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Minor League Notebooks

Oakland Athletics 2017 Minor League Free Agents

We take a look at the Oakland Athletics 2017 minor league free agent class.

Carlos Navas / Photo by Chris Lockard
Carlos Navas will hit the open market. / Photo by Chris Lockard

With the Oakland Athletics 2017 minor league season in the books, the off-season is now officially underway. As we head into the off-season, we take a look at the A’s prospects who are currently set to hit the minor league free agent market.

The bulk of the A’s minor league free agents are players the team signed to minor league free agent contracts last off-season. However, there are a few longtime A’s farmhands who will be hitting the market for the first time. Those players were either signed or drafted in 2011.

Last year, the A’s re-signed several of their minor league free agents, and they are likely to bring back a few this year, as well. Those who don’t re-sign with the A’s will be looking to land with an organization that gives them a clearer shot towards a big league promotion (for more on how that process unfolds, please read an article I wrote for 2080baseball last spring).

Below is a look at the A’s 2017 minor league free agent class.

First-time Free Agents

Beau Taylor, C: (UPDATE: Re-signed with Oakland) Taylor and the recently reacquired Blake Treinen are the only two remaining members of the A’s 2011 draft class still with the organization. Taylor enters free agency in a good position after putting together one of the best seasons of his pro career. He began the year on the restricted list after violating baseball’s banned substance policy, but he hit the ground running once he returned. Taylor hit .309/.385/.485 in 21 games with Double-A Midland before earning his first promotion to Triple-A. Once with Nashville, Taylor hit .289/.374/.394 in 41 games.

Taylor spent parts of six seasons with Midland and is the only player who will receive a ring for all four of the team’s championships. Taylor struggled to hit at the Double-A level his first four years with Midland, but he finally conquered the level the past two years. He is a capable defender with a strong throwing arm. Teams are always in the market for solid Triple-A catching talent, so Taylor shouldn’t have any trouble finding a home for 2018.

Chris Jensen, RHP: Jensen came to the A’s along with Drew Pomeranz in the deal that sent Brett Anderson to the Colorado Rockies before the 2014 season. Jensen spent two-and-a-half seasons pitching for Double-A Midland before finally receiving a long look with Triple-A Nashville part-way through the 2016 season. Jensen spent most of the 2017 season with the Sounds, save for a three-week stint with the Stockton Ports when the A’s were short-handed at that level. Jensen made seven starts and 23 relief appearances for Nashville. He posted a 5.95 ERA in 84.2 innings. Jensen struggled down-the-stretch, but he did have a 3.94 ERA before the All-Star break.

Jensen has always been a workhorse in whatever role he has been asked to play with the A’s. The right-hander doesn’t strike-out a lot of batters, but he generates a good number of groundballs and he has some life on his fastball. He will turn 27 later this month.

Zach Neal, RHP: Neal’s journey with the A’s has taken many turns. Signed as a free agent in 2013 after he was released by the Marlins, Neal split the 2014 and 2015 seasons between Double-A and Triple-A before putting together a breakthrough 2016 season. In 2016, he posted a 3.21 ERA in 61.2 innings with the Sounds and got his first opportunity in the big leagues. In 70 innings with the A’s, he had a 4.24 ERA. Neal didn’t find as much success in 2017. He had a 4.82 ERA in 99 innings with Nashville and a 7.98 ERA in 14.2 innings with the A’s. Neal throws strikes at an incredible rate (he’s walked only seven in 84.2 MLB innings), but he doesn’t miss many bats, so he is at the mercy of his defenders. He is a fierce competitor and a workhorse. Neal shouldn’t have trouble finding a spot for 2018.

Andy Paz, C: Born in Cuba but raised in France, Paz was the A’s first amateur signing out of Europe. He struggled to stay healthy early in his pro career, but Paz showed some potential with the bat. In 2016, he finally had a breakthrough season when he hit .320 in 46 games for Midland. Paz returned to the RockHounds this season and hit .251 in 53 games.

Paz is a patient hitter who makes a lot of contact and has shown the ability to hit for average. Defensively, he has improved his receiving skills and foot work over the past two years. He has a strong arm and even made three pitching appearances for Midland this year when they were short on arms. Paz will turn 25 in January.

Argenis Raga, C: Raga began the season paired with Paz as the RockHounds’ catching tandem. Raga struggled to get his bat going with the RockHounds and was sent to High-A Stockton mid-season when Sean Murphy made the jump from Stockton to Midland. Raga hit better with the Ports, posting a .259/.313/.438 line.

Signed out of Venezuela in 2011, Raga began his career as an infielder and converted to catcher. He is a good athlete with a strong arm who is still learning the catching position. He has shown some promise offensively during his career. Raga just turned 23 in July.

Yordys Alejo, RHP: Alejo also signed with the A’s out of Venezuela in 2011. The right-hander missed the 2013 and 2014 seasons with injury. In 2016, Alejo finally made his full-season debut, appearing in five games for the Low-A Beloit Snappers at the tail-end of the season. Alejo spent all of the 2017 season in the Snappers’ bullpen. He saved four games in five chances and posted a 4.56 ERA in 49.1 innings. Alejo struck-out 40 and walked 19.

Alejo will turn 24 in November. Because of the time lost to injury, he has only 140.2 innings pitched in his six-year career. Alejo doesn’t strike-out a lot of batters, but he has good command and is a strong competitor on the mound.

Free Agents the A’s re-signed in 2016

Carlos Navas, RHP: Navas signed with the A’s in 2010 out of Venezuela, and he chose to re-sign with his original organization last winter. The right-hander developed slowly as a starter the first few years of his career, but he picked up momentum after a move to the bullpen in 2015. Navas spent most of the 2016 season with High-A Stockton, but he pitched for Triple-A Nashville for the final few weeks of the season and pitched well, especially in the post-season. This year, Navas began back with Stockton, but he earned a promotion to Midland after allowing only one run in 18 innings with the Ports. Navas was a reliable arm for the RockHounds the rest of the season, posting a 3.25 ERA and a 48:15 K:BB in 52.2 innings.

Navas doesn’t throw hard, but he challenges hitters to beat him up in the strike-zone and finds a surprising amount of success with that strategy. He is a fierce competitor who gets the best out of all of his talent. Navas turned 25 in August. He had a big season last year in the Venezuelan Winter League and that league could serve to raise his profile even higher this winter.

Brandon Mann, LHP: Mann joined the A’s as a minor league free agent before the 2016 season. He missed the first half of that season after violating baseball’s banned substance policy, but he returned to pitch well the second half of the season, primarily for Double-A Midland. Mann came up particularly big for Midland in the post-season in 2016. He re-signed with the A’s during the off-season.

Mann returned to Midland for the 2017 season. He began the year in the rotation but moved to the bullpen early in the year. Mann posted a 4.11 ERA and he struck-out 73 in 70 innings as a reliever this year. A veteran of both the Japanese Professional League and the independent leagues, Mann has lots of life on his fastball. He was devastating against left-handed hitters this season, holding them to a .177 average. He will turn 34 next May but appears to have plenty left in the tank.

Felix Doubront, LHP: Doubront spent all of last season on the A’s 60-day DL after he injured his elbow at the end of spring training and had to have Tommy John surgery. Although Doubront was awarded his free agency at the end of the season, the major-league veteran re-signed with the A’s to continue his rehab with Oakland. The left-hander returned to the Nashville Sounds’ active roster on May 23 and spent the rest of the season in the bullpen. He posted solid numbers for Nashville (3.86 ERA and a 50:19 K:BB in 42 innings).

Doubront has gone back-and-forth between the rotation and the bullpen throughout his career. With 42 innings pitched this year, he is in good position to pitch a full season as a reliever next year and could even return to the rotation for a team looking for 100-110 innings. Doubront’s stuff appeared back to normal and he should have plenty of interest on the open market.

Matt McBride, UT: The A’s signed McBride, a longtime minor league veteran, before the 2016 season. He wound up splitting the 2016 season between Oakland and Nashville, filling a valuable role on both clubs as a back-up catcher who could also play first base and the outfield. McBride was removed from the A’s 40-man roster at the end of last year but returned to Oakland on a minor league deal for 2017. McBride spent all of the 2017 season with Nashville, hitting .231 with 10 homers in 79 games.

McBride is the kind of player teams love to have on their Triple-A depth chart because his ability to catch and play multiple other positions allows organizations the flexibility of not rushing an emergency catcher if there is an injury or a promotion. He also brings a veteran presence with 92 big league games on his resume. He will turn 33 next May, but as long as McBride still wants to play, teams will covet him for his versatility.

Aaron Kurcz, RHP: The A’s acquired Kurcz for international slot money from the Atlanta Braves during the 2015 season. After a strong 2016 season split between Midland and Nashville, Kurcz re-signed with the A’s and earned a non-roster invite to spring training. He struggled early in the year and was sent back to Midland from Nashville on June 27. Once with Midland, Kurcz was a valuable member of their bullpen, posting a 3.09 ERA in 23.1 innings. A blister problem ended his season in mid-August.

Kurcz just turned 27 in August. He has a live arm, but over the past two years, he has traded some of his velocity for better command. That has yielded fewer strike-outs, but many fewer walks. Kurcz does a good job keeping the ball in the park. He should get plenty of opportunities on the open market given the quality of his stuff and his age.

Viosergy Rosa, 1B/DH: A minor league Rule 5 pick of the A’s before the 2016 season, Rosa became a legend for Midland during the 2016 post-season when he hit a walk-off grandslam in Game Three of the semi-final series. After re-signing with the A’s for 2017, Rosa returned to Midland, where he became the first RockHound since Chris Carter to collect 100 RBI in a season (Rosa had 110). Rosa also hit 18 homeruns, his most since 2013 in Low-A in the Marlins’ organization. Rosa was a post-season Texas League All-Star.

Rosa does swing-and-miss quite a bit, but he sees plenty of pitches and has been a clutch hitter in big moments over the past two years. His two-out, first inning RBI single in Game Five of this year’s championship series was the game-winning hit in the 1-0 win. He turned 27 in June and should receive interest on the open market.

Free Agents signed in 2017

Tyler Sturdevant, RHP: Sturdevant struggled with his command to start the year with Nashville, but he found his footing with Midland. In 33.2 innings, he walked only seven with the RockHounds and was one of their key relievers down-the-stretch.

Logan Bawcom, RHP: Bawcom joined the A’s in early August after his release from the Padres’ organization. In 11 innings, he had a 5.19 ERA and a 9:6 K:BB. Before this season, Bawcom had spent his entire career in the Dodgers’ organization.

Chris Carter, 1B/DH: After leading the National League in homeruns in 2016, Carter endured a nightmarish stint with the Yankees to start the 2016 season. He hit .201 with only eight homeruns in 62 games with the Yankees before they finally released him on July 10. The A’s gave Carter a chance to rebuild his value on a minor league deal. After a slow start with Nashville, Carter hit nine homers in 29 games for the Sounds in August and September.  It wouldn’t be surprising to see Carter play winter ball to continue to rebuild his free agent resume.

Jaff Decker, OF: A non-roster invitee to spring training, Decker almost earned a spot on the A’s Opening Day roster with a big camp. He would join the team a few weeks later when Rajai Davis landed on the DL. Decker hit .200 with a .322 OBP for the A’s and returned to Nashville on May 13. Decker spent the rest of the season with the Sounds, batting .274/.342/.368 with 15 stolen bases in 93 games. Decker will turn 28 in February.

Ryan Lavarnway, C: Lavarnway brought a valuable veteran presence to the Nashville roster and he made a couple of cameo appearances on the A’s roster in 2017. The veteran backstop hit well in his short stint with the A’s, but posted an usually quiet .239/.327/.341 line with Nashville. Lavarnway has always been a better hitter than receiver, but he is an excellent clubhouse presence and he brings big league experience. He should find interest again on the open market.

Patrick Schuster, LHP: Schuster was a 2016 A’s MiLB free agent signing, but Oakland lost him on waivers not long after he made his major-league debut with the A’s. The left-hander signed a minor league deal with the Dodgers this off-season, but he was released after posting a 6.16 ERA with Triple-A OKC. The A’s picked him up on a minor league deal soon thereafter. In 33.1 innings with Nashville, Schuster struck-out 40 but posted a 5.94 ERA. Schuster turns 27 in October and should draw interest given his history.

Kenny Wilson, OF: The speedy Wilson spent most of the 2017 season with Nashville, although he did spend a couple of weeks with Midland. He hit a combined .240/.316/.314 in 90 games. He also stole 15 bases. Wilson has struggled to hit in the upper levels, but he is an outstanding defensive centerfielder with above-average speed. He turns 28 in January.

Jermaine Curtis, IF: An injury in spring training kept Curtis off of the Nashville roster at the start of the season. Once he was healthy, Curtis had to wait a bit in Extended Spring Training for a spot to open up. The A’s finally had an opening with Midland and the 30-year-old provided an instant spark for the RockHounds. He jumped to Nashville on June 15 but returned to Midland for good a month later. An excellent clubhouse presence, Curtis kept positive despite playing a level below where he would have expected to and he was a big part of the RockHounds’ title run. He posted an 832 OPS in 56 games for the RockHounds. A career .276 hitter, Curtis should have suitors for 2018.

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