Each offseason, teams set out to fill their upper minors rosters and bolster big league depth by acquiring players in a variety of ways. The most common method is through the minor league free agency market. As of December 24, the Texas Rangers have inked 17 players to minor league contracts. The vast majority will open the season at either the Double- or Triple-A level, and many have received an invitation to major league spring training.
Although the Rangers saw only two minor league free agents reach the big league club last season (INFs Alberto Gonzalez and Luis Hernandez), seven made appearances in 2011. These players will fill the bulk of the roster at Triple-A Round Rock, with a couple likely to be placed with Double-A Frisco.
Part one of this two-part story will profile the players joining the Rangers' organization via minor league free agency. The second part, which will be linked here when posted, will look at the players who have come in via other methods––including major league free agency, trades, waiver claims, and the Rule 5 Draft.
Entering this offseason, the Rangers had 23 players set to hit free agency. Six were re-signed just following the season's end––LHP Neal Cotts, RHP Jon Edwards, RHP Daniel Lopez, INF Guilder Rodriguez, INF/OF Alejandro Selen, and RHP Ross Wolf. The club also placed free agent to-be RHP Justin Miller on their 40-man roster, protecting him from the Rule 5 Draft. Cotts and Miller will be attending major league camp this spring.
An in-depth rundown on those players can be found at this link.
Of the other 17 players, most remain free agents as of December 24. The players who have signed with other clubs include RHP Fabio Castillo (Giants), INF Alberto Gonzalez (Cubs), INF Luis Hernandez (Indians), 1B Brad Nelson (Cubs), and OF Ryan Spilborghs (Japan).
The 23-year-old Castillo split the 2012 regular season between Double-A Frisco and Triple-A Round Rock, posting a 3.54 ERA in 35 appearances. Over 56 innings, he yielded 45 hits, walked 26, and struck out 41. While Castillo has had issues with repeating his mechanics and commanding his fastball, he's a reliever with a power arsenal that includes low-to-mid 90s velocity (topping out at 97 mph on occasion), an average to solid-average upper-80s slider, and a split-change.
The Dominican Republic native was added to the Rangers' 40-man roster following a breakout 2010 season, but he was non-tendered last December after a disappointing 2011 performance. He returned via a minor league deal last offseason but will now move on to the Giants' organization.
Since hiring current Senior Director of Player Personnel A.J. Preller in 2004, the Rangers have consistently been a key player in the Latin American amateur free agent market. Castillo––along with then-INF Johan Yan and catchers Cristian Santana and Manny Pina––was part of Preller's first international free agent class in 2005. Only Yan remains in the organization entering the 2013 campaign.
Gonzalez and Hernandez have some similarities, including their position, stature, native country, and professional background. The two journeyman utility infielders both hail from Venezuela and have appeared with four different big league clubs since 2007.
Despite spending much of last season in the major leagues, the 29-year-old Gonzalez played in just 24 games as the Rangers' utility infielder. He went 13-for-54 (.241) at the plate with two doubles and a triple. Hernandez, 28, batted .262/.303/.376 in 129 contests for Triple-A Round Rock. He also appeared in two games (getting two at-bats) for the Rangers.
With all of the changes, the 2013 Round Rock Express roster is sure to look much different from its 2011 and 2012 versions. Among the still unsigned players are C Robinzon Diaz, RHP Willie Eyre, RHP Derek Hankins, LHP Zach Jackson, INF Matt Kata, and OF Val Majewski––all of whom spent multiple years with the Rangers' Triple-A affiliate. First baseman Brad Nelson, who signed with the Cubs, also played two seasons in Round Rock.
As of December 24, the Rangers have signed nine pitchers and eight position players to minor league contracts.
The pitchers are as follows: RHP Collin Balester, RHP Joucer Martinez, RHP Evan Meek, LHP Scott Olsen, RHP Yonata Ortega, RHP Zach Simons, RHP Yoshinori Tateyama, RHP Randy Wells, and RHP Johan Yan.
The position players are: 1B Brandon Allen, C Juan Apodaca, OF Jim Adduci, OF Chih-Hsien Chiang, OF Aaron Cunningham, INF Yangervis Solarte, 1B Brandon Snyder, and INF Gabriel Suarez.
Here's a closer look at those players, beginning with the pitchers:
Collin Balester, 26, has logged major league time in each of the last five seasons, playing with Washington between 2008 and 2011 before joining Detroit in 2012. During that span, the right-hander has totaled 185 big league innings over 73 appearances (22 starts). He has a career 5.30 ERA.
Standing at 6-foot-5, Balester is a big hurler with some velocity. Per the FanGraphs pitch f/x data, his average fastball last year clocked at nearly 93 mph, down just slightly from the 94 of a year before. He'll also mix in an upper-70s, low-80s curveball with the very occasional changeup.
Balester split the 2012 campaign between Triple-A Toledo and the Tigers' big league club. With Toledo, he posted a 3.64 ERA in 47 innings, yielding 38 hits while walking 12 and striking out 45. But in Detroit, he gave up 14 runs (13 earned) in 18 innings, serving up five home runs while walking 11 and fanning 12.
Balester has an invitation to major league camp and will provide depth to the Rangers' right-handed middle relief corps.
Joucer Martinez, 26, hasn't appeared in affiliated ball since being released by the White Sox following the 2009 season. He resurfaced this offseason when Texas spotted him pitching in a Venezuelan semi-pro league. After inking with the Rangers, he was signed by the Tigres de Aragua winterball club and made a few late-season appearances there.
Initially signed by the White Sox in 2005, Martinez played four seasons with the organization, ranging between the Venezuelan Summer League ('06-'07) and the rookie Pioneer League ('09). With Great Falls in 2009, he had a 4.44 ERA in 16 games (15 starts). Over 79 innings, he allowed 85 hits, walked 24, and struck out 52.
Now, after being away from the States for three full seasons, the 6-foot-2 righty will make his return in 2013. While pitching in semipro ball this fall and early winter, Martinez worked as a starter and showed an 89-92 mph fastball to go along with a promising (though inconsistent) low-to-mid 80s slider that reached 86 mph. He made four appearances for Aragua in December, yielding six earned runs in 9.2 innings.
With the Rangers, the Maracay, Venezuela, native will work out of the bullpen, where the club hopes his stuff will play up. Martinez is a bit of a longshot, but he's an intriguing story with a good arm. He'll report to minor league camp in March and should compete for a relief role between High-A Myrtle Beach or Double-A Frisco.
Evan Meek, 29, comes to the Rangers after pitching in 156 major league games out of the Pirates' bullpen between 2008 and 2012. His best season came in 2010, when he was named an N.L. All-Star en route to posting a 2.14 ERA and allowing just 50 hits in 80 innings. But the right-hander hasn't repeated that success, logging only 32.2 total big league frames the last two years.
|Meek was an All-Star in 2010. |
The 6-foot-0, 225-pound reliever has lost some of the power that made him a force out of the Pittsburgh bullpen in 2010. While he attacked hitters with consistent mid-90s velocity during his All-Star campaign, his fastball averaged 92.8 mph in the majors last season. The fastball-cutter specialist now works in the low-90s with both offerings, and he'll also mix in an upper-70s, low-80s curve.
Although Meek struggled in the majors in 2012 (nine runs in 12 innings), he had success while pitching the bulk of the year at Triple-A Indianapolis. In the minors, he had a 2.74 ERA in 46 frames. He surrendered 33 hits, walked 26, and struck out 41 while inducing more than 2.6 groundouts per airout.
Like Balester, Meek has a good fastball but spotty command. He also has an invitation to big league spring training and will provide middle relief depth in 2013.
Scott Olsen, 28, started 127 games with the Marlins and Nationals between the 2005 and 2010 seasons, but long-time lingering shoulder issues caused him to miss the 2011 campaign and limited him to five minor league innings in '12. His one-year minor league deal with the White Sox last season included a major league option for the 2013 campaign, but he was released in July after making two Triple-A appearances.
Once considered among baseball's more promising young lefty starters, Olsen battled a number of on- and off-field disciplinary problems in his first few major league seasons. His best campaign came in 2008, when he had a 4.20 ERA in 201.2 innings for Florida. Injuries began to plague his career following a trade to Washington in 2009.
At his best, the 6-foot-4 southpaw showed an upper-80s, low-90s fastball with a plus slider and usable changeup. A former sixth-round pick of the Marlins, he was signed by current Rangers pro scout Scot Engler. While Olsen could log some innings on the big league side this spring, he will report to minor league camp and is almost a certainty to open the season at Double- or Triple-A.
Yonata Ortega, 26, joins the Rangers after spending the first seven years of his professional career in the Diamondbacks organization, pitching between the Dominican Summer League (2006) and Double-A Mobile (2012). Listed at 6-foot-1, 220 pounds, the Dominican Republic native is an erratic, hard-throwing righty reliever.
According to one National League pro scout, Ortega ran his fastball up to 98 mph in 2011, when he posted a 4.11 ERA in 48 appearances between High-A Visalia and Double-A Mobile. That season, he logged 57 innings and yielded 44 hits, walking 32 and striking out 76.
But Ortega's stuff dropped off this past season––his fastball topping out at 93 mph, per the scout––when he had a 6.88 ERA in 42 games with Mobile. He gave up 57 hits and walked 40 over 52.1 innings, striking out 51.
Ortega made two appearances for the Leones del Escogido in the Dominican Winter League this offseason, yielding a run in two innings. He'll likely pitch out of the bullpen at Double-A Frisco or Triple-A Round Rock in 2013, as the Rangers hope he can regain the form that made him an intriguing power relief prospect in '10 and '11. He will open spring training in big league camp.
Zach Simons, 27, is a 6-foot-3, 205-pound right-handed reliever. A second-round pick of Colorado in 2005, he played parts of four seasons in the Rockies' organization before being traded to Detroit in April 2008. Simons rejoined the Rockies via minor league free agency last December and split his 2012 season between Double-A Tulsa and Triple-A Colorado Springs.
Although Simons scuffled in Colorado Springs, he posted a 1.93 ERA in 33 relief appearances for the Drillers while beginning to rely more on his cutter. Overall, he had a 3.57 ERA in 42 games––58.0 ip, 52 h, 29 bb, 47 k.
The Everett Community College product has logged Triple-A time in each of the last four years, though he's yet to reach the majors. Simons was ranked as TigsTown.com's #21 prospect in the Tigers' system following a 2010 campaign in which he posted a 2.70 ERA and struck out more than a batter per inning at the Double- and Triple-A levels. After that season, Mark Anderson wrote that Simons flashed a 92-93 mph fastball (topping at 95-96) to go along with an upper-80s cutter and a breaking ball.
But Simons wasn't able to match that success in 2011 and 2012, as his walk rate increased and his strikeout rate declined. As is the case with Olsen and Ortega, the Rangers are hoping that Simons can rediscover the stuff that made him an intriguing prospect two seasons ago. Like Olsen, he's a candidate to see action on the major league side this spring but will report to minor league camp.
Yoshinori Tateyama, 37, returns to Texas on a minor league deal after having his $1.2 million option declined earlier this offseason. After making 39 appearances as a middle reliever for the Rangers in 2011, the Japanese veteran spent most of last season at Triple-A Round Rock. Bordering on unhittable for the Express, Tateyama had a 1.13 ERA and struck out 45 batters (while walking seven) in 39.2 minor league innings. However, Tateyama was unable to match his major league success of 2011 during three separate stints in Arlington last season. He was battered for 19 runs in 17 innings, though he did strike out 18 batters.
|Tateyama returns on a minor league deal. |
The sidearming right-hander doesn't overpower hitters; his three-pitch arsenal includes a lively 86-88 mph fastball, a sweeping low-70s slider, and a low-70s changeup with screwball-like action. Though he fills up the strike zone, his soft stuff gives him little margin for error over the plate, accentuating the importance of within-the-zone command. Tateyama has a major league invite to spring training and will provide further bullpen depth.
Randy Wells, 30, pitched the last five years with the Chicago Cubs and averaged 27 starts per season between 2009 and 2011. But since posting a 3.05 ERA and garnering Rookie of the Year consideration in '09, Wells has regressed with each of the last three seasons. The 6-foot-5 righty opened last year in the Cubs' starting rotation before losing his spot, moving to the bullpen, being demoted to Triple-A, and ultimately undergoing elbow surgery in July.
In the majors last season, Wells gave up 17 earned runs on 35 hits in 28.2 innings, walking 24 and striking out 14. His struggles continued at Triple-A Iowa, as he was tagged for 39 earned runs in 43.1 frames before going under the knife.
Even with his injuries last season, the Illinois native has maintained similar pure stuff; he relies heavily on his upper-80s fastball (touching low-90s) and low-80s slider while also mixing in a changeup. His command, which was arguably his biggest asset when successful, became a huge issue, however.
According to Wells' hometown newspaper, he hasn't experienced any setbacks in rehab and is expected to be ready for the start of spring training. If healthy, he should fill a rotation spot at Triple-A Round Rock in 2013.
Johan Yan, 24, re-signed with the Rangers in November and received an invitation to major league spring training. Now a sidearming reliever, Yan signed with the Rangers as an infielder in 2005 before moving to the mound in '09 and dropping down a year later. He split the 2012 regular season between Double-A Frisco and Triple-A Round Rock, posting a 3.98 ERA over 45 games. In 52 innings, he allowed 50 hits while walking 28 and striking out 36. His heavy sinker induced more than 2.2 groundouts per airout.
While Yan's sidearm delivery and heavy upper-80s sinker can cause problems for fellow righties, he is considered a fringy relief prospect because of his pedestrian command and inability to combat left-handed bats. Although the Dominican Republic native limited right-handers to a .203/.291/.257 slash line in Triple-A last season (throwing 62 percent strikes), lefties tagged him at a .364/.470/.564 clip (throwing 55 percent strikes). In addition to his sinker, Yan also mixes in a low-to-mid 70s breaking ball to go along with the very occasional changeup.
The 6-foot-3 reliever is coming off a successful stint with the Aguilas Cibaenas of the Dominican Winter League. Pitching his first full winterball campaign, Yan had a 1.53 ERA with 24 strikeouts and six walks over 17.2 innings. His sinker induced an impressive 5.5 groundouts per airout.
According to one scout in the Dominican Republic, Yan displayed an 87-89 mph fastball with some tailing life this winter. The scout commented that "it's fringy stuff but he's throwing at the knees and getting outs."
The former infielder will begin camp with the Rangers but will likely open the year at Triple-A Round Rock.
Brandon Allen, 26, returns to the U.S. after finishing last season with a 12-game stint for Japan's Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks. A proven minor league slugger, Allen has mashed 20-plus home runs in four of his last five seasons on the farm, hitting a career-best .299/.413/.578 at Triple-A in 2011.
|Allen finished last season in Japan. |
For all his upper minors success, the left-handed slugger has yet to do much with his big league opportunities. Appearing with three different clubs (Arizona, Oakland, Tampa Bay) over the last four seasons, Allen has a .203/.290/.375 slash line in 116 major league games. He's coming off a whirlwind 2012 campaign that saw him break camp in the majors with Oakland before being traded to Tampa, spending time on the DL, being sent to Triple-A, and then finally finishing the year in Japan.
Primarily a first baseman, Allen also saw time at both corner outfield spots with Tampa last season. The Rangers figure to have plenty of depth at first––especially if Ian Kinsler moves there in spring training. Still, the native Texan will be in big league camp and should open 2013 as the Round Rock first baseman.
Juan Apodaca, 26, will enter his 11th season (and fifth organization) of professional baseball in 2013. After beginning his career in 2003 with the Dominican Summer League Dodgers, the catcher has spent time in the upper minors with the Red Sox (2008-2010), Indians (2010-2011), and Cubs (2012).
The Venezuela native split his 2012 campaign between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa in the Cubs' organization, posting a career-best slash line of .291/.407/.399 in 83 contests. He had 17 doubles and two home runs while drawing 40 walks and striking out 40 times. Behind the plate, Apodaca threw out 18-of-75 (24 percent) attempted base stealers.
The 5-foot-11, 180-pound Apodaca is currently playing winterball in his home country with the Aguilas del Zulia. Through 20 games, he is 8-for-51 (.176) at the plate with a triple, seven walks, and 16 strikeouts.
A minor league backup catcher for the majority of his career, Apodaca is expected to fill a similar role at Double-A Frisco or Triple-A Round Rock in 2013. He has an invitation to big league camp.
Jim Adduci, 27, was also drafted by Rangers pro scout Scot Engler––then with the Marlins––in the 42nd round of the 2003 MLB Draft. After spending parts of three years in rookie ball with the Marlins, Adduci was traded to the Cubs in September 2006. He had remained in the Cubs' organization since and, like Apodaca, split the 2012 campaign between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa.
At those two levels, the British Columbia native appeared in 126 games and posted a .298/.371/.419 slash line with 21 doubles, three triples, and a career-high seven home runs. He drew 48 walks, struck out 87 times, and stole 18 bases in 25 tries.
Listed at 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, Adduci is a lefty hitting, lefty throwing outfielder. He logged significant action at all three outfield positions last season. He also holds an invitation to major league spring training.
Chih-Hsien Chiang, 24, initially signed with the Red Sox out of Taiwan in 2005. Long considered a decent-but-not-elite prospect, the left-handed hitter turned some heads in 2011 by earning a spot in the MLB All-Star Futures Game. That season, Chiang appeared in 88 Double-A games and posted a .340/.402/.648 slash line with a whopping 37 doubles, four triples, and 18 home runs.
|Chiang's career has derailed since a 2011 Futures Game appearance. |
Boston capitalized on Chiang's breakout by flipping him to Seattle as part of a trade for Erik Bedard in July 2011. He scuffled in 32 late-season contests for the Mariners' Double-A affiliate, hitting just .208/.255/.262.
Added to Seattle's 40-man roster last offseason, Chiang continued to struggle at the plate throughout 2012. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound outfielder split the campaign between Double- and Triple-A, hitting only .249/.281/.363 with seven round-trippers in 117 games. He was designated for assignment in June but cleared waivers and was outrighted to the minor leagues.
Because Chiang was no longer on the 40-man roster and has six full years of professional experience, he became a minor league free agent this offseason. According to the Rangers' official website, he'll report to minor league camp in March, though he could still see some action on the big league side. Expect him to fill a spot at either Double-A Frisco or Triple-A Round Rock in 2013.
Aaron Cunningham, 26, is no stranger to switching uniforms. A sixth-round pick of the Chicago White Sox in 2005, he's already been traded four times in his career––to Arizona in June 2007, to Oakland in December 2007, to San Diego in January 2010, and to Cleveland in December 2011.
Like Simons (and 2012 Rangers draft pick Keone Kela), Cunningham is a product of Everett Community College in Washington. The outfielder has logged significant major league time in each of the last five seasons, appearing in a total of 222 games for the A's (2008-2009), Padres (2010-2011), and Indians (2012).
Although Cunningham has an impressive .303/.376/.485 career slash line in the minor leagues, he hasn't been able to carry that offensive success over to the majors, where he has a .219/.280/.347 line in 501 plate appearances. This past season, the 5-foot-11, 195-pound righty hitter and thrower played in 22 games at Triple-A Columbus and 72 for the Indians as a reserve outfielder.
Regarded as a strong defender, Cunningham often appeared as a late-inning defensive replacement for the Indians in 2012, as he got only 109 plate appearances in those 72 games. Officially, he went 17-for-97 (.175) with four doubles and a home run. He drew nine walks, struck out 25 times, and didn't steal a base in three attempts. Cunningham played 52 games (with just seven starts) in left field, 13 in right, and 11 in center.
A longshot to make the opening-day roster, Cunningham will report to big league camp in February and should be insurance in case something happens to current Rangers defensive outfield specialist Craig Gentry.
Yangervis Solarte, 25, is a utility player with a solid bat but one primary deficiency that holds him back––he can't play shortstop. A passable defender at second base, Solarte can also play at third base and left field. The switch-hitter handles the bat well and shows good bat speed from both sides of the plate. Making his Triple-A debut in 2012 with the Express, Solarte appeared in 130 games and hit .288/.340/.405 with 28 doubles and 11 home runs. He drew 41 walks, struck out only 44 times, and stole three bases in four attempts.
After signing a minor league deal with the Rangers last offseason, the former Twins farmhand returns on another minor league deal for 2013. Solarte put together a solid performance in big league camp last year (7-for-22, two home runs) and showed some pop early in the regular season. While he put together good at-bats throughout the campaign, he appeared to tire and lose some punch down the stretch.
Currently playing with the Tigres de Aragua in his native Venezuela, Solarte has split his time between second, third, and left field while hitting an impressive .301/.363/.417 with 17 walks and 17 strikeouts in 43 contests.
Solarte will report to big league camp in February. While he's not much of a utility candidate due to his inability to play shortstop, his bat gives him the potential to help a big league club in some capacity.
Brandon Snyder, 26, was non-tendered by the Rangers in November but re-upped on a minor league contract earlier this month. Although he appeared in only 40 big league games last season, the former first-round pick spent the majority of the year in Arlington as a lefty bench bat. Snyder posted a .277/.309/.446 line, though it came with a 38 percent strikeout rate. While he went just 4-for-21 against fellow right-handers, he was successful against lefties, going 14-for-44 (.318) with three home runs.
Although he isn't a standout player defensively, Snyder is passable at both first and third base. He can play in the corner outfield but is a below-average defender there. Triple-A is the most likely opening-day destination for Snyder, but he'll be in big league camp to compete for a reserve role. He will have to compete with similarly profiled players like Brandon Allen and Mike Olt, and it's no guarantee that any of those three make the club out of the gates.
Gabriel Suarez, 28, enters his 10th professional season in 2013, and he's a journeyman in the truest sense of the word. The Phoenix native began with the rookie GCL Expos in 2004. Since then, he's played for five affiliated organizations (between short-season A and AA), eight independent clubs, and two Mexican League teams. He split last season with the two Mexican League clubs and the Dodgers' Low- and High-A affiliates, totaling 38 games and hitting .270/.341/.315.
A career .245/.308/.304 hitter in 160 affiliated games, Suarez has logged time at every position but catcher. He's currently playing with the Adelaide Bite of the Australian Baseball League, batting .197/.243/.212 in 16 contests and splitting his time between second base and all three outfield spots.
The 6-foot-0, 170-pound utility man will report to minor league camp in March and could fill a reserve role at any of the Rangers' full-season affiliates.