Minor League Imports With Upside, Western Divisions




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See also: Minor League Free Agent Tracker


We finish our coast-to-coast tour in search of minor league free agent imports with upside, this time highlighting players signed by Western Division clubs. The Astros are included here as we anticipate their move to the American League West in 2013.

Check out the Eastern Division and Central Division installments for more background information, but keep in mind that to qualify for this exercise, a minor league import must meet three criteria. A player must: 1) receive a non-roster invitation to big league spring training, 2) have fewer than three years of major league service, and 3) be younger than 29 as of April 1.

As always, an asterisk (*) signifies lefthanded batter/pitcher and a pound sign (#) denotes switch-hitter.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

RHRP Jensen Lewis
Age: 27. 2011 Status: Released by Indians, June 24.
Best Attributes: Lewis ranges from about 86-92 mph with a tailing fastball and mixes in a slurvy breaking ball and changeup that benefits from his herky-jerky delivery.
MLB Experience: He pitched his way onto the 2007 Indians playoff roster as a rookie (3.4 K-BB), but in three follow-up seasons he struggled with control (4.0 BB/9) and worked around too many baserunners (1.38 WHIP). He logged 198 innings for Cleveland prior to his release last June.
Last Prospect Handbook: Indians No. 10 in 2008.

3B Rusty Ryal
Age: 28. 2011 Status: Yomiuri (Japan).
Best Attributes: Ryal hit .198 in 33 games in Japan's Central League last year, spending most of his time on Yomiuri's farm team, where he batted .255/.300/.457 in 100 PA. He's solid defensively at third base and in left field, and he can hook the ball for the occasional home run (he swatted 16 homers and slugged .443 for Double-A Mobile in 2008).
MLB Experience: Ryal appeared in 134 games for the 2009-10 Diamondbacks, batting .263/.318/.402 and playing left field as well as first, second and third base. Arizona released him following the 2010 season so that he could sign in Japan.
Last Prospect Handbook: No appearances.


COLORADO ROCKIES
Just missed the cut: RHP Carlos Torres (age 29) and 3B Brandon Wood (3.015 years of service)

C Wilkin Castillo#
Age: 27. 2011 Status: Minor league free agent.
Best Attributes: Castillo caught 58 games for Triple-A Gwinnett last season, his highest total since his 2007 season in Double-A. Castillo also plays passable defense at third base, second base and left field, and he's the rare catcher with average speed. The switch-hitter makes more contact (86 percent of at-bats) and hits with more authority (.123 ISO) from the left side of the plate, though he's batted just .255/.290/.378 in 924 PA versus Triple-A righties since 2008.
MLB Experience: Castillo started five games in left field and two at second base for the 2008-09 Reds, going 11-for-35 (.314) with a double.
Winter Bonus: Castillo started 26 games at catcher for Escogido of the Dominican League, though he hit a modest .263/.327/.400 in 95 at-bats.
Last Prospect Handbook: Diamondbacks No. 14 in 2008.

RHRP Mike Ekstrom
Age: 28. 2011 Status: Minor league free agent.
Best Attributes: Three years of playing at the Triple-A level indicate that Ekstrom's darting 90-92 mph fastball and late-breaking slider play against same-sided opponents. Righties have managed just .211/.257/.290 in 423 PA. The same is not true of lefties, who have put up a .790 OPS in 360 PA.
MLB Experience: Ekstrom received brief looks from the 2008-09 Padres and 2010-11 Rays, logging 45 innings and putting up a 5.36 ERA and 1.59 WHIP. Righties went 28-for-94 (.298).
Last Prospect Handbook: Padres No. 25 in 2007.


HOUSTON ASTROS
Just missed the cut: OF Justin Ruggiano and RF Brad Snyder (age 29), and LF/RF Travis Buck (3.048 years of service)

SS/3B Diory Hernandez
Age: 27. 2011 Status: Minor league free agent.
Best Attributes: Hernandez offers the range, arm and steady actions to handle the left side of the infield, but his bat hasn't made much of an impression at higher levels. He's a career .275/.315/.375 hitter with 11 homers and 20 steals in 1,135 PA at the Triple-A level.
MLB Experience: He filled in at shortstop as well as second and third base for the 2009-11 Braves, going 20-for-127 (.157) at the plate.
Winter Bonus: Hernandez led the Dominican League with 11 doubles and ranked fourth with 50 hits, while batting .287/.337/.397 in 174 at-bats for Escogido and Este.
Last Prospect Handbook: Braves No. 29 in 2008.

3B Scott Moore*
Age: 28. 2011 Status: Minor league free agent.
Best Attributes: The eighth overall pick in the 2002 draft, Moore only seems like he's been around forever, probably because he's spent most of the past five seasons in Triple-A. In reality, he doesn't turn 29 until after this season, so if third basemen do in fact peak late, then the Astros might have found a cheap power source for the short term. Moore has a long track record versus Triple-A righties (.292/.370/.515 with 45 homers in 1,082 PA going back to 2007), though he swings and misses a lot (77 percent contact rate vs. righties) and can't touch lefties (.652 OPS). He also plays first base and left field as well as the occasional second base.
MLB Experience: The Cubs and Orioles have given Moore 202 PA to work with dating back to 2006, but he has managed to hit just .223/.270/.370 with seven homers in sporadic playing time.
Last Prospect Handbook: Orioles No. 14 in 2008.


LOS ANGELES ANGELS

C Robinzon Diaz
Age: 28. 2011 Status: Minor league free agent.
Best Attributes: A fluid receiver and blocker, Diaz draws praise for his quickness and ordinary grades for arm strength. One of the most aggressive hitters in the game, Diaz has batted .273/.296/.368 in 797 PA at the Triple-A level, while collecting a scant 25 walks and 49 strikeouts.
MLB Experience: Diaz last appeared in the big leagues for the Pirates in September 2009, just as the man he was traded for, Jose Bautista, began to take flight for the Blue Jays. Diaz has started 34 games at catcher and gone 39-for-139 (.281) in the majors.
Winter Bonus: He batted .338/.366/.455 in 77 at-bats for Cibao of the Dominican League, catching 20 games.
Last Prospect Handbook: Blue Jays No. 13 in 2008.

RHP Eric Hurley
Age: 26. 2011 Status: Minor league free agent.
Best Attributes: Hurley has endured a trying three years, missing all of 2009-10 after having shoulder and wrist surgery and a chunk of 2011 after a comebacker fractured his skull and gave him a concussion. He showed a promising sinker/slider mix in 2007, his last fully healthy season. Hurley has draft pedigree as the final pick of the 2004 edition's first round.
MLB Experience: Hurley tossed 25 innings for the 2008 Rangers, going 1-2, 5.47 in five starts and logging a 13-9 K-BB ratio.
Last Prospect Handbook: Rangers No. 13 in 2009.


LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Just missed the cut: 3B Jeff Baisley, 3B Josh Fields and RHP Fernando Nieve (age 29)

RHRP Jose Ascanio
Age: 26. 2011 Status: Minor league free agent.
Best Attributes: The Pirates acquired Ascanio when they dealt John Grabow and Tom Gorzelanny to the Cubs at the 2009 deadline, but the Venezuelan reliever had shoulder surgery shortly thereafter and missed most of 2010. He recovered to make 30 appearances for Triple-A Indianapolis last year, where he struck out 50 in 44 innings and held righties to a .255 average with a sinker/slider repertoire.
MLB Experience: Ascanio made eight appearances for the Pirates last season prior to being outrighted off the 40-man roster in June. In total, he's logged 46 big league innings for the Braves, Cubs and Pirates dating back to 2007, pairing a firm strikeout rate of 8.0 per nine innings with a 1.70 WHIP.
Winter Bonus: Ascanio made 10 appearances, including two starts, for Caracas of the Venezuelan League. He struck out 15 and walked two in 19 innings.
Last Prospect Handbook: Cubs No. 25 in 2008.

LHP Matt Chico*
Age: 28. 2011 Status: Released by Nationals, July 21.
Best Attributes: A soft-tosser with good command of an 86-89 mph sinker and changeup, Chico doesn't dominate lefty batters because his slurvy breaking ball doesn't generate many swings and misses. The Dodgers released Chico at the end of camp after he made three relief appearances.
MLB Experience: Chico delivered 167 innings as a Nationals rookie in 2007, going 7-9, 4.63 in 31 starts, but he has dealt just 53 major league innings since.
Last Prospect Handbook: Nationals No. 8 in 2007.

SS Luis Cruz
Age: 28. 2011 Status: Minor league free agent.
Best Attributes: A rangy defender with plus arm strength, Cruz can play a major league-caliber shortstop. He has punished Triple-A lefties, batting .330/.351/.530 with 11 homers in 313 PA going back to 2008, but righthanders give him fits (.287 OBP in that same stretch).
MLB Experience: Cruz made 38 starts for the 2008-09 Pirates and three more for the 2010 Brewers, going 34-for-154 (.221) at the plate.
Winter Bonus: A veteran of the Mexican Pacific League, Cruz batted .340/.360/.619 in 244 at-bats for Culiacan to finish third in the batting race. He ranked first in the winter league in doubles (17) and extra-base hits (34) and third in home runs (17) and RBIs (47).
Last Prospect Handbook: Padres No. 20 in 2007.

RHRP Shane Lindsay
Age: 27. 2011 Status: Minor league free agent.
Best Attributes: You know a pitcher has a big arm when his career minor league strikeout-to-walk ratio approaches 2.0 despite an astronomical walk ratio of 6.8 per nine innings. Lindsay scatters the zone in all directions with a devastating 95-97 mph fastball that often features sinking life (he was the hardest thrower at last year's Triple-A all-star game), a high-80s slider with occasional depth and a mid-80s changeup that sometimes sinks. When he's not walking Triple-A batters, neither righties (.153 average) nor lefties (.109) have squared him up in 411 PA.
MLB Experience: Lindsay made four relief appearances for the White Sox last season, striking out six and walking five in six innings. He allowed 11 hits and eight runs to pitch his way off Chicago's 40-man roster.
Winter Bonus: In a bit of a role reversal, Lindsay made seven starts for Melbourne (his hometown club) of the Australian Baseball League, but the results were middling (5.46 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, 19 walks in 30 innings).
Last Prospect Handbook: Rockies No. 23 in 2010.

RHRP Ryan Tucker
Age: 25. 2011 Status: Released by Rangers, Aug. 30.
Best Attributes: The 34th pick in the 2005 draft out of high school, Tucker reached the big leagues with the Marlins three short years later. A knee injury wiped out most of his 2009 season, and he's been attempting to rebuild value ever since. At his best he shows premium arm strength, reaching the low- to mid-90s, though finding a consistent secondary pitch remains an issue.
MLB Experience: Tucker logged 37 innings for the 2008 Marlins but worked to a 1.87 WHIP as he allowed 46 hits and 23 walks. He made five appearances for the Rangers last year, allowing five runs on six hits.
Last Prospect Handbook: Marlins No. 6 in 2010.

SS/3B Lance Zawadzki#
Age: 26. 2011 Status: Released by Royals, Oct. 5.
Best Attributes: Though Zawadzki's bat went cold at the Triple-A level in 2010-11 (.641 OPS in exactly 600 PA), he has shown gap power from both sides of the plate in the past. His arm grades out as plus and plays at third base, which is a good thing seeing that he lacks fluidity on the double-play pivot.
MLB Experience: Zawadzki covered for injuries around the 2010 Padres infield and went 7-for-35 (.200) with five walks.
Last Prospect Handbook: Padres No. 15 in 2010.


OAKLAND ATHLETICS
Just missed the cut: RHRP Jim Miller (age 29) and RHP Edgar Gonzalez (3.148 years of service)

LHRP Fabio Castro*
Age: 27. 2011 Status: Minor league free agent.
Best Attributes: Castro pitches in the low-90s with sink out of the bullpen and mixes in an occasionally-plus curveball and fading changeup. Because of this repertoire, Castro's last three organizations (Mariners, Red Sox, Phillies) have tried him as a starter in Triple-A—but with mixed results (4.71 ERA, 1.54 WHIP).
MLB Experience: The first pick in the 2005 Rule 5 draft, Castro spent time in the big leagues with the Rangers and Phillies in 2006-07, issuing 32 strikeouts and 26 walks in 44 innings. He has held big league lefties in check, however, at 3-for-43 (.070).
Winter Bonus: Castro struck out 29 and walked 11 in 32 innings for Cibao of the Dominican League. He made 13 appearances, including nine starts.
Last Prospect Handbook: Rangers No. 16 in 2006.

OF Jeff Fiorentino*
Age: 28. 2011 Status: Minor league free agent.
Best Attributes: Fiorentino returned from a year playing in Japan's Central League to make it to Triple-A with the Braves. He can play all three outfield spots capably (though with a minus arm) and has shown some knack for hitting Triple-A righties, batting a cumulative .299/.375/.497 with 16 homers in 512 PA in 2009 and 2011.
MLB Experience: The Orioles rushed their 2004 third-round pick to the big leagues a year later, and Fiorentino has amassed 173 PA for Baltimore and the Athletics, batting .270/.341/.324.
Last Prospect Handbook: Orioles No. 23 in 2008.

RF Brandon Moss*
Age: 28. 2011 Status: Minor league free agent.
Best Attributes: A powerful lefty hitter with right-field defensive tools (average range, good arm), Moss has been undone by an aggressive hitting approach in Triple-A, though he has put up an .868 OPS (1,268 PA) and 57 homers against International League righties.
MLB Experience: Moss has taken 749 plate appearances for the Red Sox, Pirates and Phillies since 2007 but has batted just .236/.300/.382 with 15 homers. He went 10-for-26 (.385) with four homers and eight RBIs in seven IL playoff games last year for Lehigh Valley to earn a September callup to Philadelphia.
Last Prospect Handbook: Red Sox No. 11 in 2008.

CF Jason Pridie*
Age: 28. 2011 Status: Minor league free agent.
Best Attributes: Pridie will miss the season's first 50 games after failing a second test for a "drug of abuse." He's a rangy outfielder with a good arm and some opposite-field power in his bat. However, Pridie lacks balance at the plate versus lefties (.638 OPS in Triple-A), and even versus International League righties his on-base percentage is just .323.
MLB Experience: The Mets gave Pridie 236 PA last season, including 32 starts in center field, but he batted just .231/.309/.370. He appeared in 11 total games for the Twins in 2008-09.
Last Prospect Handbook: Twins No. 7 in 2008.

RHRP Travis Schlichting
Age: 27. 2011 Status: Minor league free agent.
Best Attributes: Schlichting began his professional odyssey as a position player and didn't begin pitching in earnest until 2007 when he made 41 appearances in the independent Northern League. The Dodgers signed him for the 2008 season and he reached Los Angeles the next season. Getting away from hitter's paradise of Albuquerque and into pitcher-friendly Sacramento ought to aid Schlichting's arsenal, including a low-90s sinker and average low-80s slider.
MLB Experience: Schlichting made 16 appearances for the 2009-10 Dodgers, failing to make an impression with a 1.1 K-BB ratio and 1.42 WHIP.
Winter Bonus: Schlichting won the ERA title in the Puerto Rican League, going 2-0, 0.92 in eight games (seven starts) and also leading the way in WHIP (0.97) and finishing second in strikeout rate (6.9 SO/9).
Last Prospect Handbook: Dodgers No. 14 in 2009.


SAN DIEGO PADRES

After hitting on Jesus Guzman last year (.847 OPS) and outfielder Chris Denorfia in 2010 (.274/.336/.406 in two years as a Padre), San Diego stayed relatively quiet on the minor league free agent market last offseason. Their two most notable imports were probably catcher Brad Davis and lefty reliever Alex Hinshaw, a pair of 29-year-olds. They also signed veteran arms like Matt Palmer, Jeff Suppan and Dale Thayer to perhaps round out the Triple-A pitching staff and provide insurance.


SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
Just missed the cut: LHP Travis Blackley (age 29)

SS/2B Joaquin Arias
Age: 27. 2011 Status: Minor league free agent.
Best Attributes: A hyper-aggressive righty hitter and smooth defender at either middle-infield post, Arias has batted .269/.300/.366 in 1,792 PA at the Triple-A level. He's a high-energy player and solid runner who has stolen at least 20 bases in five different minor league seasons.
MLB Experience: Acquired along with Alfonso Soriano from the Yankees in the Alex Rodriguez trade, Arias batted .286/.322/.379 in 242 PA for the Rangers in 2006 and 2008-10, then went 6-for-30 (.200) for the 2010 Mets.
Winter Bonus: Arias batted .387/.422/.480 in 150 at-bats for Cibao, winning the Dominican League batting title and ranking second in OBP and RBIs (30).
Last Prospect Handbook: Rangers No. 27 in 2009.

CF Gregor Blanco*
Age: 28. 2011 Status: Minor league free agent.
Best Attributes: Having amassed nearly 2,500 PA in the high minors since 2005, Blanco has a lengthy track record of drawing walks, slapping singles and playing steady defense in center. He's even handled himself well versus big league righties, batting .272/.371/.343 in 634 PA.
MLB Experience: Blanco carries a .358 on-base percentage through 836 career PA, most of them coming with the 2008-10 Braves. He spent the final two months of 2010 with the Royals.
Winter Bonus: Blanco batted .337/.478/.520 in 196 at-bats for La Guaira and led the Venezuelan League in OBP, stolen bases (18), runs (47) and walks (47). He collected more extra-base hits (23) in 57 games than he did in 74 regular-season games (17).
Last Prospect Handbook: Braves No. 24 in 2005.


SEATTLE MARINERS
Just missed the cut: RHP Matt Fox (age 29)

CF Darren Ford
Age: 26. 2011 Status: Released by Giants, Nov. 28.
Best Attributes: A spray hitter with strong defensive instincts and elite speed, Ford profiles best as an extra outfielder. He batted just .255/.320/.357 in 613 PA at the Double-A level, though he has racked up 306 stolen bases at an 80 percent success rate during his minor league career.
MLB Experience: Ford went 4-for-14 (.286) for the 2010-11 Giants, appearing mostly as a pinch-runner and defensive replacement.
Last Prospect Handbook: Giants No. 27 in 2011.

Scout's View: "Ford's speed is obviously the attraction—it's top of the scale—and he offers above-average center-field defense. The bat is uneven, but he's stronger than people generally give him credit for. He brings an added dimension to the field."

LHP Steve Garrison*
Age: 25. 2011 Status: Minor league free agent.
Best Attributes: Garrison's velocity ranges from about 75 mph (curveball) to 88 (sinking fastball), and he fills the middle registers with low-80s changeups and sliders. A long arm action and cross-fire delivery add deception to his delivery. Mostly healthy last year after a pair of truncated seasons, Garrison held Double-A lefties in check at 21-for-81 (.259) with just five walks and three extra-base hits allowed.
MLB Experience: Pitching for the Yankees, Garrison closed out a 10-3 win against the Mariners last year, retiring the only two batters he faced.
Last Prospect Handbook: Padres No. 22 in 2009.

Scout's View: "Garrison is still young, commands four pitches, has had some nagging injuries, but most haven't been to his arm. He has a calm demeanor on the mound, but doesn't have much margin for error."

RHP Jeff Marquez
Age: 27. 2011 Status: Minor league free agent.
Best Attributes: Heavily reliant on his sinker to keep the ball on the ground, Marquez has racked up just 5.2 SO/9 over the course of 319 Triple-A innings (5.22 ERA, 1.53 WHIP). He flashes three quality pitches and unlike many sinkerball pitchers, Marquez has shown similar levels of effectiveness against lefties in Triple-A (.840 OPS in 685 PA) as he has righties (.836 in 727 PA).
MLB Experience: Marquez made one appearance for the 2010 White Sox and three more for the Yankees last year. In five innings total he allowed seven hits but no walks to go with two strikeouts.
Last Prospect Handbook: White Sox No. 20 in 2009.

Scout's View: "Marquez gets quality sink on his fastball, gets good rotation on his curve, and his cutter has made some progress. He throws plenty of strikes and can be used in multiple roles."


TEXAS RANGERS
Just missed the cut: C Dusty Brown (age 29) and SS Alberto Gonzalez (3.135 years of service)

SS/2B Luis Hernandez#
Age: 27. 2011 Status: Minor league free agent.
Best Attributes: Hernandez's glove has kept him in employ at the Double-A or Triple-A level since 2005. He ranges well to both sides, has sure hands and a plus arm. At the plate, he's a contact-oriented, small-ball type of hitter who has shown a bit more feel for hitting from the right side of the plate in Triple-A, batting .260/.293/.331 in 320 PA since 2008.
MLB Experience: He received no callup last year, but Hernandez spent portions of the previous four seasons in the majors, going 65-for-265 (.245) for the 2007-08 Orioles, 2009 Royals and 2010 Mets.
Winter Bonus: Hernandez played shortstop and second base for Aragua of the Venezuelan League, where he batted .259/.317/.308 in 185 at-bats.
Last Prospect Handbook: Orioles No. 22 in 2007.

Scout's View: "With Hernandez, it's about up-the-middle defense first. We've been on him for a few years because of that glove."

OF Kyle Hudson*
Age: 25. 2011 Status: Released by Orioles, Jan. 19.
Best Attributes: Baltimore released Hudson, the club's fourth-round pick in 2008, when it needed roster space to sign Japanese veteran Wei-Yin Chen in January. Scouts throw at least 70 grades on Hudson's speed, and he managed to hit .296 at three levels last year (though with a scant 15 extra-base hits in 119 games). He may have a future as an extra outfielder based on his sped and defensive range. (The Rangers traded him to the Rays at the end of spring training.)
MLB Experience: Hudson appeared in 14 games for the Orioles last September and went 4-for-28 (.143).
Last Prospect Handbook: Orioles No. 29 in 2012.

Scout's View: "This guy is a burner with very good makeup. He's not physical and he's not an impact bat, but he's a plus athlete."

C Chris Robinson
Age: 27. 2011 Status: Minor league free agent.
Best Attributes: The Rangers signed Robinson and Dusty Brown as catching depth, but then acquired Luis Martinez from the Padres in late December, prompting Robinson's release at the end of spring training. He offers solid catch-and-throw skills, having caught at least 60 games for the Triple-A Iowa Cubs in each season since 2009. He's a contact-oriented hitter who has batted .299/.331/.391 in 827 PA at the Triple-A level.
MLB Experience: Robinson has not appeared on a 40-man roster, but he's a veteran of Canada's national teams, including the 2006 World Baseball Classic and the 2011 Pan American Games team, which won the gold medal.
Last Prospect Handbook: Cubs No. 22 in 2007.

2B Yangervis Solarte#
Age: 24. 2011 Status: Minor league free agent.
Best Attributes: Short and stocky, Solarte lacks the side-to-side agility to play the middle infield on a regular basis, but his arm and quick feet play at third base and in left field. A switch-hitter, he makes lots of contact from both sides of the plate and has hit Double-A lefties with authority (.324/.363/.524 in 160 PA).
MLB Experience: Solarte hasn't appeared on a 40-man roster.
Winter Bonus: Solarte played on the same Aragua team as Luis Hernandez and went 33-for-104 (.317) with seven doubles and a triple.
Last Prospect Handbook: No appearances.

Scout's View: "He has a knack for squaring balls up and making hard contact. He doesn't have huge power—he's more of a line-drive bat—but he's a strong-bodied guy and an impressive hitter. Nice find by the Rangers."