Saturday, December 31, 2016

Another Six-Pack of Minor League Signings

Here's another six pack of minor league free agent signings from this winter. So far this winter, I have done three of these and each focused on pre-December signings. Today's group were all added in the final month of 2016.

By Minda Haas Kuhlmann (CC by 2.0) via Flickr
Lane Adams, OF, 27 years-old

Drafted in the 13th round of the 2009 draft out of Red Oaks, Oklahoma, Adams began his career in the Royals system. A right-hand hitter who grew into his 6'3" frame, Adams developed a bit of pop with double digit homerun years beginning in 2012 and continuing through last season. Along the way, he has shown a decent enough bat with a .269 career batting average and .344 on-base percentage. He's also become much more adept at swiping bases. After a career-high 19 steals in 2012, he set a new record the following year with 38 steals and tied his own record again in 2014. After 31 steals in 2015, he stole a new high 44 bases last year. He also briefly appeared for the Royals in 2014 for six games (0-for-3 at the plate). Last year, he headed to the Yankees on waivers. He was cut last July but hooked on with the Cubs' Double-A squad for a good month of August.

Adams does possess some interesting qualities like a career .141 ISO, 208 steals, and he's capable of playing center field. However, despite all of his success, Adams has never been able to hit Triple-A pitching. Curiously, he's rarely received an opportunity. During his career, he has played 300 more games at Double-A than Triple-A and originally reached Double-A in 2013. Nevertheless, it's a small black mark on his minor league career. Adams seems like a potential fourth outfielder ala Darren Bragg, but he's going to have to hit above Double-A first.

Andrew Albers, LHP, 31 years-old

There's always a job for a left-hander. Albers began his career as a tenth rounder in the Padres' system in '08 but would miss a pair of seasons after needing Tommy John. The Padres cut him and after re-establishing himself as a prospect in the independent Canadian-American Association, the Twins signed Albers for the 2011 season. They tried to use him as a starter because he fit their mold for starters at the time (control artist, gets grounders, low strikeout numbers). It got Albers to the majors in 2013 for ten starts with iffy results (4.05 ERA, 3.96 FIP, 4.42 xFIP). He would be cut after the season so that Albers could try his luck in Korea. In the hyper-offensive KBO, his numbers took a turn toward ugly and he returned as a minor league free agent for the Blue Jays. He spent most of 2015 struggling in Triple-A, though he did log 2.2 innings in the majors. Last year included a one-start reign with Lancaster in the Atlantic League before the Twins swooped in and grabbed him. While he again spent most of the year in the International League (though with better results), he also pitched 17 innings for the Twins with a 6.15 FIP.

For some reason, teams still consider Albers a starter even though he can't get righties out. If we just look at his major league split, the differences are stark. While Albers will never record big strikeout numbers, he also won't walk lefties. That allows him to limit lefties to a .268 OBP despite a .250 batting average against the lefty. He's given up just two homers and walked just two lefties in the majors. That could help him compete for a spot on the Braves this spring, but Albers is going to have to prove he has something a little extra. He does have a four-pitch mix, though he works primarily off his mid-80's sinker and high-70's slider. He'll also toss a slow high-60's curve along with a rare 77 mph change-of-pace. He's definitely in the mix, but he's got the deck stacked against him.

Manny Barreda, RHP, 28 years-old

Over the last few years, the Braves have added a number of former Yankee farmhands. Barreda, a 12th rounder in 2007 by the Yanks, is just another that fits the bill. It took Barreda five years to establish himself in a full season minor league as he appeared in 45 games for Charleston in 2011. It would be the first time Barreda excited you with his strikeout numbers (10 per nine innings) and frustrated you with his walk totals (6 per nine innings). In 2013, he finally reached Double-A, but the Yankees were beginning to grow tired of waiting for Barreda to put it together. He'd be cut in July of 2014 and immediately joined the Brewers' system. After a nice finish to 2014, he opened 2015 in Mexico before rejoining the Brewers to finish the season. He would spend all of 2016 in Mexico.

Barreda has yet to play in Triple-A (not counting the Mexican League) and while he has over a strikeout-an-inning during his career, it does not completely overcome a 4.8 BB/9 rate and an unimpressive 0.7 HR/9. Shortly before he signed with the Braves, Barreda did something fairly noteworthy. While pitching for the Caneros de los Mochis, he tossed a no-hitter. He would need 138 pitches to do so, though walked just one and struck out nine. A flyball pitcher, scouting reports are pretty scarce for Barreda. His fastball during the no-hitter was in the 91-93 mph range while his breaking stuff (which may have been two different pitches) looked to be about 82-85 mph.

Emilio Bonifacio, UTIL, 31 years-old

What more needs to be said about Bonifacio? For a decade, he's been hanging around the majors and playing nearly every position on the field while doing so. He's a career .258/.315/.335 hitter in the majors with 166 steals and not much else that stands out. Last year, after the Braves surprisingly gave him a major league deal despite a .198 OBP with the White Sox in 2015, Atlanta ultimately cut Bonifacio right before the season and later brought him back on a minor league deal. He was a solid member of a better-than-advertised Gwinnett ballclub, slashing .298/.356/.369 with 37 steals over 107 games. He was rarely utilized as an infielder (just two games at second base). Bonifacio also received a pair of callups to the majors and especially during the first call-up, he was used entirely too frequently (streak of 15 consecutive games played).

Bonifacio is who he is at this point. He won't get on base that well and even when he does, his speed isn't the weapon it once was. While his defensive flexibility is an asset, he's only carried a positive grade at second base and in right field (though the latter has sample size issues). He's sometimes more of a detriment to a team than anything as managers fall in love with his intangibles and lose perspective on what Bonifacio really brings to the team. As Triple-A depth, you can do worse and with any luck, Triple-A will be exactly where he spends 2017.

By Sports Crazy on Flickr (Original version) UCinternational
(Crop) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Rhiner Cruz, RHP, 30 years-old

Like Barreda, Cruz is coming back to affiliated ball after a season spent in the Mexican League. Unlike Barreda, the previous two years for Cruz mostly saw the right-hander play for the Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan. The last time Cruz pitched full-time in the states was 2013 - also the last time he was in the majors. Originally a non-July international signing by the Tigers in 2003, Cruz was rarely healthy for the Tigers before being cut. He signed on with the Mets and played five seasons in their system before being the surprising first choice of the Rule 5 draft by the Astros ahead of the 2012 season. In a sign of how bad the Astros were in 2012, they used Cruz 52 times despite a 5.00 FIP and 1.71 WHIP. The next year, he pitched 20 times in the majors and though his ERA was 3.38, his FIP and xFIP were actually worse. In 2014, after 14 games in the minors, the Astros released him so he could head to Japan.

His results weren't terrible in the far east, though it didn't make teams anxious to bring him back either. He briefly played in Mexico last year as well and has logged 13 games in the Dominican Winter Leagues with, again, average results. In regards to Cruz's scouting report, he has a funky delivery which helps him keep batters off-balanced. He also pairs a mid-90's heater with a fringy slurve. Though he has over 70 games of major league experience, Cruz is not much of a threat to break camp with the Braves.

By Jeff Dahl (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL],
via Wikimedia Commons
John Danks, LHP, 31 years-old

Maybe the most intriguing minor league signing to this point is Danks, a lefty who has earned nearly $73 million playing baseball for the Chicago White Sox. Once the ninth overall pick of the 2003 draft, the White Sox acquired Danks (along with future Brave Nick Masset) in December of 2006 for Brandon McCarthy and a minor leaguer. A top prospect at the time, Danks would start 26 games for the White Sox in 2007. He was bad, but many rookie pitchers are. He was much better the next three years as he started 97 games with a 3.61 ERA over 608.1 innings. He was never an All-Star, as his 3.91 FIP might indicate, but he was a durable middle-of-the-rotation arm. While his ERA would climb the next year and he missed a half-dozen starts, the White Sox still extended Danks for $65 million over five years. It was comparable to other pitchers like Jered Weaver and Chad Billingsley at the time.

However, Danks never lived up to the contract. Over the first four seasons of the deal, his ERA approached 5 and his FIP did as well. Never a strikeout pitcher, he still underperformed his K numbers from before the extension. A 15.5 fWAR pitcher from 2007-to-2011, Danks' value would sink to 2.6 fWAR over the life of the deal from the nine-start 2012 to the four-start 2016 before the White Sox took him out back and shot him (not literally - they just released him). Danks velocity has lost a couple of ticks over the years while his pitch usage surprisingly changed as he entered the extension. Before 2012, he relied on his four-seamer, cutter, and change. Since then, he has added a sinker, upped his changeup and curve usage, while bringing down his four-seamer and cutter deliveries.

That change could be altered with the Braves. Atlanta might also opt to drop Danks out of the rotation discussion and try to bring him along as a reliever. Danks lacks traditional splits, though he does trend more positively against lefthanders as you might expect and the contrast over the last three years plus (2013-16) are a bit starker (.332 wOBA vs. .353) with about a 5% difference in groundball rate. Also of note is a 4% difference in softly-hit balls.

It's nearly impossible to predict greatness from this signing, but there might be something of use here. Also, consider that the Braves turned Bud Norris, Jhoulys Chacin, and Lucas Harrell into future assets last year. Danks has had a much more established career than that trio.

For more minor league free agent recaps, click below.
November 27, December 4, December 19, or check here for the complete rundown.

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