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Milwaukee Brewers headed for minor league free agency

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Which farmhands might be looking for new jobs in 2019?

Cincinnati Reds v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

We’ve already covered the trio of now-former Milwaukee Brewers who elected major league free agency - Gio Gonzalez, Curtis Granderson, and Wade Miley. 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.

Our friends over at Brewerfan.net have put together a list of a whopping 31 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, including two players who have already been retained in some capacity for 2019. Those players are:

RHP Jeff Ames
RHP Alec Asher (Elected minor league free agency on 10/11)
C Jett Bandy
C Christian Bethancourt
IF Andres Blanco
UT Emilio Bonifacio
RHP Michael Brady
RHP Hiram Burgos
OF Clint Coulter
RHP Erik Davis
RHP Victor Diaz
RHP Tim Dillard
RHP Paolo Espino
UT Nick Franklin (Elected minor league free agency on 10/13)
IF Jake Hager (re-signed on 10/29)
C Tyler Heineman
RHP Jim Henderson
RHP Ariel Hernandez
C Dustin Houle
OF Rymer Liriano
C Natanael Mejia
IF Dylan Moore
IF Gabriel Noriega
IF Shane Opitz
IF Fidel Pena
LHP Nick Ramirez
IF Darren Seferina
1B/OF Richie Shaffer
OF Tyrone Taylor (added to 40 man roster on 10/29)
RHP Jake Thompson
LHP Mike Zagurski (Elected minor league free agency on 10/13)

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. Wade Miley started last season playing on a minor league deal he signed with Milwaukee last February, and Xavier Cedeno began 2018 in the minors with the White Sox.

That being said, here are a few players that David Stearns ought to consider trying to keep around in the organization, including those who have already been retained:

OF Tyrone Taylor

Added to 40 man roster 10/29

At one point a long time ago, Taylor was considered to be the organization’s #1 prospect. But his development had seemingly stalled out at AA; he went unprotected and unpicked in the 2016 and 2017 Rule 5 Drafts, and played only 32 games in 2017 due to injuries. Fully healthy in 2018, he was challenged with his first-ever assignment to AAA Colorado Springs. Taylor wasn’t overmatched during his initial exposure to the highest level on the minors; on the contrary, he posted his best offensive season ever. It appears he used his time rehabbing last year to remake his batted ball profile, posting a .278/.321/.504 slash across 481 plate appearances for a career-best 110 wRC+. Taylor was never known for his power and hadn’t previously topped double-digit homers in any season as a pro, but he launched 20 balls into souvenir city while touring the Pacific Coast League this past season.

Taylor swiped 13 bases for the Sky Sox and also logged time at all three outfield positions, seeing a bulk of his time in center field (36 starts LF, 53 CF, 25 RF). That versatility, and Taylor’s full slate of minor league options, will be important for Milwaukee’s outfield depth in 2019. The soon-to-be 25 year old Taylor could theoretically replace Keon Broxton - who is out of options heading into next spring - as a right-handed hitter capable of manning center field.

INF Jake Hager

Re-signed to MiLB deal with Spring Training invite 10/29

Hager was a first-round pick by the Rays while Matt Arnold was working in the front office, and he joined Milwaukee on a minor league deal prior to the start of last season. He hit excellently as a 25 year old in AA, posting a .292/.371/.521 slash with 10 homers and six steals in 257 plate appearances for the Shuckers. He couldn’t carry that success over after a promotion to AAA, though, and finished the year by posting a .267/.301/.379 line with a single dinger and a pair of stolen bases in 123 plate appearances. Still, 2018 represented Hager’s best offensive performance since his 2012 season in Class A, and he’s highly regarded defensively according to Farm Director Tom Flanagan:

“We had good reports on him from what we had heard in the past. Defensively, he was as advertised – he really plays a good shortstop. He’s versatile, but we played him the bulk of his time at shortstop. Offensively, he really did impress. He swung the bat really well. It’s good to have him back. Another guy who’s a great teammate, great worker and a solid all-around player who can help us on both sides of the ball.

C Christian Bethancourt

The Brewers are a little thin with their upper level catching depth, and Bethancourt has big league experience and is coming off his arguably his best season ever in the minors. The well-regarded defender threw out 44% of runners trying to steal off him this year while batting .297/.328/.506 with 20 home runs in 418 plate appearances for Colorado Springs, and he only just recently turned 27 years old.

RHP Ariel Hernandez

Hernandez is your typical “guy who throws gas but has no idea where it’s going.” He walked 11 batters in 5.1 innings in Colorado Springs after he was picked by Milwaukee on waivers last August, and he issued 40 walks against 54 strikeouts in 55.1 innings between minor league stops with Cincinnati, Los Angeles, and Milwaukee in 2018. But he also held batters to a 2.93 ERA and will only be 27 next season. If he could just learn some semblance of command...

INF Dylan Moore

Moore played all over the diamond for Biloxi and Colorado Springs this season, spending most of his time at second and third base and most of the year with the Sky Sox. He hit for a ridiculous 1.067 OPS in 91 PA with Biloxi before getting called up and batting .280/.346/.492 with 11 homers and 17 steals in 363 PA for Colorado Springs. Moore just turned 26 in August.

RHP Jake Thompson

Thompson was claimed off waivers right around the same time as Ariel Hernandez was in August, and appeared in five games for Colorado Springs, yielding one run in 5.1 innings. He’s bounced between the majors and minors quite a bit over the last few seasons with Philadelphia, but the former top-100 overall prospect has yet to find his footing in The Show. He’ll only be 25 next season, so it might be worthwhile to keep him around and see if Milwaukee’s coaches can help him tap into his considerable potential.

RHP Tim Dillard

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs