Diamonds in the rough? Minor league free agents

There is not much talk about minor league free agents, but here in the list of all the minor league free agents this off season from Baseball America. Are there any potential diamonds in the rough for the Twins to consider?

Given the Twins system needs for major-league ready righty relievers, better fielding middle infielders, third basemen and power right handed bats, the following might be good fits. I do not expect anything to happen before the Rule 5 draft in December.

The age listed is projected age on opening day 2009 (I am not including players 30 and in the list, even though someone like Jason Lane, Jay Gibbons, Bobby Scales, Ben Broussard, Mike Koplove, Jeff Weaver or Michael Burns might be of interest to some teams) :

Right Hand Relievers:

Jose Garcia RHP, 24. Career: 2.82 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 9.24 K/9, 3.98 K/BB. Garcia took the Marlins organization by storm moving from the Rookie Gulf Coast league to the AAA Pacific Coast league and earned a September call up as a starter in only 2 seasons. He then needed Tommy John surgery and lost all 2007. Came back in the Athletics' organization in 2008 and pitched 19 innings of relief accumulating a 3.32 ERA with a 0.84 WHIP, 4 BB and 20 K. The numbers suggest that his elbow is fine. Very young for his progress, he is a no-brainer signee for any organization.

Brandon Medders, RHP, 29. Good arm but somewhat erratic. Career 4.44 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 9.49 K/9, 2.5 K/BB. Most of it the last 5 years in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast league. Four years MLB (NL) experience 3.52 ERA, 1.391 WHIP, 6.50 K/9, 1.65 K/BB. He will be in a major league bullpen in 2009.

Paul Bush RHP, 29. Might be a steal. Career 3.23 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 9.39 K/9, 2.70 K/BB

Oneli Perez RHP, 26. Career: 2.99 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 9.72 K/9, 3.15 K/BB. Other than a horrible 2007, which made the Indians take him off their 40-man roster and the Yankees claiming him with similar results, Oneli Perez has been a lights out reliever in the minors. He has a very heavy sinker complemented by a nasty slider. He is a lot rike a right handed version of Jose Mijares. If he regains his confidence from the sub-par 2008, he could be a good set up man in the majors. An interesting factoid is that Perez was born with 12 fingers. Update: 12/24/08: Signed with the San Diego Padres.

David ShaferRHP, 27. Career 3.17 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 8.93 K/9, 2.49 K/BB. Once a touted closing prospect for the Reds (2.34 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 26 saves in Chattanooga, Southern league) was traded to the As for Kirk Saarloos before the 2007 season. Of course, in the A's organization he met the Pacific Coast League where he disappointed. He has a 92 mph fastball a decent slider and an immature change up. He could benefit from a chance inscenery.

Ferdin Tejeda RHP, 26. Made the transition from a light hitting SS to a pitcher in 2005, so his arm is not abused. Career 2.60 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 6.93 K/9, 3.74 K/BB. Excellentcontrol, never made it above A+ (Carolina league), definitely worth a look to supplement the minor league system.

Cory Doyne RHP, 27. Career 3.31 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 8.74 K/9, 1.94 K/BB. Was the closer for the Norfolk Tides (International League) in 2007 producing a great season with 2.23 ERA and 0.88 WHIP. Had rotator cuff surgery last year and came back fine producing a 3.43 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 11.57 K/9 and 3.86 K/BB in 21 innings in 4 levels. Another potential steal, he very likely be a middle reliever in the majors next year. He also is quite a character.

Jose Capellan RHP, 28. Career: 3.26 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 8.14 K/9, 2.38 K/BB. Spent parts of 4 season and the whole 2006 in the Majors as a middle reliever with the Brewers appearing in 61 games, pitching 71.7 innings, 31 BB, 58 K, 4.40 ERA and 1.34 WHIP. His career MLB numbers are 4.89 ERA, 1.435 WHIP, 7.17 K/9, 1.96. Once a great prospect in the Braves' organization was traded to Milwaukee for Danny Kolb, the post season after 2004 when Danny Kolb was an All Star and saved 39 games. Up to that point, he was a great starting pitcher advancing from Rookie league to AAA in just 3 seasons. He missed all of 2002 with Tommy John surgery. His best pitch is a 100 mph rising four seamer. He does have control problems and needs to develop his secondary pitches (slider and change up) better to be a more effective reliever, but he can produce as a middle reliever in a major league club (preferably with a good pitching coach) next season. A sure bet to sign a minor league contract and get invited to Spring Training with a club.

Nic Ungs RHP, 29. Career: 3.70 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 5.98 K/9, 2.97 K/BB. Nic Ungs, a starter, is tale of two stories: He is a very good pitcher in any other league than the Pacific Coast League and he is awful in the Pacific Coast League. Last season, in Huntsville (Southern League) he had an ERA of 1.96 and a WHIP of 1.00; after his promotion to Nashville (Pacific Coast league) his numbers ballooned to 7.49 ERA and 1.54 WHIP. Similarly in 2006 and 2007 in Albuquerque he posted a 4.00 ERA/1.46 WHIP and 4.98 ERA/1.49 WHIP respectively. His stuff is soft and the hitter's league exposes it. A transition to a reliever might be beneficial as would be playing time in leagues other than the Pacific Coast League.

Matt Peterson 27, RHP. Career: 3.93 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 7.44 K/9, 1.91 K/BB. A second round draft pick by the Mets and ranked as the 4th best Mets' prospect in 2004 by Baseball America, was the centerpiece of the trade that brought Kris Benson to the Mets. A starter with the Mets, made the transition to the pen with the Pirates where he served as the Altoona (Eastern league) closer in 2007, producing 1.98 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 29 saves, 56 K and 27 BB in 63.2 innings. Blocked in the Pirates' system he just had a cup of coffee in AAA with Indianapolis that season, then released and signed by Kansas City playing in 4 different teams in that organization. Still relatively young, will need work with his control to make it to the bigs but he has the talent.

Felix Romero 28, RHP. Career: 3.52 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 10.87 K/9, 3.77 K/BB. A strikeout machine with excellent control but a steroid violation suspension in 2005 as well.

Tim Spooneybarger 29, RHP. Career: 1.79 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 10.98 K/9, 2.70 K/BB. The primary closer for Richmond Braves (international league) in 2001 and 2002 where he dominated the league at a rate of 0.71 ERA and 1.06 WHIP in 2001 and 0.90 ERA and 1.05 WHIP in 2002. Earned a promotion to the Braves in 2002 where he delivered producing 2.63 ERA and 1.247 WHIP. He was the main trading chip to Florida for Mike Hampton in that off season, where he produced a 0.905 WHIP. He stated a band (Mad Ink) with his former teammate AJ Burnett. With all those numbers, and a name like that, where is the catch? 2 Tommy John surgeries back to back in 2004 and 2005, missing most of 2005 and all of 2006 and 2007. He played in 6 games in low A in 2008, pitching 7 innings, striking out 12 and walking 4 (3.68 ERA, 1.77 WHIP). Clearly not 100% percent but also clearly the biggest potential bargain among the listed. A team should take the risk an play him in A ball and by September might end up with a solid set up man in the majors.

J.D. Martin RHP, 26. Career 3.50 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 7.76 K/9, 3.14 K/BB. Not flashy, but steady. A first round Cleveland pick out of high school had great potential until he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2005 and transitioned into a reliever. He had to change his delivery and lost some of his effectiveness. Another gamble that might pay off huge for a team that is good about mechanics coaching. Update 12/13/2009: Signed with the Nationals

Lee Gronkiewicz RHP, 30. Career: 2.44 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 9.41 K/9, 3.82 K/BB. Just a cup of coffee in the majors. His biggest problem was that he pitched for clubs that had great bullpens (CLE, TOR, BOS) so he was stuck in the minors. Now his biggest problem is that he just underwent Tommy John surgery and will be out in 2009. He might come back as a 31 year old in 2010. I doubt that he will find any takers this off season, but maybe next.

Erick Abreu RHP, 25. Career: 3.34 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 7.41 K/9, 2.90 K/BB. A relatively young part-time starter in the Yankees' system and last season in the Astros' organization, never made it above High A. No health problems, he might be a guy that a team might take a flier on to work as a middle reliever in ahigh A or AA club.

Middle Infielders:

Tony Granadillo, 2B, 24, SH. Career .287/.375/.441. Good eye, some pop. Decent second baseman, bad third baseman. Young enough to fill a spot at AA. Last year he regressed in Portland (Eastern League) hitting .232/.342/.338. 2004 rule 5 draftee, a couple times Minor League All star (2004 Appy League, 2007 California League)

Callix Crabbe 2B, 26, SH. Career: .276/.368/.382. The diminutive (5'7" 171lbs) second baseman from the Milwaukee organization showed enough potential on the field and the base paths that was picked in the 2007 Rule 5 draft by the Padres; however, his light hitting led to his return to Milwaukee after a month an a half in the bigs. A great fielder, selected to the All-star team in the California league in 2004 and has been in the top 5 in his respective leagues in assists, putouts, triples and stolen bases since. Good plate discipline but not great contact. His strong defense will make him a useful part of an organization. Crabbe won a community service award for the Nashville Sounds in 2007. Update 12/5/2008: Signed with the Seattle Mariners.

Jesus Guzman 2B/3B, 24, RH. Career: .295/.365/.463. Jesus Guzman is a better bat than a glove and part of his career numbers are inflated by his career year with the High Desert Maverics (California league in 2007) where he hit .301/.370/.539 with 25 Home runs and 112 RBI. He, however, improved in 2008 with the Midland Rockhounds (Texas league) hitting .364/.419/.560. There were defensive concerns at third base (his original position) but the switch in 2B paid dividends. A high ceiling player who is just 24 years old. Update 12/4/08: Singed with the San Fransisco Giants

Pedro Lopez SS, 24, RH. Career: .275/.324/.352. Pedro is a great shortstop with the glove. Great hands, great range, decent arm. His bat lacks and he was rushed through the White Sox' and Reds' systems before he learned to hit. He was in low Rookie at 17 and at the majors at 21, playing mostly in AAA (International League) afterwards. The Intenation League is not the best place to develop a 21 year old prospect, because it has some of the best pitchers in the minors. Pedro should probably start 2009 in a AA league and work his way up. His glove and flashes of offensive potential (.322/.358/.453 with 5 HR in Birmingham, Southern league in 2006) prove that. He would be a very good signing for the right team that will not rush him.

Don Kelly, 2B, 29, LH. Good field, average hit, think Punto. Career .282/.355/.378

Jesus Merchan, SS, 28. RH. Decent field, better hit. Started his career in the Twins organization and when departed learned to hit. Career .295/.344/.389. Update: 12/23/08. Singed with the Cleveland Indians

Doug Bernier SS/2B, 28, SH. Career .244/.357/.322 hitter and he played the last two season in Colorado Springs (Pacific Coast League). Probably the best fielding middle infielder in the list, excellent range and hands in both SS (his primary position) and 2B. His hitting is his weakness. Prototypical all field, light hit middle infielder; however he always had good plate discipline and drawn a bunch of walks. Update 12/5/08: Singed with the New York Yankees

Third Basemen:

Vasili Spanos 3B, 28, RH. Career: .291/.379/.454. Excellent plate disipline and adequate fielding at 3B made him ascent the Oakland system very fast. An All-American from Indiana University, a minor league All Star and a former Olympian (with the Greek Baseball team) is probably the best third baseman in this list. He is diabetic, and a sounds like a good guy. Stagnated and blocked in the Oakland system, played for Juniper (Florida State League) last season, hitting .271/.353/.432. A prime candidate for change of scenery improvement.

Tony Blanco 3B/1B/OF, 27, RH. Career .279/.331/.496. Even though Blanco is just 27 he amassed a full 9 seasons of minor league ball. Last season with the Tulsa Drillers (Texas League) he batted .323/.385/.587 with 23 HR and 88 RBI. In 2004 as a 22 year old he hit 29 home runs split between the Potomac Cannons (Carolina League) and Chattanooga (Southern League). This made the Nationals draft him next winter in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft, giving him a spot in New Orleans (Pacific Coast League) and 40-men rosters and calling himup to the bigs for most of the season. Blanco is very bad at third base. He has a career .845 fielding percentage. He mostly projects as a 1B/LF/DH type, but has some pop in his bat and is young enough to find takers.

Joel Guzman 3B/SS, 24, RH. Career .264/.311/.446. Joel joined the Dodger's organization as a Shortstop at 17, but at 6'6" and 225 lbs, he does not have the prototypical middle infielder body and was switched to third base in his fourth season in the minors. He was rushed through the Dodgers organization and reached his first cup of coffee in the bigs as a September call up at age 21 in 2006. The next post season he was traded to the Rays for Julio Lugo. His best season was 2004 where as a 19 year old he hit for .297/.341/.540 with 23 HR and 86 RBI splitting time between Vero Beach (Florida State League) and Jacksonville (Southern league). Joel was rushed before he could develop plate discipline or could improve his fielding. He would be a perfect fit for an organization like the Twins that would allow him to do so. He is just 23 and has a lot of potential. A demotion to AA allowing him to work his way up could do wonders for him. Another no-brainer signee. Update 12/13/2009: Signed with the Nationals

Andrew Pinckney 3B, 26, SH. Career: .277/.332/.444. Decent range, strong arm, average glove. Andrew is somewhat of an enigma. He was an all star in the South Atlantic League as a 23 year old in 2005 batting .311/.362/.535 with 21 HRs and 98 RBI but could not have guessed his power numbers from his college track record where he hit .415/.480/.721 with 7 HRs in his senior year at Emory. Nevertheless he did not put similar power numbers again and never made it above the AA level. Still a respectable player to have as organizational depth and young enough at 26 to take a flier on. Update: 12/5/2008: Singed with the Toronto Blue Jays

Matt Craig 3B/1B, 27, SH. Career .283/.368/.464. Buscher-like on the field at 3B, better at 1B. Former 3rd round draft pick by the Cubs; had 20 HR in 376 AB for the Diamond Jaxx in 2004 (Southern League) and 19 HR in 248 AB his last year of College. Not much of a third baseman on the field, and not much power the last few years to fit in the next category, but a team might consider him. Update 12/8/2008: signed with the Florida Marlins

Power Right Hand Bats:

Victor Diaz OF, 27, RH. Career: .291/.344/.476 (minors, 7 seasons) .256/.309/.487 (majors, parts of 4 seasons). Diaz was once a highly touted Mets prospect who as a 22 year old in AAA hit .292/.331/.491 with 24 HRs and 94 RBI. He earned a September call up and spend most of 2005 in the majors where he hit .257/.329/.468. Diaz has power. He hit a total of 24 HR and drove in 73 runs in the majors in 147 games and 446 AB (parts of 4 seasons). These are pretty decent numbers, given the fact that he produced them between ages 22 and 25. His problem has been plate discipline. In the majors he struck out 135 times and walked 32. This is a lot in 446 AB. He is just entering his prime and last season in the Pacific Coast League his K:BB ratio dropped from his usual 4:1 to 3:1. This is some improvement. If he gets it down to 2:1 territory and makes better contract, he will be a big contributor in the majors, because he has a lot of raw power.

Jason Dubois OF/1B, 29, RH. Career .288/.361/.529. Prototypical power hitter (6'5" 220lbs). Drafted by Toronto in the rule 5 draft in 2002 but did not stick. Traded by the Cubs to the Indians for Jody Gerut in 2005 but did not meet expectations. Career .233/.286/.443 in the majors, but mashed minor league pitching starting his minor league career at A ball and climbing a level a year until he had 30 HR and 99 RBI in 385 AB for Iowa (Pacific Coast league) in 2004 and got his call to the majors. Had 30 HRs in AAA last year spitting time between Columbus (international League) and Iowa. His slash line in Iowa was .307/.399/.664. Even though he is on the older side, he could help a major league team next year. Has been a minor league free agent the last 3 years, signing but not sticking with 2 different oranizations including the Orioles and Nationals.

Brad Eldred 1B, 28, RH. Career .263/.321/.538. Brad is a big bopper (6'5" 270 lbs). Last season in Charlotte (International league) he hit 35 home runs, drove in 100 and slugged .546. The down side is that he also had 144 strikeouts and only 28 walks. His record is 38 home runs in a season (in 2005 split between Altoona, Eastern League, and Lynchburg, Carolina League) Hit all and miss all mentality that is common to power hitters but not sure how it would sit with the Twins' brass. UPDATE 12/4/08: Singed with the Washington Nationals

Nate Gold 1B/DH, 28, RH. Career .268/.348/.489. Nate is a power hitter in the Randy Ruiz mold. Nate was a star collegiate first baseman hitting .333/.416/.842 with 33 HR and 76 RBI in 228 AB in his senior year at Gonzaga. His best season in the minors was in 2006 with Frisco (Texas league) when he hit .292/.376/.582 with 34 HR and 103 RBI in 452 AB. He projects mostly as a DH but has a lot of raw power. As with most power hitters plate discipline (esp. with breaking pitches) has been a problem for Nate.

Javier Brito, OF/1B, 26, RH. Career .306/.398/.481; great plate discipline, 16 HR in 264 AB in California league in 2006. Think a younger version of Randy Ruiz with a little less power and much better (i.e. average) on the field

Todd Linden OF/1B, 28, RH. Career .289/.382/.489. Claim to fame: one of 12 players to ever slash a home run ball into the Dodger Stadium upper deck. He also had a .321/.437/.682 30 HR season in Fresno in 2005, but that's in the Pacific Coast League, and by this part of this post you should know what it means ;) . Someone will sign him, but should not expect more than his .231/.303/.335 slash line in the majors for parts of 5 seasons.

Matt Whitney 1B, 25, RH. Career: .260/.340/.431.
These numbers do not make him belonging in this list, but his 2007 performance (.299/.364/.545 32 HR 113 RBI split between Lake County, South Atlantic League and Kinston, Carolina League) does. He might have been promoted too soon but he is a first round draft pick (2002, Indians) who is young enough to find an organization
that would let him reach his potential. Strike this, he just signed with the Nationals...

So here you have it: my list of the most intriguing minor league free agents. Who will be the diamond in the rough? We will found out soon.