Image credit: Yonathan Perlaza (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)
For hundreds of minor league players, this week marked the beginning of their run as free agents.
Minor league players—those not on 40-man rosters—become eligible for free agency at the expiration of their Uniform Player Contract or successor contract.
UPCs contain six contract renewals, so that players who signed during the 2017 season could be renewed for 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022 and 2023 before qualifying for free agency.
Below, we examine five notable minor league position players who were granted free agency this fall.
Please note that major league organizations are proficient at identifying future value in position players, so expectations for “passed over” minor league free agents are low. A position player who grades as a potential 40 on the 20-80 scouting scale—a big league extra—would count as a major success on the minor league free agent market.
Yonathan Perlaza, OF
HT: 5-9 WT: 195 B-T: B-R
2023 Club: Triple-A Iowa (Cubs)
121 G: .284/.389/.534 (128 OPS+) with 23 HR and 13 SB
2024 Age: 25
Perlaza signed with the Cubs for $1 million out of Venezuela in the same 2015 signing class as Isaac Paredes, Christopher Morel and Miguel Amaya. A shortstop when he signed, Perlaza bounced around trying to find a position before settling into the corner outfield. He had his best season at Triple-A Iowa in 2023, leading the International League with 66 extra-base hits and tying for the league lead with 40 doubles.
Perlaza is a strong, physical switch-hitter who feasts on fastballs. He gets on plane early with his swing and has good natural timing from both sides of the plate. His bat speed isn’t exceptional, but he’s consistently on time and crushes mistakes. Perlaza is vulnerable against secondary pitches, especially changeups, but he controls the strike zone with a patient approach and takes advantage of enough fastballs to be an average hitter with average power. Perlaza is a below-average runner and is limited to left field as a well below-average defender.
Perlaza consistently plays hard with a blue-collar approach and has major league bench value potential. (report by Kyle Glaser)
Rafael Lantigua, 3B/SS/OF
HT: 5-7 WT: 153 B-T: R-R
2023 Club: Triple-A Buffalo (Blue Jays)
129 G: .305/.425/.469 (129 OPS+) with 12 HR, 28 SB and 98 BB
2024 Age: 26
The Blue Jays signed Lantigua out of the Dominican Republic in 2016. As an undersized player who was already 18 when he signed, he has had to scrap for playing time and promotions. He spent two seasons in Rookie ball and had reached only Low-A when the pandemic hit.
Like many Blue Jays minor leaguers, Lantigua emerged from the lost 2020 season ready to tackle the full-season levels. His effort paid off with a career year at Triple-A in 2023, if not a 40-man roster spot with Toronto. Lantigua reached career highs with 12 home runs, 28 stolen bases, 98 walks, 101 runs and 40 doubles, the last total tying for the International League lead.
While his walk total must be taken with a grain of salt because of the ABS system, Lantigua owns a career .371 on-base percentage and seldom chases or misses in the zone. Likewise, he seldom impacts the ball and prioritizes line-drive contact.
Lantigua’s best asset may be his versatility. With Buffalo he played every position but first base and catcher, lining up most often at shortstop, third base and left field. With positive marks for his competitive makeup and clubhouse presence, Lantigua could be a good fit as a scrappy utility player on a second-division club.
Imanol Vargas, 1B/OF
HT: 6-3 WT: 215 B-T: L-R
2023 Club: Double-A Tulsa (Dodgers)
125 G: .251/.357/.463 (129 OPS+) with 22 HR and 90 RBIs
2024 Age: 26
Vargas is a classic big-bodied hitter with big power and big walk and strikeout totals. Signed by the Dodgers out of the Dominican Republic in 2017, he has taken the full-season minor leagues one level per year since 2021. At Double-A in 2023, Vargas ranked second in the Texas League with 51 extra-base hits and also 174 strikeouts.
Vargas’ raw power is apparent in his 114 mph max exit velocity and extreme damage on contact. His issue has been making enough contact to take full advantage. Vargas doesn’t chase much out of the zone but can be beat in the zone with good stuff. He plays primarily first base but has some experience on the outfield corners. Like most lefthanded sluggers, he is nearly helpless in same-side matchups.
A team looking for lefthanded power at first base or DH could give Vargas an extended MLB look. In the right park he might pay off his strikeouts with home runs.
Payton Henry, C
HT: 6-0 WT: 229 B-T: R-R
2023 Club: Triple-A Nashville (Brewers)
64 G: .294/.341/.454 (98 OPS+) with 9 HR
2024 Age: 27
Henry had a sterling defensive reputation in the minor leagues, winning Best Defensive Catcher honors in the 2019 Carolina and 2021 International leagues. Drafted by the Brewers out of high school in the sixth round in 2016, he was traded to the Marlins for reliever John Curtiss in July 2021. Milwaukee reacquired Henry after the 2022 season in a minor trade.
Henry has the defensive chops to stick as a big league backup catcher, while his contact-oriented hitting approach could make him a better offensive option than some backups. He likes to swing the bat and tempers a high chase rate with a high contact rate on pitches in the zone.
While Henry’s power production is below-average, he hit the ball fairly hard at Triple-A this season, with an average exit velocity near 89 mph and a 90th percentile reading of 105 mph.
Yusniel Diaz, OF
HT: 6-1 WT: 215 B-T: R-R
2023 Club: Double-A Tulsa (Dodgers)
94 G: .278/.374/.484 (139 OPS+) with 16 HR and 56 BB
2024 Age: 27
Diaz has to be the only minor league free agent who has ranked as an organizational No. 1 prospect, has played in the Futures Game and was traded for a possible Hall of Famer.
Signed by the Dodgers out of Cuba in 2015, Diaz emerged at Double-A Tulsa in 2018 by hitting .314 with more walks than strikeouts. He hit two home runs in the Futures Game that year and was traded to the Orioles shortly thereafter as the centerpiece of the Manny Machado trade.
Diaz ranked No. 1 in a thin Baltimore system heading into 2019. Injuries scuttled his first full season with the Orioles, and then he lost 2020 to the pandemic. He never got back on track in subsequent seasons, undone by injuries and lack of production. Diaz took only one MLB at-bat for Baltimore in 2022 and left as a minor league free agent after the season, winding up back with the Dodgers.
Diaz was old for Double-A in 2023 but finished the season with a .965 OPS and 11 homers in his final 50 games. The right voice in his ear and the right effort level could help him get closer to his ceiling as an on-base-oriented corner outfielder—but time is running out.