With the unveiling of the Minor League Free Agent Tracker, the Baseball America staff highlights available players who pique our interest for various reasons. See the complete free agent class in a complete listing by organization.
Picks To Click
• The Mets quickly snapped up righthander Joel Carreno, who could be one of the steals (a relative term, of course) of the minor league free agent class. Carreno, who turns 27 in March, throws in the low 90s with a curveball that can help him miss bats, something he did more of in 2013 than ever before, perhaps in part because the Blue Jays made him a full-time reliever for the first time in his career. After striking out 25 percent of batters in his minor league career, Carreno’s strikeout rate jumped to 34 percent last year between Double-A New Hampshire and Triple-A Buffalo with a 2.43 composite ERA. Now he’s pitching well for Escogido in the Dominican League. The Red Sox just paid $4 million for 27-year-old Cuban righthander Dalier Hinojosa, who might not even be as good as Carreno. —Ben Badler
• The Cardinals have stashed center fielder Adron Chambers at Triple-A Memphis each of the past three seasons only to recall him as a pinch-runner/defensive replacement for the playoffs. He has 99 plate appearances in 84 career regular-season games in the big leagues, yet 14 PA in 22 postseason games. A career .284/.372/.401 hitter in the Pacific Coast League, the 27-year-old Chambers bats lefty, has good wheels, range and plate discipline and could be some team’s extra outfielder in 2014. —Matt Eddy
• Shortstop Juan Diaz had a down year at the plate for Triple-A Columbus (.242/.317/.348 in 122 games), but he’s a plus defensive player with a strong arm who can run into the occasional mistake. The 25-year-old swings and misses too much, but on the bright side he posted a career-high walk rate of 9.3 percent in 2013, and he’s still got time on his side. —ME
• Righthanded reliever Santo Manzanillo rebounded from a dislocated throwing shoulder to show the same huge 96-98 mph fastball with life that got him added to the Brewers’ 40-man roster in the first place. A lack of a consistent second pitch and horrendous control—6.0 walks and 10.9 hits allowed per nine innings at two stops in 2013—make the 25-year-old an enigma, but one worth gambling on if healthy. —ME
• Shortstop Shawn O’Malley received attention from scouts in the Double-A Southern League for his glovework, fundamentals and plate approach. The 2006 Rays fifth-rounder had a career year at the plate for Montgomery, batting .262/.337/.364 with 24 steals in 91 games and could be a part-timer for a team looking for a utility player who can run a bit. He’ll be 26 next season. —ME
• Lefthander Atahualpa Severino has the fastball/slider combo to make him as a situational-relief candidate. The 29-year-old tops out near 95 mph and throws a quality two-plane slider, which he used to keep Triple-A lefties in check in 2013. They went just 12-for-70 (.171) with 27 percent strikeouts, three extra-base hits (.271 slugging) and 6.5 percent walks (.234 on-base percentage). —ME
• Dan Turpen has been a sought-after commodity on the trade market, but to date the 27-year-old has logged no big league time. A career 1.51 WHIP at Double-A as a righty reliever has a lot to do with that. Turpen throws an easy 92-93 mph sinkerball and backs it up with a high-80s slider that more often resembles a cutter. An eighth-round pick by the Giants in 2007, Turpen has been traded for Ramon Ramirez, Mike McKenry and Kevin Slowey at various points in his career and was a Yankees Rule 5 draft selection in 2010. In other words, pro scouts have liked him plenty in the past. —ME
The Scarlett “B”
Three minor league players who received 50-game suspensions on Aug. 5 for their involvement with Biogenesis now are free agents. Most prominent among them is right fielder Fernando Martinez, who hit .266/.336/.452 with seven homers in 51 games for the Triple-A affiliates of the Astros and Yankees in 2013. The other two Biogenesis-tinged players have reached the majors as relievers but spent 2013 in the minors: righthander Fautino de los Santos (two appearances for Triple-A Tucson in the Padres system) and lefty Sergio Escalona (12 appearances for Double-A Corpus Christi in the Astros system). If de los Santos, Escalona or Martinez latch on with new organizations, all three must serve out their suspensions in the early weeks of the 2014 season. —ME
International Intrigue Becomes Fatigue
In addition to Fernando Martinez, who signed with the Mets for $1.3 million in 2005, several other international bonus babies who didn’t quite click will test the free agent waters. Most notorious among them might be Nationals third baseman Carlos Alvarez, who signed under the assumed identity of Esmailyn Gonzalez for $1.4 million in 2006. Some others: Twins righthander Deolis Guerra (Mets, $700,000 in 2005), Red Sox third baseman Mario Martinez (Mariners, $600,000 in 2006) and Mets catcher Francisco Pena ($750,000 in 2006). Pena is the son former big league catcher Tony Pena and brother to White Sox minor league righty Tony Jr. —ME
Even First-Rounders Get The Blues
Being selected in the first round of the draft and subsequently ranking as an organization’s No. 1 prospect is typically a recipe for success. But not always. First-rounders such as Chris Marrero (Nationals No. 1, 2006), Travis Buck (Athletics No. 1, 2007) and Matt LaPorta (Brewers No. 1, 2008) are the exceptions that prove the rule. All three remind us that even corner players on poor teams must hit for power to have job security.
Buck appeared poised for a lengthy career as a table-setting left fielder after batting .288/.377/.474 as an Athletics rookie in 2007, but he’s bounced around on minor league contracts with the Indians, Astros and Padres in recent years, in part because of a career .156 isolated slugging percentage. The average ISO for major league non-pitchers has ranged from about .146 (2013) to .159 (2009).
LaPorta and Marrero didn’t even reach Buck’s level. The key acquisitions by the Indians when they traded C.C. Sabathia to the Brewers in 2008, LaPorta hit just .238/.301/.393 with a .155 ISO in four trials with Cleveland, and the club removed him from the 40-man roster during the 2013 season. Marrero, the 15th pick in the 2006 draft by the Nationals, received just 133 plate appearances in two cups of coffee with the Nationals, but his Triple-A ISO of .132 was not exactly ready for prime time.
Well-Traveled Free Agents
When the Mariners decided to collect both halves of the Indians’ DH platoon in the summer of 2006, they did so at the cost of Asdrubal Cabrera and Shin-Soo Choo. Now as Choo embarks for free-agent riches, the man for whom he was traded will set his sights much lower. First baseman Ben Broussard last appeared in the majors in 2008, and this season the 37-year-old latched on with the Royals’ Triple-A Omaha affiliate in July after resurfacing in the Mexican and Atlantic leagues in the spring. Broussard had spent three full years away from the game, but after hitting .295/.363/.395 in 52 games with the Storm Chasers, might he have another season in him?
Russ Canzler didn’t have to leave the U.S. to be nearly as well-traveled as Broussard. The 27-year-old first baseman/left fielder finished the season in the Triple-A International League playoffs with Indianapolis of the Pirates organization, but how he got there was anything but ordinary. Canzler bounced between five organizations as a part of five different transactions in 2013, going from the Indians to Blue Jays back to Indians to Yankees to Orioles on waivers, before ultimately landing with the Pirates in a minor July trade.
First baseman Travis Ishikawa also had an itinerant season, playing Triple-A ball for the Orioles and White Sox, sandwiched around a one-game trial with the Yankees in which he went 0-for-2 with two strikeouts. The 30-year-old continued to play fine defense and show plate patience at Norfolk and Charlotte, batting .290/.389/.465 in 83 games and logging his highest slugging percentage in the minors since 2008. —Vince Lara-Cinisomo