With the Orioles’ general manager search dragging deep into November last year and all kinds of staffing decisions to make through the new year, one of the areas the team ended up lagging in was its minor league free agent department.
While not always fruitful in terms of productive major leaguers down the line, it’s an avenue in the game that allows teams that are thin in the upper minors at certain spots to fill in with players who can bolster their organizational depth in a meaningful way.
That’s the stated goal of the Orioles’ offseason, according to executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias, so it stands to reason they’re working toward that goal already. Last week, Baseball America published the full list of minor league free agents, and it’s full of former first-round picks, major league retreads and everything in between.
There are certain types you’d expect the Orioles to go after this offseason: starting pitchers, middle infielders and relievers. They’re pretty full in the high minors in the outfield, though someone with major league experience such as Eric Young Jr. or Mason Williams might find his way back this route. And there will always be a catcher or two for spring training, though there’s always a veteran available later in the offseason.
For the purposes of the rest of the groups, here are a few interesting names who could see more of an opportunity with the Orioles come 2020 than they had with their old teams. The infielders will be part of a separate list this week.
There are certain to be some non-tender pitchers next month who can fill this need, but the Orioles will need an experienced Triple-A starter or three in the fold to be able to fill holes in the rotation without disturbing their prospects’ development.
Some of these pitchers have major league experience, while others don’t. They all have plenty of data points for the Orioles to look at that are more involved than the strikeout rates and contact profiles that are available to public. That said, here are a few who could fit the bill:
Tim Adleman, Detroit
An Orioles draftee in 2011 out of George Washington, Adleman went to pitch in Korea in 2018 and signed out of the Atlantic League last May to spend most of the year in Triple-A with the Tigers. He never got a shot in the majors, but had a 3.33 ERA with 123 strikeouts in 117 innings and a 1.145 WHIP over two minor league levels. If there was no chance for a shot with the Tigers, maybe the Orioles can rectify that and give him a return to the bigs at age 32.
Sean Brady, Pittsburgh
Brady was released this year by the Cleveland Indians, but latched on with the Pirates and had a 3.65 ERA at Double-A Altoona in 138 innings in 2019. He doesn’t have a big fastball or strike out many batters, but is a built-up left-handed arm who’s still just 25 and has a curveball FanGraphs said was a double-plus pitch in 2018.
Shao-Ching Chiang, Cleveland
It wasn’t a great year for the Taiwanese right-hander at Triple-A Columbus, but Chiang seemed to have caught whatever was going on in Triple-A this year — career-high strikeout rate (8.8 per nine), walk rate (3.9 per nine) and home run rate (1.3 per nine). He’s a right-hander with a low-90s fastball and no plus secondary pitch, but could play in a pinch in a rebuild. His 12% swinging-strike rate last year was second in the International League to Orioles prospect Keegan Akin.
Nabil Crismatt, Seattle
Another command-and-control right-hander who will be in his second foray in minor league free agency after leaving the Mets last offseason, Crismatt got pummeled in the Pacific Coast League but was better in Double-A, with a 1.94 ERA in 14 appearances (13 starts) and a 0.813 WHIP at Arkansas.
Alfred Guttierez, San Francisco
At age 24 and back in the Eastern League this year with Double-A Richmond, Guttierez kept the ball in the park well despite not missing a ton of bats and issuing a career-high 60 walks in 123 1/3 innings. He might not be a high priority, but with an average fastball and the potential to have his secondary pitches improved in the Orioles’ setup, it’s at least worth looking at.
Michael Peoples, Cleveland
At age 28, Peoples has been in the high minors for the last three seasons and just had his best year at Triple-A Columbus. He had a 3.98 ERA in 144 2/3 innings, striking out 122 with a 1.29 WHIP. He doesn’t have an overpowering fastball, but with 201 2/3 innings in Triple-A over the last four seasons, he’s a prime candidate for the Orioles to see whether it works above that, as they’ve been known to do recently.
Teddy Stankiewicz, Boston
Stankiewicz was a former first-day pick who spent three years at Double-A Portland before he got a shot at Triple-A Pawtucket this year, where it was more of the same: a flattering 3.85 ERA in 132 innings, albeit with a career-high 7.28 strikeouts per nine. He’s a durable four-pitch starter without any plus offerings, but could be depth protection at Norfolk if the Orioles so choose.
While the Orioles are going to have plenty of relievers with minor league options on the roster next year — the count conservatively is at 15 — there’s always a need for more relief arms to try and build depth.
The outside desire for the Orioles to spend a few million dollars on an established reliever or two is pretty far from the reality, but there are plenty of minor league free agents the Orioles could use to replenish their stocks — especially with the likes of Jimmy Yacabonis, Pedro Araujo, Ryan Eades and Luis Gonzalez exercising their own right for minor league free agency and thinning the pool.
Here are a few names to look at on that front:
Jamie Callahan, San Francisco
Callahan has bounced around since being a second-round pick of the Red Sox in 2012, but had gaudy strikeout numbers once he returned from shoulder surgery in the Giants system in August.
Kyle Finnegan, Oakland
Finnegan struck out 12.8 batters per nine in the high-minors this year, with a mid-90s fastball and a splitter. He also notably didn’t give up a million home runs once he got to Triple-A Las Vegas.
Ian Gardeck, Tampa Bay
Gardeck pitched a half-season in the Rays system and has struggled to stay healthy, but has a big fastball and has struck out over a batter per inning over his career.
Alexander Guillen, Colorado
A fastball-slider reliever at age 23 in Double-A this year, Guillen has struck out over 10 batters per nine in the last five seasons, including 10.68 in 2019. He did so this year with a 1.53 ERA.
Luis Martinez, Chicago
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A move to the bullpen allowed Martinez, 24, to strike out a career-high 10.71 batters per nine while keeping the ball in the park and actually pitching better than his 4.26 ERA indicated.
Rob Kaminsky, Cleveland
Identified as a first-round pick with the Cardinals after Elias, Sig Mejdal and company left St. Louis for Houston, Kaminsky’s 2019 went a lot like most relievers on this list: success at Double-A, then a lot more strikeouts, a lot more walks, and a lot more home runs at Triple-A. If his stuff still profiles the way the model liked it in St. Louis, he can be an option.
Alex Powers, Cincinnati
After three years in Double-A, Powers got the bump to Triple-A in 2019 and had a 1.98 ERA while striking out over a batter per inning and keeping the ball in the park. He throws from a low slot with good extension and has three pitches to miss bats with.
Ben Taylor, Arizona
Taylor debuted with the Red Sox in 2017, pitched in the Indians organization in 2018, and then spent 2019 at Triple-A Reno in their launching pad this year. A team that signs him will focus on the 11.25 strikeouts per nine than the rest.