The Royals seem to be missing out on a lot of the big hot stove headlines right now, but a lot of times it is the under-the-radar transactions that end up being more significant. Minor league free agency can be a good way to not only fill out your Triple-A roster, but maybe find a useful piece or two for the big league level. A few years ago, the Royals signed a starting pitcher minor league free agent from the Dodgers named Scott Barlow and turned him into a reliever. Last year he turned into one of the best relievers in baseball. Other solid minor league free agents in the past year include Cubs infielders Patrick Wisdom and Frank Schwindel, and Marlins reliever Anthony Bender.
Players can become free agents after six years of service time in the big leagues, but they can also become minor league free agents if they are not on the 40-man roster or under contract after six full seasons in the minor leagues.
You can see a list of minor league free agents from Baseball America here. The Royals have a few free agents that would be worth re-signing such as catchers Nick Dini and Meibrys Viloria, infielder Jeison Guzman, outfielder Rudy Martin, and pitcher Carlos Sanabria. But they’ll likely need to go outside the organization to fill out rosters, and who knows, maybe they can find another gem or two in this crowd. With a possible lockout coming this week, here are some minor league free agents worth taking a look at:
Dalton Kelly - The Royals probably don’t need a first baseman in the upper minors with Nick Pratto likely to at least begin the year in Omaha, Vinnie Pasquantino right behind him, and Ryan O’Hearn possibly still in the mix, even if the Royals non-tender him as they are expected to do. But if they do need another slugger in the mix, Dalton Kelly is one of the best bats available. Originally a 38th-round pick by the Mariners, Kelly was traded to the Rays and erupted for 27 home runs in 110 games in Triple-A Durham last year. The 27-year old left-hander has some plate discipline with a 12.9 percent walk rate, and can even run a bit, swiping 17 bases in 20 tries this year.
Allen Córdoba - The Royals love positional versatility, so instead of spending a few million on a Chris Owings-type player, they could give a chance to 25-year old Allen Córdoba. He reached the big leagues at a very young age in 2017 as a Rule 5 pick but has yet to make it back despite decent minor league numbers. He hit .299/.392/.446 with five home runs in 74 games in Double-A this year and has generally shown good contact skills and decent speed. His main position has been third base, but he has spent a lot of time at shortstop and in the outfield as well, and could be a useful bench piece.
Drew Jackson - Similar to Córdoba, Jackson is a versatile utility player who has a career 10.9 percent walk rate in the minors and decent pop for a middle infielder. The 28-year old hit .251/.397/.424 with 9 home runs and 24 steals in 85 games for Triple-A Syracuse this year. Jackson has a few games of MLB experience, and has already played in four organizations - the Mariners, Dodgers, Orioles, and Mets.
Shed Long, Jr. - Long was considered a top ten prospect in the Reds’ and Mariners’ organizations up until recently, but he has failed to hit much in parts of three seasons with Seattle with a line of .216/.284/.376. He is still just 26 years old, and brings a left-handed bat that can play at second base or in the outfield. He has some decent power for a middle infielder and showed some decent speed in the minors.
Yolmer Sánchez - A former Gold Glove winner at second base, Sanchez was let go by the White Sox in 2020, and hit just .216/.309/.352 in Triple-A for the Braves last year. He brings a solid glove that can play all infield positions, and he has seven years of experience despite not yet reaching his 30th birthday. His bat isn’t great, but as a bench piece he can provide a good glove with good versatility.
Trey Cabbage - Full disclosure, he caught my eye because his name was “Trey Cabbage.” But let us leaf the puns behind and look at what this player can produce. The former fourth round pick for the twins can play corner infield and outfield, and smacked 27 home runs in the minors last year, including 18 for Double-A Wichita. He whiffs a ton, but the left-handed hitter is still just 24 years old.
Johneshwy Fargas - A club that fetishizes speed should be all over Fargas. The 26-year old Puerto Rican has put up four 40+ stolen base seasons in the minors and is known as a plus baserunner. A right-handed bat, Fargas isn’t totally bereft of power, hitting 29 home runs in 627 minor league games, but he’s more of a gap hitter. Fargas has 22 games of MLB experience, and could be a useful bench player.
Derek Fisher - Once ranked by MLB Pipeline as a Top 100 prospect, Fisher has since bounced around from the Astros to the Blue Jays, before playing in four games with the Brewers last year. He hit well in Triple-A in 2019, but has failed to hit in 172 Major League games due to a 35 percent strikeout rate. Fisher brings a good power/speed combo and is a left-handed bat. At age 28, he may be a late bloomer that just needs a chance to play.
Dustin Fowler - Also a former Top 100 prospect (2018, Baseball America), Fowler has since bounced from the Yankees to the Athletics to the Marlins to the Pirates. He has appeared in 88 Major League games, hitting just .215/.253/.326, but has never seemed to recover from a knee injury he experienced with the A’s. Fowler is 26 years old and hits lefty with decent power when healthy.
Gregory Polanco - After eight years as a starter with the Pirates, Polanco was released last summer after hitting .208 with 11 home runs in 107 games. The right-fielder has two 20+ home run seasons, and has stolen 98 bases, with a career line of .241/.309/.409. The 30-year old has not been a particularly good defender, so if he’s not hitting - and he hasn’t the last two seasons - he is a liability.
Christin Stewart - Once a promising Tigers prospect and Opening Day left fielder, Stewart’s power never really materialized at the big league level. In parts of three seasons, he hit .225/.300/.376 with 15 home runs in 157 games. He spent all of last year in Triple-A, hitting .254/.339/.538 with 21 home runs for Toledo. Stewart is a 27-year old left-handed hitter who could be useful as a fourth outfielder.
Mailon Arroyo - A converted infielder, Arroyo took a big leap in command this year, walking just seven hitters in 40 2⁄3 innings of relief. He has put up good strikeout numbers in the minors with 11.6 whiffs-per-nine-innings in his career. He was a 23-year old in A-ball last year, but with some more experience, he could be an interesting project.
A.J. Cole - Another former top prospect, Cole has experience in parts of seven big league seasons with the Nationals, Yankees, Indians, and Blue Jays. In 205 1⁄3 innings, he has a 4.51 ERA with 9.1 strikeouts-per-nine innings. He has a 93 mph fastball with a plus slider and has a 3.14 ERA in 55 appearances in the last three seasons.
Jon Duplantier - Another former Top 100 prospect, Duplantier has a 6.70 ERA in 49 2⁄3 big league innings with a high walk rate. The former Diamondbacks third-round pick has an imposing 6’4’’, 230 pound frame, but averages just 92 mph on his fastball. He is a sinkerballer who had some finger issues last summer and elbow issues in 2020, but a change of scenery or even a move to the bullpen may benefit the 27-year old right-hander.
Jimmy Cordero - If you’re looking for gas, Jimmy Cordero is your man. He averages 97 mph on his fastball and has been known to hit triple digits. He posted a 2.89 ERA for the White Sox in 2019, but regressed in 2020, and has yet to translate his velocity into good strikeout numbers in the big leagues. He missed all of last year after Tommy John surgery and won’t be ready til next summer, but could make for an interesting reclamation project.
Brandon Finnegan - The former Royals first-round pick and World Series pitcher has struggled to stay healthy since he was traded from Kansas City in the Johnny Cueto deal. Now 28, the left-hander from TCU had a 5.53 ERA in 55 1⁄3 innings of relief in Triple-A with 5.9 walks-per-nine innings. Finnegan is probably a reliever at this point, but he throws a low 90s fastball with a sinker, slider, and change up.
Nick Goody - The 30-year old right-hander has a 4.19 ERA in parts of six big league seasons with 10.8 strikeouts-per-nine innings. He throws his slider more than half the time, pairing it with a 93 mph fastball. He didn’t pitch well in 2020 with the Rangers, and bounced between the Yankees and Nationals organizations last year without getting a callup.
Mark Leiter, Jr. - The son of former big leaguer, junior has pitched in 114 Major League innings with a 5.53 ERA. He missed all of 2019 after Tommy John surgery, but returned this year to strike out 145 hitters in 114 2⁄3 innings with a 3.77 ERA across Double-A and Triple-A. Leiter throws in the low 90s, but has a deep arsenal with a curveball, cutter, and change up. The 30-year old right-hander may just be organizational depth, but he can miss bats and make a spot start in the big leagues if needed.
Reyes Moronta - The 28-year old is a huge presence on the mound, tipping the scales at 265 pounds, but he also brings a mid-to-high 90s fastball and has struck out 162 hitters in 132 1⁄3 big league innings. Elbow injuries have plagued him and he missed much of this season with a UCL sprain. He was worth 2.9 rWAR in 2018-2019 with a 2.66 ERA for the Giants, and could be a good reclamation project if he’s healthy.
Mario Sanchez - The 27-year old Venezuelan right-hander is a strike-thrower with one of the best walk rates in the upper minors at just 1.8 walks-per-nine innings. He struck out over a hitter per inning with a 4.16 ERA in the minors for the Nationals this year. Batters hit just .239/.283/.425 against him last year, and he could be a decent depth signing.