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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 2020?

Milwaukee Brewers v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

We have already covered the five Major League players who can leave the Milwaukee Brewers via free agency during the upcoming offseason, as well as five others who could be departing depending on what decisions are made regarding their contract options. But there is one final, less discussed tier of free agency 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.

(Note: Deolis Guerra was able to elect free agency early based on his service time and has since re-signed with the club on an MLB deal. Additionally, Hernan Perez has already opted to become a free agent after he was outrighted off the 40-man roster.)

Our friends over at Brewerfan.net put compile the annual list of eligible players, and this year they have identified 14 players who will become minor league free agents five days after the completion of the World Series. Those men are:

C Tuffy Gosewisch
IF Jake Hager
IF/OF Nate Orf
LHP Angel Perdomo
SS Luis Aviles, Jr.
IF Bruce Caldwell
1B Patrick Leonard
RHP Jorge Ortega
RHP Tyler Spurlin
OF Dillon Thomas
RHP Rodrigo Benoit
IF Tucker Neuhaus
OF Wes Rogers
RHP Justin Topa

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. For example, Tyler Austin, Jay Jackson, Burch Smith, and Deolis Guerra all appeared in Milwaukee this season after signing minor league contracts. So with that being said, here are a few players that David Stearns ought to consider trying to keep around in the organization:

LHP Angel Perdomo

After spending seven seasons pitching in the minors for the Blue Jays, Perdomo signed with the Brewers and advanced to both the Double-A and Triple-A levels for the first time in his career. In his first season as a full-time reliever, Perdomo punched out 107 batters across 69.1 innings between the two stops, spending most of his time (54.0 innings) with San Antonio. He proved difficult to hit at the highest level of the minors, allowing only 47 base knocks and a .230 batting average against in addition to all the strikeouts. But he did issue 6.33 walks per nine with the Missions, and was stung by some bad lack (.355 BABIP) as well as the juiced baseball (1.33 HR/9) on the way to a bloated 5.17 ERA. But Deserved Run Average viewed the sum total of his work in Triple-A as above-average, giving him an 85 DRA-. He impressed Craig Counsell with his fastball/slider combination while pitching in camp last spring and if possesses some enticing upside if he can sync up his 6’6” frame and figure out a way to throw strikes more frequently. He turns 26 next May.

RHP Justin Topa

The Brewers plucked Topa up out of independent ball shortly before the start of the 2019 regular season. He has previously battled injuries in his career but posted a combined 3.38 ERA with only one home run allowed in 40.0 innings between Class A-Advanced Carolina and Double-A Biloxi. Topa punched out 41 batters between the two stops for a 9.2 K/9 rate that was the highest of his career. Never one who has issued many walks, only 10 batters drew a free pass against him. Topa will be 29 next season, but he’s missed plenty of developmental time and throws 99 MPH heat that he’s finally learning how to miss bats with. It might be worth keeping him around to see if he is about to come into his own on the mound.

SS Luis Aviles, Jr.

The Brewers aren’t exactly deep in upper-level shortstop depth, so retaining Aviles might not be the worst idea. Aviles is the definition of a fleet-footed, slick-fielding shortstop, earning a nod from Baseball America as the top baserunner in the Southern League (27 stolen bases) while drawing rave reviews for his glove at every level. The bat hasn’t come along as well as his defense, and he posted a .253/.322/.327 slash with a pair of homers in 341 plate appearances (91 wRC+) for Biloxi this season. He turns 25 next spring.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference, Fangraphs, and Baseball Prospectus