When an athlete who believes he’s earned the chance to be selected in a professional sports draft discovers at the end that nobody was interested in services, it has to be disappointing, frustrating and heartbreaking. This is most evident in baseball, when three days, 40 rounds and 1,217 selections transpired earlier this month.
Last year, however, three undrafted free agents (UDFAs) were signed to contracts by the Chicago White Sox: Sean Thompson from Virginia Commonwealth, Carter Love from the College of Charleston and North Dakota State’s Kevin Folman. The fact that all three are still pitching in the Sox organization — and all three pitching rather well, thank you — is a testament not only to their skills but also to the White Sox’s neverending search for pitching talent.
Earlier this week, the Sox signed two more UDFA pitchers: one a Stetson University hurler who’s the son of a former major leaguer, the other a Bradley Brave. We’ll start with the Stetson Hatter first, as it’s never a bad idea to finish a draft with a Beer.
Vlad Nuñez Jr.
Nuñez Jr. is the son of former nine-year major leaguer Vladimir Nuñez, and he has the build to match (6´3´´, 240 pounds). His first two years were spent with the State College of Florida, before transferring to the Hatters for his junior and senior campaigns. He pitched 27 games out of the pen this year and saved 13. His fastball was clocked at 89 mph by Perfect Game during his high school days in Miami, so it’d be reasonable to assume his fastball has gained a few ticks since then. This year, Nuñez Jr. relinquished 47 hits and 26 walks while fanning 53 on his way to a 4.50 ERA and 1.52 WHIP. His peripheral numbers were actually better last year in a setup role, when he posted a 4.24 ERA and 1.05 WHIP — thanks to allowing just 4.74 hits/9. Nuñez Jr. joins newly drafted Tyler Osik as a new player with major league lineage, and that doesn’t even include Elijah Tatis, whose international signing won’t be official until early July.
Beer, who was high school teammates with Birmingham Barons infielder Trey Michalczewski in Jenks, Okla., tore his UCL, ending his prep career. A versatile, two-way player, Beer (6´2´´, 195 pounds) started at five different positions in his Bradley career while working at the back of the Bradley bullpen in his final three seasons. Returning from a medical redshirt that saw him miss the 2018 season, Beer appeared in a career-best 20 games in 2019, going 2-1 with seven saves and a 1.59 ERA. In what was easily his best season, he pitched 22 2⁄3 innings and surrendered just 17 hits and eight walks while fanning 25.
Prior to his injury in high school, Perfect Game had Beer’s fastball clocked at 89 mph. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect that heater to have increased a couple ticks over the past five years. While also throwing a changeup and curveball, his professional career will likely be as a reliever due to his past medical history. Beer’s 15 career saves are the second-highest in Braves history. He is unrelated to Houston Astros prospect Seth Beer.
Successful UDFAs in major league history
While the odds are stacked against undrafted free agents, due in part to their age and talent levels, it’s not unheard of to see them attain success in the majors. Players like Bobby Bonilla, Larry Bowa, Danny Darwin, Dan Gladden, Kevin Millar, Kevin Mitchell, Darren O’Day, Dan Quisenberry, Mike Redmond, Matt Stairs, Bruce Sutter, Larry Walker and Frank White are just a few who established long careers despite insurmountable odds. Could Beer and Nuñez have a chance? Hey, anything can happen in baseball!