Every team has its ideal lineup, but that ideal lineup will not play 162 games a year. Teams will have injuries, suspensions, days off, and other reasons for players to miss time.
The goal of this article is to look at spring training NRI’s (non-roster invitees) who were signed as minor league free agents who could make their MLB teams at some point this season. These are guys who would be able to fill depth roles and have one or two tools that will help their team survive an injury that will inevitably plague their team.
This article will consist of the American League teams. Let’s get into it.
Baltimore Orioles – Eduardo Bazardo
Bazardo has played his whole career in the Red Sox system prior to signing a minor league contract with the Orioles this offseason. Bazardo allowed a 2.76 ERA in 16.1 IP last year, including a .186 BABIP in the majors. He also allowed four home runs in that span, leading to a 6.05 FIP.
Over the course of his minor league career, Bazardo had a 9.95 K/9, 2.49 BB/9, and a 0.49 HR/9. The 4-Seamer does not have much movement, but he does have 3 other pitches (Slider, Sinker, and a Split-Finger Fastball) that can get swing and misses at the major league level. The Slider was his most used pitch last season, and if he can get it to miss bats, the Orioles may get a very nice addition to their bullpen.
Boston Red Sox – Niko Goodrum
The Red Sox just placed Adalberto Mondesi on the 60-day IL. Mondesi was supposed to replace Trevor Story, who was also placed on the 60-day IL due to an elbow injury this offseason. Therefore, the middle infield looks pretty thin for the Red Sox. They do have Enrique Hernandez, Christian Hernandez, and Yu Chang but outside of that, there is not much depth.
Goodrum could serve that role for the Red Sox at some point this season. Goodrum had a meager -14 wRC+ in 15 games with Houston last season, so the value would not come from his bat, but from his defense. He has been a very good fielder in the middle infield sporting a Def (Fangraphs’ defensive metric) of .3, 3.3, 6.2, and 7.0 over his last four seasons in the majors.
New York Yankees – Ian Hamilton
Ian Hamilton has only pitched 14.2 IP in the majors so far in his career, but in the last two years in Triple-A, he has averaged 11.99 K/9 with a 1.05 HR/9. He has had some control issues in Triple-A which could limit him, but if he is able to maintain an above-average Groundball %, which he has in Triple-A, he could have some success.
Tampa Bay Rays – Trevor Kelley
Kelley did not have a good season last year, posting a 6.08 ERA in 23.2 IP with the Brewers. In that span, he wound up allowing seven home runs. However, in Triple-A over the last two seasons, Kelley averaged a 1.86 ERA with a 10.50 K/9, 3.27 BB/9, and a .48 HR/9 in 75.2 IP. His 43.9% groundball rate in Triple-A last season fell to 35.6% in the Majors.
Examining the heatmap of his Sinker, it suggests that Kelley threw a large part of that pitch in the upper third of the strike zone. If the Rays can bring his Sinker location down, it could hopefully increase his groundball rate and limit the damage down from home runs that plagued him in 2022.
Toronto Blue Jays – Wynton Bernard
Toronto made it a priority this offseason to improve the outfield defense by acquiring Daulton Varsho and signing Kevin Kiermaier as a free agent. George Springer is also a very good defender as well, but there is no insurance they will all be healthy the whole season.
Wynton Bernard will be a nice depth piece for Toronto at some point this season. Bernard made his MLB debut last season with Colorado after spending 10 years in the minors. Bernard is a contact hitter who had a power increase last season in Triple-A, hitting 21 home runs in 475 PAs for the Albuquerque Isotopes. Prior to that, he hit 31 home runs combined in his first 10 seasons in the minors. I don’t think the power will stick in the majors, but what will stick is his speed. Baseball Savant has him in the 99th percentile in Sprint Speed, so he will bring value in the outfield and in baserunning.
Chicago White Sox – Nate Mondou
Mondou made his MLB debut last season in Oakland, playing only one game after 108 games with their Triple-A affiliate. Mondou is an on-base guy who likes to make contact. He has had a double-digit Walk % in the last 3 seasons in the Oakland system. Last season in Las Vegas, Mondou slashed .283/.374/.431 with a .257 wOBA.
Mondou is a typical second baseman who doesn’t have much power or speed, but he should be able to play second base should a spot open up.
Cleveland Guardians – Michael Kelly
The Guardians have a nice crop of pitchers who they signed to minor league free agents this offseason that we could choose from here. They are one of the best pitching development teams in the majors, so naturally, I assume all of them will have a chance to be up at some point this season. However, Michael Kelly stands out the most for me.
Kelly made his MLB debut last season with Philadelphia where he pitched only four innings. Before that, he pitched with the Triple-A team, pitching to a 5.29 ERA in 51 IP. Before 2021, Kelley did not have a single season where he had a double-digit K/9. Upon entering the Houston organization in 2021, Kelly had a 10.68 K/9 with a 2.82 ERA in 44.2 IP.
Kelly has become a strikeout pitcher, and if he can solve the high walk rate issue from last season, he could find himself playing in Cleveland.
Detroit Tigers – Andrew Knapp
The Tigers acquired a few former Phillies catchers this offseason. They acquired Donny Sands in the big trade that sent Gregory Soto and Kody Clemens to the Phillies. They also signed Andrew Knapp to a minor league deal.
While Sands is the younger player, Knapp could still make the team at some point this season. Over his time with the Phillies, he has been a guy who takes his walks. In five out of six seasons in the majors, Knapp has had a double-digit walk rate and could provide some value with this aspect of his game.
Kansas City Royals – Cody Poteet
Poteet has spent his whole career to this point with Miami. He eventually made his MLB debut with them last season, pitching in 28 innings and posting a 3.86 ERA. Unfortunately, he did have season-ending Tommy John Surgery last season in August, which led him to sign a Minor League deal with Kansas City in the offseason.
Prior to his injury, Poteet was not reliant on strikeouts, but mostly on groundballs to get batters out. He relied heavily on a Changeup (most thrown pitch) he threw 38.2% and a 4-Seamer he threw 26.6 % of the time. He allowed a .174 BA (.242 xBA), .225 wOBA, and 34.7% whiff rate on that Changeup.
If Poteet can recover from Tommy John Surgery, he could be up with the Royals at some point this season, but he will likely miss the rest of 2023.
Minnesota Twins – Patrick Murphy
Patrick Murphy has pitched 39.2 Innings so far in the majors. He has a career 8.62 K/9, 4.54 BB/9, and a 0.68 HR/9. His control has been his problem so far in the majors, but he does have the pitches to get outs in the majors. He has a 4-Seamer that averages 96.1 mph and a Sinker that averages 95.7 mph.
The problem with these pitches is that they are below average when it comes to their movement and spin rate. Baseball Savant has him in the 39th percentile in fastball spin. His Curveball is his best pitch, and if the Twins can help improve his fastball effectiveness, he could be a nice bullpen piece.
Houston Astros – Austin Davis
Davis pitched for Boston and Minnesota in 2022. He had a combined 5.79 ERA and a 4.02 FIP. He did have a 10.29 K/9, but he struggled with walks via a 5.30 BB/9. Despite being ranked in the 95th percentile in HardHit% allowed and 89th percentile in Average Exit Velocity allowed, he had a lot of bad luck with balls in play, allowing a .331 BABIP.
Should Davis make the Majors at some point, he’ll be pitching behind one of the best defenses in the league (Astros ranked 4th in Fangrahs Def WAR in 2022). The Astros likely will have a plan for him that will allow him to limit his walks while also maintaining his ability to limit hard contact.
Los Angeles Angels – Evan Marshall
Marshall missed all of 2022 with Tommy John Surgery. If he fully recovers, the Angels will be getting a guy who back in 2020 had a 2.38 ERA with an 11.91 K/9 and a 2.78 BB/9 in 22.2 IP. His two most-thrown pitches in 2020 were his Changeup (35.2%) and a Curveball (28.3%). He threw his fastball 24.1% of the time but relied on his Changeup/Curveball to get whiffs.
It’s not clear if the Angels will have Marshall experiment with a Slider (Marshall threw a Slider early in his career) given their organizational pivot to throwing that pitch this season, but he does have two offspeed pitches that could allow him to get some playing time in the Angels bullpen late into the year.
Oakland Athletics – Trenton Brooks
Brooks has not touched the majors yet, but last season with the Guardians’ Triple-A team, he had a 121 wRC+, slashing .273/.367/.464 in 340 PAs. He also had a 12.1% walk rate in addition to a 16.2% Strikeout rate. He has been a guy who gets on base throughout his minor-league career. Brooks also played a majority at first base last season, but he also had time in the outfield, so he will provide positional flexibility for the A’s.
Seattle Mariners – Ryder Ryan
Ryan over his last two seasons in Triple-A has averaged a 10.58 K/9 over 104.1 IP. He has also had the highest Groundball % of his career last season, jumping from 40.8% in 2021 to 57.6%. While he was able to strike hitters out, he did struggle with walks and the home run ball.
Ryan averaged a 4.10 BB/9 and 1.23 HR/9 over the last two seasons. Eric Longenhagen has Ryan’s fastball sitting around 94-97 that can top 98. If the Mariners can continue developing Ryan to where he can have more control of that pitch, then there is a slight chance Ryan could make his MLB debut with the Mariners this season.
Texas Rangers – Sandy León
The Rangers have one of the best framers in the league in Jonah Heim. They also have Mitch Garver as the backup and Sam Huff waiting in Triple-A. As a result, León could be the 4th catcher for the Rangers this season.
He is a decent defensive catcher last season who gives a veteran major league-ready catcher should one of these guys go down. While the contact rate was not there for León last season, he was able to take his walks. León had a 15.1% walk rate in 86 PA. Whether this will be repeatable is remained to be seen, but he will provide some major-league depth at the least.
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