This article is inspired by a question I received on Twitter.
Any players from other organizations you have your eyes on yet that elected free agency?— Richard McGill (@RichardMcGill89) November 12, 2022
As a matter of fact, there are. But before I get to that. I want to talk about who the Cardinals lost, review last years minor league signings, and discuss a few names that I would love to see the Cardinals sign.
Not interested in minor league signings because they’re not flashy? Well, you should be and I hope this article increases your interest.
Minor league signings don’t get enough coverage but they have an impact on a team’s minor league system as a whole. Most players are brought in to fill gaps and most bounce around from organization to organization every offseason. Not everyone, though. Some players prove they have a major league future ahead of them.
I want to highlight 3 minor league signings from last year before diving into the minor league free agent market this year.
Last Year’s Signings
The Texas League MVP, minor league home run king, and now 40-man roster member was an unheralded minor league free agent signing last winter.
Gomez started the year hot with 3 home runs in his first two games and he never slowed down. In fact, the season has ended and he still hasn’t slowed down.
Moisés Gómez is doing what he does in Puerto Rico.— Blake Newberry (@bt_newberry) November 12, 2022
That’s now 3 hits (including this homer) and 5 walks in his first 3 games https://t.co/2Hh1agf48D
He hit 39 home runs in the minor league season, so his first LBPRC home run brings him to 40 on the year. That’s just crazy production from a minor league signing.
Boy, am I an idiot. I was more excited about the Tejeda signing than the Gomez signing, though both were similar. You can clearly see why that was a mistake.
Both players hit minor league free agency early because they signed as young international free agents. Both players signed with the Cardinals as 23-year-old and had previously been ranked among their past organization’s top prospects.
Tejeda stood out to me for two reasons, though. The first is that he plays shortstop and the Cardinals have a dearth of high-upside middle infield prospects (outside of Masyn Winn). The second is that his only bad season was 2021.
The Rangers even thought highly enough of him to give him a taste of the majors during the COVID-season of 2020 despite the fact that he had never played above High-A.
If you don’t remember Tejeda being the organization, I don’t blame you. That’s because he never actually played a game. He was released following Spring Training before ever suiting up in the system.
He was my favorite signing of last year’s class so that was a disappointment. Again, not every minor league signing works out.
My excitement was due to the fact that he was still 23 years old, had 60 grade raw power (according to Fangraphs), was once a highly regarded prospect, played shortstop, and even had some major league experience. On paper, it looked great. In practice, it didn’t work.
That’s okay, though, because I love the idea. The team took a shot on a promising player coming off a down year. It didn’t pan out. But it really panned out with Gomez and that was the same idea.
James Naile is the other minor league free agent that worked out in a big way.
The 28-year-old veteran of the the upper minors was the typical minor league signing. A guy who provides bullpen depth but isn’t expected to be much better than a 4-ERA arm.
Except, he was better than that. His 3.31 ERA and 3.71 FIP in Memphis earned him 9 major league innings. That’s another win for the Cardinals. He’s still on the 40-man roster currently, so he may be another minor league signing that sticks around.
I included each of these players because they represent a different type of minor league free agent. Gomez is the one who breaks out and latches on with a team long term, Tejeda is the young and still promising free agent who flops, and Naile is the standard veteran pitcher depth signing.
With those in mind, let’s turn back to this year.
Leaving the Organization
The Cardinals have 16 players leaving as minor league free agents. Here is the full list.
According to the Memphis and Springfield transactions pages, these players have elected free agency:— Daniel Guerrero (@TheDanGuerrero) November 12, 2022
LHP T.J. McFarland
C Austin Allen
SS Delvin Perez
SS Roberto Baldoquin
RF Clint Coulter
RHP Johan Quezada
LHP Garrett Williams
C Julio E. Rodriguez
RHP Ljay Newsome— Daniel Guerrero (@TheDanGuerrero) November 12, 2022
RHP Zach McAllister
RHP Jacob Bosiokovic
2B Cory Spangenberg
LHP Tyler Pike
LHP Domingo Robles
2B Brady Whalen
The biggest losses on this list are Julio Rodriguez, Brady Whalen, and Jacob Bosiokovic. Most of the headlines have gone to Delvin Perez, who can officially be labeled a bust now, but his lack of hitting ability has kept him from being a really promising prospect for a while now.
On the other hand, Julio Rodriguez is coming off a year with a 116 wRC+ and was the best defensive catcher in the system. He should have no shortage of suitors looking for minor league catching depth.
Brady Whalen is another prospect I would have liked to see in the system next year. He hadn’t showed much at the plate since being drafted in 2016, but he finally broke out in 2022 and reached Double-A for the first time. I would have liked to see him get the chance to build on that breakout next year in the Cardinals organization.
Finally, Jacob Bosiokovic is a bullpen arm who pitched well when healthy. He’s a converted pitcher who racked up strikeouts and reached Triple-A in 2021. Then he got hurt and threw only 15 innings this year. I had my eye on him for a potential promotion this year, but his injuries had other plans. He could be a steal for another organization and I still think he has an MLB future.
These players are now free to sign with all organizations. That includes the Cardinals even though it’s unlikely they return.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s dig into the fun part - potential targets. There are quite a few intriguing prospects available to sign, so I want to take you through a few of them.
C Jair Camargo
I think the Cardinals will sign a catcher to fill out their minor league depth. That could mean a veteran Triple-A catcher to be the backup to Ivan Herrera (assuming he doesn’t open the year in St. Louis). I think the backup spot goes to Pedro Pages, though.
The real gap is at Double-A. The options are Aaron Antonini, who is a career .196 hitter in the minors; Nick Raposo, who has spent the past two seasons at Springfield and been a slightly above league average hitter; and Wade Stauss, who only spent 25 games in Peoria last year.
The Cardinals could use a catcher to replace Julio Rodriguez’s innings behind the plate in Springfield.
I would love to see that catcher be Jair Camargo. He’s a 23-year-old power hitting catcher with Double-A experience. That’s pretty rare for a minor league free agent.
In fact, he hit 18 home runs last year and earned a 65 grade raw power from Fangraphs. That’s the tool to build on.
His power helped him rack up a 121 wRC+ at the High-A level before earning a promotion to Double-A where his wRC+ dropped to 92.
When I say it was his power that made him a productive hitter, I mean it. That’s because he had just a 2.5% walk rate. That’s...not great. But he’s a minor league free agent for a reason. He’s not a perfect prospect.
He’s never been one to draw walks but his walk rate did jump to 8.2% after his promotion to Double-A. That 2.5% is more likely to balance out to 6+% over the course of the season. That’s still not great but it is better.
He also regularly posts strikeout rates above 30%. That’s another problem. But, again, with minor league free agents, I’m willing to overlook flaws in exchange for tools.
Camargo has power and plenty of it. And that’s a big tool. He also threw out 38% of attempted base stealers. To me, that’s worth taking a chance on. And he would help fill in the gap that the Cardinals have behind the plate at Double-A.
OF Micker Adolfo
If you know anything about Micker Adolfo, you’ll notice a trend right away. I am gravitating towards power. And that’s understandable. We saw what happened this year when a minor league free agent with immense power developed some contact. I’ll take a player with a loud tool over a player who is fringy at everything.
This one is more of a stretch though, I’ll admit. That’s not because Adolfo isn’t a good hitter. Quite the opposite in fact.
Rather, it’s because the Cardinals don’t currently have a gap to fill in the outfield. They have Alec Burleson, Jordan Walker, Conner Capel, Mike Antico, Moises Gomez, Ben DeLuzio, and others who could all start the year at Memphis.
I’m including Adolfo on my list for two reasons. The first is that I think he could be a good player. The second is that the Cardinals may trade from their outfield surplus and that could open up a spot for Adolfo or someone else.
I have Adolfo listed second because it’s harder to a find a young power hitting catcher in minor league free agency, but Adolfo has had much more success in his career. In fact, after the 2021 season he seemed on pace for his MLB debut.
He clubbed 25 home runs across the top two levels in the minors, and posted wRC+es of 128 in Double-A and 112 in Triple-A. He was the 18th ranked prospect in the White Sox system according to Baseball America after that year and he had once ranked as high as 6th all the way back in 2015.
Some prospects available on the minor league market have pedigree but not production. Adolfo is the rare prospect who has both.
He’s perhaps a little old at age 26 but the lost 2020 season didn’t help with that. Adolfo’s real problem is that he struggled in 2022. His strikeout rate jumped above 35%, his home run output dropped to 15, and, as a result, his wRC+ fell to 83.
Before that, he dominated Double-A as a 24-year-old, hit well in Triple-A as a 24-year-old, dominated High-A as a 21-year-old, and dominated Single-A as a 20-year-old.
There was a 2 year gap in 2019 (struggled) and 2020 (no minor league season) where he wasn’t productive but he’s had success at every level and has 70 grade raw power according to Fangraphs.
If I was looking for a Triple-A outfielder, I would start by talking to Adolfo.
1B/3B Sherton Apostel
I’ve now covered a catcher and an outfielder that I like, so now I’ll move to the infield.
Apostel is another player with plus raw power, which I’m sure is shocking to you by now. I wanted to look at a corner infielder, though, since the Cardinals already brought in some extra middle infield depth in Jose Fermin (Gabe wrote an excellent piece about him on Friday and you can read it here if you haven’t already).
Looking at Apostel’s Fangraphs page, notice how he was great right up until the lost 2020 season? That’s why I included a recap of Anderson Tejeda earlier in this piece. Even though the move didn’t work out, I liked the idea.
The funny thing is that Apostel and Tejeda both played for the Rangers, both ended the year in High-A, and both made their MLB debuts in 2020. As I said with Tejeda above, the Rangers weren’t just giving out debuts to everyone, they gave them to top prospects.
Apostel was Baseball America’s 11th ranked Rangers prospect in 2020. That was after a year in which he paired 19 homers with a double digit walk rate.
Then 2020 happened and Apostel stopped hitting. He also started striking out more. Those aren’t great trends but that’s a player worth taking a chance on. Especially when that player is still just 23 years old.
He could report to either Memphis or Springfield depending on where the organization needs depth.
RHP Guillermo Zuniga
Now that I’ve covered a few hitters, I want to cover a few pitchers. And who better to start with than someone with an 100 mph fastball?
Zuniga didn’t have a great year in 2022 but his fastball and slider combo gives him the chance to be a solid reliever. And his FIPs and xFIPs have been pretty strong going back to rookie ball. He seems like a great candidate to fortify the Springfield bullpen.
That’s again where the real gap is. The Cardinals may nab a veteran or two to add depth to the Memphis bullpen like they did last year, but Zuniga could add some strikeout punch to the upper minors. He has plenty of upside if a team can unlock his gifts.
There’s obviously some work to be done, but he has enticing stuff and that should make him a popular target. He’s also 24, which affords him plenty of time to figure things out if he shows enough to stick with an organization past 2023.
Plus, it’s never a bad idea to snap up a high-velo arm that’s aged out of the Dodgers system.
Here’s some video of him from Spring Training that will show you his fastball and slider in action.
RHP Jacob Webb
I mentioned above that the Cardinals may look to add some depth to the Memphis bullpen, similar to how they did with James Naile or Kyle Rayn last year. Jacob Webb is the perfect option for that.
Why is that, you might ask? Well, it’s because he has a career 2.47 ERA in 76 2⁄3 MLB innings. That’s some quality depth for a minor league signing. He didn’t pitch in the majors last season, but he did have a 3.71 FIP and 3.41 xFIP in Triple-A with the Braves organization.
He’s not like the names I listed above. He’s someone who could feasibly pitch in a major league bullpen next year and it wouldn’t be a disaster. He’s the kind of boring ho-hum signing that can really help a team when injuries strike.
I’m sure there will be plenty of competition for his services but if the Cardinals get priced out of the bullpen market, Webb is absolutely someone they could sweep up for pennies on the dollar.
Before I talk about Ariel Jurado, I just want to say that contrary to what you might think after reading this article, I don’t have a weird obsession with former Texas Rangers prospects. It just so happens that they had a bunch of highly touted prospects who were pushed to the majors aggressively and then struggled.
It has happened enough that you’ve gotta wonder if it’s some kind of an organizational failure or if they’ve just been really unlucky. Tejeda, Apostel, and Jurado all had similar career paths with the Rangers, and those are just the three players I’ve examined.
Anyways, Jurado will be 27 next season and already has extensive experience in the major leagues. That experience hasn’t been particularly good, but he does somehow have 1.3 fWAR to his name.
The reason I like him, besides the experience and the fact that he once ranked as high as #3 in the Rangers system (2017), is that he has yet to be converted to a full time reliever, so he can start at Memphis if needed or add some length to the bullpen. A full time move to the bullpen may even help him add some extra velocity.
I also like that his sinker, four-seamer, and changeup all get above average run. His spin rates and velocity won’t jump off the page, but he throws strikes and gets run, which is a fine combination for a once-promising minor league free agent.
Jurado isn’t the first pitcher I would be looking to sign (which is why I listed him below Zuniga and Webb), but he would be a solid option to fill out the bullpen depth in Memphis.
After spending nearly 3000 words on this article, I’m fully prepared for the St. Louis Cardinals to bring in exactly 0 of the players I listed here. That’s because there’s a ton of minor league free agents. I only examined 6, but there are probably plenty of others who would make good depth options.
I do want to see the Cardinals nab a few players still on the younger side and see if they can unlock their development. Players like Jair Camargo, Micker Adolfo, Sherton Apostel, Guillermo Zuniga, and Ariel Jurado would all fit into that category.
Happy Sunday, VEB! I hope you enjoyed reading this article. Minor league free agency can have a big impact on an organization. Sometimes it doesn’t, but sometimes you find a Moises Gomez or a James Naile.