Minor League Free Agency is certainly not the sexiest or most notable thing about the baseball off-season, but I find it interesting nonetheless, as teams look to fill out minor league rosters, along with looking for players that can help the Major League team. Left-handed pitchers are something that teams are always looking for, so here, I ranked the remaining left-handed pitcher minor league free agents (those that have not pitched in the Majors at any time) using Baseball America’s free agent tracker by fastball velocity.
Frank Gailey is not listed as to have signed, but reports say that he has signed with the A’s, so I didn’t include him. I also didn’t include Jesus Guzman because he plays in the Dominican Summer League and a new team signing him would already be his 3rd team (without him even reaching the states). Matt LaChappa has been in a wheelchair for 16 years, so BA should probably take him off the list. I used scouting reports online, along with watching some the pitchers on MiLB.TV to get their velocities and other information.
While the fastball velocity is good, he has struggled with injuries, with a major shoulder injury in 2008 and then not playing at all in 2012. He hasn’t started a game since the first shoulder issue, and it is yet to be seen as to whether he returns with the same kind of velocity. When he was healthy, Benjamin was solid, though not overwhelming.
Matt Meyer: 91-92 MPH
Meyer spent the year (41.1 innings) in the PCL (the Angels AAA) and walked more batters than he struck out. Most of his problems have been against right-handed batters as he has been very solid against left-handers, even in 2012. Originally a 15th round pick by Cleveland in 2006, the now 27 year old had to spent time in the Cardinals organization and Independent ball in 2010 before latching onto the Angels organization. While his numbers below AA were solid, he has been nothing short of a tire fire in AA and AAA in his career.
Joe Torres: 90-92
A top draft pick in 2000, Torres has been a minor league veteran, staying in the minors this whole time. Obviously the numbers have never been pretty, and he was suspended for PEDs last season. He has had some major elbow issues but throws a slider, curveball, two seamer, and cutter. Obviously he comes with a lot of baggage, but if the stuff is still there, there is some value.
Josh Romanski: 90-91 MPH
A former 4th round pick of the Brewers, Romanski has spent his entire minor league career with the Yankees. He spent most of 2012 in the bullpen in AA where his low strikeout and walk rates were balanced by a good ground-ball rate. Without any real platoon splits, he has been relatively effective against both lefties and righties, but he also hasn’t pitched in AAA yet and has been older than his competitors for the most part.
Beau Jones: 89-92
Once part of the giant Mark Teixeria deal from Atlanta (where he was drafted 41st overall in 2005 out of high school) to Texas, Beau still hasn’t made the Majors and split 2012 between the Marlins’ and A’s organization. He was a disaster in the PCL, but moving back to AA with Oakland helped him a little (although he still didn’t pitch great). Now 26, he is still going to get his chances thanks to his fastball and the fact that he is left-handed, but eventually he has to produce and he hasn’t started a game since 2010.
Wilmin Rodriguez: Hits 92 MPH
A disaster in AAA in 2012, the 27 year old reliever has never put up anything that looks like good numbers and hasn’t been able to miss many bats. He was signed out of the Dominican Republic back in 2006 by the Giants and has been in the system his whole career. Over the last two years, Rodriguez has actually walked more right-handed batters than he has struck out. He has been okay against lefties, but as said earlier, there isn’t anything redeemable about his numbers.
Clayton Tanner: 87-89 MPH
Just 25, the Giants took Tanner out of high school in the 3rd round. Strangely, he has spent time in the Giants and the Cincinnati Reds system in each of the last two years. He had his first extensive time in AAA in 2012 and really struggled thanks to a high BABIP and low strikeout rate. He has been a starter almost his entire career, but spent almost all of 2012 out of the bullpen.
Cory Vanallen: 88
Vanallen has a somewhat funky delivery (but not sidearm) that has basically relegated him to the bullpen since 2010. His fastball is more a sinker with dramatic sink and some glove side tail. He was mediocre at best in a handful of innings in both AA and AAA in 2012 (with a 4.70 FIP at both levels), but he has been dominant against lefties over the past two seasons.
Ben Snyder: 87-88 MPH
Another pitcher that the Rangers traded for, the 27 year old spent the whole year in AAA Round Rock, used mostly as a reliever. Known for pedestrian strikeout rates, Snyder had problems with homers thanks to a horrible groundball rate in both AA in 2011 and in AAA in 2012. Much more effective against lefties, his FIP and SIERA are over 5.00 against right-handed batters over the last two seasons.
Matt Yourkin: 87-88 MPH
Fastball/splitter with an occasional slider (and maybe a cutter). His season ended in early July when he was placed on the DL with a foot injury after a particularly awful outing against the Athletics AAA. Yourkin has actually spent the last three seasons with the Giants AAA and regressed statistically every season.
Derrick Loop: 85-90
A former independent ball pitcher, Loop held his own in the tough pitching environment in AAA Albuquerque and was actually much worse on the road. While he was used as both a started and a reliever in 2012, he should pitch more out of the bullpen thanks to his large platoon splits. He also missed more bats in the bullpen with the Phillies organization in 2011.
Dan Merklinger: High 80s
The 27 year old had mixed success in the Brewers system after being drafted in the 6th round in 2007 out of Seton Hall. However, when he repeated AA in 2012, he suddenly was bitten by the walk monster and was let go. He then latched on to the Rockies organization and threw seven innings in AAA. The walks didn’t go away in the short sample size. While he has struck out quite a bit of batters in the minors despite the lack of stuff, the walks make Merklinger basically valueless. Anyone taking a chance on him in 2012 would be betting that he will be able to find the strike zone again.
Known for his great changeup, he didn’t pitch in 2012. He was disastrous in AAA in 2010 and then in 2011 when he went back to AA. However, he had a decent minor league career and maintained low walk rates with decent strikeout rates, perhaps he will get another chance.
Mike Ballard: 84-88
Ballard spent the year with the Nationals organization (after spending time in the Rangers organization, where he was drafted in the 14th round, and the Orioles organization) where he threw 64.2 innings in AA and was statistically unimpressive (3.87 SIERA and 4.27 FIP) despite being old for the level. The positive with Ballard is a lack of walks, but the negative is a mediocre to decent strikeout rate and home run problems.
Tom Cochran: 86 MPH
There is a reason that Cochran hasn’t made the Majors yet at age 30. He is rather changeup happy, as it gets down to 76 MPH, and his fastball seems to be more of a cutter than a 4-seam fastball. He also mixes in an occasional curveball that gets down to around 74 MPH. He spent the entire year in the Phillies AAA rotation after spending his career in the Reds organization. He was mediocre but not embarrassing in 2012 with a 4.32 FIP and 4.58 SIERA. The good thing about Cochran is that his lack of platoon splits makes him ideal for a minor league rotation, but the negative is that there is no MLB upside because of the lack of stuff mixed in with the walks.
Wildcard: Jonathan Vargas
Injured in 2011 and didn’t pitch and had just 6 outings in 2012. He has a large leg kick that begins his delivery to give him some deception with a rather large frame (the 6-4 235). When I watched him, he was very fastball heavy with good life and movement on it, but he was struggling with command. He also showed a decent changeup, but his overall command was horrible when runners were on base. There was no radar gun when I saw him, which is why he isn’t in the rankings, but his fastball seemed hard and it moved quite well. He is still very young, not turning 24 until late May, but hasn’t pitched in full season ball since 2010, when he really struggled with walks (and not striking enough hitters out) as a starter.
Wildcard: Manuel Flores
A sidearmer, he doesn’t throw hard, but he gets some downward movement on his pitches. It seems like he throws a lot of changeups and looks just devastating against lefties when he is commanding his pitches. He has been pitching in levels that are low considering his age, but over the last two years he has a 2.65 FIP/SIERA against lefties.
Obviously, this group of pitchers wouldn’t be accepted by the Island of Misfit toys. It is a list full of soft-tossers, failures, apparent cheaters, and pitchers that appear to be just broken. However, MLB teams are always looking for value, and left-handed pitchers, even relievers, are always sought after, especially if they have any kind of velocity. Despite the different issues these pitchers have, most of them will find jobs and will be pitching for a AA, AAA team, or perhaps even a MLB team.