Yesterday we discussed the players that our Milwaukee Brewers are likely to lose to free agency at the big league level. There’s another, much-less talked about tier of free agency as well, on the minor league side of the game. There are several avenues for a player to qualify as a minor league free agent, as explained here by ‘The Cub Reporter’:
MLB RULE 55: Sometimes called a "Six-Year Minor League Free-Agent," an unsigned minor league player is automatically declared a free-agent at 5 PM (Eastern) on the 5th day after the final game of the World Series if the player has had his first contract renewed six times and has spent all or any part of at least seven separate seasons on a minor league roster (including all or parts of any season spent on Optional Assignment to the minors), and/or if the player has been previously released or non-tendered in his career and his present contract (known as a "second contract" even if it's his third or fourth minor league contract) has expired. For purposes of determining eligibility to be a free-agent, a player does not accrue a minor league season if the player spends the entire season on an MLB Active List, MLB Disabled List(s), and/or other MLB Inactive List, or if the player spends an entire season on the Restricted List, Disqualified List, Suspended List, Ineligible List, Voluntarily Retired List, and/or Military List. Also, participation in a post-season instructional league or winter league and/or the Arizona Fall League (AFL) does not count toward a minor league season if the player otherwise did not accrue a minor league season that year. Note that a player who ordinarily would have been declared a Rule 55 minor league free-agent is NOT eligible to be a free-agent if the player is either added to an MLB Reserve List (40-man roster) or agrees to a minor league successor contract with his previous club by 5:00 PM (Eastern) on the 5th day after the final game of the World Series. (The deadline is 5:00 PM Eastern on October 15th if the World Series is canceled). The deadline for an MLB club to tender a contract to an unsigned minor league player who had previously agreed to a successor contract is January 15th. If an unsigned minor league player is not tendered a contract by January 15th, the player becomes an unrestricted free-agent.
Toby Harrmann took a look at the next several minor league free agent classes in an earlier post, and in conjunction with our friends over at Brewerfan.net have put together a list of a whopping 30 players who have either already elected minor league free agency or will become minor league free agents five days after the completion of the World Series. Those players are:
RHP Yhonathan Barrios
RHP Parker Berberet
RHP Michael Blazek (declared 10/2)
RHP Aaron Brooks
RHP Hiram Burgos
RHP Tyler Cravy
RHP Tim Dillard (re-signed)
RHP David Goforth (declared 10/2)
RHP Travis Hissong
RHP Jorge Ortega (re-signed)
RHP Wily Peralta (declared 10/3)
RHP Matt Ramsey
RHP Rob Scahill (declared 10/4)
RHP Forrest Snow
RHP Angel Ventura
LHP Andrew Barbosa
LHP Sean Nolin
LHP Nick Ramirez
C Rene Garcia
C Dustin Houle
C Natanael Mejia
INF Chris Colabello
INF Ivan De Jesus Jr.
INF Fidel Pena
INF Nick Noonan
INF Gabriel Noriega
INF Yadiel Rivera
OF Kirk Nieuwenhuis (declared 10/2)
OF Michael Reed
OF Quintin Berry
Players who make it to minor league free agency aren’t typically more than depth pieces or roster filler, but sometimes an organization will uncover a gem on a minor league contract. Hernan Perez was signed to a minor league deal before his breakthrough 2016 campaign, and Eric Sogard and Anthony Swarzak both began last season playing on minor league contracts.
With that being said, here are a few players that David Stearns ought to consider trying to keep around in the organization (if they haven’t already been re-signed):
Snow will turn 29 this offseason and joined the Brewers as a minor league free agent last winter after spending the first seven years of his career in the Mariners organization. He offers a low-90s fastball along with a cutter, curveball, and the org’s favorite pitch - the splitter. Snow found success as a swingman between AA and AAA for the Brewers this year, tossing 58.2 innings with a 3.38 ERA and 65 DRA- in Biloxi and 26.0 innings with a 4.85 ERA but a 58 DRA- in Colorado Springs. 6 of his 33 total appearances came as a starter, and he struck out 104 batters while walking only 26 between the two levels in 2017.
Ventura will be a young minor league free agent, as he won’t turn 25 until next April. He began his career with Milwaukee back in 2011 after being signed as an international free agent out of the Dominican Republic. He has steadily climbed the ladder since then, splitting the 2017 campaign between AA and AAA. Ventura posted a 3.83 ERA in 129.1 innings between the two stops, though ERA estimators weren’t quite as high on his work. He works with a fastball that tops out at around 94 MPH along with a low-80s slider and given his relative youth, could still have a chance to be a bullpen arm in the big leagues.
The 28 year old Ramirez was drafted by the Brewers as a first baseman in 2011, but after stalling out in AA as a hitter, he transitioned to pitcher in 2017. He had previously worked out of the bullpen in college, and given the several year layoff, produced some strong results this past season. Ramirez worked 79.0 innings for AA Biloxi, authoring a sterling 1.37 ERA while holding fellow left-handers to a .167 batting average against. Ramirez works with a fastball in the 90-91 MPH range along with a changeup and curveball, and given more time to re-familiarize himself with mound work could improve upon his peripherals (6.4 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 4.28 DRA).
Another young minor league free agent, Houle will turn 24 next week. He was drafted by Milwaukee in the 8th round back in 2011 out of a Canadian high school. Houle has battled a myriad of injuries since becoming a professional, missing all of 2014 and most of 2016. He spent a month on the DL with Biloxi this year, as well. He opened some eyes this past spring training and comes with a strong defensive reputation, including throwing out 41% of the runners who tried to swipe a base against him this year. He also managed an 81 wRC+ in the pitcher-friendly Southern League and has shown an ability to draw free passes in the minor leagues. Given his youth and how much time he’s missed with injury, there could be room for further development with Houle. Like with pitchers, an org can never have too much catching depth.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus