Minor League Imports With Upside, Central Divisions

Follow me on Twitter

See also: Minor League Free Agent Tracker

Major league organizations collectively sign hundreds of players to minor league deals each offseason. Occasionally they find big league contributors, such as the 2009 Pirates with Garrett Jones or last year's Padres with Jesus Guzman.

In this piece we attempt to identify those minor league imports best positioned for similar breakthroughs in 2012. This time we turn our attention to the 10 Central Division clubs, minus the Astros, who move preemptively to the West.

Check out the Eastern Division installment for more background info, 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.


The Cubs new front-office braintrust set its sights this offseason on major league talent with upside potential, buying low on players such as Ian Stewart, Chris Volstad, Travis Wood and Anthony Rizzo. Chicago did sign a trio of intriguing 29-year-old minor league free agents in catcher Jason Jaramillo, right fielder/first baseman Joe Mather and second baseman Matt Tolbert, but they don't qualify for this exercise.

Just missed the cut: C Hector Gimenez (age 29) and RF/2B Delwyn Young (3.068 years of service)

C Damaso Espino
Age: 28. 2011 Status: Minor league free agent.
Best Attributes: Signed as a shortstop/third baseman by the Reds in 1999, Espino first donned catcher's gear in 2005. He's been a steady catch-and-throw receiver in Triple-A for the Indians and Dodgers in each of the past three seasons, batting .265/.328/.338 in 552 PA.
MLB Experience: Espino has not appeared on a 40-man roster.
Last Prospect Handbook: No appearances.

OF Greg Golson
Age: 26. 2011 Status: Released by Yankees, Dec. 8.
Best Attributes: The 21st pick in the 2004 draft, Golson returned value for the Phillies when they traded him to Texas for John Mayberry Jr. in November 2008. He's a plus defender, runner and thrower, but the righty-hitting Golson has batted just .261/.313/.380 in 1,383 PA in Triple-A, and without the platoon split that might make him a part-time option. [Note: The Royals originally signed Golson this offseason, but they traded him to the White Sox during spring training.]
MLB Experience: Golson received exactly one plate appearance for the Rangers in 2009 before becoming an occasional defensive replacement for the Yankees in 2010-11. He has eight hits in 41 career at-bats (.195).
Last Prospect Handbook: Rangers No. 26 in 2009.


RHP Sean Gallagher
Age: 26. 2011 Status: Minor league free agent.
Best Attributes: Gallagher seems like he's been around forever given that he debuted as a 21-year-old in 2007, has pitched for four big league teams and has been traded three times already. Shoulder and knee injuries have seemingly robbed him of the velocity and command that made him a top prospect, but he might still surface as a sinker/slider reliever. He held Triple-A righties to a .212/.308/.330 (125 PA) batting line last season.
MLB Experience: Despite a reasonable strikeout rate (7.2 SO/9) Gallagher has logged a 5.64 ERA and 1.68 WHIP over the course of 207 innings for the Cubs, Athletics, Padres and Pirates.
Last Prospect Handbook: Cubs No. 5 in 2008.

LF Daryl Jones*
Age: 24. 2011 Status: Minor league free agent.
Best Attributes: Jones appeared to be on his way after a breakout 2008 season, but tendinitis in both knees set him back. As a result, his raw speed never translated into gaudy stolen-base totals or better-than-average range in center field. His low-contact, low-power approach for Double-A Springfield resulted in a .263/.353/.389 batting line in 1,168 PA—though on the bright side he showed no platoon split (.752 OPS versus righties; .730 versus lefties).
MLB Experience: None, though he spent a year on the Cardinals' 40-man roster beginning in November 2009.
Last Prospect Handbook: Cardinals No. 28 in 2011.

RHRP Kanekoa Texeira
Age: 26. 2011 Status: Minor league free agent.
Best Attributes: Traded by the White Sox to Yankees along with Nick Swisher in November 2008, Texeira spent one season in Double-A before embarking on a transactional odyssey. Since the end of the 2009 season he's been selected in the Rule 5 draft, claimed on waivers twice and changed teams as a minor league free agent. A sinker/slider reliever with a short arm action, Texeira stymied Eastern League batters in 2009, but righties and lefties alike have hit .317 against him in the majors.
MLB Experience: Texeira sports a 4.66 ERA and 1.69 WHIP in 68 innings for the Mariners and Royals.
Last Prospect Handbook: Mariners No. 26 in 2010.

LHRP Clay Zavada*
Age: 27. 2011 Status: Minor league free agent.
Best Attributes: A fastball/changeup lefty reliever, Zavada sits in the high 80s, hides the ball well and keeps righties at bay. On the flip side, he's not particularly tough on lefties, who put up a .777 OPS in Double-A last year and a .762 mark in the majors three years ago.
MLB Experience: Zavada threw 51 innings for the 2009 Diamondbacks, finishing with 9.2 SO/9 and a 1.35 WHIP, but Tommy John surgery wiped out his follow-up campaign and he hasn't returned to the majors.
Last Prospect Handbook: Diamondbacks No. 23 in 2009.

Just missed the cut: C Matt Pagnozzi (age 29), and 3B Andy LaRoche (3.096 years of service) and LF Felix Pie (3.160)

SS Gregorio Petit
Age: 27. 2011 Status: Did not play in 2011 (knee injury).
Best Attributes: A plus fielder with arm strength to match, Petit could handle shortstop in the big leagues right now. However, his bat is seemingly too light for everyday play, as he has batted just .257/.313/.343 in 1,522 PA at the Triple-A level. He ran well prior to his knee injury.
MLB Experience: Petit received two cups of coffee with the 2008-09 Athletics and went 15-for-54 (.278).
Winter Bonus: Petit rounded into playing shape after a lost season with Caracas of the Venezuelan League. He batted .189 in 30 games.
Last Prospect Handbook: Athletics No. 13 in 2008.

LHP Chris Seddon*
Age: 28. 2011 Status: Minor league free agent.
Best Attributes: Seddon reached Triple-A at the tender age of 21 in 2005, but he hasn't quite taken the next step, as evidenced by a career 4.97 ERA and 1.50 WHIP over 784 innings at that level. He sinks the ball at 88-91 mph, but his cutter and changeup made him more effective versus righthanders (.768 OPS) than lefties (.833) during his last three campaigns with Triple-A Tacoma (Mariners).
MLB Experience: Seddon made brief appearances with the 2007 Marlins (8.83 ERA in 17 innings) and 2010 Mariners (1.39 WHIP in 22 relief innings).
Last Prospect Handbook: Rays No. 24 in 2006.

Just missed the cut: LF Jerad Head and OF Matt Young (age 29)

CF Quintin Berry*
Age: 27. 2011 Status: Minor league free agent.
Best Attributes: A plus runner (he led the Florida State League with 51 steals in 2008) and solid defensive outfielder, Berry's offensive ceiling is limited. He spent the bulk of the past three seasons in Double-A, batting .258/.353/.340 in 1,385 PA (but with 115 stolen bases).
MLB Experience: Berry has not appeared on a 40-man roster.
Last Prospect Handbook: Phillies No. 25 in 2009.

LHP Darin Downs*
Age: 27. 2011 Status: Minor league free agent.
Best Attributes: Downs has reached Triple-A briefly in each of the past two seasons, but he's actually logged the most time in high Class A. A long arm action, low arm slot and sweepy breaking ball make him tough for lefty batters to square up, and they've hit a cumulative .276/.326/.364 (300 PA) against him in the past two seasons.
MLB Experience: Downs has not appeared on a 40-man roster.
Winter Bonus: Downs made nine starts for Aragua of the Venezuelan League and went 2-3, 3.35 with 25 strikeouts in 40 innings.
Last Prospect Handbook: Cubs No. 28 in 2004.

OF/2B Eric Patterson*
Age: 28. 2011 Status: Released by Padres, Dec. 9.
Best Attributes: If everything falls into place, Patterson could resemble a lefty-hitting Ryan Raburn, featuring speed instead of power (a two-homer game against Roy Halladay in spring training notwithstanding). Patterson can cover three positions—center field, left field and second base—though he hasn't shown enough bat to profile as a regular. He has batted .302/.359/.477 in 1,753 PA at the Triple-A level, most of that with Iowa and Sacramento.
MLB Experience: Like older brother Corey, Patterson has lived a nomadic existence in the big leagues, suiting up for the Cubs, Athletics, Red Sox and Padres and batting .217/.294/.343 in 575 PA spread over five seasons.
Last Prospect Handbook: Cubs No. 12 in 2008.


2B/SS Tony Abreu#
Age: 27. 2011 Status: Minor league free agent.
Best Attributes: Abreu lacks the pure quickness to play shortstop regularly, but he's a quality option at second base who also plays third. The switch-hitter has batted .325/.365/.496 in 1,120 PA at the Triple-A level, but he did so while playing in two extreme hitter's environments in Albuquerque and Reno. An extremely aggressive hitter, Abreu has dealt damage to Triple-A lefties by batting .352/.401/.606 (267 PA) as a righthanded batter.
MLB Experience: Once seen as possible Dodgers second baseman of the future, Abreu has put up a .634 OPS in stints with the 2007 and 2009 Dodgers and 2010 Diamondbacks.
Last Prospect Handbook: Dodgers No. 5 in 2007.

C Max Ramirez
Age: 27. 2011 Status: Minor league free agent.
Best Attributes: Ramirez belted 17 homers and slugged .646 as a catcher in Double-A in 2008, appearing to profile as at least an offensive-minded backup. He hit on hard times the very next year when he developed injuries in both wrists. Ramirez has hit a more pedestrian .262/.338/.405 (884 PA) in Triple-A, while continuing to draw mixed reviews for his defensive work.
MLB Experience: The Rangers rewarded Ramirez with a September callup for his transcendent 2008, and they gave him another brief look in 2010, but he went 25-for-115 (.217) in all.
Winter Bonus: Ramirez hit reasonably well for a trio of Triple-A teams last year (.823 OPS, 13 homers), but he failed to build on that with Margarita of the Venezuelan League, where he batted .220 in 42 games.
Last Prospect Handbook: Rangers No. 11 in 2010.


1B Travis Ishikawa*
Age: 28. 2011 Status: Minor league free agent.
Best Attributes: Though he may not have prototype power for first base, Ishikawa has been essentially league average versus big league righties (.269/.332/.417) while providing strong defense at first base. If Mat Gamel and/or Taylor Green stumble in Milwaukee, then Ishikawa will be on hand to provide insurance.
MLB Experience: Ishikawa spent all of last season with Triple-A Fresno after spending the previous two years with the Giants (as well as parts of 2006 and 2008). He served mostly as a defensive replacement and pinch-hitter for the 2010 team, but he did collect one hit and one walk during the World Series.
Last Prospect Handbook: Giants No. 17 in 2009.


The Twins signed a major league-high 10 minor league free agents who qualify for this exercise—owing to the players' youth and lack of big league experience—though two fell by the wayside as April drew near. Minnesota released first baseman Steve Pearce on March 27, a day before Major League Baseball announced that lefthander Aaron Thompson failed a second test for a drug of abuse that earned him a 50-game suspension.  

RHP Samuel Deduno
Age: 28. 2011 Status: Minor league free agent.
Best Attributes: Deduno flashes a plus power curveball, but fringy fastball velocity (87-90 mph), poor control (4.9 BB/9 in Double-A and Triple-A) and a spotty health history (Tommy John surgery, elbow fracture) have kept his stock down.
MLB Experience: Deduno made a scant six appearances for the 2010 Rockies and 2011 Padres, striking out seven and allowing 12 baserunners in 5 2/3 innings.
Last Prospect Handbook: Rockies No. 23 in 2011.

RHRP Casey Fien
Age: 28. 2011 Status: Released by Astros, Aug. 2.
Best Attributes: Fien locates fringy stuff well enough to have compiled a 1.17 WHIP and 3.8 K-BB ratio over 160 Triple-A innings. He hasn't had the same success in the big leagues with a high-80s fastball, cutter, curveball and changeup.
MLB Experience: Fien surfaced with the 2009-10 Tigers and allowed 14 runs on 17 hits in 14 innings.
Winter Bonus: Fien made 27 appearances for Guasave in the Mexican Pacific League, notching a 31-8 K-BB in 31 innings.
Last Prospect Handbook: Tigers No. 27 in 2010.

RHRP Luis Perdomo
Age: 27. 2011 Status: Minor league free agent.
Best Attributes: The undersized righty dials his heater up to 95 mph, cuts the ball at 88 and throws a wicked sinking changeup. A max-effort delivery and tendency to overthrow costs him significant control (4.7 BB/9 in 155 career Triple-A innings).
MLB Experience: Perdomo spent all of 2009 in San Diego as a Rule 5 pick but pitched erratically (1.52 WHIP, 11 homers in 60 innings, but with 8.3 SO/9).
Winter Bonus: Perdomo made 18 appearances for Cibao of the Dominican League, striking out 16 and allowing 17 baserunners in 21 innings.
Last Prospect Handbook: Giants No. 28 in 2009.

RF/LF Wilkin Ramirez
Age: 26. 2011 Status: Minor league free agent.
Best Attributes: An average runner and defender on an outfield corner, Ramirez has hammered Triple-A lefties the last three years, batting .288/.355/.529 with 14 homers in 304 PA. He swings and misses too much to be a factor versus righties (.678 OPS in Triple-A).
MLB Experience: Ramirez surfaced with the 2009 Tigers and 2011 Braves, going 10-for-37 (.270) with a homer and two doubles.
Winter Bonus: Ramirez hit .247 with one homer in 27 games for Este of the Dominican League.
Last Prospect Handbook: Tigers No. 8 in 2010.

LHP Aaron Thompson*
Age: 25. 2011 Status: Minor league free agent.
Best Attributes: The 22nd pick in the 2005 draft, Thompson advanced to Double-A in 2008—and there he stayed for the better part of four years. He throws a full complement of fringe-average pitches—sinker, curve, cutter, slider, changeup—with results to match (5.03 ERA, 1.55 WHIP over 449 Double-A innings). As noted, Thompson will miss the season's first 50 games after drawing a drug suspension.
MLB Experience: Thompson made four appearances for the Pirates last year, allowing six runs and 19 baserunners in 7 2/3 innings.
Last Prospect Handbook: Nationals No. 12 in 2010.

RHP Daryl Thompson
Age: 26. 2011 Status: Minor league free agent.
Best Attributes: Thompson turned in relatively healthy seasons in 2007-08, two injury-wracked ones in 2009-10 and another mostly-healthy one last year with Triple-A Louisville that produced 15 starts and a 3.6 K-BB ratio. Thompson tops out near 93 mph and mixes in a solid changeup and fringy slow curveball.
MLB Experience: Thompson pitched to a 8.31 ERA and 2.19 WHIP over 17 innings in two separate stints for the Reds in 2008 and 2011.
Last Prospect Handbook: Reds No. 27 in 2011.

C J.R. Towles
Age: 28. 2011 Status: Minor league free agent.
Best Attributes: Towles has had a miserable time trying to square up big league pitchers (see below), but he's batted .286/.389/.443 over the course of 556 PA in Triple-A. He's an athletic receiver who throws well enough to start if his bat ever comes out of hibernation.
MLB Experience: Towles hit .375 in a 14-game audition with the 2007 Astros, assuring his No. 1 ranking the following year, but in four follow-up efforts with Houston he managed an incredible .168/.251/.289 batting line over 440 PA. That .539 OPS is third-lowest in the big leagues during that period (min. 400 PA), trailing current Twins backup catcher Drew Butera and Brandon Wood.
Last Prospect Handbook: Astros No. 1 in 2008.

RHP P.J. Walters
Age: 27. 2011 Status: Minor league free agent.
Best Attributes: Akin to a righthanded Aaron Thompson (above) but with finer control, Walters throws a mix of fringy sinkers, changeups, cutters and sliders that have led to generally positive results in Triple-A (4.63 ERA, 8.4 SO/9 in 484 innings).
MLB Experience: Walters has struggled to make an imprint in the big leagues, logging 51 innings for the Cardinals and Blue Jays since 2009 and posting a 7.24 ERA and 1.53 WHIP.
Last Prospect Handbook: Cardinals No. 19 in 2011.

RHP Brendan Wise
Age: 26. 2011 Status: Minor league free agent.
Best Attributes: A Tigers eighth-round pick out of junior college in 2005, Wise relies on a high-80s sinker and change-of-pace slider to pound the bottom of the zone. An extreme groundball pitcher, he's allowed just six home runs in 113 Double-A innings but also sports a 54-40 K-BB ratio.
MLB Experience: None.
Winter Bonus: Born in Australia, Wise made four scoreless relief appearances for Perth in the Australian Baseball League last year.
Last Prospect Handbook: No appearances.

Just missed the cut: OF Brandon Boggs, C/1B Jake Fox, 2B/SS Anderson Hernandez, C Jose Morales and RHRP Tim Wood (age 29)

1B/LF Nick Evans
Age: 26. 2011 Status: Minor league free agent.
Best Attributes: Evans is a proven lefty masher with credentials in Triple-A (.895 OPS in 190 PA) and the big leagues (.849 OPS in 197 PA) who can hit inner-half fastballs and hangers a long way. Drafted as a third baseman, he's a solid defender at first, though he's not quite so well suited to left field, where he's also dabbled.
MLB Experience: The Mets gave Evans 419 PA over the course of the past four seasons, though he batted just .256/.305/.407 overall because of trouble with righthanded pitchers (.595 OPS).
Last Prospect Handbook: Mets No. 9 in 2009.

RHP Shairon Martis
Age: 25. 2011 Status: Minor league free agent.
Best Attributes: Martis reached Triple-A and then the big leagues at an early age, 21, but his peripherals regressed each year until Washington demoted him to Double-A last year, where he posted a 3.7 K-BB ratio and 1.22 WHIP. He features a clean delivery and a solid three-pitch mix, including an average two-seamer, above-average changeup and an inconsistent slider, which is why the Nationals kept him in the rotation. However, Martis could probably thrive as a sinker/slider reliever.
MLB Experience: Desperate for starting pitchers, the 2008-09 Nationals tried out a 21- and 22-year-old Martis and got mixed results, including a 5.33 ERA and 1.43 WHIP over 106 innings.
Winter Bonus: Martis logged 44 innings for La Guaira of the Venezuelan League, striking out 28, walking 16 and finishing with a 1.24 WHIP.
Last Prospect Handbook: Nationals No. 13 in 2009.

LHP Jo-Jo Reyes*
Age: 27. 2011 Status: Major league non-tender.
Best Attributes: A Braves second-round pick in 2003, Reyes has tempted teams with a solid four-pitch mix, including a plus slider, but success has not followed him to the big leagues.
MLB Experience: The 2008 Braves and 2011 Blue Jays both afforded Reyes 100-plus innings, but they each received an ERA beginning with a "5" for their trouble. Only one other pitcher with at least 300 innings has a higher ERA (6.05) and WHIP (1.64) than Reyes in the last five years (the entirety of his big league career), and that's Adam Eaton.
Last Prospect Handbook: Braves No. 8 in 2007.

Just missed the cut: 2B/LF Eugenio Velez (age 29)

LHRP R.J. Swindle*
Age: 28. 2011 Status: Released by Rays, July 17.
Best Attributes: About as unconventional as they come, Swindle pitches to the corners with a well-below-average 80-82 mph fastball, but his low three-quarters arm angle makes him tough for lefties to pick up. They've hit just .210/.286/.319 (236 PA) against him in Triple-A the last three years, in part because his slurvy breaking ball ranges from about 55 mph to the low 70s.
MLB Experience: The Phillies tried Swindle for nine appearances in 2008-09, but he allowed 21 hits and six walks in 11 1/3 innings. Lefties went 8-for-22 (.364) with three extra-base hits.
Last Prospect Handbook: No appearances.