Inspired by Effectively Wild, the best baseball podcast on that side of the Atlantic, we at Bat Flips and Nerds decided to embark on our own Minor League Free Agent Draft.
Not that the EW duo needs an advantage in this baseball Ryder Cup, but we only drafted the players that were left over after they had finished. In effect, Meg and Ben Dysoned up the best 20 players before we made our first picks.
With the greatest respect to the rest of the crew, the BFN team has two big hitters: Darius Austin and Russell Eassom. I made up the numbers with Rob Novarrez, Ben Carter, John McGee and Tom Pringle. Rachel Steinberg, our proper legit journalist, wisely watched from the sidelines and gave the occasional cheer each time an ex-Blue Jay was drafted.
Darius, whose contributions alone to the Baseball Prospectus annual make it worth its cover price, had the first pick.
Matt Duffy: Given the dwindling talent pool in Chicago, the former Giants and Rays utility player could single-handedly outscore some of the Bat Flips and Nerds teams.
Next to pick was the BFN joker in the pack. Rob preparing a homemade boomstick hotdog on live TV was a memorable moment of the first lockdown. He’s not just about the jokes though, as he also came up with the epic headline: INDIANS INCLUDE FREE COOKIE IN LINDOR TRADE TO METS
Thomas Pannone: Interesting opening pick by Rob. You can easily see the former Blue Jays pitcher making it to the majors in 2021 having just signed a minor league deal with the Angels. And we all know how much the Angels need extra pitching each year.
In the three-hole was the big man himself, Russell. One of the finest sabermetric brains not currently working in the USA. Although, he didn’t need to rely on analysing xBACON or bbFIP with his first pick.
Felix Hernandez: This selection has the potential to be a game-changer. As Russell said, “Someone will give him a spring training deal, and if he looks good, he’ll start the season on a roster somewhere.”
I picked next.
Jose Siri: Slow-developing, former Cincinnati Reds prospect who has signed with the Houston Astros. With the apparent void in centre field in Houston, this could be the big break he needs.
Ben (our Ben, not theirs) was the first to sign up for this idea of a Bat Flips and Nerds Minor League Draft. It’s fair to say where he treads, others follow. He claims he was scrabbling from the first pick … as if that wasn’t clear.
Yohander Mendez: Former Texas Ranger, currently pitching in the Venezuela Winter League, failed to impress in his brief MLB tasters. He was suspended in 2020 for violating medical care, but according to President of Baseball Operations, Jon Daniels, “there was more to it than that.” #intriguing
It could be said (but obviously not by me) that John McGee underplays his baseball knowledge and overplays his musical knowledge. He plucks obscure band names out of thin air like Darius does with unknown middle relievers. However, with his first pick, John went for someone we all knew.
Keon Broxton: The soon-to-be 31-year-old has a sub-.300 on-base percentage in over 1,000 plate appearances. His batting average is just north of the Mendoza Line … coincidentally the name of a band John probably saw play live in Manchester.
To prevent Tom’s team consisting entirely of ex-Padres, it was randomly selected. It won’t be a good look for the rest of us if we are beaten by a team picked by random numbers.
Richard Ureña: The versatile infielder is back with the Blue Jays on a minor league deal after spending a frustrating zero-appearance 2020 with the Baltimore Orioles. Given the Blue Jays current swing and miss results in the free agent market, this could be a useful pick for Tom.
Jake Jewell: Two for two – Darius doubled down on Cubs. College teammate of Athletics superstar Ramón Laureano, Jewell has an uninspiring 4.93 ERA in the minors, but who knows what will happen on the North Side this year.
Shelby Miller: All-star and former first-rounder with over 700 innings at MLB level, is the highest-profile name taken in this second round. Rob was pleased when the former Rookie of the Year contender was signed by the Cubs shortly after our draft concluded.
Jose Martinez: Another high profile player who signed immediately after the draft. There were two Jose Martinez’s on the list, but we will give Russell the benefit of the doubt that he didn’t intend to draft the ex-Twins pitcher. The lefty-killer signed with the Mets, whose need for another 1B/DH type isn’t obvious.
Socrates Brito: In 2018, he hit .319 in Triple-A with double-digit homers and stolen bases, but the eagerly-anticipated breakout in the bigs has never quite happened. He gets a shot with the we-get-more-injuries-than-anyone-else-woe-is-us Yankees, so who knows?
Socrates the Greek philosopher famously said, “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.”
But don’t undervalue Socrates Brito’s philosophical takes.
Drew Ferguson: Yet to debut in the majors, Ferguson hit well in Triple-A in 2019 (.281 AVG with 11 HR and 27 RBI). He has signed a minor league contract with the Mets, which looks like a solid pick by (our) Ben.
Jerad Eickhoff: Another minor league signing by the Mets, Eickhoff has got a little worse each season since he burst onto the scene as a 24-year-old and posted 2.65 ERA. Not many players on the list have accumulated more than 5.0 WAR, although perhaps the fact that his name is an anagram of potential indy band Drake Echo Jiff was too much for John to resist.
Kevin Steen: Full disclosure: I didn’t know anything about Kevin Steen. He is still only 24 and spent his entire career with the Red Sox. Having not pitched in the minors since 2016, this looks a longshot, but it would be a worthy story to lift COVID-19/post-Brexit blues.
Hunter Wood: Despite intensive Googling, it would appear that Wood has not signed with the Cubs, so that’s a first for Darius. Instead, the Rangers have picked up the former Rays and Indians reliever on a minor league deal with a spring training invite. He racked up strikeouts at a rate of 12.6 SO/9 in the minors in 2019; looks like another astute pick.
Welington Castillo: In 2010, he featured outside the Cubs top-20 prospects. Castillo debuted that season and posted 157 wRC+ as a 23-year-old. The veteran catcher opted out of the 2020 season but has been signed for 2021 by the Nationals. Washington has a shortage of catchers, so you’ve got to say it’s another smart selection by Rob.
As a slight digression, and as if to prove the trickiness of prospect evaluation, the No.10 ranked Cubs prospect in 2010 with the underwhelming grading note of “Similar to Ryan Flaherty but less power” just signed a $90 million contract with the Yankees.
David Hess: The 27-year-old former starter tossed seven innings in relief for the Baltimore Orioles last season … with a strikeout rate of 1.3 SO/9. I thought this might be the worst ever strikeout rate, but Justin Haley threw 7⅔ innings for the Red Sox in 2018 without striking out anyone.
Hess will get a chance to shine in spring training having been signed by the Rays. I regret not having Russell’s shrewdness of monitoring Rays minor league signings.
Jorge Bonifacio: At the time, I thought this was the pick of the round by [checks notes] me. Ignore the -0.4 career WAR, ignore the .277 OBP last season, and ignore .679 OPS in LIDOM. The former Royals and Tigers outfielder can hit and get on-base, and he’s only 27.
Jaycob Brugman: Although Bruggy – surely that is his nickname – hasn’t featured in the majors since a 48-game spell with the Athletics in 2017, the outfielder slugged .598 in Triple-A in 2019. He will get a shot on a minor league deal with the Braves. It looks like Abraham Almonte is the bench outfield depth, so there is definitely an opportunity in Atlanta.
Derek Law: The right-hander didn’t pitch in 2020, but he will get a chance to impress in Minnesota. The 30-year-old has a wealth of experience from nearly 400 appearances across all levels. He recently received the sought-after accolade of “Best San Francisco Giants Player to wear No.64.”
Adonis Uceta: The alleged 26-year-old recently pitched in relief for Escogido in the Dominican Winter League. He has been within the Mets organisation since he signed as an international free agent in 2013, but he has only pitched one inning above Double-A. I don’t know what else to tell you.
Dawel Lugo: Back in 2011, the Dominican signed with the Blue Jays for $1.3 million. You can be sure the big bucks helped compensate for the switch to milk bags. The light-hitting infielder has played for the Tigers in the last three seasons since moving to Detroit as the star prize of the package in exchange for J.D. Martinez.
Zack Granite: When this guy appeared on the KATOH All-Star team in 2018 I thought he would be the next obscure player to become a superstar. The previous year, KATOH’s creator (and now Twins’ scouting analyst), Chris Mitchell, had correctly predicted Rhys Hoskins’ and Cody Bellinger‘s breakouts. Unfortunately, Granite has yet to fulfil the promise, although he appeared as a non-appearing Yankee last year. Incidentally, the player next on the KATOH list in 2018 was Trent Grisham – that’s the way the cookie crumbles.
Anthony Bender: With the cancellation of minor league baseball in 2020, Indy Ball was a hidden gem. So the right-handed pitcher became a milkman. It looks a canny move by the Marlins to pick him up, and an equally canny move to select him by Russell.
Domingo Acevedo: Small sample size admittedly, but 0.61 ERA and 0.82 WHIP in five appearances in the Dominican Winter League looks impressive. In 480 innings across all levels, the 6-foot-7 right-hander has a career 2.93 ERA. He has signed a minor league deal with Oakland, yet the Bat Flips and Nerds guys let him fall to me. Fools!
Forrest Wall: Good pick by Ben snagging the former top-100 prospect. He played for Buffalo in 2019 with Guerrero jr., Bichette jr., Biggio jr., and Gurriel jr. The 25-year-old has re-signed with the Blue Jays on a minor league deal.
Zack Littell: He has pitched in the majors for Minnesota in each of the last three seasons. I know we hate pitcher wins, but his 6-0 record in 29 appearances in 2019 still catches the eye. Looks inevitable that he will score some points for John in 2021.
Jonathan Lucroy: With 17.8 WAR, it’s possible that the veteran catcher is the only player on the list who played in the majors during every season of the last decade. Did you know lucroy is french for downwards spiral?
Edubray Ramos: Although he didn’t pitch in 2020, the Venezuelan right-hander has accumulated 155 innings in the majors from 2016-19 with the Phillies. The 28-year-old signed an MiLB deal with the Rangers, and if his recurring injuries don’t recur, he could feature for the new-look Texas Rangers.
Fernando Abad: Veteran of six teams and 384 appearances, the 35-year-old right-hander is past being able to make a contribution to a top-flight team, but as he signed with the Orioles, his value in this draft is priceless.
Alejandro Requena: Another inspired pick by Russell. Requena is just 24 years old and currently pitching in the Venezuelan Winter League with the Cardenales de Lara. He has signed a minor league deal with the Seattle Mariners.
Dylan Cozens: Not the ice hockey superstar-to-be, although by the look it, baseball’s Dylan Cozens thinks himself a bit of a two-sport player.
The Phillies former second-rounder was hitting homers for fun in the higher minors from 2016-18 but never translated that power to the majors. Maybe a new start in Milwaukee will be the catalyst to break the Quad-A tag.
Mitch Horacek: He’s a free agent and he wants to play baseball.
Jacob Rhame: Saves in the minors isn’t a reliable guide to future success. The 27-year-old right-hander has 43 minor league saves to his name, and 47 big league innings for Mets, but is most famous for Rhys Hoskins’ home run dawdle. He has signed with minor league contract with the Padres.
Stone Garrett: Hailing from Sugar Land, Texas – America’s first obesity-themed park – Garrett is a 25-year-old outfielder whose highest level is Double-A. Looks a bit of a reach to see him make contributions this season.
Jason Martin: In high school, he slugged 37 points higher than the most famous Orange Lutheran alumnus, Gerrit Cole. Martin is more about speed than power and has just signed a minor league deal with the Rangers.
Nicky Delmonico: He excited White Sox fans by hitting six home runs in his first 25 games, but has failed to live up to the hype, despite seeing major league action in each of the last four seasons. Coincidentally, six homers in the first 25 games for the Cubs is a feat matched by Luis Robert and Eloy Jiménez.
Christian Bethancourt: If position flexibility is an asset in this draft, then Russell scored bigly; Bethancourt is described as “catcher, outfielder and pitcher.” Although he hasn’t played in the majors since 2017, the Phillies have signed the 30-year-old to a minor league deal.
Trey Supak: In 2016, Ryan Yarbrough was the Southern League Pitcher of the Year. In 2017, it was Michael Kopech , and in 2019 Trey Supak won the award. We’ll ignore 2018 as Zack Brown spoils the narrative. With 400 innings pitched over the three seasons of 2017-19, Supak has heavyweight starter potential and will hope to get a chance at cracking the Athletics rotation.
Eric Campbell: NL Wild Card game 2016, scores are tied in the bottom of the eighth. Campbell is brought in to pinch hit but strikes out looking. He hasn’t played at the highest level since. Good luck with this pick Ben.
Jarrett Parker: I used to love this guy. He posted 1.163 OPS in his first stint in the majors, but could never replicate it.
Dan Otero: He was quite brilliant (1.53 ERA, 0.91 WHIP) with Cleveland during their World Series season 2016. As a 35-year-old, he was part of the Yankees last year but didn’t pitch after being placed on the restricted list last year.
Montana DuRapau: After six years in the minors within the Pirates organisation, the right-handed pitcher took his 2.51 ERA to the majors. He was progressing fine until he gave up 20 runs in his final nine innings (covering seven outings). The Athletics have signed him to a minor league contract and DuRapau didn’t allow a hit in his three Dominican Winter League appearances.
Nick Ciuffo: Catcher who has signed with Orioles … despite what his Twitter profile says.
Claudio Custodio: Sloppy pick by Russell selecting a Steve Coogan character.
Jose Godoy: Despite only just turning 26, the catcher had eight seasons in the minors within the Cardinals organisation. Looking to make the breakthrough with the Seattle Mariners in 2021.
Mike Gerber: Former Tigers and Giants outfielder is an intriguing pick by Ben the Younger.
Josh Thole: Eight years of MLB experience split between the Mets and Blue Jays, although his last game at the highest level was in September 2016.
Nick Williams: My next-door neighbour while I was growing up in Essex, although it’s possible this is a different guy.
Pablo Reyes: In February 2020, the Pirates outfielder was banned for 80 games after failing a Performance Enhancing Drugs test. This was immediately after a .203 AVG season, so perhaps he needs to sue his supplier.
Frank Schwindel: Decent hitter in the minors, Schwindel (which I think means vertigo in German) had a six-game cup of coffee in the big leagues with the Royals in 2019. Unfortunately, he couldn’t wrestle the job away from Ryan O’Hearn and his .195 batting average. Schwindel has signed a minor league deal with the Athletics for 2021.
Max Moroff: Sub-.600 OPS suggests he’s more off than on, but the versatile 27-year-old offers good position flexibility and will get an opportunity after signing a minor league deal with the Cardinals.
Andrew Velazquez: He has played second, third, short and all across the outfield in his limited MLB appearances. The 26-year-old, nicknamed The Squid, has signed a minor league deal with the Yankees.
Ryan Buchter: Veteran lefty has played for the Braves, Padres, Royals, A’s and then last season, Angels.
Robinson Leyer: Homer pick in more ways than one. Partly as John loves ex-Red Sox pitchers, and partly as Leyer gave up three homers in 4⅔ innings in the majors last season as part of his 21.21 ERA.
Andy Burns: At the end of the 2016 season, Toronto dropped Burns from their 40-man roster. He had gone hitless in his only 10 big league appearances, although to be fair, he was primarily used as a pinch hitter/pinch runner. It proved to be the catalyst and the now-30-year-old spent the next few years excelling in South Korea (.815 OPS) and Australia (.805 OPS).
ROUND NINE (nearly there)
Joe Odom: According to Baseball Reference, Joe Odom is a 58-year-old pitcher who never made it past the low minors. Presumably, Darius drafted Joseph Odom, the 30-year-old catcher formerly within the Atlanta and Seattle organisations, but now snapped up on a minor league deal by the Tampa Bay Rays.
Brandon Leibrandt: Picking up a guy who played in 2020 is a nice selection by Rob so late in the draft. Son of 14-year veteran, Charlie Leibrandt, Brandon is a left-handed pitcher who made five appearances for the Miami Marlins last season.
Tim Dillard: What the … ? I wonder if nine-year-old Fernando Tatis jr. was watching when Dillard made his MLB debut in 2008. The Rangers have signed the now-37-year-old pitcher. It feels like it could be the feelgood story of the season.
Mark Zagunis: Drafted by the Cubs in 2014, Zagunis shares his name with the Greek God of mediocrity. He is a decent Triple-A player (0.823 OPS in 330 games) but was never able to reproduce it in the bigs (.585 OPS in 42 games).
Michael Gettys: Why did I draft Zagunis when there were still players like this available? Our Ben knows his stuff. Gettys hit 31 PCL homers as a 23-year-old in 2019 and will get a chance in 2021 having signed a minor league deal with the Red Sox.
Terrance Gore: Fortunately, the rule is “one point per plate appearance” and not “one point per pinch runner appearance.” No question, Gore is fast.
Malquin Canelo: Señor Cinnamon is a 26-year-old glove-first shortstop who played 128 games for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate Lehigh Valley IronPigs in 2019.
ROUND TEN (at last)
Nick Martini: He was a little shaken [see what I did there?] when he was DFA’d by the Cincinnati Reds in January 2020. Despite being claimed by the Phillies, he failed to play last year. He will get another chance this season having been signed by the Cubs. And given the exodus from Wrigley, he could see action in 2021. Even with his last pick, Darius proves he’s a cut above the rest of us.
Cameron Rupp: Having not played in the majors since 2017, it feels like an ambitious selection, but teams always seem to need veteran catchers.
He also owns this awesome stat.
Zach McAllister: Former Cleveland Indians pitcher spent 2020 within the World Series champions organisation but failed to make an appearance in MLB.
Travis Jankowski: Career .238 AVG hitter has a 30-stolen base season to his name, and has played in the majors in each of the last six seasons.
Cristhian Adames: Negative 1.2 WAR in 328 at-bats in the majors. We’re scraping the bottom of the barrel now, although Adames was a vital member of Toros Del Este in the Dominican Winter League.
Seth Frankoff: Despite his career 13.50 ERA, the 32-year-old’s WAR is better than Adames. Frankoff is also the name of a head-to-head hotdog eating competition. He signed a minor league deal with the Diamondbacks.
END OF THE DRAFT
Amazingly, Darius still had players on his list, so created yet another team. The Very Expendables (Darius v.2) comprised: Trevor Hildenberger, Bo Takahashi, Jesus Linarez, Sal Mendez, Collin Wiles, Tim Federowicz, Jay Jackson, Dario Agrazal, Joey Rickard, and Jason Krizan.
John and Rob think “old” Ben wrapped up the contest as soon as he picked Folty. Darius was more circumspect, suggesting it had more to do with desire and opportunity than talent. That is, if the player is trying to play pro baseball in MLB and at least one team appears to think he is worth looking at.
Darius also noted that talent sometimes works against you as the player signs overseas – as Ben found out to his cost.
But the upshot is that you to have to be in it to win it, so all of us will beat Sam Miller.
Photo credit: Duane Burleson/Getty Images
Make sure you subscribe to the podcast for baseball news, views and opinions, all with a British twist.