We have already covered the one Major League player who can leave the Milwaukee Brewers via free agency during the upcoming offseason, as well as four 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.
This is normally a pretty hefty list of players, which is tracked annually by our friends at Brewerfan.net. However, with no minor league baseball played this year and contraction looming on the horizon, the Brewers were among many MLB clubs who decided to preemptively release several of their outgoing prospects during the summer. It was also decided by the league that this year would count as service time for minor leaguers, even without any games. After letting go of dozens of players, that leaves only four Milwaukee minor leaguers who will reach free agency in another few days now that the World Series has concluded. They are:
RHP Aaron Wilkerson
Part of the Aaron Hill trade with Boston in 2016, Wilkerson appeared in parts of three seasons for Milwaukee as an up-and-down arm from 2017-2019. He was previously outrighted off the 40-man roster and was not a member of the 60-man player pool in Appleton this summer. A former indy ball grinder, Wilkerson was undrafted out of college and pitched in the United League, Frontier League, and American Association before catching on with the Red Sox in 2014. He has posted a career 3.11 ERA in 624.2 minor league innings, including a 3.62 mark across 251.1 innings at Triple-A. Wilkerson has made 14 appearances (3 starts) in the big leagues for Milwaukee, posting a 6.88 ERA in 35.1 innings pitched. He’ll turn 32 next season.
IF Jake Gatewood
Milwaukee’s competitive balance pick at #41 overall back in 2014, Gatewood was drafted with the type of raw power grades that scouts usually only dream about. He did crush 74 home runs in 607 games, including double-digit homers in each of his five full minor league seasons and a high of 19 in 94 games in 2018. But the hit tool has yet to develop for Gatewood, as he’s punched out at a 30% rate while batting only .235/.289/.397 in 2,520 plate appearances across all levels, topping out at Double-A. Drafted as a shortstop, Gatewood has spent most of his time at first and third base in the last few years with a few cameos in the outfield. Having just turned 25, Gatewood is still young enough to hope that he turns a corner with his approach, and the Brewers are thin organizationally at the two positions he plays the most. He was not a part of the 60-man roster over the summer and didn’t play any organized baseball in 2020.
RHP Nelson Hernandez
An international signing out of Venezuela, Hernandez doesn’t turn 24 until next March and has steadily climbed the organizational ladder over the last several years with middling results. He began by spending two years in the Dominican Summer League, then pitched a full season at each successive affiliate until topping out with the Class A-Advanced Carolina Mudcats in 2019. For his career, Hernandez owns a 5.11 ERA across 509.1 innings across all levels and has been a consistent innings-eater at every stop he’s made. He did not pitch anywhere in 2020.
RHP Alec Kenilvort
A former 15th-round pick by the Rockies back in 2014, Kenilvort spent parts of three years in their lower minors before getting cut loose. He pitched a partial season in the Frontier League before catching on with the Brewers in 2017, and then spent all of 2018 in Class A-Advanced Carolina. Kenilvort missed all of 2019 after undergoing Tommy John surgery then did not pitch anywhere this past summer. For his professional career, he owns a 4.93 ERA in 221.0 innings across all affiliated and independent levels.
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. With that being said, David Stearns might consider trying to keep one or more of these players around the organization. Wilkerson has big league experience, and Gatewood is a still-young, post-hype prospect at a position of organizational need. On the same token, there will be far fewer minor league roster spots to hand out in 2021. This will certainly be an interesting offseason to follow.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference