Minor League Moves Round-Up: November 18

We had a rather busy few days in terms of minor league transactions. The most movement came from the Minnesota Twins’ organization, as they announced a quintet of signings: right-handed pitchers Preston Guilmet, Zack Weiss and Ryne Harper, catcher Wynston Sawyer and infielder Randy Cesar.

Guilmet is the most notable name of the bunch, as the 31-year old has pitched 33 major league innings in parts of four seasons with six different organizations: Cleveland, Baltimore, Tampa, Milwaukee, Toronto and St. Louis. In that time, he has posted an unsightly 9.27 ERA with a 5.65 FIP. Nevertheless, Guilmet has always been rather excellent in Triple-A, as he holds a strong 2.45 ERA over 265 innings pitched. The veteran reliever sits in the low-90’s with his fastball, and while he brings with him excellent control, he struggles with allowing fly balls, and consequently, a substantial amount of home runs.

Harper will be re-joining the Twins, as he split the 2018 season between Double and Triple-A. Like Guilmet, he has always shown excellent control, but the major difference between the two is that Harper has always posted very strong strikeout numbers and solid groundball rates. This is a very shrewd re-signing by the Twins, as his biggest issue has always been opportunity. Even in a rough 26 inning showing in Triple-A, in which he posted a 5.19 ERA, his peripherals were excellent including a 12.12 K/9, 1.73 BB/9, 0.69 HR/9, 61.8% groundball rate, and a 2.33 FIP. Furthermore, only 54.8% of baserunners remained on base and hitters were fortunate to log a .364 BABip against him in this time period. While Harper will be 30-years old come opening day, he deserves to be granted every opportunity to break camp with the Twins.

The 26-year old Weiss had spent his entire career in the Reds’ organization, and has always been viewed as a decent relief prospect. Injuries have really held him back since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2016, and he has been shifted between levels exceptionally frequently which could certainly have prevented him from finding himself a niche. Since he returned from surgery in 2017, he has only spent throw more than 15 innings at a level once, when he threw 28 innings of 2.89 ERA, 2.68 FIP ball in Double-A during the 2017 season. Otherwise, he spent 13 innings in Class A Advanced in 2017, while pitching in four levels throughout 2018: 6.1 in rookie ball, 7.2 in Double-A, 11 in Triple-A and making an appearance without logging any outs in the majors. Despite the surgery, he works rather well in the mid 90’s and could possibly wind up as a solid middle relief piece if granted stability.

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Cesar is a nearly 24-year old corner infielder coming out of the Astros’ organization. He spent the 2018 season in Double-A slashing a rather solid .296/.348/.428 with ten homers. One thing to keep in mind here, however, is the fact that he did so riding an unsustainable .374 BABip. He is currently slated to start the season off as Rochester’s starting third baseman. His glove is slightly below average at both third and first and he doesn’t bring much in terms of speed, but on the heels of such an intriguing performance, despite a few peripherals that don’t support sustainability, he’s worth a no-risk gamble.

Finally, the 27-year old catcher, Sawyer, will be re-joining the Twins on the heels of a an injury riddled season in which he fractured his left hamate bone. Splitting time between Double and Triple-A, he slashed a combined .257/.387/.347 with a pair of home runs and rather excellent defense behind the plate posting a 9.51 RF/9 compared to 9.07 league average and a 48% CS% compared to a roughly 27% league average. At this time, he looks to be the starter in Triple-A with Brian Navarreto backing him up. If he continues to post such strong defensive numbers along with his notable plate discipline, he could garner a look in the bigs. As it stands, Jason Castro is the probable starter with Mitch Garver as the back-up and Willians Astudillo as the super utility player who is capable of catching.

The A’s brought in a pair of righties in Trey McNutt and Brian Schlitter.

McNutt, the 29-year old righty, was a top-100 prospect for the Cubs prior to the 2011 season, but after injuries and poor results, left the Cubs’ organization through minor league free agency following the 2015 season, for which he signed on with the Padres. Since then, he has spent the past two seasons in the American Association pitching in Fargo-Moorhead. He was used strictly as a reliever in 2017, and scuffled to a 5.10 ERA struggling mightily with control (6.0 BB/9), and while the control improved to a 3.2 BB/9 when converted to a starter in 2018, almost all of his other statistics were nearly identical including a 5.21 ERA. While a level assignment has not yet been announced, I would imagine he spends the 2019 season in Double-A Midland serving in a swing capacity.

As for Schlitter, the nearly 33-year old will be in major league spring training to compete for a job in the bullpen. The groundball machine posted a 3.36 ERA with a 4.06 FIP over 67 innings in the Dodgers’ Triple-A affiliate in the Pacific Coast League, while limiting home runs to 0.27 per nine innings. While his 5.6% fly ball to homer rate isn’t necessarily sustainable, he posted a groundball rate of 68.1%, which is elite, meaning that the “lucky stat” shouldn’t come back to bite him too hard. I would imagine he begins the season in Triple-A, but could very well see some major league time, thanks to a lack of relief depth on the 40-man roster. As it stands, Liam HendriksCory Gearrin and Ryan Dull are all non-tender candidates and Aaron Brooks is a clear DFA candidate as he’s out of options. Meanwhile, J.B. Wendelken and Emilio Pagan are the only reliever on the 40-man roster who aren’t really guarantees. While I certainly expect the A’s to keep adding, if Schlitter performs as he did last season, expect to see him in Oakland at some point.

The New York Mets signed lefty Ryan O’Rourke to a minor league deal with a spring training invitation. After undergoing Tommy John surgery and missing all of 2017, he spent the majority of 2018 rehabbing and looked very solid across four different levels, each with fewer than five innings pitched. O’Rourke has a very legitimate shot at breaking camp with the Mets, as there is currently one lefty reliever on the Mets’ 40-man roster, Daniel Zamora. The only other in-house option is P.J. Conlon who is primarily a starterBased on his experience, I would expect O’Rourke to be the favorite, and even if he doesn’t crack the opening day roster, we’re looking at a potential mid-season call-up. It’s a great landing spot for him, but based on his lack of stuff and control issues, I wouldn’t expect him to serve in a capacity greater than middle relief.

The Cincinnati Reds brought in lefty Nick Lee from the American Association after the nearly 28-year old posted a 3.26 ERA over 19.1 innings pitched. Unfortunately, there was a lot of luck involved, as he walked a whopping 6.1 per nine, while rolling with a 1.707 WHIP. I would expect him to spend the season in Double-A Chattanooga, and serve in a LOOGY capacity.

Also coming out of independent ball is first baseman Chris Iriart, who will join the Arizona Diamondbacks on a minor league contract. The Snakes are no stranger to the independent leagues, as they have signed the most independent league players out of every organization by a long shot, even uncovering gem David Peralta in the process. The 24-year old Iriart is a right-handed hitting first baseman who slashed .256/.356/.560 with 25 home runs over 360 plate appearances for the, now defunct, Normal Cornbelters of the Frontier League. He was originally drafted by the A’s in the 12th round of the 2015 draft and reached as high as Class A Advanced, and struggled to the tune of a .228/.306/.456 batting line with 16 cumulative home runs over 294 plate appearances. I would imagine Iriart spends the majority of the season in Class A Advanced, and play for a contract renewal as opposed to a major league opportunity in 2019. As a career .231/.315/.422 minor league hitter, he has some work to do.

The Mariners signed yet another minor league free agent to a major league contract in right-handed pitcher Ruben AlanizThe 27-year old reliever spent the 2018 season in the Rays’ system mainly between Double and Triple-A. Over 12.2 innings of Double-A relief, he pitched to the tune of a 2.84 ERA with a 3.21 FIP, but was fortunate in quite a few regards including a 0.0% HR/FB rate, a .226 BABipa and a 4.97 BB/9. His results in Triple-A were actually the complete opposite, as he posted a lackluster 4.00 ERA over 27 innings, but with peripherals suggesting that he was better than he seemed including a 2.44 FIP, an 11.67 K/9, a 2.67 BB/9 and a .361 BABipa. The young reliever can touch 98 mph on his fastball and has always been excellent at inducing grounders. While his control has been inconsistent over the course of his career, sometimes looking excellent and terrible other times, but I’d rather have a guy with inconsistent command than none. Expect him to serve as a taxi squad reliever out of the gate, with the potential to stick and possible become a set-up man.

Finally, sticking in the AL West, the Angels brought back center fielder Peter Bourjos on a minor league deal with a camp invite. The nearly 32-year old spent the 2018 season between the Braves and Giants organizations, logging 47 plate appearances in the majors with the Braves slashing a paltry .205/.239/.364 with an anemic 4.3% BB rate compared to a 31.9% K rate. His results in Triple-A were much better, as he slashed .289/.342/.457, but should be taken with something of a grain of salt, as 173 of the 278 total Triple-A plate appearances came in the Pacific Coast League and included a .365 BABip.  Nevertheless, his glove was excellent, as it typically has been throughout his career, and he will compete for a bench job with the Halos in camp. As it stands, he will be competing with Michael Hermosillo and Jabari Blash for a utility outfielder role. While he’s at a slight disadvantage, based on the fact that he’s not on the 40-man roster, he can refuse minor league assignment based on service time. Furthermore, the Angels’ have been open about trading current veterans, with incumbent right-fielder Kole Calhoun mentioned as a trade candidate. If a trade of that nature goes down, I would expect Bourjos to see the majority of time between right and center.

And as a bonus, the SK Wyverns of the KBO signed righty Brock Dykxhoorn out of the Astros’ organization. The 6’8″ gold medalist (2015 Pan American Games) spent the year pitching as a starter for the Astros’ Triple-A affiliate. Over 74.1 innings pitched, he posted a 9.57 K/9 with a 1.94 BB/9, and while his 4.60 ERA could have been better, a 3.75 FIP suggests that he merely got unlucky. For a fly ball pitcher to post numbers like this in the Pacific Coast League is rather impressive. He typically sits in the low 90’s with a plus slider and a fringe change, which he struggles to control. He will earn $700,000 overseas, a sum considerably greater than the one he would have earned in the majors.

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