In the past we have dedicated articles to upcoming minor league free agents and the decision the Pittsburgh Pirates had with adding them to the 40-man roster. We would post those prior to September call-ups to show who they could potentially add early. Last year, Pablo Reyes was the main focus. This year is a little different, but I decided to keep the tradition going anyway.
Upcoming free agents on the minor league side this winter would come from the 2012-13 international signing class, the 2013 draft, and players who were signed as minor league free agents over the previous off-season. The focus of the previous articles were always on the first two groups. The Pittsburgh Pirates this year don’t have any players who fit in those groups right now. Dario Agrazal is the only remaining player from their 2012-13 international signing class. Adam Frazier and Chad Kuhl are the only remaining players from their 2013 draft. None of those three are eligible for minor league free agency.
They do however have players from other team’s 2013 draft class. The most notable would be lefty reliever Jake Brentz, who once hit 100 MPH with his fastball, but now sits low-90s and relies heavily on off-speed pitches.
Sean Brady was signed as a minor league free agent earlier this season, just days after he was released by the Cleveland Indians. He’s been an innings eater for Altoona this year.
There’s also a 2012 draft pick in Altoona outfielder Bralin Jackson. Since he wasn’t in affiliated ball in 2017, it didn’t count towards free agency, so he will reach it this season.
There’s one 2012-13 international free agent acquired from elsewhere. Angel German came over from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Tony Watson deal. He has been at Altoona this year, where he has a 3.97 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP. He’s always been held back by control, which has led to 28 walks in 45.1 innings this year.
That’s it for draft/international players, which leaves the final group, and it’s the veteran class. It includes outfielder Trayvon Robinson, infielders Jake Elmore and Darnell Sweeney, catcher Steven Baron, IF/OF Eric Wood and pitchers Elvis Escobar, Alfredo Reyes, Jesus Liranzo, Brandon Maurer and sort of pitcher, technically outfielder, JB Shuck.
Despite being a minor league signing, Tom Koehler isn’t in this group because he has a 2020 team option. Jonathan Schwind would technically be in that previous group, but he has no intentions of playing again. He was signed as a minor league free agent, but he has coached all season, which was the plan from the start. Putting him on the injured list as a player allows them to carry an extra coach on the bench.
Out of the 13 potential minor league free agents, I can’t see any of them being added to the 40-man roster. It’s not to say that they wouldn’t add a player like Trayvon Robinson, who has an .886 OPS, as a September call-up, or JB Shuck who can pitch and play off the bench. You occasionally see teams do that for veterans, which is a good look for signing upcoming minor league free agents. They see that a team is willing to add a player and they won’t think that their going to be stuck in the minors, getting passed over by organizational players.
That however is a different scenario than keeping someone away from free agency. Using Robinson as the hypothetical player here, he would still become a free agent after the season when he’s dropped from the 40-man roster. The recent examples of that for the Pirates would be Dan Runzler in 2017 or Ryan Lavarnway last year.
Brentz had a stretch of pitching well this year with Indianapolis, but even with that success, he has a 5.55 ERA, a 1.82 WHIP and a .196 BAA. If he threw 100 MPH still, maybe you could see a reason to hold onto him, but those numbers shouldn’t get him consideration in September.
Jesus Liranzo does throw 100 MPH and was once on the 40-man roster, but was dropped during the season, so the Pirates were already willing to lose him. He has since been demoted to Altoona, where he’s pitching much better, but there are still control issues that hold him back.
Elvis Escobar (pictured above) also has some intrigue, but with all of his missed time this year, there’s no reason to add him to the 40-man roster. He could easily be brought back as a minor league free agent if the desire is there to keep him around. I haven’t been able to see Alfredo Reyes pitch, but if his arm translates to the mound, then he basically offers the same intrigue as Escobar.
It’s a group that probably includes 2-3 players who will be re-signed as minor league free agents, but the Pirates don’t have any real decisions to make here as far as protecting these players from reaching minor league free agency.