed June 6, 2003 … Traded by Dodgers with RHP Elisaul Pimentel to Royals for OF Scott Podsednik, July 28, 2010.
|LUCAS MAY • 2008-10 DOUBLE-A & TRIPLE-A SPLITS
Much like Russell Martin, Carlos Santana and Tony Delmonico, May served as one of the Dodgers' recent infield-to-catcher conversion success stories. As it did with Santana, Los Angeles dealt May before he reached the big leagues. The club's trade-deadline return: two months of 34-year-old Scott Podsednik, who bolted for free agency and subsequently settled for a minor league deal with the Blue Jays. In the high minors, May didn't hit a whole lot away from his home park (.689 road OPS), and he didn't hit a whole lot against same-side pitchers, mustering a .252/.326/.391 batting line with suspect contact skills versus righties. Scouts long have projected May as a backup catcher, and with solid athleticism and a track record for hitting lefties, it's a role he's ready to assume in 2010. He'll contend with Jason Kendall and Brayan Pena (who made it through waivers in May ’09 as an out-of-options player) for playing time. The fact that the Kansas City front office identified May as a trade target would seem to make him the favorite to backup Kendall.
• Tony Abreu, 2b/ss, Diamondbacks
Age: 26. Bats: Both. Position splits: 2B (56%), SS (26%), 3B (18%).
Optional assignments: 2007 with Triple-A Las Vegas, 2009 with Double-A Chattanooga and Triple-A Albuquerque and 2010 with Triple-A Reno
Last Prospect Handbook appearance: No. 5, Dodgers, 2007.
Career transactions: Signed as nondrafted free agent by Dodgers, Oct. 17, 2002 … On disabled list, March 30-Sept. 28, 2008 … Traded by Dodgers to Diamondbacks, Oct. 9, 2009, completing deal in which Diamondbacks traded RHP Jon Garland to Dodgers for a player to be named (Aug. 31, 2009).
|TONY ABREU • 2007, 2009-10 DOUBLE-A & TRIPLE-A SPLITS
Abreu's prospect status with the Dodgers was predicated on his defensive acumen at the keystone and his line-drive stroke from both sides of the plate. He won the Florida State League batting title in 2005, showed no batting average platoon split in the minors and hit .315 in nearly 1,200 at-bats at the Double-A and Triple-A levels. But after Abreu's trial with the ’07 Dodgers produced mixed results (.271/.309/.404 in 59 games), he missed the entire ’08 season after having hip surgery and has struggled to redeem himself with sporadic big league playing time in the two seasons since. He didn't even receive the benefit of playing full time in Albuquerque or Reno, two supreme Pacific Coast League launching pads, while in the minors in 2009-10, logging just 158 home plate appearances in two years. Arizona parted with Jon Garland to acquire Abreu at the ’09 trade deadline, so they are invested in the middle infielder's development. With a contact-oriented, low-walk offensive profile, Abreu will have to earn his keep in a supporting role to middle infielders Stephen Drew and Kelly Johnson. His most direct path to regular playing time would be wresting third base playing time away from veterans Melvin Mora and Geoff Blum.
• Chin-Lung Hu, ss, Mets
Age: 27. Bats: Right. Position splits: SS (91%), 2B (9%).
Optional assignments: 2008 with Triple-A Las Vegas and 2009-10 with Triple-A Albuquerque.
Last Prospect Handbook appearance: No. 3, Dodgers, 2008.
Career transactions: Signed as nondrafted free agent by Dodgers, Jan. 31, 2003 … Traded by Dodgers to Mets for LHP Mike Antonini, Dec. 27, 2010.
|CHIN-LUNG HU • 2007-10 TRIPLE-A SPLITS
A frequent double-play partner with Tony Abreu while the two played in the Los Angeles system, Hu's time in Dodger blue followed a similar trajectory: big league promotion in 2007, injury-abbreviated follow-up seasons (including thumb surgery last year that limited him to 58 games plus a half-hearted September callup) and, finally, a trade to another organization. Hu runs well and has the defensive chops to play a major league-caliber shortstop, but he's a spray hitter with no power and little patience. His road production from his time in Triple-A (.275/.309/.374) would represent an absolute best-case scenario for a big league season, and that's if every blooper falls in and he legs a few singles into doubles. But it's Hu's glove that enticed the Mets to acquire him, and he ought to be an improvement on recent vintage New York middle-infield reserves like Joaquin Arias, Alex Cora, Anderson Hernandez and Argenis Reyes. (Note: Hu played Triple-A ball in ’07 while he was not yet a member of the Dodgers' 40-man roster, thus he was not on optional assignment. However, I'm counting his ’07 Triple-A numbers here to provide a more representative sample.)
• Xavier Paul, cf, Dodgers
Age: 26. Bats: Left. Position splits: CF (78%), RF (11%), LF (11%).
Optional assignments: 2008 with Triple-A Las Vegas and 2009-10 with Triple-A Albuquerque.
Last Prospect Handbook appearance: No. 23, Dodgers, 2010.
Career transactions: Selected by Dodgers in fourth round of 2003 draft; signed June 11, 2003.
|XAVIER PAUL • 2008-10 TRIPLE-A SPLITS
The Dodgers debuted Tony Abreu, Chin-Lung Hu, Lucas May and Paul during the 2003 season. Not yet a catcher, May stayed behind in short-season ball in ’04, but the other three manned second base, shortstop and center field for the low Class A Columbus Catfish. Perhaps because of Los Angeles' unsettled 2011 outfield picture, Paul is the only prospect who remains property of the Dodgers. He filled in for Manny Ramirez last summer but hit just .231/.277/.314 in 133 plate appearances, putting him squarely behind Matt Kemp and Tony Gwynn Jr. on the center-field depth chart. Like Abreu and Hu, Paul played well in Triple-A—it helps when you call Las Vegas and Albuquerque home—but only when healthy. He contended with a staph infection and broken ankle in 2009 and cervical spine inflammation last season. Paul can defend all three outfield posts and owns an above-average arm, but his playing time will be dictated by how well he swings the bat. His line-drive stroke won't produce an abundance of home runs, but if spotted exclusively against righthanders he could provide average overall value.
FOUR MORE IN BRIEF
• The Marlins and Dodgers traded Cameron Maybin, Lucas May and Chin-Lung Hu last year rather than deal with their expired option clocks this spring. In similar fashion, the Giants dealt corner outfielder/first baseman John Bowker to the Pirates for lefty specialist Javier Lopez at last year's trade deadline. The 27-year-old Bowker (No. 9, Giants, 2008) hit 10 home runs as a Giants rookie in 2008, but overall he's fizzled to a .237/.288/.393 batting line in 590 big league plate appearances. Behind Jose Tabata, Matt Diaz and Garrett Jones in the Pirates' corner-outfield hierarchy, Bowker has shown tantalizing power against righthanders while with Triple-A Fresno and Indianapolis from 2008-10, batting a combined .340/.436/.644 with 36 homers, 35 doubles and 87 walks (against just 83 strikeouts) in 509 at-bats. The lefty hitter seemed especially well-suited for Fresno's park, posting an 1.043 OPS in home games and swatting 31 of 41 homers. The bad news is that Bowker's weak-side splits in Triple-A (.734 OPS versus lefties and 100-point drop in isolated power on the road) won't cut it in the bigs, not as an everyday corner player.
• New Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers spent last season as a special assistant for the Yankees. Among his initial moves for Arizona, he traded a low Class A arm for Juan Miranda, a slugging Cuban first baseman who signed a major league deal with the Yankees in 2006. Out of options, Miranda (No. 20, Yankees, 2009) appears to be the frontrunner among the D-backs' gaggle of would-be first basemen, a group that includes veterans Russell Branyan and Xavier Nady and prospect Brandon Allen. A lefty hitter, Miranda's minor league track record suggests that he can handle righthanded pitchers (.302/.394/.522 with 42 home runs in 1,057 plate appearances), but he struggles against lefties (.700 OPS) and grades as no better than average defensively. Listed as 27 years old, he could be as old as 29 if Cuban sources are to be believed.
• Despite strong defensive chops, no team has yet committed much of anything more than September cups of coffee to 27-year-old shortstop Luis Cruz. He's twice been removed from a 40-man roster, the first time by the Padres in July 2007 (the same year he made his final Prospect Handbook appearance at No. 20) and then again by the Pirates in December ’09, which resulted in the waiver claim that landed him with the Brewers. Last season with Triple-A Nashville, Cruz led all Pacific Coast League shortstops in assists (405), putouts (214) and double plays (104). A strong second and third baseman as well, he frequently plays the outfield during winter ball in his native Mexico, and a super-utility role is what he's vying for in Milwaukee this year. With the trade of Alcides Escobar, the Brewers' primary shortstop options are Yuniesky Betancourt and Craig Counsell, so having Cruz around could turn out to be worthwhile insurance. What kind of production can the club expect out of Cruz? Well, he'd be stretched as an everyday player because he struggles badly against righthanded pitchers, batting .242/.277/.344 in 1,256 minor league plate appearances since ’07. His minor league track record versus lefties (.312/.341/.501) is much rosier.
• Catcher Max Ramirez reached Triple-A and hit .347/.439/.628 in 81 minor league games in 2008, earning him a 17-game trial with the Rangers and a No. 10 ranking on the club's ’09 prospect list. Nothing has gone right since. Ramirez has batted just .255/.344/.354 in 546 plate appearances for Triple-A Oklahoma City in the past two seasons, and he ran up a .689 OPS in a 28-game look with Texas last May and June. Not even an offseason stint in the Venezuelan League could revive his power stroke—he hit .286/.381/.368 with two homers in 185 at-bats. The culprit appears to be a slow-to-heal wrist injury. At least that's what the Red Sox and Cubs must believe, because both made waiver claims on Ramirez after Texas designated him for assignment in January. With below-average arm strength, agility and hands, the 26-year-old Ramirez is no lock to stick at catcher, particularly with the Cubs, who have Geovany Soto, Koyie Hill and Welington Castillo ahead of him. He could be headed for the waiver wire for the third time in four months at the end of spring training.
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