Projecting the Minor-League Free-Agent Hitters

Every winter, hundreds of nondescript ballplayers become minor-league free agents. Players are granted minor-league free agency when they’re omitted from a club’s 40-man roster and have also spent at least six years in the minor leagues. In other words, they’re the ones who weren’t good enough to merit a call-up after several years in the minors, and their organizations suspect they lack the potential to be worthy of a 40-man spot.

Some of these players latch on with new organizations; some of them don’t. But regardless, the overwhelming majority never have much big-league success. Carson Cistulli found that only about 1% of minor-league free agents produce at least 0.5 WAR the following season. Minor-league free agents are the absolute bottom of the barrel when it comes to player transactions. But there’s an occasional gem at the bottom of that barrel. It’s not unheard of, at all, for a minor-league free agent to make a major-league impact. A few successful examples of players I highlighted in this space last year:

  • Wilmer Font dominated the PCL by striking out a jaw-dropping 32% of batters as a starter, earning him a role on the deepest pitching staff in baseball. My money’s on him opening 2018 on someone’s big-league squad.
  • Lane Adams recorded 122 plate appearances of above-average production with the Braves, much of that coming as a pinch-hitter.
  • Jacob Turner was a serviceable swingman for the 97-win Nationals in the season’s first half (33.2 innings, 4.28 ERA through June 18th).

Using my KATOH projection system, I identified the hitters from this year’s minor-league free-agent class who showed glimmers of promise in the minors. Since none of these players have any sort of prospect pedigree anyway, I utilized the stats-only version of KATOH. Based on their minor-league numbers, there’s reason to believe they might be able to help at the big-league level sometime soon. This analysis considers only players who logged at least 200 minor-league plate appearances in either 2016 or 2017. Tomorrow, I’ll repeat this exercise for pitchers.

*****

1. Christian Lopes, 2B/3B

A seventh-round pick way back in 2011, Lopes has slowly but steadily worked his way through the Blue Jays organization, finally reaching Triple-A this past season. He hit a respectable .261/.349/.402 at the highest rung of the minor leagues while also showing speed on the bases. A 25-year-old infielder who can hit a little bit and run a little bit is about as compelling as minor-league free agents come.

*****

2. John Andreoli, OF

Andreoli caught KATOH’s eye last winter, and after more-or-less repeating his 2016 season at Triple-A, he remains on its radar. Andreoli’s biggest asset is his plus speed, which has manifested itself in high stolen-base totals and non-terrible defense in center field. However, he also draws plenty of walks and has a touch of power. The Cubs seemingly couldn’t find a place for him on their crowded roster, but some team might.

*****

3. Rafael Ortega, OF

Ortega appeared on this list two winters ago but sputtered in his first extended shot in the big leagues in Anaheim. He rebounded in 2017, though, putting together a nifty .317/.383/.468 campaign with the Padres’ Triple-A affiliate. Somehow still only 26, Ortega’s pairing of speed and plate discipline is compelling.

*****

4. Willians Astudillo, C/3B

The man whose physique Carson Cistulli accurately characterized as “amorphous” hit .342 with power at the highest level of the minor leagues, all while playing primarily catcher. Astudillo showcased his typical outrageous contact skills, striking out in a mere 3.9% of plate appearances. Most who’ve seen Astudillo in person doubt those skills will translate into big-league production. Whether some team will test that assumption in 2018 remains to be seen — this is his third consecutive year filing for minor-league free-agency. The saga of Willians Astudillo continues.

*****

5. Daniel Castro, SS

Like Astudillo, Castro also appeared in this space last year. And also like Astudillo, Castro turned in another solid season at the highest level of the minor leagues. The 24-year-old hit .306/.344/.397 with Colorado’s Triple-A affiliate while playing very good shortstop defense. Castro has struggled mightily in his limited big-league opportunities but has seemingly earned another shot with his contact and defense.

*****

6. Juan Perez, UT

A longtime Reds minor leaguer, Perez has been on KATOH’s radar for a couple of years now and appeared to be breaking out at Triple-A before going down with injury in May. Perez can play all over the diamond, can steal a base, and has always made lots of contact. If healthy, he could make for a fine utility infielder right now.

*****

7. Wynton Bernard, OF

Bernard is another repeat offender who appears in this space for the second consecutive year. He spent last season in the Giants organization, where he hit a disappointing .254/.303/.347 at Triple-A. Still, Bernard was characteristically active on the basepaths and graded out above average in center field per Clay Davenport’s numbers. Bernard has had very little offensive success above the Double-A level, but his speed and past hitting keep him on KATOH’s radar.

*****

8. Tyler Goeddel, OF

Goeddel spent the entire 2016 season on the Phillies’ big-league roster after they plucked him from the Rays in the Rule 5 draft. However, he hit just .192/.258/.291 in Philadelphia and was subsequently claimed off waivers by the Reds. He hit .259/.360/.378 last season, split between Cincinnati’s Double-A and Triple-A affiliate. Goeddel’s profile doesn’t pop in any one area, but he does a little bit of everything: controls the plate well, runs a little bit, and plays all three outfield spots.

*****

9. Darrell Ceciliani, OF

Ceciliani is another seemingly unremarkable player who has remained on KATOH’s radar due to his well-rounded performances in the high minors. Ceciliani missed most of 2017 with injury but hit a solid .266/.323/.441 at Triple-A in 2016. Ceciliani’s similar to Goeddel in that he pairs decent hitting with decent speed and can play all three outfield spots.

*****

10. Michael Reed, OF

Reed is yet another well-rounded outfielder who’s been on KATOH’s radar for over a year. The former Brewer underwhelmed in Triple-A last year, hitting just .208/.336/.351. Reed strikes out a bit much for someone with such little power. But his speed, defense, and penchant for drawing walks make him a compelling 25-year-old.

KATOH’s Top 25 Minor-League Free-Agent Hitters
Rank Name Former Team Position KATOH WAR
1 Christian Lopes Blue Jays 2B/3B 2.8
2 John Andreoli Cubs OF 2.0
3 Rafael Ortega Padres OF 2.0
4 Willians Astudillo D-backs C/3B 2.0
5 Daniel Castro Rockies SS 1.6
6 Juan Perez Reds UT 1.5
7 Wynton Bernard Giants OF 1.5
8 Tyler Goeddel Reds OF 1.5
9 Darrell Ceciliani Blue Jays OF 1.5
10 Michael Reed Brewers OF 1.4
11 Eury Perez Marlins OF 1.4
12 A.J. Jimenez Rangers C 1.3
13 Oscar Hernandez D-backs C 1.3
14 Jason Krizan Tigers OF 1.3
15 Oswaldo Arcia D-backs OF 1.2
16 Edwin Espinal Pirates 1B 1.1
17 Todd Cunningham Dodgers OF 1.1
18 Nick Martini Cardnals OF 1.1
19 Cesar Puello Rays OF 1.1
20 Roberto Pena White Sox C 1.0
21 O’Koyea Dickson Dodgers OF 1.0
22 Gabriel Lino Cardnals C 1.0
23 Jared Hoying Rangers OF 1.0
24 Jon Berti Blue Jays 2B 1.0
25 Arismendy Alcantara Reds UT 1.0

We hoped you liked reading Projecting the Minor-League Free-Agent Hitters by Chris Mitchell!

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Chris works in economic development by day, but spends most of his nights thinking about baseball. He writes for Pinstripe Pundits, FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. He's also on the twitter machine: @_chris_mitchell None of the views expressed in his articles reflect those of his daytime employer.

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ChippersJonesing
Member
ChippersJonesing

I want someone to give Willians Astudillo a shot, very badly. Especially given the new ball environment, I have no idea how a team that isn’t going to be competitive hadn’t given a guy with that kind of contact ability a shot.

Even if he has to DH or play backup 1B or whatever, its just such an amazingly unique profile. As for it not translating to the major leagues, what do they think is going to happen? He’s going to suddenly strike out at like a 30% clip? Why? Seems silly to think that skill is going to completely evaporate.

FrodoBeck
Member
FrodoBeck

Man, this is the first time I’ve heard of him, but based on that profile I would love to see him playing somewhere too. 5’9″/225, less than 4% K’s?

Where has this guy been all my life?

bombguy85
Member
bombguy85

I’ve been following this guy the past few years since I first heard about him. I so badly want to see what he would do in the majors. I don’t think the issue has been thinking he’d suddenly strike out 30% of the time, it’s probably been the lack of production… hear me out. In all his years hitting over .300, up until this past season he never slugged over .417 and had only reached .400+ that one time. .300+ Average is fantastic but not with a slugging % in the .300’s. That said his wRC+ is still above average, so put him in a big park like Coors or Kaufmann and BABIP law of averages alone will give him a decent batting average.

ChippersJonesing
Member
ChippersJonesing

But with the new ball/hitting environment? As long as he’s hitting the ball in the air, he’d be a prime candidate for a Scooter Gennett/Chris Taylor/all those other guys type power surge.

bombguy85
Member
bombguy85

Oh I hear ya, with the lack of slugging/extra base hits out of all those .300+ seasons tells me he wasn’t hitting it in the air much