Friday, January 6, 2017

5-pack of Minor League Signings

With things simmering down as far as player acquisitions go, it is probably a good time to finish off the remaining reviews for minor league free agents that have been added to the Braves this offseason. This is the fourth edition of these reviews and each of those links can be found at the bottom of this article.

As always, you can see an updated list of comings-and-goings for minor league free agents.

Alay Lago, IF, 25 years-old

Born in Cuba, Lago didn't play much from 2010-2014 as a member of four teams in Cuba's premier league. A middle infielder, he defected from the island after 2014, but didn't warrant a lot of attention from major league organizations after performing in player showcases for scouts. Last February, he signed with Rojos del Aguila de Veracruz out of the Mexican League as he sought to build more interest.

A regular at third base, Lago struggled to reach base (.282) and was charged with 8 errors at third base before his season ended in May with a suspension for stanozolol and metabolites. There's not a lot of available information about Lago and what exists for the right-handed hitter hasn't been impressive to this point. If he breaks camp with a team, I have to imagine he'll be in Florida with the new Fire Frogs. That said, this was a curious signing. As is the case with two more free agent signings in this recap, sometimes the results won't be all that important if the right scout or person is vouches for you. I have to assume that's what happened with Lago.

Navery Moore, RHP, 26 years-old

This was one of the most interesting low-key signings of the entire offseason for me if only because the Braves brought back a former intriguing arm. Moore had a mid-90's fastball in high school, but his arm went kaput and the Vanderbilt commit would go under the knife. His arm was still so good that the Red Sox used a 26th rounder on him in 2008, but he went to Vandy and eventually became their closer. Three years later, the Braves picked him in the 14th round. A late signee, Moore would not pitch until that year's Arizona Fall League.

In 2012, Moore made his full-season debut and over the next two years, the righty worked as a starter as the Braves tried to get him to develop his secondary pitches. After being shutdown for most of the summer in 2013, Moore got one more shot to impress and for the third consecutive year, couldn't climb out of A-ball. The Braves released him after the year and over the next two seasons, he pitched in independent baseball for Joliet and Southern Maryland. Now 26, Moore will get a second chance to impress the Braves, who must have seen something they liked to try again with the flamethrower.

By Keith Allison on Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Eric O'Flaherty, LHP, 32 years-old

It seems like ages ago that O'Flaherty was part of the Holy Trinity of Braves relievers. Between 2009-13, O'Flaherty had a 3.16 FIP and 1.99 ERA over 295 games. Since then, though, he pitched for two other squads, failed to make the Pirates team coming out of spring training last year, and came back to Atlanta where he significantly underwhelmed. In addition to his struggles on the field, he spent time on the DL with a knee injury and a balky left elbow. When the latter happened, we found out he had been trying to pitch through some known issues.

Here's the good news, if there is any. If the southpaw is over those issues, we'll know pretty quick by watching his fastball. Last year, his sinker failed to drop at least nine inches in horizontal movement for the first time since '09. His four-seamer saw an even more drastic fall - in that it didn't fall much, but straighten. A groundball pitcher, O'Flaherty lives off getting hitters to swing over his pitch and smash it into the ground. At his beast, he was getting 2.5 to nearly 4 groundballs to every flyball. Last year, that was down to 1.9 and that doesn't tell the whole story, either. When O'Flaherty was right, hitters were so fooled at the plate or tried to elevate the ball so much that they popped the ball up a bunch. Between 2010-13, O'Flaherty had an infield pop-up rate of 11.5%, comparable at the time to teammate Craig Kimbrel. During the same time period, among relievers with 170 innings thrown, only Mariano Rivera had a higher rate of softly hit batted balls.

But this is 2017, you say. You're right. I'm putting on my Holy Optimism, Batman! hat here and looking at the positives. Maybe O'Flaherty is a 4.18 SIERA guy now rather than a sub-3.00 SIERA guy he was at times during his first run with the Braves. However, the Braves are better able to deal with that if it unfortunately is the truth. Last year, the Braves needed O'Flaherty because their options were pretty slim. Now, with Paco Rodriguez potentially joining Ian Krol, the Braves are in a better position to just move on if O'Flaherty once again struggles. Here's hoping his performance makes the Braves have to make a pretty hard decision.

David Richardson, RHP, 26 years-old

Drafted out of Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, Florida all the way back in 2010, last season was a year of firsts for Richardson. It was the first year he ever threw more than 61.1 innings in a single season and it was also the first time he reached Double-A. And that's pretty much all there is to say about last season for Richardson.

Once a highly thought-of outfielder, Richardson has done nothing but pitch for the Orioles. Information on him is pretty minimal, which is kind of expected from a guy who has never been much of a prospect and mostly logged time in the lower minor leagues as a reliever. His strikeout rate has been decent, though unspectacular, while his FIP has been in the 3.50-3.75 range most years. Richardson is the type of pitcher who likely caught a scout's eye, though without a strong spring, he might be cut before appearing in his first official game with the system.

By KamenG [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Jordan Walden, RHP, 29 years-old

Old Hoppy is back in the fold and it's time to remember just how dominant Walden was before injuries derailed him. Over 243 career games, Walden has a 10.8 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9 along with a 2.76 FIP/3.27 xFIP/2.92 SIERA. Basically, he has been really good when he's been able to stay on the mound - something he was not able to do with the Cardinals. He missed most of 2015 with shoulder issues and never threw a meaningful pitch in 2016 due to recurring shoulder problems and a grade 2 lat strain. Will he be healthy? Well, there is a reason why he came dirt cheap. Until we see him pitch regularly, we can't know if he is healthy and/or can stay that way.

Walden was a perfect, sound pick-up by the Braves. Obviously, they invested precious little to find out if Walden is close to being back. If the answer is yes, they have a cheap high-leverage arm who posted a 2.80 FIP as a Brave. Such a finding could make the Braves better able to compete for a playoff spot or repackage Walden for a future asset at the deadline. Smart teams make smart signings and there is no doubt that throwing some peanuts at Walden is a really smart signing.

That finishes off the minor league signings recap. If the Braves add more free agents on minor league deals, I'll likely recap them individually.

For more minor league free agent recaps, click below.
November 27, December 4, December 19, December 31, or check here for the complete rundown.

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