Casting around for the Quadruple-A players who might be able to help a team isn’t quite so easy as it might have been in years past. The number of teams carefully scouring the minor league free agents pool for “hidden” talent is greater than ever before, and finding people who can pitch or who have the defensive chops to handle up-the-middle positions makes it an even more difficult exercise. Most of the players listed here have had that one thing they were missing-good power but not great for a premium slugging position, or a blown past opportunity, or a clean bill of health-that has helped to keep them in the minors, but there’s always the chance that they might get a shot at helping a club.
Ryan Hanigan, C, Reds
2008: Louisville Bats, .250 EqA
What’s He Do? A seven-year vet of the Reds’ minors, and considering his age, Hanigan’s not really a prospect. You might argue that I’m cheating here by running with a backstop who seems like a lock to make the Reds’ Opening Day roster to caddy for Ramon Hernandez after looking good during last year’s cup of coffee (.271/.367/.365 in 98 PA), but after spending the last four years above A-ball, he seems like a better pick than un-catcherly offense-first options like J.R. House. Hanigan is a decent catch-and-throw type who threw out almost 38 percent of opposing stolen-base attempts for Louisville last season, and he draws a few walks and covers the plate well with a no-power stroke.
1B Dan Johnson, Yokohama BayStars
2008: Durham Bulls, .282 EqA
What’s He Do? Gets on base and plays first base well enough that he won’t kill you-we project he’d hit .247/.351/.431 independent of park considerations, good for a .273 EqA. If you break the 30 teams into tertiles, he’s not good enough to start for anything but the lowest third, but it beats trying to keep Kevin Millar‘s career going, and for a club looking for insurance against another injury-plagued season from its starter (Todd Helton, for example), Johnson would have made for nice insurance. This summer, it looks like he’s going to have to settle for making coin in the Far East after being sold to the BayStars by the Rays, but if he doesn’t adapt to yakyu and winds up coming back sooner rather than later, he’s eminently employable.
2B Kevin Melillo, Blue Jays Non-Roster Invite
2008: Sacramento River Cats, .234 EqA; Syracuse Chiefs, .242 EqA
What’s He Do? Plays a functional second base and hits right-handed pitching-last season, between the International League and the PCL, he hit .274/.349/.495 off of Triple-A right-handed pitching, which you have to take down a few pegs in The Show. He’d need a platoon partner to have much use, and calling someone the poor man’s Mike Fontenot might not have been taken as a compliment a year or two ago, but he can help some teams.
SS Erick Almonte, Cubs Non-Roster Invite
2008: Toledo Mudhens, .232 EqA
What’s He Do? Picks it pretty well for a guy who recently turned 31, and it’s shortstop we’re talking about. A lot of choices are of the Jason Smith or Brian Barden variety-guys who play shortstop at Triple-A because rosters are smaller and distribution of who’s on which team isn’t really about their use to the team they’re on, but to the parent organization. Almonte’s not a hidden gem, having bounced out of the Yankees organization (where he was buried by some guy named Jeter) and taken a spin playing independent league ball, but he has a wee bit of sock and he’ll take a walk. In an industry that is giving Adam Everett seven-figure guaranteed deals, he’s playable.
3B Mike Hessman, Tigers
2008: Toledo Mud Hens, .290 EqA
What’s He Do? Thumped 118 home runs as a Mudhen the last four years, which probably got him on a first-name basis with Jamie Farr, as well as a shot at starring with Team USA in the Olympics last summer (even with that time missed, he slugged 34 homers in 108 games for Toledo). Add in that he’s not a stumblebum at the hot corner, and it’s become a bit of a mystery as to why he’s been stranded in the minors this long. Put in the majors, he might hit a bit like Rob Deer-we project he’d hit .217/.303/.464 with the Tigers, for a .265 EqA-a slight step up from Brandon Inge, though Inge’s glove makes it a reasonable argument. Even so, a half-dozen teams ought to want the 31-year-old, for the improvement he’d represent.
CF Freddy Guzman, Mariners Non-Roster Invite
2008: Erie Seawolves, .212 EqA; Toledo Mud Hens, .239 EqA, 71 stolen bases in 82 attempts
What’s He Do? Runs like the wind, but not a whole lot else; playing every day, he’d struggle to keep his OBP above .300, and he’d rank among the worst regulars in center. On the other hand, that hasn’t kept Willy Taveras from getting gigs. As speed-and-defense guys go, Guzman would stick somewhere as a fifth outfielder on a team looking for a pinch-runner, but that role is virtually extinct on most benches, thanks to the encroachment of larger bullpens staffed with ever increasing numbers of situational relievers.
RF Ruben Rivera, Campeche Pirates, Mexican League
2008: .350/.464/.637, which boils down to a .313 EqA
What’s He Do? Long since absent from the big-league scene after achieving infamy as the guy in the Yankees’ clubhouse who stole Derek Jeter‘s glove during spring training in 2002 to sell to a memorabilia dealer, Rivera last played in affiliated ball in 2006 for the Charlotte Knights (the White Sox‘ Triple-A team); there, he slugged 450. While I wouldn’t want to get too worked up over his crazy-good Mexican League performance, it still looks like the man can hit a little; he’s been playing center in Mexico (and well at that, up six in Fielding Runs last year), but I’m making an allowance for age and anticipating a move to a corner for this teamlet.
LF Jeff Bailey, Red Sox Non-Roster Invite
2008: Pawtucket Red Sox, .273 EqA; Boston Red Sox, .293 EqA
What’s He Do? Since being snagged as a second-round pick in ’97 by the Fish, he’s been bouncing around, from the Marlins to the Expos to the Sox, playing in Double-A or higher since 2001, and regularly for Pawtucket the last three. He’d be a menace in left field, being better suited for first base, and would only slug in the low .400s if played regularly-not nearly good enough for a good team-but having put in that much time down on the farm, it’s easy to acknowledge that he’s paid his dues.
DH Dallas McPherson, Marlins
2008: Albuquerque, .249 EqA; Florida, .264 EqA
What’s He Do? Generates one of the Three True Outcomes-strike out, walk, or homer-with the greatest of ease, doing one of those three things in 54 percent of his at-bats with the Isotopes in a comeback season. Naturally, not all of those things are good, but a minor league-leading 42 home runs is easy on the eye if hard on the hurlers who allowed them. Never the most nimble of fielders at third base, we’re moving him to the position that most suits his Custian gifts. He wouldn’t be a star, but he would be entertaining, and it beats spinning your wheels with the hit-less DHs far too many AL teams have been employing of late.
Starting Pitcher Dan Meyer, Marlins
2008: Sacramento River Cats, 5.68 EqERA; Oakland, 7.48 EqERA
What’s He Do? The pickings for starting pitching are indeed this slim, but to Meyer’s credit, he’s still just 27. I know, he might seem older since his inclusion in the trade that put Tim Hudson in Atlanta and only generated disappointment in Oakland, but he’s been in the news a lot since that day in 2004. All for the wrong reasons, unfortunately-declining velocity, problems throwing strikes, and even more problems staying healthy-which put him on waivers this winter, where the Marlins snapped him up. Striking out 109 in 122
Reliever Jason Bulger, Angels
2008: Salt Lake Bees, 0.92 EqERA; Angels, 6.19 EqERA
What’s He Do? Throws hard-well into the mid-90s-and gets hurt, which combines to keep him on the fringes of the majors. His lack of a reliable second pitch has kept that fastball out of big-league bullpens for any length of time, but these sorts of arms don’t grow on trees; we project he’d strike out 9.7 batters per nine in the majors. Take him out of an Angels’ organization that has plenty of better options, and he might help somebody.
Situational Reliever Ehren Wasserman, White Sox
2008: Charlotte Knights, 2.72 EqERA; White Sox, 6.20 EqERA
What’s He Do? Throws sidearm without automatically being hopeless against lefty hitters, but problems with setting up his out pitch (a slurve) with his pedestrian fastball in the majors has kept him from conjuring up comparisons as a latter-day Chad Bradford type.