While Major League free agents are the headliners for MLB teams, fans and news outlets, Minor League free agents could be just as important and impactful for Major League clubs over the course of a season. I will look to identify possible Minor League free agent signees who could make a significant impact for their clubs. This first article will focus on the AL West and NL West.
Houston Astros – Lewis Brinson OF
The Houston Astros are an interesting team here. While a majority of their minor Free Agent signees have been pitchers, it hasn’t been minor league pitchers that have had significant time in the majors, rather it’s been older international free agent pitchers. However, one of their few positional players that they signed to a minor league contract was former top prospect Lewis Brinson.
While Brinson has not been able to figure out the bat in the Majors, he did have Max Exit Velocity of 113.2 in 2021, so he has the ability to still hit the ball hard. If the Astros can make him more consistent in their organizational line drive hitting approach, they may have a decent, speedy outfielder option on their bench. Jake Meyers will also start on the IL this year allowing Brinson to have a chance making the opening day roster.
Los Angeles Angels – Magneuris Sierra OF
This spring, the Angels will have quite a few options for the bench Outfield spots on the roster. Trout, Marsh, Adell, and Upton will make up the top four spots. However, none of their bench options from 2021 were good defensively. Walsh has had some time on the outfield in 2021, but he’s mainly a 1B, Upton didn’t play well defensively last year and Ward could also be an option however his glove hasn’t been lights out either. This is where Sierra steps in.
Sierra would have the 5th outfield spot here. In 2021 the Angels kept Juan Lagares for his defense and Sierra will do the same job here in 2022. Sierra is in the 92 percentile in Sprint Speed which will give them 4 guys in the outfield with Sprint Speeds in the 90th percentile. He will also be a pinch running option for the Angels late in games. The only problem here will be his bat. He had no power in 2021, and hit only .230 in 225 plate appearances. Taylor Ward does have a better bat and improved his power in a larger sample in 2021, so he could push for that 5th outfield spot should he show defensive improvement this spring or the Angels opt for a more offensive outfielder. Sierra could then be an intriguing option later in the year should one of the outfielders do go down with an injury.
Oakland Athletics – Dalton Kelly 1b
With the trade of Matt Olson to the Braves, this leaves a major hole at first base. They do have 38 year old Eric Thames but he could find himself more in the DH role. 27 year-old Dalton Kelly should fit them nicely here.
Kelly spent last year in AAA with the Tampa Bay Rays. Kelly hasn’t played in the majors yet but he did hit the third most home runs in Triple-A East (27) where he slashed .244/.350/.512. While minor league defensive metrics are hard to come by, last year he had only 1 error in 613.1 innings at First Base. He also played right field in 2021 which could give the defensive versatility the A’s love. So far here in spring training, McKinney has gotten some time at First Base and they do have internal options with Jonah Bride and Seth Brown as options at First Base as well, but look for Kelly to get a shot here.
Seattle Mariners – Ian McKinney P
In 2021, Seattle had success in the minor league free agent market with the signing of Paul Sewald and Drew Steckenrider. They led the Mariners bullpen in WAR (Sewald 1.4 and Steckenreider 1.3) and had the second most appearances on the team, both with 62. Quite a get for Dipoto and the Mariners.
Ian Mckinney could be an option here for the Mariners. While Sewald/Steckenreider were both on different teams in 2020, McKinney has been in the Mariners system since 2019. In 2021 he pitched in 2 levels (AA, AAA) where he had 2.18 ERA in 33 IP in AA. However, his first stint in the hitter friendly Triple A – West was not as comforting. He had a 6.04 ERA in 55 IP and his K/9 fell from 13.64 to 8.05 while his HR/9 jumped from .55 to 1.68. His BB/9 has been above 4 at both levels in 2021 so this should be monitored throughout the spring and the year. Should he improve this metric it could lead to some time in the big leagues.
Texas Rangers – Matt Carpenter INF
Rangers have completely revamped their infield defense here in 2022 and they may not be done. The Rangers signed Matt Carpenter to a minor league free agent contract. In 2021, Carpenter played a majority of his games at second base but he will probably move back to third here with the Rangers.
While he brings experience, his bat has been the problem the last couple of years. Over the last two years he has had some drop-offs in his Batting Average, ISO and his K% jumped to 30% last year, however his Statcast metrics do suggest he can still hit the ball hard. His Barrel Rate jumped from 9.8 % to 11.5 % and his Hard Hit% jumped from 35.9% to 42% in 2021 due to a slight improvement in his launch angle in 2021.
Some other possible options here for the Rangers include Andy Ibanez who had some time with the Rangers in 2021, Brad Miller who they signed to a 2 year deal and possibly later in the year, Josh Jung could be a call up for them.
Arizona Diamondbacks – Yorvin Pantoja P
Yorvin Pantoja has not pitched above High-A so far in his career but in 2021 he is currently listed on the Triple A roster for the Diamondbacks and had a Spring Training invite this year. Before the Diamondbacks, the 24 year-old was in the Red Sox organization for his entire professional career. He took off in 2019 once they moved him more into a reliever role. His last two years with Boston he had a K/9 greater than 10 and he was able to limit the home run ball sporting a 1.07 HR/9.
While he likely won’t be in play for the Diamondbacks opening day roster, he may get a call up later in the year. Keynan Middleton could be another guy who was a minor league free agent and will get some time with the Diamondbacks who also brings Major League experience.
Colorado Rockies – Logan Cozart P
Logan Cozart could be an option here for the Rockies. There is probably no other place harder to pitch than at Coors Field, but there are two factors that can help you. Pitching in the Rockies Organization and pitching in the Triple A – West and Cozart has done both.
Cozart has only been with the Rockies in his professional career which means he has in some way, shape or form been developed to pitch in Coors, which is a plus for him. He has also pitched 2 years in Triple A. In 2019 he had a 6.35 ERA with a 6.75 K/9 and a 2.78 HR/9 in 22.1 IP which doesn’t sound like a recipe for success. In 2021 though, Cozart got much better in his second year in Triple A where his K/9 jumped to 9.47 and his HR/9 fell to .88 in 55.1 IP. He doesn’t throw for much velocity, his first outing in Spring 2022 his fastball hit 89 mph, but you don’t always need velocity to get batters out.
Los Angeles Dodgers – Tyler Anderson P
Over the course of the offseason the Dodgers have signed a number of depth starting pitchers including the likes of Andrew Heaney, re-signing Clayton Kershaw and Danny Duffy but a guy they signed to a minor league free agent contract could be in play and that is Tyler Anderson.
In 2021 Anderson played for Pittsburgh and Seattle where he had a 4.46 ERA in 167 IP, but his stats don’t necessarily jump out at you. He had a 7.22 K/9 and a 1.46 HR/9 while also having the lowest BB/9 of his career at 2.05. Over the last two years he has had the lowest Groundball % of his career at 28.5 while in his first four years with Colorado he averaged a ground ball rate at 43%.
Anderson was in the 26th percentile in Whiff% while being in the 88th percentile in Hard Hit % and 94th percentile in Chase Rate. Anderson doesn’t get swing and misses which has limited his strikeout ability over the years but he is able to limit hard contact, unfortunately when he does allow it the ball is usually not on the ground given he averaged a Launch Angle of 18.2 degrees in 2021.
San Diego Padres – José Castillo P
26 year-old Castillo missed all of 2021 due to Tommy John Surgery which is probably the only reason he was let go and re-signed as a minor league free agent. Castillo made his debut at 22 in 2018 where he pitched 37 games that year with a 3.29 ERA and a 34% strikeout rate. He threw a Four-Seam Fastball that sat at 94.7 mph and a Slider with 41.1 inches of drop and a 40% whiff rate. Should expect Castillo to get some time in the Padres Bullpen.
San Francisco Giants – Raynel Espinal P
Espinal made his MLB debut in 2021 where he pitched only 2 Innings and allowed 2 ER in that outing for Boston. He didn’t throw a breaking pitch in that outing but he did throw a low 90’s Four-Seam Fastball and a Change-up. In Triple A last year he started 21 out of 23 games for Boston so he does have the ability to start for the Giants but he likely will pitch from more of a reliever role. He does have a side arm delivery which could offer them a different arm slot in that bullpen.
Photo credit: @DurhamBulls