As an observer — I hesitate to call myself a fan since becoming a writer — of a team that’s constantly looking for reasonably-priced free agents, I always find minor league free agency particularly fascinating. A couple weeks ago, Baseball America unveiled a comprehensive list of the players available via minor league free agency.
Essentially, these are minor leaguers who have spent the requisite time in the minor leagues without being added to the 40-man roster (based on draft status), or are veterans who signed one-year deals and will test the choppy waters once again. BA does a very good job of summarizing the process after the jump.
RP Garrett Mock
Mock has shown good strikeout rates across his entire career, including a 7.8 rate in the minors and an 8.0 mark across three star-crossed seasons in the nation’s capital. After missing nearly the entire 2010 campaign due to a neck injury, it appears as though Mock’s future will lie in someone’s bullpen, where his strikeout rates will likely suit him well. It doesn’t hurt that he spins a pretty good slider, either. He’ll probably have to settle for a minor league deal and spend some time on the farm proving his neck is healthy, but he could be a nice surprise in someone’s bullpen before the end of the 2012 season.
The ‘has bat, will travel’ adage has followed Solarte around the Twins system ever since he joined the organization in 2006. However, it wasn’t until 2010 that Solarte’s bat really started to show its merit, when he hit .292/.328/.401 across three levels, and finally started to show the offensive promise that allowed him shots to start games at eight different defensive positions. Solarte stuck mostly at second base in 2011, and triple-slashed .329/.367/.466 for New Britain in the Eastern League as a 23-year old. He may be a bit old for the level (his birthday falls right in the middle of the season), but as a second baseman with nearly 50 extra-base hits last season, there’s probably someone who’ll give him a season on the 40-man roster with a chance to prove his merit at Triple-A.
1B Ryan Shealy
Once considered the heir-apparent to Todd Helton in Colorado, Shealy has been relegated to smacking PCL pitching around for the last six years — save for a season in the IL — after the Rockies decided to deal him to Kansas City for Denny Bautista and Jeremy Affeldt. Shealy has enough pop to stick somewhere as a bench bat (career .941 minor league OPS is impressive, PCL or not), but his complete and utter lack of position flexibility (one career game at anywhere other than 1B) has left him on the outside looking in at big league jobs. At 32, this is probably near the end of the road for Shealy, who actually hit RHP at a .304/.359/.476 clip in his limited major league time. However, if any team has a hole at first and is looking to fill it on an ultra-cheap way, I can’t see why Shealy would not merit at least a look in spring training.
Carlson had arm surgery in May, and as a result didn’t throw a pitch during all of 2011. As a result, Carlson was outrighted off the 40-man roster, though he was likely to be non-tendered anyway as an arbitration-eligible for the first time. Even despite the arm injury, Carlson was a very effective pitcher when healthy (3.63 ERA, 7.3 K/9) who, at his best, spun a really good slider. There’s legit worry that he threw too many sliders; after all, it was his rotator cuff repaired in May, and his career rate of 48.9 percent of his offerings being sliders probably suggests why. Left-handed relievers with good strikeout rates, very good control (3.0 BB in majors, 2.4 in minors), and a good strikeout pitch don’t grow on trees, so I would assume that Carlson will have a fair share of suitors once he shows his left wing is healthy.
RP Alex Hinshaw
Hinshaw brings it. As a lefty with a 92-mile-per-hour average heater, his services will always be in demand. With that heat, Hinshaw brings a career 11.2 minor league K rate (and a superb 9.7 rate in the bigs) to the table, with a 3.84 ERA. The K’s only tell half the story, however. Hitters don’t know where Hinshaw’s going to throw it next, but neither does he. Hinshaw’s handed out free passes to the rate of 7.1 per nine in his limited time in the bigs, and has posted an equally worrisome 6.3 rate in the minors. Hinshaw’s still only 28, so there should be plenty of pitching coaches out there clamoring to have a shot at correcting the young lefty’s control woes. In the small amounts of time that Hinshaw has managed to show command, he’s been downright nasty, including twice posting K/9’s over 12 in the PCL, of all places.
A few random notes:
* There are quite a few formerly established — at varying levels, of course — major leaguers who were named minor league free agents. This list includes**: Oliver Perez, Manny Corpas, Nate Robertson, Kyle Davies, Chad Gaudin, Lance Cormier, Pedro Feliz, Scott Podsednik, Dave Bush, Mike Lamb, Mark Prior, Jason Botts, Gustavo Chacin, Taylor Tankersley, Boof Bonser, Chuck James, Mitch Stetter, Ryan Rowland-Smith, J.R. Towles, David Purcey, Jorge Cantu, Willy Taveras, John Maine, Nick Johnson, Jeremy Sowers, Brendan Harris, Kenshin Kawakami, and Angel Berroa.
**List may include players who have signed.