Rebuild offers Orioles opportunities to sign higher caliber of minor league free agents this winter

Jon Meoli
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

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 outfielder-turned-pitcher Dariel Álvarez and left-hander 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, but someone with Herrera's minor league track record and plate discipline could be good Triple-A depth in an organization lacking it.

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 back-end 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. There's a place for that in this system.

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, but at age 24 next spring, he could benefit from a change of scenery.

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 three-pitch 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 better-than-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, but the Orioles can use infield defenders with the ability to run. Perhaps he can fill a need.

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, and the Orioles should give it a look, too.

jmeoli@baltsun.com

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