Let’s be frank here: "minor league free agency" and "storylines to watch" aren’t phrases that are often paired together. But while MiLB free agency often goes unnoticed by the vast majority of the baseball-watching world, that doesn’t mean it’s unimportant, as Miami’s Zach Thompson has helped to demonstrate. In particular, the final month and change will have quite a few interesting questions among the newest group of impending minors free agents. While not all of them will likely be answered, there’s enough there that warrants at least some scrutiny as the season wraps up.
Will the Cardinals add Juan Yepez to the 40-man roster before the offseason?
Arguably the most exciting position player in the group outside of the Pirates’ Diego Castillo (who’s likely to be added to the 40-man before the offseason fully begins), Yepez has done nothing but dominate throughout the minors’ season. While he’s likely a best fit at first base defensively, he’s shown enough athleticism that trying him out in the remaining corners is a viable option. And offensively, he’s simply been a force of nature, hitting above 140 wRC+ at both AA and AAA. The problem, however, lies with the Cardinals’ roster makeup. While Yepez has done well this season, he’s generally been projected as more of a lefty masher extra bat than something resembling a true starter. And while those projections can be debated, that also makes him a difficult fit on a Cardinals’ roster that is heavy righty-oriented.
How will the Reds handle their impending MiLB free agents?
Castillo and Yepez may be the more exciting MiLB FA candidates, but Cincinnati has three intriguing candidates themselves in position player Leonardo Rivas and pitchers Reiver Sanmartin and Dauri Moreta. The fate of the latter pair is especially intriguing, as the Reds’ bullpen has generally struggled throughout the season, and the injection of other options may help to serve as a small boost. Moreta is especially an interesting choice, as while he’s never been a prominent feature on prospect lists, he’s not only kept his gains in command and control but also shown a velo bump to boot, sometimes touching 97-98. While Sanmartin is more limited due to his okay-at-best repertoire, his solid command may help him work as a middle or long reliever who's notably stronger against lefties due to his arm slot. Rivas shouldn’t be ignored either, as while the lack of power will always hold him back, he’s continued to demonstrate solid on-base ability and positional versatility to make him an interesting gamble.
What about the Rays with theirs?
While the Rays are great at developing and stockpiling depth, there are times where that same depth also forces them to make difficult decisions on who to retain or cut. And while the focus has mainly been on their 40-man roster and more notable prospects, the same problem also extends throughout their minors rosters as well. In particular, the Rays have quite a few interesting MiLB FA candidates, but their excellent depth makes it harder to keep those players and make them fit onto their roster. What makes their decision-making process even harder is that Dalton Kelly, Garrett Whitley, and Nathan Lukes have especially shown enough promise that there’s little doubt other teams would pounce on them in the offseason, but for a team that often has to deal with roster and 40-man crunches, the Rays may have to simply waive goodbye to them.
Can Chad De La Guerra turn it around through the end of the season?
It would be an understatement to say that he’s had a tough season in the Red Sox system. While his MiLB page doesn’t show it, De La Guerra has continued to struggle with injuries, and when he’s been able to take the field he’s demonstrated notable problems with making contact. While his ability to maintain a fine walk rate is encouraging, striking out in over 35% of his plate appearances is anything but, especially given his strong showing in 2019. While he has the ability to play multiple infield positions, it’s his bat that’ll have to carry him to the majors. The good news is that if he can demonstrate better contact ability and show that his current struggles are only rust, he has the potential to be an offensive lefty utility stick, and as Brad Miller and Tommy La Stella have demonstrated those kinds of profiles will always be in demand.
Will Cleveland’s Oscar Gonzalez’s approach be his undoing?
Gonzalez is unique among the MiLB FA candidates in that he still has many tools that make him an interesting prospect. While his contact skills aren’t great, they aren’t exactly a death sentence either, and he has huge arm strength and power to make him a prototypical right field prospect. However, the reason such a profile isn’t high on prospect lists is simple: the word "patience" doesn’t exist anywhere in his vocabulary, and he swings at virtually everything (at the time of writing, he has a career 3.72% walk rate in the minors). What makes Gonzalez unique, however, is that he’s been able to make it all the way to AAA and hold his own despite such a horrendous approach. If he can prove over the next month that it won’t hinder his offensive ability too much, he could prove to be a surprisingly-popular target after the offseason if Cleveland doesn’t add him to their 40-man roster first.