An Analytical Look At Minor League Free Agents

Starting pitchers with swing-and-miss stuff and passable control. Middle infielders with power. These commodities are in short supply on the minor league free agent market because teams tend to hoard them on 40-man rosters.

The outlook for teams trying to add minor league system depth in other areas—such as speed, corner power, dependable middle-infield defense, effective bullpen help—is considerably more favorable.

For many fans, even hardcore Baseball America prospect watchers, those players who hit the minor league free agent market are simply names on a computer screen. So in this piece I will attempt to add context to those names, with a focus on younger free agents. To do this I determined league percentile ranks for major component statistics—where higher is always better—for all 534 minor league free agents in this year’s pool and ranked them accordingly.

In particular, I examined batting average, isolated slugging, speed score, walk rate and strikeout rate for position players. A similar process is carried out for pitchers except that home run rate per nine innings replaces ISO and groundout-to-airout ratio replaces speed score. Position players are split into two groups: catchers, second basemen and shortstops (middle) in one corner and then first basemen, third basemen and outfielders (corner) in the other. Starting pitchers and relievers also are separated into two groups—15 batters faced per game is the dividing line—though I did not compute percentile ranks for relievers.

If nothing else, I hope this piece helps answer the question: Why did my team sign that guy?


Best Hitter

While batting average fails to capture overall player value as well as other statistics, it has currency because of its transparency and simplicity. A .300 average on the 20-80 scouting scale translates to a 70 grade, while those who hit .320 on a consistent basis are 80 hitters.

The overall minor league average is about .255, with some leagues falling well south of that (Gulf Coast, .241; New York-Penn, .243) and others running much hotter (Pioneer, .286; Pacific Coast, .269).

BATTING AVERAGE (C, 2B, SS)
No Batter Org Pos Age League PA AVG Percentile
1 Iribarren, Hernan Reds 2b 32 IL 410 .327 98%
2 Maggi, Drew Dodgers ss 27 TL 220 .299 95%
3 Calixte, Orlando Royals ss 24 TL 152 .295 92%
4 Butler, Dan Red Sox c 30 IL 169 .308 92%
5 Joseph, Corban Orioles 2b 28 IL 313 .305 90%
6 Rosa, Garabez Orioles 2b 27 EL 476 .303 90%
7 Serna, K.C. Phillies ss 27 EL 381 .295 86%
8 Reyes, Robelys D-backs ss 26 CAL 222 .298 86%
9 Pinto, Josmil Brewers c 27 PCL 315 .308 84%
10 Freitas, David Cubs c 27 SL 272 .286 81%

In Focus: Orlando Calixte spent the 2015 season on the Royals’ 40-man roster before being non-tendered that December. He re-signed with Kansas City on a minor league deal for 2016 but looked elsewhere this fall, quickly agreeing to a deal with the Giants. Calixte has shown an intriguing blend of raw ability in the minors: plus bat speed, average wheels, fringe power at times and the versatility to play shortstop, second base, third base and center field.

The Giants subsequently added Calixte to the 40-man roster on Nov. 18 to shield him from selection in the Rule 5 draft.

BATTING AVERAGE (1B, 3B, OF)
No Batter Org Pos Age League PA AVG Percentile
1 Montero, Jesus Blue Jays 1b 26 IL 518 .317 95%
2 Denker, Travis D-backs 3b 31 SL 257 .303 93%
3 Bernard, Wynton Tigers of 26 EL 263 .308 91%
4 Mitchell, Ronnie Marlins of 25 SL 169 .298 89%
5 LaMarre, Ryan Red Sox of 27 IL 358 .303 89%
6 Shuck, J.B. White Sox of 29 IL 170 .299 88%
7 Murton, Matt Cubs of 35 PCL 255 .314 87%
8 Herrera, Rosell Rockies of 24 EL 494 .292 83%
9 Curtis, Jermaine Reds 3b 29 IL 346 .291 81%
10 Huffman, Chad Tigers 1b 31 IL 511 .286 80%

In Focus: Jesus Montero finished fifth in the International League batting race this season and owns a career Triple-A batting line of .305/.357/.491 in 2,406 plate appearances. He also owns a 50-game suspension after testing positive for a banned stimulant in September, and he must serve that suspension before he can play for a new organization. Still, Montero has an intriguing blend of hitting ability and power to all fields (spray chart).


Best Power

Isolated slugging percentage measures a batter’s extra bases per at-bat and is highly dependent on league context. For example, the spread of ISO values ranges from about .140 (Pioneer, Pacific Coast, California) down to about .100 (Gulf Coast, New York-Penn, Florida Sate). While ISO is not the best judge of raw power because batters are penalized for outs made, it is a simple means of determining usable power.

ISOLATED SLUGGING  (C, 2B, SS)
No Batter Org Pos Age League PA ISO Percentile
1 McKenry, Michael Brewers c 31 PCL 199 .245 91%
2 Quiroz, Guillermo Indians c 34 IL 297 .183 87%
3 Arencibia, J.P. Rays c 30 IL 372 .179 85%
4 Sawyer, Wynston Orioles c 25 CAR 379 .181 84%
5 Pinto, Josmil Brewers c 27 PCL 315 .210 83%
6 Pena, Roberto Astros c 24 TL 217 .173 79%
7 Thon, Dickie Joe Blue Jays 2b 25 FSL 429 .142 78%
8 Brantly, Rob Mariners c 27 PCL 315 .188 78%
9 Bueno, Ronald Reds 2b 24 FSL 173 .139 76%
10 Burg, Alex Rangers c 29 TL 219 .168 76%

In Focus: The Dodgers quickly signed San Diego high school product Wynston Sawyer when he hit the minor league free agent market this fall. An Orioles eighth-round pick in 2010, he experienced a breakthrough offensive season at high Class A Frederick in 2016, hitting .281 with good power and excellent strikeout (81st percentile) and walk rates (96th) in the Carolina League. Sawyer played first base and DH as much as catcher this season, but he hovered near average in terms of throwing out basestealers and preventing passed balls when behind the plate.

ISOLATED SLUGGING (1B, 3B, OF)
No Batter Org Pos Age League PA ISO Percentile
1 Denker, Travis D-backs 3b 31 SL 257 .251 99%
2 Arias, Junior Giants of 24 SAL 223 .232 98%
3 Decker, Cody Red Sox 1b 29 EL 257 .249 98%
4 Dugan, Kelly Cubs of 26 SL 322 .204 97%
5 Fox, Jake Phillies 1b 34 EL 471 .231 97%
6 Glaesmann, Todd D-backs of 26 SL 147 .201 96%
7 Washington, David Cardinals of 25 PCL 401 .272 95%
8 Huffman, Chad Tigers 1b 31 IL 511 .219 93%
9 Quintana, Gabriel Padres 3b 24 TL 487 .202 92%
10 Choice, Michael Indians of 27 IL 276 .210 91%

In Focus: A number of young-but-flawed power hitters are available in the corner-bat bin of the free agent market, many for the first time. Junior Arias and Kelly Dugan were previously available in the class of 2015, so focus instead on Todd Glaesman, a power-speed outfielder who lacks plate discipline; David Washington, a 6-foot-5, lefthanded hitter with power (46 homers the past two seasons) and patience; Gabriel Quintana, a third baseman who hit 20 homers (but not much else) in a severe pitcher’s park; and Michael Choice, the 10th overall pick in the 2010 draft whose career has stalled at Triple-A.


Best Speed

I created a simple weighted speed metric, inspired by Bill James’ speed score, that places batters on a similar scale as isolated slugging. It factors stolen-base attempts, triples and runs scored (minus home runs) as a percentage of times a batter becomes a baserunner, i.e. hits (minus homers), walks and hit-by-pitches. The resulting speed metric has little absolute value because low levels of the minors feature higher rates of triples, stolen-base attempts and miscues, but it has relative value as I apply it here.

WEIGHTED SPEED (C, 2B, SS)
No Batter Org Pos Age League PA SPD Percentile
1 Calixte, Orlando Royals ss 24 TL 152 .286 99%
2 Tovar, Wilfredo Twins ss 25 IL 494 .211 96%
3 Reyes, Robelys D-backs ss 26 CAL 222 .240 94%
4 Negron, Kristopher Cubs ss 30 PCL 419 .208 94%
5 Watkins, Logan Cubs 2b 27 PCL 378 .207 94%
6 Coyle, Sean Angels 2b 24 TL 176 .200 93%
7 Vinicio, Jose Red Sox ss 23 IL 178 .180 92%
8 Thon, Dickie Joe Blue Jays 2b 25 FSL 429 .199 89%
9 Maggi, Drew Dodgers ss 27 PCL 162 .190 88%
10 Coleman, Dusty Royals ss 29 PCL 207 .182 85%

In Focus: The Twins signed Wilfredo Tovar as a minor league free agent for the 2016 season and he met expectations at Triple-A Rochester. He made a ton of contact and showed speed with 29 stolen bases but made little impact with the bat. It’s on defense where Tovar shines. The five-time best defensive infielder in the Mets system recorded more assists (+48) and turned more double plays (+8) than the average International League shortstop would have in the same number of games.

WEIGHTED SPEED (1B, 3B, OF)
No Batter Org Pos Age League PA SPD Percentile
1 Perez, Eury Astros of 26 PCL 146 .269 99%
2 Bernard, Wynton Tigers of 26 IL 163 .233 99%
3 Adams, Lane Yankees of 27 EL 332 .259 98%
4 Wilson, Kenny Marlins of 26 PCL 358 .212 94%
5 Campana, Tony White Sox of 30 IL 232 .189 94%
6 Ford, Darren Giants of 31 PCL 171 .206 93%
7 Ford, Darren Giants of 31 EL 258 .211 92%
8 Perez, Juan Cubs of 30 PCL 415 .195 91%
9 den Dekker, Matt Nationals of 29 IL 421 .174 90%
10 Lipka, Matt Braves of 24 SL 244 .218 90%

In Focus: Many of these players have 40-steal seasons on their minor league résumés, and they will continue to receive looks for as long as they keep showing plus wheels. Lane Adams stole a career-high 44 bags this year to rank eighth in the minors, while Eury Perez (40-plus steals three times, high of 64), Wynton Bernard (twice, 45), Kenny Wilson (three times, 55), Tony Campana (twice, 66) and Darren Ford (three times, 69) are some of the most reliable speed-based players in the game.

Campana has the most big league experience—and even stole 30 bases for the 2012 Cubs—while Ford has amassed 449 steals in the minors to easily lead all active players.


Best Patience • Batters

A batter’s minor league walk rate (as a ratio of plate appearances) can be deceptive, but the following players stand far above the field for their plate patience. And a patient batter is more likely to see a pitch he can drive.

WALK RATE (C, 2B, SS)
No Batter Org Pos Age League PA BB% Percentile
1 McKenry, Michael Brewers c 31 PCL 199 20.1 100%
2 Walsh, Colin Athletics 2b 27 PCL 245 16.7 99%
3 Lerud, Steven Giants c 32 EL 214 17.8 98%
4 Rodriguez, Josh Athletics ss 31 TL 208 14.4 96%
5 Soto, Elliot Marlins ss 27 PCL 190 14.7 96%
6 Sawyer, Wynston Orioles c 25 CAR 379 16.6 96%
7 Diaz, Jonathan Yankees ss 31 IL 371 12.7 93%
8 Wong, Joey Rockies ss 28 PCL 312 13.5 92%
9 Adams, David Blue Jays 2b 29 IL 236 12.3 92%
10 Lavarnway, Ryan Blue Jays c 29 EL 272 12.5 90%

In Focus: Wynston Sawyer makes another appearance here, and he’s really the only under-30 player on this board who has any other offensive attribute going for him this season.

WALK RATE (1B, 3B, OF)
No Batter Org Pos Age League PA BB% Percentile
1 Marrero, Christian Phillies of 30 EL 244 18.9 99%
2 Olt, Mike Padres 3b 28 TL 195 15.9 99%
3 Fernandez Jr., Alex Tigers of 23 GCL 105 16.2 97%
4 Denker, Travis D-backs 3b 31 SL 257 15.2 97%
5 Moncrief, Carlos Giants of 28 EL 209 13.4 95%
6 Terdoslavich, Joey Orioles 1b 28 EL 459 13.1 94%
7 Krauss, Marc Mets 1b 29 PCL 272 14.0 94%
8 Heathcott, Slade White Sox of 26 IL 216 12.5 93%
9 Curtis, Jermaine Reds 3b 29 IL 346 12.1 91%
10 Puello, Cesar Yankees of 25 IL 289 12.1 90%

In Focus: As one-time Top 10 Prospects who have yet to receive extended trials in the majors, Slade Heathcott and Cesar Puello are probably the most interesting names here. Myriad injuries (Heathcott) and a Biogensis suspension (Puello) have held them back, but both demonstrated patience and speed in the International League in 2016. Puello, who is from the same Mets international signing class that produced Wilmer Flores and Jefry Marte, even hit .283 with a 142 OPS+.


Best Contact • Batters

Strikeout rates tend to run higher in short-season leagues, but the overall full-season minor league rate hovers near 20 percent.

STRIKEOUT RATE (C, 2B, SS)
No Batter Org Pos Age League PA SO% Percentile
1 Astudillo, Willians Braves c 25 SL 342 3.2 100%
2 Joseph, Corban Orioles 2b 28 IL 313 10.2 98%
3 Castillo, Wilkin Blue Jays c 32 EL 152 9.9 97%
4 Castro, Daniel Braves ss 24 IL 229 10.9 96%
5 Lombardozzi, Steve Nationals 2b 28 IL 246 11.0 95%
6 Jones, Corey Tigers 2b 29 EL 435 12.0 94%
7 Tovar, Wilfredo Twins ss 25 IL 494 11.9 93%
8 Torres, Kevin Rangers c 26 CAL 181 12.7 93%
9 Falu, Irving Royals 2b 33 PCL 172 12.2 91%
10 Valenzuela, Ricardo Padres c 26 CAL 144 13.2 91%

In Focus: The Venezuela-born Willians Astudillo never walks, has bottom-of-the-scale speed and hits for very little power. Yet the 5-foot-9 righthanded batter has by far the best contact ability in the minors, and he caught 75 games at Double-A Mississippi while holding his own defensively. Astudillo had more extra-base hits (13) than strikeouts (11) in the Southern League, and the same was true in the Florida State and South Atlantic leagues before that.

STRIKEOUT RATE (1B, 3B, OF)
No Batter Org Pos Age League PA SO% Percentile
1 Shuck, J.B. White Sox of 29 IL 170 7.6 100%
2 Kotchman, Casey Blue Jays 1b 33 IL 376 8.5 100%
3 Bourgeois, Jason White Sox of 34 IL 374 8.6 99%
4 Rosario, Rainel Red Sox of 27 EL 354 12.1 93%
5 Curtis, Jermaine Reds 3b 29 IL 346 12.4 92%
6 Tejada, Luis Padres of 24 CAL 180 12.8 92%
7 Campana, Tony White Sox of 30 IL 232 12.5 92%
8 Hoes, L.J. Orioles of 26 IL 443 13.1 91%
9 Murton, Matt Cubs of 35 PCL 255 12.5 89%
10 Pena, Ismael Mariners of 20 AZL 155 13.5 89%

In Focus: The most notable player here is probably corner outfielder-first baseman Luis Tejada, whom the Angels quickly signed this fall. The 24-year-old, righthanded-hitting Dominican exercised plate discipline while showing power (31 doubles-plus-triples, 11 homers) at three levels of the Padres system.


Hardest To Hit • Pitchers

The same caveats apply to pitchers as they do batters with regard to batting average. However, flyball pitchers tend to allow lower opponent averages than groundball pitchers because balls hit in the air fall for hits less frequently than ground balls.

OPPONENT AVERAGE (Starters)
No Pitcher Org Pos Age League IP AVG Percentile
1 Zeid, Josh Mets rhp 29 EL 54 .211 94%
2 Hall, Brooks Brewers rhp 26 SL 75 .231 83%
3 Betts, Palmer D-backs rhp 22 PIO 39 .248 79%
4 Bibens-Dirkx, Austin Rangers rhp 31 PCL 85 .256 78%
5 Sulbaran, J.C. Cardinals rhp 27 TL 96 .230 76%
6 Kelly, Casey Braves rhp 27 IL 74 .237 72%
7 Marks, Justin Rays lhp 28 IL 140 .239 71%
8 Whiting, Boone Nationals rhp 27 CAR 107 .249 70%
9 Copeland, Scott Blue Jays rhp 28 IL 50 .241 69%
10 Morales, Osmer Mariners rhp 24 CAL 102 .258 68%

In Focus: As expected, we see a sea of flyball pitchers on this leaderboard. One notable exception is Scott Copeland, a groundball pitcher (59 percent of batted balls, according to MLBfarm.com) who allowed a .241 average to Triple-A batters this year. Originally drafted by the Orioles, Copeland has kicked around the Toronto system since 2012, receiving a brief big league callup in 2015 and then pitching in the Korean major league for half of 2016. He needs luck on balls in play (.279 BABIP this year) because he doesn’t record great rates for strikeouts (34th percentile) or walks (33rd).

OPPONENT AVERAGE (Relievers)
No Pitcher Org Pos Age League IP AVG BF/Game
1 Schepel, Kyle Mariners rhp 26 CAL 27 .138 5.3
2 Beliveau, Jeff Orioles lhp 29 CAR 45 .155 7.0
3 Paredes, Edward Angels lhp 30 TL 44 .167 3.9
4 Lollis, Matt White Sox rhp 26 SL 34 .169 6.2
5 Ramirez, Luis D-backs rhp 24 CAL 27 .170 4.6
6 Chapman, Jaye Rays rhp 29 SL 32 .173 3.4
7 Schepel, Kyle Mariners rhp 26 SL 38 .183 6.8
8 Claiborne, Preston Giants rhp 28 EL 45 .186 5.2
9 Coleman, Casey Mariners rhp 29 PCL 39 .188 5.8
10 Kolarek, Adam Rays lhp 27 IL 41 .194 5.1

In Focus: The Indians signed Luis Ramirez as an outfielder in 2010 but released him prior to the 2011 season. The Diamondbacks signed him as a pitcher in 2012 and started him as a reliever in the Dominican Summer League that season. Ramirez reached Double-A in the second half of 2016 and recorded overall numbers (.214 average, 68 strikeouts in 53 innings with just four home runs allowed) that should get him a look with either the D-backs or a new organization in 2017.


Hardest To Take Deep • Pitchers

Because a pitcher’s rate of home runs per fly ball can fluctuate wildly, a larger sample of innings is much more reliable.

HOME RUN RATE (Starters)
No Pitcher Org Pos Age League IP HR/9 Percentile
1 Alonzo, Jose Rays rhp 23 NYP 32 0.00 100%
2 Betts, Palmer D-backs rhp 22 PIO 39 0.23 97%
3 Valdez, Cesar Astros rhp 31 PCL 138 0.52 91%
4 Vasquez, Anthony Phillies lhp 30 EL 101 0.45 86%
5 Tepesch, Nick Royals rhp 28 PCL 116 0.54 86%
6 Lawrence, Casey Blue Jays rhp 29 IL 87 0.52 82%
7 Kehrt, Jeremy Dodgers rhp 30 PCL 56 0.64 80%
8 Copeland, Scott Blue Jays rhp 28 IL 50 0.54 80%
9 Richardson, David Orioles rhp 25 CAR 81 0.45 78%
10 Greenwood, Nick Twins lhp 29 IL 79 0.57 78%

In Focus: A 17th-round pick out of junior college in 2010, David Richardson spent much of his first four years in short-season ball. Then he spent much of 2014 and 2015 on the disabled list. Richardson returned in 2016 to log a career-high 93 innings and 15 starts, and he showed encouraging signs despite a 4.82 ERA. He struck out 8.2 per nine innings and allowed just six home runs. That last part is impressive in light of the conditions at high Class A Frederick, which features a home run rate akin to launching pads such as Albuquerque, El Paso or Las Vegas.

HOME RUN RATE (Relievers)
No Pitcher Org Pos Age League IP HR/9 BF/Game
1 Nina, Aroni Royals rhp 26 TL 34 0.00 5.8
2 Snow, Forrest Mariners rhp 27 SL 38 0.00 6.2
3 Hernandez, Hector D-backs lhp 25 MWL 45 0.00 9.1
4 Feliz, Gabriel Mets lhp 24 NYP 26 0.00 5.5
5 Chaffee, Ryan Marlins rhp 28 SL 42 0.00 6.4
6 Runion, Sam Nationals rhp 28 IL 36 0.00 6.7
7 Wright, Justin Cardinals lhp 27 TL 29 0.00 5.1
8 Thatcher, Joe Cubs lhp 35 PCL 22 0.00 3.6
9 Johnson, D.J. Angels rhp 27 TL 69 0.13 6.6
10 Markel, Parker Rays rhp 26 IL 61 0.15 7.6

In Focus: The Mariners drafted Forrest Snow out of his Seattle high school (2007) and then again out of Washington (2010), and he experienced success with the organization almost immediately by reaching Triple-A and pitching in the Arizona Fall League in 2011. Seattle has shifted Snow back and forth from the rotation to the bullpen multiple times, and he settled in as a Double-A reliever for most of 2016—until he moved to the rotation at Triple-A late in the year. He continues to work as a starter in the Dominican League this winter, with encouraging results.


Groundball Pitchers

A well-timed ground ball with a runner on first base can extricate a pitcher from a jam, but the ground ball can be a double-edged sword. Ground balls never become home runs, but they do become safe hits more frequently than fly balls. The major league average is about .240 on ground balls, but with only rare extra-base hits, while the average on fly balls is closer to .200, but with frequent extra-base hits.

GROUNDOUT-TO-AIROUT RATIO (Starters)
No Pitcher Org Pos Age League IP GO/AO Percentile
1 Tracy, Matt Marlins lhp 27 SL 55 1.98 99%
2 Copeland, Scott Blue Jays rhp 28 IL 50 1.87 99%
3 Carroll, Scott White Sox rhp 32 IL 60 1.70 96%
4 Jones, Chris Angels lhp 28 PCL 118 1.90 94%
5 Volstad, Chris White Sox rhp 30 IL 177 1.60 92%
6 Valdez, Cesar Astros rhp 31 PCL 138 1.80 92%
7 Loe, Kameron White Sox rhp 35 IL 68 1.54 91%
8 Lawrence, Casey Blue Jays rhp 29 EL 75 1.66 90%
9 Kehrt, Jeremy Dodgers rhp 30 PCL 56 1.71 90%
10 Shibuya, Tim Dodgers rhp 27 TL 76 1.62 89%

In Focus: A two-way player at Mississippi drafted by the Yankees in 2011, lefthander Matt Tracy reached New York for one game in 2015 and continued as a groundball-oriented starter in the Marlins organization in 2016.

The Blue Jays quickly re-signed Casey Lawrence after he became a free agent this fall. A nondrafted free agent from Albright College in Reading, Pa., signed in 2010, he combines groundball tendencies with above-average control.

GROUNDOUT-TO-AIROUT RATIO (Relievers)
No Pitcher Org Pos Age League IP GO/AO BF/Game
1 Rowen, Ben Blue Jays rhp 28 IL 47 3.25 5.2
2 Huchingson, Chase Mets lhp 27 PCL 27 3.15 6.2
3 Feliz, Gabriel Mets lhp 24 NYP 26 2.85 5.5
4 Hernandez, Ivan Orioles rhp 25 CAR 61 2.66 9.6
5 Kolarek, Adam Rays lhp 27 IL 41 2.48 5.1
6 Moskos, Daniel Padres lhp 30 PCL 61 2.34 5.1
7 Walden, Marcus Twins rhp 28 IL 46 2.19 5.3
8 Casilla, Jose Giants rhp 27 EL 48 2.06 6.4
9 Marte, Kelvin Pirates lhp 28 IL 74 1.96 8.9
10 Schepel, Kyle Mariners rhp 26 CAL 27 1.94 5.3

In Focus: Ben Rowen and Chase Huchingson, the top two pitchers on this list with the 3-to-1 ground-to-fly ratios, are low-slot relievers. Rowen retired same-side batters about 70 percent of the time in 2016, while Huchingson managed only about 60 percent.


Best Control • Pitchers

WALK RATE (Starters)
No Pitcher Org Pos Age League IP BB% Percentile
1 Valdez, Cesar Astros rhp 31 PCL 138 2.3 100%
2 Hernandez, Carlos Rockies lhp  29 EL 115 3.1 100%
3 Whiting, Boone Nationals rhp  27 CAR 107 3.7 100%
4 Lawrence, Casey Blue Jays rhp  29 EL 75 4.1 98%
5 Shibuya, Tim Dodgers rhp  27 TL 76 3.8 96%
6 Greenwood, Nick Twins lhp  29 IL 79 3.6 96%
7 Wilk, Adam Rays lhp  28 IL 87 3.7 95%
8 Brady, Michael Nationals rhp  29 EL 74 4.4 94%
9 Grills, Evan Astros lhp  24 TL 95 4.1 93%
10 Alonzo, Jose Rays rhp  23 NYP 32 4.0 91%

In Focus: Prior to signing with the Astros in January, Cesar Valdez had not pitched in affiliated ball since 2011. That time away certainly didn’t inhibit him from ranking among the Pacific Coast League leaders with a 3.12 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in 2016. Valdez pitched in the Mexican League in 2013 and 2015 and in winter ball every year to stay sharp. He appears on the free-agent leaderboards for walk rate, strikeout rate, home run rate and groundball rate, which suggests he will make a nice depth option for the Athletics, who signed him last week.

WALK RATE (Relievers)
No Pitcher Org Pos Age League IP BB% BF/Game
1 Lambert, Trey Marlins rhp 25 SAL 48 2.5 8.3
2 Mujica, Edward Twins rhp  32 IL 46 3.1 4.6
3 Chapman, Jaye Rays rhp  29 SL 32 3.4 3.4
4 Wooten, Rob Braves rhp  31 IL 73 3.6 8.8
5 Sitton, Kraig Mariners lhp  28 PCL 43 3.9 5.1
6 Guilmet, Preston Tigers rhp  29 IL 68 4.3 4.3
7 Villegas, Kender Brewers rhp  23 FSL 71 4.3 9.4
8 Hernandez, Hector D-backs lhp  25 MWL 45 5.2 9.1
9 Castro, Simon Rockies rhp  28 PCL 53 5.3 4.5
10 Carter, Anthony Rangers rhp  30 PCL 21 5.4 4.4

In Focus: The Giants quickly signed 28-year-old lefthander Kraig Sitton this fall when he hit the market. The 6-foot-5 Oregon State product sharpened his control markedly in 2016 and has past 40-man roster time (but no big league experience) with the Rockies, his drafting organization. Sitton has a track record for retiring same-side batters in the minors, and in 2016 he allowed lefties to hit just .211/.253/.300 in nearly 100 plate appearances.


Strikeout Pitchers

STRIKEOUT RATE (Starters)
No Pitcher Org Pos Age League IP SO% Percentile
1 Morales, Osmer Mariners rhp 24 CAL 102 27.7 100%
2 Atkins, Mitch Red Sox rhp  31 EL 127 26.4 97%
3 Brady, Michael Nationals rhp  29 EL 74 21.8 82%
4 Buckner, Billy D-backs rhp  33 SL 73 23.0 82%
5 Garcia, Edgar D-backs rhp  29 SL 62 22.3 78%
6 Valdez, Cesar Astros rhp  31 PCL 138 20.5 75%
7 Marks, Justin Rays lhp  28 IL 140 21.7 72%
8 Mora, Gregor Dodgers rhp  21 PIO 27 21.9 71%
9 Wilk, Adam Rays lhp  28 IL 87 21.2 70%
10 Richardson, David Orioles rhp  25 CAR 81 20.1 70%

In Focus: The Angels quickly signed Osmer Morales when he became a free agent, and he should begin 2017 in the Double-A rotation. He pitches at 88 mph but generates tremendous spin on the pitch, which makes it appear faster to opposing batters, and he also generates swings and misses with a low-70s curveball and low-80s changeup. While Morales throws no pitch that would grade better than average, he hides the ball well and locates all his pitches for strikes. He is one of the most promising starting pitchers on the minor league free agent market.

STRIKEOUT RATE (Relievers)
No Pitcher Org Pos Age League IP SO% BF/Game
1 Ramirez, Luis D-backs rhp 24 CAL 27 35.8 4.6
2 Chapman, Jaye Rays rhp 29 SL 32 35.0 3.4
3 Beliveau, Jeff Orioles lhp 29 CAR 45 34.0 7.0
4 Stoffel, Jason Orioles rhp 28 EL 29 33.3 4.6
5 Schepel, Kyle Mariners rhp 26 CAL 27 33.0 5.3
6 Cleto, Maikel Braves rhp 27 IL 21 33.0 4.7
7 Thatcher, Joe Cubs lhp 35 PCL 22 32.7 3.6
8 Malm, Jeff Dodgers lhp 26 CAL 29 32.5 5.6
9 Snow, Forrest Mariners rhp 27 SL 38 32.4 6.2
10 Stoffel, Jason Orioles rhp 28 IL 30 31.1 4.3

In Focus: Jeff Malm has one of the more interesting backstories among the pool of minor league free agents. The Rays went over-slot to sign him as a fifth-round pick in 2009—back when he played first base at Bishop Gorman High in Las Vegas. Malm, who bats lefthanded, reached Double-A as a position player in 2014 but didn’t hit for a ton of power, so Tampa Bay released him that offseason.

The Angels signed Malm as a pitcher in February 2015 but didn’t retain him after 15 games (including six starts) at Rookie-level Orem. The Dodgers signed him for 2016, and he went to spring training expecting to be a position player once again. Ultimately, he wound up back on the mound and made his first appearance in the California League on April 28. He made it back to Double-A in July, this time as a pitcher. While he got lit up in his first and last outings in the Texas League, he recorded a 0.56 ERA with 13 strikeouts and three walks in 16 innings in between. Malm will focus on preparing to pitch this offseason and could be a sleeper.

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