Around the MinorsMarch 20, 2008
What are their options?
By Marc Hulet

As Major League Baseball’s 2008 Spring Training begins to (mercifully) wind down, we are faced with six interesting stories related to players who are out of options.

To dumb down a complicated process: Clubs who have used up the three (and sometimes four) option years on players must pass said players through waivers in order to assign them to the minor leagues.

The First Basemen

With the emergence of Jack Cust at DH and Daric Barton at first base – as well as the signing of veteran Mike Sweeney to a minor league deal – Dan Johnson, who has the longest tenure with the A’s of the foursome, is on the bubble. Johnson has shown snippets of offensive outbursts, but consistency has eluded him. A reoccurring hand injury with Barton, though, may save Johnson’s roster spot in Oakland – at least temporarily.

You could perhaps draw some comparisons from Jason Botts to former Ranger Travis Hafner. They are both hulking sluggers who were drafted by Texas and have shown flashes of potential in the minors. In fact, they were both low round picks (Hafner 31st round and Botts 46th round) who signed as draft-and-follows out of community colleges.

They also both faced roadblocks for playing time at the Major League level and were allowed to languish in the minors: Hafner was 27 before he played his first full season in the majors and Botts will turn 28 in July. In his last two full minor league seasons, Hafner posted lines of .282/.396/.545 and .342/.463/.559 while Botts posted lines of .309/.398/.582 and .320/.436/.545. With news that Texas will no longer play Jarrod Saltalamacchia at first base (he’ll either catch full-time in the majors or at Triple-A), Botts biggest obstacles to a 2008 roster spot are Ben Broussard and non-roster spring invitee Chris Shelton.

The Rangers also have a glut of outfielders that could cause a trickle down effect on the designated hitter spot. As well, power prospect Chris Davis isn’t far away, likely meaning it’s now or never for Botts to secure himself in Texas.

Justin Huber is another in a long line of talented Australian players who just haven’t been able to put it all together at the major league level (see Chris Snelling, Glenn Williams, Luke Prokopec, Damian Moss). Moving from catcher to first base has not helped Huber, as he now faces roster competition from former No. 1 draft pick Billy Butler, former Rockies’ prospect Ryan Shealy and Ross Gload, an excellent bench player whom the Royals committed to with a two-year contract.

The Detroit Bullpen

The 2008 Detroit Tigers appear to have an offensive juggernaut. The starting rotation is solid… and possibly the deepest one-through-five in the American League Central. The bullpen, on the other hand, is a mess. Closer Todd Jones will turn 40 in April and is nowhere near overpowering or a sure thing. Set-up options Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney are dealing with injuries. Matt Mantei aborted a brief comeback attempt after an injury. Zach Miner probably has a spot in the bullpen. So too does Jason Grilli, although both are also out of options.

Beyond that, it is a crapshoot. Five players who are out of options are battling with a group of others who have minor league options remaining, including Jordan Tata (who broke a knuckle on his pitching hand last week after punching a wall) and Virgil Vasquez, who was just optioned out. But with Detroit gunning for the World Series this year, the club will no doubt take the seven best relievers north to begin the season.

Hard-throwing Denny Bautista has always had promise but he also has a growing list of teams that have given up on him due to his lack of control. Yorman Bazardo has looked good – both in spring training and winter ball. Francisco Cruceta falls into the Bautista category but he was also very impressive in winter ball. However, he has been delayed this spring with visa issues in the Dominican Republic and should get left behind in extended spring training to begin the season.

Non-roster Aquilino Lopez has continued his annual trend of looking amazing in spring training. Unfortunately he always follows that up with being pedestrian during the season. Lefties Bobby Seay and Tim Byrdak have an obvious advantage because southpaws are always in demand.

The Fallen Prospects

It is becoming harder and harder to remember when Cleveland’s Andy Marte was oozing with potential. He is very close to garnering the “bust” label. Teammate Shin-Soo Choo has been able to do nothing but watch as the Indians have brought in average veteran outfielder after average veteran outfielder (David Dellucci, Trot Nixon, non-roster Jason Tyner), trapping the former Mariner prospect in Triple-A. Choo also hasn’t been able to stay healthy and doesn’t have enough power to player everyday in right field.

Athletic, speedy outfielder Reggie Abercrombie was unable to secure regular playing time in Florida so his chances this year in Houston are not great. He needs to make more contact, strikeout less and play to his strengths. His biggest competitions for a fourth or fifth outfielder role are Jose Cruz, Darin Erstad and maybe David Newhan.

After Atlanta acquired slugger Mark Teixeira from Texas last year, former top prospect Scott Thorman was probably contemplating packing his bags. Consistency has eluded Thorman at the major league level and there may not be a roster spot for him this season. At least he no longer faces the threat of losing at-bats to a 48-year-old.

The Dodgers’ Delwyn Young has done nothing but hit in the minor leagues… But he has also shown his ineptitude in the field time and time again. A fresh start in the DH-friendly American League may do wonders for his career.

It seems like a lifetime ago that Merkin Valdez was a hard-throwing, top starting pitching prospect with the Atlanta Braves, but fast forward past a name change, Tommy John surgery and a trade to San Francisco and Valdez is hanging onto his 40-man roster spot for dear life. He still has better stuff than most of the pitchers he’s battling for a spot in the bullpen so he should break camp with the big club, if all goes well.

The Mets’ Ruben Gotay can’t catch a break – which is good and bad news. He severely sprained his ankle and could miss a significant chunk of spring training – but at least early rumors that he had broken it were dispelled. Even after hitting .295/.351/.421 in 98 games in 2007, the Mets refused to guarantee Gotay a 2008 roster spot and the organization re-signed Jose Valentin to a minor league deal and re-signed three aging veterans to major league deals: former speedster Luis Castillo, Damion Easley and Marlon Anderson.

St. Louis’ Outfield

One thing is for sure: The St. Louis outfield will not strike fear in many opponents. Yes, Rick Ankiel and Chris Duncan have power, but they have yet to show much else (aside from Ankiel’s cannon of an arm).

Brian Barton is a Rule 5 pick out of Cleveland with no major league experience and Colby Rasmus is the Cardinals’ top offensive prospect, but he may not be ready for the majors before mid-season. That leaves a collection of minor league veterans battling for roles.

Three players are out of options: Ankiel, Skip Schumaker and Ryan Ludwick. Ludwick has some power but, during his previous MLB stints, he has never shown the ability to post a decent average or on-base percentage. Schumaker hits for a nice average but it’s an empty average with little power or patience at the plate. He also doesn’t steal bases very often anymore.

San Francisco’s Outfield

With the exit of Barry Bonds in San Francisco, there are some enormous holes in the outfield - even with the team (snicker) relying on Randy Winn and Dave Roberts to make an impact. Of the remaining MASH unit, Rajai Davis and Fred Lewis are players who are out of options.

Davis and Lewis can play all three outfield spots and have speed. Both were also very raw when they were drafted, which is how they ran out of options but remain promising and unproven. Ideally, the Giants should purge Winn and Roberts because Davis and Lewis can likely at least match the offensive and defensive output from the veterans at a much smaller cost.

Colorado’s Infield

Four players battling for roster spots – and playing time at second base – in Colorado are out of options. Second baseman Jayson Nix has had one OK offensive season in four years. Clint Barmes lost his starting shortstop gig last season to Troy Tulowitzki and hasn’t done much to show that he deserves another shot at a starting role.

Second baseman Marcus Giles is a non-roster player trying to prove he still has something to offer. Jeff Baker’s best role is probably as an outfielder, although he has experience at both first base and third base.


I disagree with your characterization of the STL outfield. Both Duncan and Ankiel posted .850+ OPS in 2007 and Duncan has proven he'll take a walk. Furthermore, that power you talked about is exactly what pitchers fear. I'll bet you that STL will be in the top 10 in outfield production in 2008...especially when Rasmus joins the group sometime during the season. Please note that Rasmus put up a .450+ OBP in the Grapefruit League.

It has become very fashionable to bash the Cards this offseason. Is this a reaction to years of being very good or do most people hate TLR that much?

I'm forced to agree with Nick, Duncan and Ankiel have done plenty to make opposing pitchers worry. Actually, other than not having a real leadoff man (unless Ryan wins a starting job) as long as Pujols is in the lineup the Cards have a fairly formidable offensive core with Pujols, Duncan, Glaus and Ankiel. Granted, defensively the Cards outfield isn't very intimidating, but offensively Duncan and Ankiel give you plenty of power, and Duncan's even had a pretty decent OBP.

Just a quibble regarding your characterization of Scott Thorman as a "top prospect": At best, Thorman was thought of as a guy who could maybe play a passable 1B in the majors. He was a B-level guy at best with Adam LaRoche upside; no one ever really thought he'd be a star.

I do agree that it's unfortunate he won't be given an opportunity to find consistency with Atlanta this year. He could still turn into a decent platoon guy if given the right setting.

Yes, the Detroit bullpen is suspect but what's with all the praise for the starting rotation. Verlander is a stud but beyond him you've got Rogers, the ancient one (not only old but also an injury risk), Bonderman who consistently fades in the second half, Willis who sported a 5.5 E.R.A. in the national league last year and Robertson who is the poster boy for innings eating mediocrity. Somebody please tell me what I'm missing. And there's no depth at all. If one of these guys go down for any length of time due to injury, they are in deep sh*t because the farm system is barren. The Tigers better hope the offense is everything it is purported to be because they are going to need every run they can muster.

No anti-Cardinals bias here, as I follow the team closely and rank St. Louis among my favorite American cities, but reality says the Redbirds are going to finish fourth or fifth this year.

Even if Duncan and Ankiel produce (and they probably will, the Cardinals have tons of holes and a mediocre farm system. If Pujols gets hurt, the Cardinals will be fighting to stay ahead of the Pirates.

What's odd about the Cardinals outfielders is that they all hit from the left side. Ankiel, Duncan, Ludwick, Schumaker, and even Rasmus. Barton is a RHB and will probably get more playing time than expected for this fact alone. However, he will be 26 soon and has never played a game in the majors. His minor league record looks somewhat promising until one realizes that he was always old for his level of play.

Could Chris Nelson blow up in AA and move over to 2nd. He could be another Soriano in the future.

Just a note to Al Doyle, I don't think there's any doubt that the Cards are in for a tough year, I just disagree that their outfield, and more generally their offense as a whole, is the major concern. Their pitching staff is by far the more problematic point for them.

I disagree with the mediocre farm system assessment as well as the characterization of the STL outfield. The Cards problem lies in their rotation. The Cards must have many thing break right for them to compete this year but this idea that they lost so much talent in Rolen, Edmonds and Eckstein would be true only if your were talking about 2004.

Just to clarify my comments. I am not saying the Cards are not a 4th or 5th place team. What I am saying is that their is one simple reason the Cards probably will not compete this year...the starting pitching. Outside of Wainwright and Lohse the Cards have a bunch of ????? If some of these ????? are answered positively the Cards can compete. The offense will score runs. The "loss" of Rolen and Edmonds is really addition by subtraction as both were truly awful offensively a year ago (and most of 2006). Furthermore, while Izturis is a terrible offensive player, his superior range and arm probably balance out Eckstein's hitting superiority making that change a wash. While the Cards middle infield will be an offensive black hole, the team should be able to count on above average production at every outfield spot when Rasmus becomes the everyday CF. Thus the "reasons" that most are throwing out as to why the Cards will be bad are focused on the wrong things.