Bet­ter mi­nor league free agents can fill gaps

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Jon Me­oli

Ev­ery year, whether in­ten­tion­ally or not, mi­nor league free agents end up be­ing a big part of the Ori­oles’ plans. Whether it’s the ma­jor league vet­er­ans they bring in on spring train­ing in­vites or the break­out mi­nor league depth pieces that fill in the gaps of their farm sys­tem and make the af­fil­i­ates more com­pet­i­tive, these names end up play­ing a siz­able role in what they do.

So it’s with that in mind that the an­nual re­lease of the mas­sive list of mi­nor league free agents by Base­ball Amer­ica is of in­ter­est to the Ori­oles. With Branden Kline added to the 40-man ros­ter last week and a big­ger group in­clud­ing Ari­zona Fall League par­tic­i­pants Chris Lee and Martin

Cer­venka re-signed in Septem­ber, the Ori­oles’ own list was rel­a­tively thin. No­table names in­clude in­jured out­field­er­turned-pitcher Dariel Ál­varez and left­hander Ryan O’Rourke, plus Dou­ble-A slug­ger Ader­lin Rodriguez.

But in their re­build­ing po­si­tion — and with a pretty un­bal­anced or­ga­ni­za­tional depth chart that’s light on in­field­ers and catch­ers, heavy on out­field­ers and can use some high-mi­nors starters to al­low for a more mea­sured devel­op­ment path for the host of promis­ing pitch­ers at Dou­ble-A and be­low — the Ori­oles can sell the mi­nor league free agents from the other 29 teams on op­por­tu­nity.

Here’s a hand­ful of play­ers who jumped out as pos­si­ble fits for the Ori­oles. In­fielder Dil­son Her­rera: The Ori­oles do their fair share of cy­cling through in­field­ers who have washed out else­where, but turn­ing 25 in March, Her­rera is on the younger side of that. A ca­reer .295 mi­nor league hit­ter, the long­time New York Mets farm­hand got a shot in the ma­jors with the Cincin­nati Reds this year but hit .184. His de­fense is more limited to sec­ond base at this point. Right-han­der Justin Ha­ley: A Rule 5 draft pick in 2016, Ha­ley has a strong track record as a mi­nor league starter but hasn’t cut it so far as a re­liever in the ma­jors. With a down­hill fast­ball that sits 89-92 mph and fringy sec­on­daries, it’s a back­end starter pro­file, but the Ori­oles have a dearth be­tween their Dou­ble-A prospects and the starters who grad­u­ated into the ro­ta­tion this year. At 27, he can be easy depth. Right-han­der Tay­lor Guer­ri­eri: The 2011 first-round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Rays who spent most of his mi­nor league ca­reer on top prospect lists, Guer­ri­eri hasn’t been the same since an el­bow in­jury in 2017. He posted a 5.18 ERA in 2018, mostly out of the bullpen for the Toronto Blue Jays’ Triple-A af­fil­i­ate this year be­fore fin­ish­ing with a 4.66 ERA over nine ap­pear­ances in his first ma­jor league stint. He doesn’t miss many bats, but with his pedi­gree in the Rays or­ga­ni­za­tion and rel­a­tive youth at age 26 on Open­ing Day, this is the type of chance the Ori­oles should take. Right-han­der Willy Or­tiz: An­other Rays prod­uct, a 23-year-old right-han­der in Or­tiz, is on the mar­ket de­spite a strong track record in the low mi­nors. He hasn’t pitched much and topped out at High-A Char­lotte, but Or­tiz works with a mid-90s fast­ball and a pair of fringy sec­ondary pitches, and has a 3.26 mi­nor league ERA. In­fielder Randy Ce­sar: A late bloomer who didn’t make it to full-sea­son ball un­til his fifth mi­nor league sea­son, Ce­sar en­ters mi­nor league free agency hav­ing hit .296 with a .777 OPS and 37 ex­tra-base hits at Dou­ble-A and creep­ing into some top prospect rank­ings in the Hous­ton Astros sys­tem. His de­fense at third base isn’t ter­ri­bly strong. Left-han­der An­gel Per­domo: Signed in the same Blue Jays in­ter­na­tional class that yielded Ori­oles right-han­der Miguel Cas­tro, Per­domo has been on quite a dif­fer­ent de­vel­op­men­tal track. He has the same mid-90s fast­ball, tall frame and three­p­itch mix, but Per­domo fea­tures mas­sive mi­nor league strike­out num­bers with com­mand prob­lems. He’ll be 24 on Open­ing Day and has never pitched above High-A, but the Ori­oles have a bet­terthan-you’d-think track record of har­ness­ing such arms in the high mi­nors. In­fielder Chris­tian Colón: A for­mer first-round pick of the Kansas City Roy­als, Colón has hit for av­er­age and walked his fair share in the mi­nors but never hit much in the ma­jors. At 29, there’s not a ton of up­side. Right- han­der Chi Chi González: González, who turns 27 in Jan­uary, worked his way back from Tommy John el­bow re­con­struc­tion surgery in 2018 and is look­ing for a fresh start af­ter spend­ing his en­tire ca­reer in the Texas Rangers or­ga­ni­za­tion. He had plenty of suc­cess in his ma­jor league de­but sea­son in 2015, but hasn’t had the chance to shine since. His first-round pedi­gree and re­newed health could earn him a shot wher­ever he wants.

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