Ask BA: Who Are The Best Nondrafted Free Agents?
Q:Who are the top NDFAs to emerge over the last three to four years?
BA:Right now, there are very few nondrafted free agents at the big league level who haven’t been around for a long time. There were eight non-drafted free agents on MLB Opening Day rosters this season, and all eight are righthanded pitchers.
There have been some significant success stories on the NDFA front in recent years. To be a non-drafted free agent, players must have been draft eligible and gone unpicked in the draft. They then sign with a team as a free agent after the draft. Just like draftees, NDFA’s nowadays are subject to draft slot bonus rules–any signing bonus over $125,000 counts towards a team’s total bonus allotment in a draft year.
Righthanders Matt Shoemaker (Angels), Miguel Gonzalez (White Sox) and Darren O’Day (Orioles) are three of the most productive NDFAs in recent years. All three have provided plenty of value as overlooked pitchers who have more than proven their worth to major league teams. John Axford (Blue Jays) is at the tail-end of a useful career as a reliever as well.
But what’s also notable is how old the NDFAs are. As a 23-year-old, Joe Jimenez (Tigers) is the only truly young NDFA in the majors on Opening Day and the 28-year-old Kittredge is the only other NDFA who is younger than 30.
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There are roughly 100 NDFAs who made Opening Day rosters for full-season minor league teams, so there could be a next wave of NDFAs coming to the majors. Reds outfielder T.J. Freidl, Yankees first baseman Mike Ford, Rockies third baseman Josh Fuentes, Tigers righthander Jason Foley and Phillies righthander Jacob Waguespack are the best NDFA prospects in the minors.