My goal is to sift through the remaining class of minor league free agents to see if there are any more hidden gems out there. This post will look exclusively at middle infielders with outfielders, starters, and relief pitchers coming next. It is extremely unlikely that a star caliber player or ace starter will be there for the taking, but useful bench guys, #5 starters and middle relievers are available in spades.
Baseball America's insanely useful Minor League Free Agent Tracker was abused for this article, as were their player cards, archives, and rankings.
A few former top prospects and even a former starter in the MLB populate this list along with a few recent standout performances.
Drafted as a short stop in the 5th round of the 2006 draft, Sizemore had his break out year in 2009 when he hit .308/.389/.500 with 17 home runs in the Tigers system between AA and AAA as a 24 year old. He got his first shot at the big leagues in 2010 by hitting .298 with 23 doubles and nine home runs in 76 games at AAA. Once in the majors he hit .224/.296/.336 spread across 48 games.
He rode the AAA shuttle once again in 2011, starting the year in Toledo where he hit .408 in his first 23 games, earning him a call to Detroit. 17 games later he was shipped to Oakland where he went back to AAA and had a .898 OPS in 9 games before he got the call back to the majors but with the A's. He performed well, hitting .249 with a .778 OPS and 114 OPS+ over 93 games with 11 homers, 21 doubles and 52 runs knocked in. A torn ACL at the start of 2012 knocked him out of commission for the entire year before re-tearing his ACL in 2013 after playing in just two games. He's been rehabbing his injury all year and did not make a return to action.
Sizemore was named the best hitter for average three years in a row with the Tigers (2007-09) and had the best strike-zone discipline twice (2007, 2009). If a team is willing to take a shot that his knee has healed up completely, he could be a steal as he can also play third base.
Unlike most players on this list, Solarte has yet to reach his physical peak at age 27 and was not a top prospect coming up through the minors. Originally signed by the Twins as an international free agent in 2005, he's been in the Texas system the last two years where he has hit .282/.331/.404 with an average of 29 doubles and 11 home runs. He's not considered fast in any respect of the word, and his glove leaves a lot to be desired but man can he hit.
One scout said "He has a knack for squaring balls up and making hard contact. He doesn't have huge power -- he's more of a line-drive bat -- but he's a strong-bodied guy and an impressive hitter...", and he also had a AAA Round Rock record 22-game hitting streak in 2012. He's has still yet to reach the majors but has versatility, seeing time at second, third, short, and left field the last two years.
Others at second that could make it as a back up and have MLB experience are Will Rhymes, Pete Orr, Nick Green and Mike Fontenot. Jim Negrych hit .332 with an .887 OPS through June 2013 before falling off a cliff, hitting .203 with a .520 OPS in his last 42 games.
Slick defenders are easily found here, but its a different story when it comes to their hitting.
Andino was a 2nd round pick in 2002 by the Florida Marlins as a defensive minded short stop with slightly above-average speed and a little pop. His best offensive year came in 2007 as he hit .278/.322/.428 as a 23 year old in AAA with 13 homer and triples and 25 doubles. He was rated as the best infield arm (2004-07) four straight seasons and had three as best defensive infielder (2004-06) in the Marlins system.
He was traded to Baltimore in 2009 then to Seattle in 2012 and Pittsburgh last year. He got his first legitimate shot at regular playing time in 2009 as he hit .222 with a .562 OPS in 78 games. The next year he was sent back to AAA and hit .264 with a .707 OPS, 30 doubles and 13 home runs. He got a September call up and stuck with the major league squad all of 2011 as the starting second baseman. There he hit .263 with a .670 OPS and 84 OPS+ with time spent at short stop and third base. Last year he hit just .184 with Seattle before being demoted to AAA. He's shown he's able to play the position and could serve as a good back up for any club.
Petit is another defense-first player that stalled out at AAA. Signed in 2001 out of Venezuela by the A's, he debuted in 2002 in the DSL then steadily began to climb the minor league ladder. He spent a year at each stop with standout performances in 2005 at Low A (.289 average and .795 OPS in 87 games) and 2007 when he split the year between AA Midland and AAA Sacramento. He hit .306 through 66 games in AA, prompting his promotion to AAA where he finished the year with .277 average, .680 OPS and plus defense.
His prospect luster reached its peak after this season when he was ranked the 13th best prospect in the Oakland system and was named the best infield arm and best defensive infielder as well for A's farmhands. In addition to those accolades, he was also named best infield arm and best defensive short stop in the AA Texas League. He briefly saw time in Oakland in 2008 and 2009 but only amassed 54 total at bats over that span.
In 2010 he was traded to Texas and hit .251/.316/.342 with their AAA affiliate before becoming a free agent. He then lost all of 2011 to a knee injury and hooked on with Cleveland for the 2012 season. He hit .260/.320/.403 over 111 games, knocking a career high 10 homers as a 27 year old. He spent the year back in AAA for this past season and hit .292/.344/.380 with San Diego's affiliate in Tucson. Add it all up and you get a plus defender with the resume to back it and a bottom of the order hitter. As a back up middle infielder or even a defense-first starter, I believe Petit could hold his own offensively and excel defensively if given a chance at the big league level.
A few others at the position include 26 year old Shawn O'Malley (.262/.337/.364 in AA in 2013), 24 year old Anthony Phillips (.259/.351/.400 in High A), and 29 year old Josh Rodriguez (.272/.371/.390 in AA).