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Prospecting for minor league free agent corner infielders

Matt LaPorta
Matt LaPorta
Jason Miller

Minor league free agents come in every variety. The grizzled veteran trying to hang on and provide depth, or the once top prospect who may have been over-rated from the start, maybe a late bloomer that has the talent but has yet to package it all together consistently.

Though most have lost their luster, some still glimmer on the rare occasion. The majority of minor league free agents are just that, minor leaguers. They've spent six years with an organization and have yet to crack the 25-man roster for good. While some have seen time in the show (and collected that sizable paycheck), it's cups of coffee in September or sometimes 15 or 20 games to fill in while the starter tweaked a muscle for most of these guys.

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 catchers and corner infielders with middle infielders, 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.

First Baseman

No other place on the diamond can bring this much veteran presence. The remaining crop has a number of former top power hitting prospects and AAAA mainstays.

Matt LaPorta

Age B/T Height Weight
29 R/R 6'2 215

LaPorta is a well known name between fans of the Indians and Brewers. Indians fans hate him as he was the key piece of the CC Sabathia trade and has not produced nearly to the levels expected. Brewers fans love him for the same reason. Drafted 7th overall in the 2007 draft out of the University of Florida, he signed for $2M and after the season was named the 23rd best prospect in the minors and the top prospect for the Brewers. He was also named the best power hitter in the Milwaukee system that year. The following year he hit .279/.386/.539 with 22 HR in 101 games and was shipped to Cleveland at the trade deadline. He was named the #2 prospect in the Cleveland system, 27th overall, the 4th best prospect in the Southern League, the best power prospect in the Southern League and the best power hitter in the Indians system.

He dominated AAA the next year and had a solid showing in the bigs hitting .254/.308/.442 with 7 HR, 13 2B and 21 RBI in 181 AB. In 2010 and 11 he logged at least 350 AB each year but only managed a .234/.302/.386 line with 23 HR in 728 AB and a 92 OPS+. Last year he hit .238/.310/.476 in AAA at the age of 28 with 10 bombs in 164 at bats. I'm sure someone is willing to take a chance on him with his draft pedigree and right handed power.

Jeff Clement

Age B/T Height Weight
30 L/R 6'1 220

Clement is most known for being the 3rd overall pick of the loaded 2005 draft, one pick before Ryan Zimmerman, two before Ryan Braun, and four picks before Troy Tulowitzki. Clement ranked as the number one prospect for the Mariners after his debut season where he hit .315/.387/.508, was named the best power hit in Seattle's system and also the 33rd best prospect in the game. He followed that with a lackluster sophomore campaign in 2006, only hitting .263/.334/.382 between AA and AAA as a 22 year old. He dropped to second on the Mariners list and to 62nd overall, but still the best power hitter Seattle had on the farm.

A breakout 2007 saw him hit .275/.370/.497 with 35 doubles and 20 home runs. He moved back into the top slot in the farm system and #42 overall. He was also named best power hitter again and best strike zone discipline. He's stalled since then at AAA, spending the past six years there with significant time (203 AB, 54 G) spent in the show during 2008 after he hit .335/.455/.676 in 48 games at AAA. He fell flat on his face in 2008 with Seattle by hitting .227.295/.360 with five home runs and 10 doubles. He got another shot at the big leagues in 2010 after being traded to Pittsburgh in a package for Jack Wilson and Ian Snell in 2009. This time he barely crossed the Mendoza Line at .201 over 144 at bats.

Last year he was in the Minnesota system, logging 446 at bats with a .220/.291/.388 line with 16 bombs and 25 doubles. His lofty draft status and left handed power could make for a decent bench bat if he can figure out big league pitching.

Shelley Duncan (34) Sean Burroughs (33) and Ben Broussard (37) are other potential first baseman with major leagues playing time on their resume's. Burroughs was once the #1 prospect for San Diego in back to back years in 2000 and 2001. Duncan has seen playing time in the bigs every year since 2007 but has not found a permanent home on a big league roster thanks to a career .226/.305/.419 line.

Third Baseman

The pickings are slim when it comes to the hot corner but there are a few lottery tickets available if someone is feeling lucky.

Kevin Ahrens

Age B/T Height Weight
25 S/R 6'1 195

Ahrens had a great senior year in high school and was picked as the 16th overall selection in the 2007 draft by the Blue Jays and then signed for a cool $1.44 million. He drew Chipper Jones comparisons back then but not so much these days. He struggled to get going as a professional, hitting just .239 in his first four seasons with an average of just five home runs. Not what Toronto was expecting at draft time where he was praised for a swing that was believed to contain 15-20 home runs per year in it.

It took him four tries to break through to AA but he did so this past year, hitting .218/.285/.340 in 73 games with more time spent at first than third. Signing Ahrens would be a depth move as he's probably not ready for AAA just yet. He's got a strong arm and the range and hands to play third, but he needs to be more aggressive with first pitch strikes. He doesn't have much bat speed but his swing is fluid from both sides. He's definitely a lottery ticket with the hopes he is just a late bloomer.

Josh Fields

Age B/T Height Weight
31 R/R 6'2 225

Another former first round pick, Fields went 18th overall to the White Sox in 2004 with a $1.55 million signing bonus out of Oklahoma State. He was a top five prospect in the system from his first pro season until his major league debut in 2007. His last full season at AAA in 2006 was a monster year where he hit .305/.379/.515 with 32 doubles and 19 bombs. By the end of the year he was ranked the 45th best prospect in all of baseball and was second in the Chicago system. He got called to the show for good in June of 2007 and hit .244/.308/.480 with 23 home runs in 100 games.

He was beat out for the starting job in 2008, sent to AAA and then was hit with the injury bug, resulting in a disappointing .246/.341/.431 line over 75 games and a .156/.229/.188 line in 14 games with the Sox. He won the job in Spring of 2009 but bombed with a .648 OPS in 79 games, losing the starting gig by June. The Sox shipped him to Kansas City that winter and he was on the shelf the majority of the season, only getting into 27 games the whole year. He hooked on with Colorado the following off season, went to AAA and mashed for 50 games, hitting .365/.429/.674 in the friendly confines of Colorado Springs. The Rockies cut him to he could go to Japan.

He came back to the states for 2012 to play with the AAA affiliate for the Dodgers. He hit well, posting a .322/.392/.488 line with 13 homers and 32 doubles. He didn't crack the big league roster and once again moved on to another organization. Last year was with the Phillies and he hit .289/.337/.406 at age 30. The power disappeared and he spent more time at first base than third. If he can still play third, I don't see why he would not be an option for a team with needs at the hot corner as he can still barrel up the ball. After all he is a career .300 hitter over 2,086 AAA at bats.

There really aren't any other good options out there as free agents.