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Minor league free agency: targets for the 2019 White Sox

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Ample righty relievers, and even a couple of credible rotation candidates, headline the best offerings among minor league free agents

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Boston Red Sox
Triple Threat: Not only is ex-Red Sox pitcher Justin Haley the best option to fill an organizational-arm role on the Charlotte-Chicago shuttle in 2019, he’s too quick for a camera shutter.
Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

The offseason takes away — but gives, as well.

Monday’s piece dove into the basics of minor league free agency, and summarized which players in the White Sox organization opted for free agency earlier this month.

Now that we know who’s been lost, how can the Chicago White Sox fill in some gaps in their minor league system?

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Former White Sox who have entered free agency

Just yesterday, the team made its first minor league free agent signing, former White Sox lefty Alex Katz back into the organization.

Many other former White Sox players or farmhands have also entered minor league free agency. Here’s a snapshot of those players, including the seasons associated with the White Sox:

  • Dean Anna Toronto Blue Jays — 2B (ST 2018)
  • Cody Asche New York Mets — OF (2017)
  • Nick BastoWashington Nationals — 1B (2012-18)
  • Emilio BonifacioMilwaukee Brewers — 2B (2015)
  • Peter BourjosSan Francisco Giants — OF (ST 2017)
  • Rob BrantleyCleveland Indians — C (2017)
  • Jason CoatsTampa Bay Rays — OF (2012-16)
  • Diego Goris San Diego Padres — 3B (ST 2018)
  • David HolmbergColorado Rockies — LHSP (2009-10, 2016-17)
  • Erik Johnson — San Diego Padres — RHSP (2011-16)
  • Micah Johnson — Tampa Bay Rays — 2B (2012-15)
  • Hunter Jones — Washington Nationals — OF (2014-17)
  • Tyler Ladendorf Arizona Diamondbacks — 2B (2017)
  • Robinson LeyerCincinnati Reds — RHRP (2011-2017)
  • Rymer Liriano — Milwaukee Brewers — OF (2017)
  • Danny Muno Seattle Mariners — 2B (2016)
  • Mike OltBoston Red Sox — 3B (2015)
  • Roberto Pena — Tampa Bay Rays — C (2017)
  • Jake Petricka — Toronto Blue Jays — RHRP (2010-17)
  • Matt Purke — New York Mets— LHRP (2016-17)
  • Zach Stewart — Toronto Blue Jays — RHRP (2011-12)
  • Jose Vinicio — Arizona Diamondbacks — SS (2017)
  • Andy WilkinsMinnesota Twins — 1B (2010-14)

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Needs the White Sox may need to fill via minor league free agency

The White Sox have several pitchers who missed most of last year, if not all, due to injury. Because few of these hurlers have an announced timetable for return, if they are unavailable to begin the season and the organization doesn’t feel there are adequate replacements at the ready, minor league free agency would be a viable option.

Injured pitchers include RHSP A.J. Puckett with the Birmingham Barons, RHRP Victor Diaz with the Winston-Salem Dash and LHSP Andre Davis with the Kannapolis Intimidators. Other pitchers who missed large amounts of time but should return for Opening Day include Zach Burdi with the Charlotte Knights, Dane Dunning and Jimmy Lambert with Birmingham, and Kade McClure from Kannapolis.

WIth the trade of Justin Yurchak to the Los Angeles Dodgers, first base is open for Winston-Salem. Jake Burger likely won’t be available until June or July, so if the White Sox don’t believe Johan Cruz could fill in at third base, they may need a minor league free agent there. The White Sox also may have an opening at first base with Charlotte, unless they’re willing to hand the reins over to Casey Gillaspie for another year. Finally, the White Sox could continue to try to patch an organizational weakness and pursue minor league free agent catchers as well.

In addition to Katz, three other minor leaguers have signed with the White Sox this offseason:

Chandler Ferguson
Cleveland
Right-Handed Reliever
Age: 21
The righthander was a 25th-round selection of Cleveland in the 2017 MLB draft. He only threw one inning with its DSL squad before being shut down with arm pains, and hasn’t been able to pitch since. PerfectGame ranked Ferguson as the top 2017 prep player in Indiana, but he fell late due to signability concerns. The 6´3´´, 193-pound righty can bring the heat, reaching 95 mph prior to the injury. He likely will begin the season with the AZL White Sox.

Darrell Miller, Jr.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Catcher
Age: 25
Miller was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 34th round of the 2012 MLB draft, but chose to play for UCLA instead — the alma mater of his uncle Reggie and aunt Cheryl. He slashed .376/.449/.554 last year for Idaho Falls (the Pioneer League affiliate of the Kansas City Royals). He slashed .310/.365/.500 for Dodgers Single A affiliate Great Lakes, but was released in July; he signed a contract with the Schaumburg Boomers after, prior to signing last month. Miller has battled injuries, and while little information is available regarding his framing skills, he threw out 25% of attempted base stealers in his last two years of affiliated baseball. Due to his age, he may have a chance to compete for the Winston-Salem Dash. It’d be a great story if he succeeds.

Evan Marshall
Cleveland
Right-Handed Reliever
Age: 28
Marshall has worked his way back from a near-fatal blow to the head from a comebacker line drive while pitching for the Arizona Diamondbacks Triple-A club several years ago, and has had brief MLB stints with the Seattle Mariners and Cleveland in the past two seasons. Marshall is still trying to rediscover the form he showed as a 24-year-old rookie in 2014, when he pitched to a 2.74 ERA, with 9.9 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9 through 49 13 innings in Arizona. He posted a ridiculous 1.08 ERA, with a 23-to-3 K/BB ratio in 24 minor league frames with Cleveland last year, but was tagged for six runs in seven MLB innings.

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Other minor league free agents to look into

Randy Cesar
Houston Astros
Third Base
Age: 22
Cesar split his time at the infield corners last year for the Astros Double-A affiliate in Corpus Christi. He slashed .296/.348/.428 for the year, with 25 doubles, two triples, 10 homers, and 62 RBIs. He could fill a similar role for Charlotte.

Rudy Flores
Arizona Diamondbacks
First Base
Age: 28
As a 28-year-old minor league free agent, Flores just might be willing to play High-A ball for Winston-Salem, if teams aren’t beating down his door. He was At Double-A Renoin 2018 and slashed .281/.381/.468, with 17 homers and 75 RBIs in 438 at-bats. He could occupy first base for the Dash until Corey Zangari can prove his bat is too much for South Atlantic pitchers to handle.

Zach Green
Philadelphia Phillies
First Base
Age: 25
Green split time with Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley. For the year, the former 2012 third-round pick combined to slash .281/.356/.532 in 402 at-bats with 35 doubles, three triples, 20 homers, and 75 RBIs.

Justin Haley
Boston Red Sox
Right-Handed Starter
Age: 27
Believe it or not, the pickings are relatively slim among this year’s minor league free agent starting pitchers, and Haley may be among the best available. With that said, he posted creditable results with AAA Pawtucket in 22 starts, with a 3.80 ERA and 1.38 WHIP while allowing just 33 walks (2.61%) while fanning 107 (8.47%) in 113 23 innings. He also held his own in four relief outings for the eventual World Champs. He’s a control pitcher who doesn’t miss too many bats.

Zach McAllister
Los Angeles Dodgers
Right-Handed Reliever
Age: 31
McAllister had a pretty solid run with the Cleveland organization, providing a 2.61 ERA and 1.19 WHIP (3.05 BB% and 9.85 k%) for them in 50 relief outings, as recently as last year. In fact, once he converted from a starter in 2015, he had been an above-average hurler. However, nothing went well for McAlister in 2018, as he bounced around in three different organizations. As is the case with many relievers, a bad year could flip to a good one next year, and McAllister may not be a bad option for the White Sox for 2019.

Carlos Navas
Cincinnati Reds
Right-Handed Reliever
Age: 26
Navas had a rock-solid season in Double-A last year, posting a 3.19 ERA and 1.15 WHIP while allowing just 16 walks (1.96%) and 89 strikeouts (10.92%) in 73 13 innings. He could easily replace Brandon Brennan (who left the organization via free agency) in Charlotte.

Jake Petricka
Toronto Blue Jays
Right-Handed Reliever
Age: 30
Petricka wasn’t tendered arbitration after a difficult, injury-riddled season with the White Sox in 2017. He didn’t really distinguish himself with the Blue Jays last year, with a 4.53 ERA and 1.64 WHIP; however, he dominated AAA Buffalo, with an ERA of 0.78 and WHIP of 1.08. If he signs, he likely would have a chance to compete for a role in spring training, pending any other transactions during the offseason.

Rafael Pujols
Arizona Diamondbacks
Right-Handed Reliever
Age: 23
Pujols definitely has the stuff to succeed, but he’s only advanced to Low-A ball due to control issues. Pujols is tall and lanky (6´6´´, 175 lb.), with a terrific arm. In 35 innings of relief last year, he allowed 20 hits and 21 walks while striking out 35, and posted a nifty ERA of 1.29. It may be worth a shot to assign him to Winston-Salem, especially if Victor Diaz still isn’t ready to begin the season.

Chris Tillman
Texas Rangers
Right-Handed Starter
Age: 30
It wasn’t that long ago that Tillman was among the top righthanders in the game. For a five-year period from 2012-16, he posted a 3.81 ERA and 1.25 WHIP while averaging nearly 7 K/9. However, due to arm injuries, Tillman’s last two seasons have been ugly. It may be worth a no-risk flyer to see if he has anything left while pitching for Charlotte.

Kyle Zimmer
Kansas City Royals
Right-Handed Reliever
Age: 27
Zimmer missed all of 2018 due to injury, so this would be a bit of a flier. Zimmer was the fifth overall pick in the 2012 MLB draft, and he simply hasn’t done as well as hoped due to injuries. As recently as 2016, Zimmer (brother of Cleveland outfielder Bradley) was still ranked among the Royals top-five prospects. He’s just pitched 259 innings in his first seven pro seasons due to elbow, lat, biceps and shoulder injuries, and just over 42 innings over the past three years. His fastball had consistently reached 97, topping out in the triple-digits. Where it is now? With his combination of hammer curveball, slider and changeup to go with that fastball, Zimmer may still have a future in high-leverage situations.