Image credit: Jesus Tinoco (Dustin Bradford/Icon Sportswire Via Getty)
If you’re someone who follows the game of baseball at a fanatical level you’ve likely considered what it would be like to build an MLB organization from the ground up, building player by player with the ability to add the talents you identify as having the most value. It’s a concept that draws thousands of people every year to games like fantasy baseball, simulation baseball and stratomatic games. Nearly everyone who works in the baseball space, whether it be front office executives, analysts, scouts or writers, likely spent hours of their life pondering what moves they’d make if they called the shots for an MLB organization.
Following the details and minutiae of the game on a day-to-day basis is the very foundation of Baseball America. So like many of you I, and most of my co-workers, have dreamed of building a roster from the ground up. It’s what has drawn me to fantasy baseball and deep dynasty baseball leagues over the years. With this in mind I had the idea to build a roster over a variety of posts. Like any new expansion franchise I’ll need to work on the fringes to bring in the best players available. Players will be made available to this hypothetical team through minor league free agency, the Rule 5 draft, an expansion draft and free agency.
In the end it’s a fun exercise, but also a good medium to highlight some players of value. We’ll kick off this series with minor league free agency. In this hypothetical universe I have somewhat unlimited resources, need to fill multiple affiliates and have my pick of the litter of available players. Minor league free agency is important for my hypothetical organization to fill roster space and perhaps find some diamonds in the rough.
Below is my minor league free agent team, entirely built of players who hit the open market last week.
C – Julio E. Rodriguez: While his famous name might be good for a mixup or two when searching for the Mariners star of the same name, Rodriguez is a strong-armed catcher who’s hit .264/.333/.423 over 353 minor league games. He had a solid year in 2022, producing his highest OPS at the full-season level. Like all players on this list Rodriguez has average or better exit velocity data, contact and chase rates.
1B – Aldrem Corredor: While Corredor has never ranked on any prospect lists he’s always been a highly productive player with a career minor league line of .272/.350/.391 with 50 home runs. Corredor has never hit for power, but he does hit the ball hard as shown by his 90.5 mph average exit velocity. Unfortunately, his flat bat path leads to more ground balls and line drives than flyb alls on his hardest-struck balls. Corredor has above-average contact skills and approach, hitting for contact at a high rate and rarely expanding the zone. He’s a lefthanded bat with plate skills and untapped raw power and is worth a flier.
2B – Travis Blankenhorn: Over the last three seasons Blakenhorn has seen limited time in the major leagues and bounced around to a handful of clubs. Despite his lack of permanency over the last two seasons Blakenhorn has really produced at the Triple-A level. He hit .255/.373/.484 with a 130 wRC+ over 48 games in 2021 with Triple-A Syracuse, and followed that up in 2022 by hitting .267/.342/.465 with a 113 wRC+ over 91 games. While his contact and approach toes the line between fringe and average he does hit the ball hard and he cut down on his strikeout rate in 2022. Blakenhoen provides a lefthanded bat with power and on-base ability, and that’s worth a gamble.
3B – Joe Rizzo: Selected in the second round of the 2016 draft by the Mariners, Rizzo has had an up-and-down professional career. In 2022 he rebounded at Double-A Arkansas while repeating the level. Over the last three seasons Rizzo has produced two seasons at around league average or above. Rizzo is an above-average contact hitter with an average chase rate and fringe-average power. He’s an aggressive swinger, and perhaps a more patient approach could lead to increased results. He’s a lefthanded hitter with enough plate skills to earn an opportunity.
SS – Jermaine Palacios: A rocky 30-game debut with the Twins this season certainly exposed Palacios’ swing and miss, but it’s hard to dismiss his strong performance in the upper minors over the past two seasons. Palacios hit .259/.340/.439 in 2021 with Double-A Witchita before following it up with a .283/.341/.462 line over 102 games with St. Paul. He was designated for assignment at the end of the season and claimed off waivers by the Tigers. After he was outrighted to Toledo, Palacios chose free agency.
RF – Yusniel Diaz: The Cuban outfielder signed with the Dodgers back in 2015 for $15.5 million. He produced throughout the early stages of his minor league career, hitting .278/.343/.414 as a 20-year-old in High-A in 2017. He followed that up with a strong 32-game sample with Double-A Tulsa, cementing his place as one of the Dodgers top prospects at the time. He was traded in the middle of the 2018 season to the Orioles in the deal that sent Manny Machado to the Dodgers. He struggled post-trade, but rebounded in 2019 with a .262/.335/.472 showing over 76 games with Bowie. From there things went off the rails. Diaz struggled throughout 2021, producing the worst line of his career. He was slightly better in 2022 for Triple-A Norfolk. Is the pre-pandemic player still there? That’s the question I hope to answer with this signing.
CF – Wynton Bernard: At 31 years old Bernard had a career year at Triple-A Albuquerque, hitting .333/.387/.590 with 21 home runs and 30 stolen bases. He made his major league debut with the Rockies, hitting .286 over 12 games over the final month of the season. Bernard has had a wild ride in professional ball, bouncing around to five different organizations since 2012 while spending some time in Mexico as well as domestic independent leagues. His plate approach and bat-to-ball skills are good, he has fringy power and flatter launch angles but he has the speed to make that work. While the Pacific Coast League parks gave a lift to Bernard’s power numbers in 2022, he had played in the same parks the previous season and had three prior stints in the PCLL before that—so maybe there’s more than just PCL magic? Bernard can do a little bit of everything and he looks like a perfect leadoff candidate for my MiLB free agent squad.
LF – Jason Martin: After stints in the major leagues over three seasons with the Pirates and Rangers, Martin spent all of 2022 with the Dodgers Triple-A affiliate in Oklahoma City. Over 129 games Martin hit .285/.374/.564 with 32 home runs while spending time at all three outfield positions. Martin has a combination of fringe-average to average tools that’s worth a minor league deal.
DH – Taylor Motter: In 2021 Motter was one of the best statistical hitters in Triple-A, hitting .313/.436/.668 with 24 home runs, while spending time with the Red Sox and Rockies Triple-A affiliates. He saw time with both the Red Sox and Rockies major league clubs, and has seen major league time in parts of five seasons with six different clubs. He followed up his strong 2021 with another strong campaign at Triple-A in 2022, spending time with the Braves and Reds affiliates and hitting .254/.357/.523 with 20 home runs. Beyond the production, Motter’s contact, exit velocity and chase data are all exceptional. With a 78.3% contact rate in 2022, a 20% chase rate and the highest 90th percentile exit velocity of any minor league free agent available it’s no wonder he signed with the Cardinals organization within days of hitting the open market.
P – Chris Mazza, RHP: Pitching is tough, so Mazza being 33 years old doesn’t scare me much. He’s seen major league time in each of the last four seasons, including 14 appearances with the Rays in 2021. He sits 88-91 mph on his two-seam and four-seam variations but uses his mid-80s cutter as his primary pitch. He relies heavily on a sweepy slider as his go-to secondary, working in a cutter, slider and two-seam fastball to make up his primary mix. It’s not a powerful arsenal, but it’s a unique look that varies from other pitchers on this MiLB free agent roster.
P – Guillermo Zuniga, RHP: This is a pure power pitcher gamble as Zuniga may have the best pure stuff on the minor league free agent market. His four-seam fastball sits 96-98 mph with high spin rates, he pairs that with a high-80s changeup with tumble and fade and a high-spin low-90s sweeping slider with bite. He shows above-average command of his slider but below-average command of both his fastball and changeup. There’s three legitimate above-average or better pitches and at 24 there’s still plenty of upside.
P – Angel Perdomo, LHP: We’ve seen Perdomo in the major leagues in parts of two seasons with Milwaukee in 2020 and 2021. He was put on waivers and claimed by the Rays in July of 2022 and has shown flashes of bullpen dominance. After he was acquired by the Rays, Perdomo was assigned to Triple-A Durham. There he made 21 appearances for the Bulls and flashed serious stuff. The only lefthander on my staff, Perdomo pitched extremely well over the final few months of the season, striking out 48 batters to 12 walks over 29.2 innings, holding opposing batters to a .160 batting average. Beyond his performance in 2022, Perdomo has arguably some of the best stuff in the minor league free agent class with a four-seam fastball that sits 92-94 mph with heavy ride and above-average spin rates, a high-spin low-80s slider with sweep and a high-80s changeup that plays well off of his fastball. It’s an older reliever profile but maybe Perdomo figured something out with his pitch mix during his time with the Rays.
P – Jesus Tinoco, RHP: Signed by the Blue Jays in 2011 out of Venezuela, Tinoco was once traded as part of the package that sent Troy Tulowitzki to Toronto. Tinoco has since bounced around to a few different organizations, spending a majority of his time with the Rockies. He hit minor league free agency last season, signing with the Rangers organization. He made 35 appearances out of the Triple-A Round Rock bullpen in 2022, converting all 13 of his save opportunities. He struck out 51 batters to 17 walks across 44 innings, holding opposing hitters to a .205 batting average. He was then successful over 20.2 innings out of the Rangers major league bullpen, allowing just five earned runs and striking out 18. He mixes three pitches in a mid-to-high-90s two-seam fastball, an upper-80s slider and a slurvy mid-80s curveball. He’s a potential bullpen piece who could contribute in the major leagues in 2023.
P – Jimmy Yacabonis, RHP: The righthander has seen major league time in parts of five seasons dating back to 2017. The results, particularly in 2022, haven’t been great, but he offers a wicked two-pitch combination that should earn him another shot or two. His two-seam fastball sits 93-95 mph, touching 96-97 mph at peak, while his sweepy slider sits 80-83 mph with dynamic horizontal break. There are serious strike-throwing issues, but if you’ve seen Yacabonis’ high-effort, extreme crossfire operation that shouldn’t come as a shock. He gives a different look out of the pen with power and unusual movement.
P – Joel Peguero, RHP: Peguero’s high-80s slider might be the best pitch of any minor league free agent. It sits high 80s, topping out at 93 mph with heavy cut and late bite. He mixes it with two fastball variations that sit 95-97 mph, touching 99 mph. The issue is, despite elite stuff, Peguero has never missed many bats. At 25 and with fringe command of a powerful pitch mix, Peguero looks capable of taking another step under the right player development tutelage the next few seasons.
P – Jordan Holloway, RHP: The last time we saw Holloway he was pitching in the big leagues for the Marlins last July before being shut down with an elbow injury. A few weeks later he had arthroscopic surgery on his pitching elbow, missing the remainder of 2022. There’s certainly some added risk with this signing due to the injury, but there’s some reward potential as well. At 26, Holloway is still young enough to carve out a role as a one-inning reliever. He sits 94-97 mph on his fastball, touching 99 mph at peak, pairing it with a hard mid-80s slider that’s by far Holloway’s best pitch. He’ll flash a curveball as well but his usage is almost split 50/50 between his fastball and slider. He’s another power reliever to backfill my pitching depth.
P – Manuel Alvarez, RHP: Released by the Guardians after a very rough stretch with Double-A Akron in 2022, something seemed to click for Alvarez after he was signed by the Mets in late August. Over nine games, Alavarez allowed two earned runs while striking out 17 batters to six walks over his final 10.1 innings of 2022. Did something click or was it just a good run? It’s tough to say, but Alvarez does have legitimate stuff, sitting 95-98 mph and touching 100 mph at peak on his fastball. He pairs it with a mid-80s sweeping slider with spin rates between 2,600-2,700 rpm on average. Alavarez is certainly worth a spot on my imaginary roster after the way he finished the 2022 season.
P – Tyler Ferguson, RHP: A 29-year-old minor league free agent who just reached Triple-A for the first time in 2022 isn’t the type of profile that jumps out. Ferguson’s mid-80s slider, however, is a standout pitch with high spin rates and over a foot of sweep on average. He has two fringe-average fastballs with plus velocity, sitting 94-96 mph, but neither his four-seam or two-seam has much in the way of movement. He also shows a low-90s cutter as well but it takes a backseat to his fastball- and slider-heavy mix. It’s an interesting look with a plus breaking ball and some power.
P – Michel Otanez, RHP: On pure stuff alone Otanez has three pitches that register as plus according to pitch grading models like Stuf+. His four-seam fastball sits 98-99 mph and touched 103 mph per Trackman in 2022. He pairs that with two good secondaries in a tight mid-80s slider and a low-90s changeup with tumble and fade. Strikes have been an issue but that’s the rub with Otanez. If you can get Otnaez to harness his big stuff he could be a high-leverage weapon, he’s just never been able to do that for any sustained stretch.