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Baseball is seeing the emergence of numerous quality young shortstops at the same time, writes ESPN's Keith Law (Insider subscription required). Jean Segura, Didi Gregorius, Andrelton Simmons, Brandon Crawford, and Starlin Castro are among the young shortstops already making an impact in the big leagues. All play on National League clubs. One of these players (Castro) has already been locked up long-term, while another (Segura) is an early extension target for his club. It will be interesting to see whether and when the rest of this deep group of middle infielders are approached about extensions. Elsewhere in the National League …
- The Cardinals, one of baseball's most storied franchises, are perhaps its best-run present organization, writes Joel Sherman of the New York Post. Prioritizing continuity and foregoing excuses, the Cards are respected in the front office, field staff, and active roster. Sherman explains that the Cardinals' success in acquiring and developing players has been accompanied by a consistent philosophy of professionalism. This has allowed the team to weather significant injuries without missing a beat. As former manager Tony LaRussa describes it: "The Cardinals are winning because they have done things right for years to be in a position to be successful. Don't get me wrong, the Cardinals' talent level is really good, but their team chemistry is off the charts."
- Former Phillies' prospect Michael Bourn fully bloomed after leaving the club, but thought he might return as a free agent this past offseason. As MLB.com's Todd Zolecki writes, when Bourn's asking price looked too steep, the Phils went after another center fielder in Ben Revere. By the time Bourn's price had dropped, then, the position was filled, and Bourn signed with the Indians. From his perspective, Bourn says: "I think I might have been on their hit list. I don't know how high or what their target was, or if they were worried about what Scott [Boras] was going to do. There are a lot of teams that say they want you to be part of their organization, but you don't know if they really do. … Yeah, I guess the Phillies were interested a little bit. But that's not how it went down."
- With long-term deals locking up cornerstone infielders Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs could turn their attention to spending on pitching, writes Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times. Of course, the club intends to fill two rotation spots with Jeff Samardzija and Edwin Jackson for the foreseeable future. While Wittenmyer says that extension talks have not been planned with starter Matt Garza, the soon-to-be free agent says he would be amenable. Garza, of course, has yet to appear this season. Likewise, rotation member Travis Wood says he would love to make his career in Chicago. Though he says "that's out of my hands," Wood has done everything he can this year to lock down a spot going forward. If nothing else, he is setting himself up nicely for his first season of arbitration eligibility. As manager Dale Sveum noted, and Wittenmyer documented, Wood has posted a 3.50 ERA and logged 192 2/3 innings over his last 31 starts (extending into last year).
- The Padres have several players in their minor league system whose contracts contain out clauses that are approaching, Bill Center of the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. Pitcher Tim Stauffer can elect free agency on June 1, while fellow righty Sean O'Sullivan's date is June 15. It was previously believed that both pitchers had opt-out dates around June 1. Other players with June 15 opt-out dates are catcher Rene Rivera and outfielder Travis Buck. Each has made a reasonable case in Triple-A that they can contribute. Stauffer has pitched to a 3.16 ERA in 42 2/3 innings. O'Sullivan's ERA is 4.19 across 43 innings, but he has put up 8.2 K/9 against 2.7 BB/9. Meanwhile, Rivera has a .375/.430/.477 line in 101 plate appearances, and Buck has hit .275/.321/.480 in 112 appearances.
Here are Wednesday's minor moves…
- The Rangers have signed Brandon Snyder to a minor league contract, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (on Twitter). The 26-year-old former first round pick of the Orioles hit .277/.309/.446 in 69 plate appearances with Texas last year while playing first base, third base, and both corner outfield spots.
- The Padres have re-signed Juan Oramas to a minor league deal according to MLB.com's Corey Brock (on Twitter). The 22-year-old left-hander was non-tendered last month and is recovering from Tommy John surgery.
- The Padres have also signed right-hander Sean O'Sullivan, infielder Gregorio Petit, and catcher Rene Rivera to minor league contracts, the team announced. All three players received invitations to Spring Training.
- The Twins have signed outfielder Brandon Boggs, infielder Ray Olmedo, right-hander Bryan Augenstein, first baseman Reynaldo Rodriguez, right-hander Scott Elarton, right-hander Virgil Vasquez, left-hander Mike O'Connor, and left-hander Jason Lane to minor league deals according to MLB.com's Adam Berry. Boggs, Olmedo, and Augenstein received invitations to Spring Training.
The Twins signed infielder Sean Burroughs and catcher Rene Rivera to minor league deals with invitations to Spring Training, according to La Velle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The Twins also signed right-hander P.J. Walters, according to Joe Christensen of the Star Tribune (on Twitter). Terry Ryan's busy offseason continues with the depth moves.
Burroughs, 31, appeared in 78 games for the Diamondbacks this past season after a four-year absence from the Major Leagues. The former ninth overall selection overcame substance abuse problems to post a .273/.289/.336 line in 115 plate appearances with Arizona. Wasserman Media Group represents Burroughs.
Rivera, 28, appeared in 45 games for the Twins in 2011. The longtime minor leaguer posted just a .412 OPS but did prevent 10 of 25 attempted steals against him (40%). Walters, 26, appeared in four games for the Cardinals and one more for the Blue Jays in 2011. He spent most of the season at Triple-A, where he posted a 5.17 ERA with 7.7 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9.
The Twins announced that they outrighted catcher Rene Rivera, infielder Matt Tolbert, outfielder Jason Repko and right-hander Anthony Slama to Triple-A Rochester. In corresponding moves, Minnesota reinstated Nick Blackburn and Alexi Casilla from the 60-day disabled list. The Twins' 40-man roster now includes 38 players.
Rivera, 28, played in 45 games for the Twins, but posted just a .412 OPS. Tolbert appeared at short, second and third and was similarly punchless at the plate, posting a .518 OPS in 226 plate appearances. Repko played all three outfield positions for the second consecutive season and contributed a .555 OPS in 144 plate appearances. Slama appeared in two games for the Twins, but spent most of the season pitching out of the bullpen at Triple-A.
MLBTR's Tim Dierkes identified Repko and Tolbert as non-tender candidates earlier in the month.
Here are some minor transactions from the past week, courtesy of Baseball America's Matt Eddy…
- The Rangers signed two former first-round draft picks in left-hander Zach Jackson and utility infielder Omar Quintanilla. Jackson, picked 32nd overall by the Blue Jays in the 2004 draft, has a 5.81 ERA in 22 career major league games (17 of them starts) with the Brewers and Indians since 2006. Jackson spent 2010 pitching for Toronto's Triple-A affiliate in Las Vegas. Quintanilla was taken with the 33rd pick of the 2003 draft by Oakland, and then dealt to the Rockies in 2005 as part of the Eric Byrnes trade. Quintanilla posted a .567 OPS in 559 plate appearances with Colorado between 2005 and 2009.
- The Twins signed catchers Steve Holm and Rene Rivera to minor league contracts. A 17th-round pick of the Giants in the 2001 draft, Holm has spent his entire 10-year pro career with in the San Francisco system, racking up 107 major league plate appearances in 2008 and 2009. Rivera last played in the majors as a member of the Mariners in 2006, and has since played in the Dodgers, Mets and Yankees' systems.
- The Nationals signed right-hander Harvey Garcia and catcher Carlos Maldonado. Garcia had an eight-game cup of coffee with Florida in 2007 and has since pitched in the Pirates and Dodgers' systems. Eddy says Garcia may have earned a contract due to his solid work this year in the Venezuelan League. Maldonado, 31, was designated for assignment by Washington in September and then granted free agency after the season. Maldonado has been in pro ball since 1996 and has 4226 career minor league plate appearances (a .687 OPS) but only 62 PAs in the bigs.
Mike Ashmore of the Hunterdon County Democrat reports that the Yankees have signed catcher Rene Rivera to a contract. Rivera told Ashmore that he is reporting to the Yankees' Triple-A affiliate in Scranton.
Rivera, 26, was a second-round pick of the Mariners in the 2001 amateur draft. He hit .227/.252/.333 in 159 plate appearances with Seattle from 2004 to 2006, and spent the last two seasons in the Dodgers and Mets' systems, respectively. MLBTR's Howard Megdal recently mentioned Rivera in his look at the Atlantic League, where Rivera was tied for the league lead in homers playing for the Camden Riversharks.
The signing is a depth move for the Bronx Bombers, who will be without Jorge Posada for the next 3-4 weeks due to a broken bone in the star catcher's foot. New York just today called up veteran catcher Chad Moeller (who had been in Scranton) to back up new starter Francisco Cervelli. If you're wondering about the Yankees' star catching prospect Jesus Montero, he's only hitting .230/.304/.385 at Triple-A this season, so the Yanks clearly aren't ready to bring him up to the majors quite yet.
Of the major independent leagues, play begins earliest in the Atlantic League, which often serves as a halfway house for players who eventually return to affiliated baseball. Making that jump has become increasingly common, with 11 former Atlantic Leaguers logging major league time in 2009. Former stars like Ruben Sierra and Juan Gonzalez have played in the Atlantic League and others, like Nelson Figueroa, have used the league to induce organized baseball to give them second chances.
It is hard to find a group more worthy of fan appreciation than those in the Atlantic League. These players earn small salaries and hope that with enough strong play, they can return to one of the 30 major league organizations.
So with the 2010 Atlantic League season more than 20 games old, let's take a look at some of the players there who could make that jump this year:
- Kennard Jones currently leads the circuit for the Newark Bears with a .403 average, 13 extra-base hits in his first 77 at-bats, and nine walks against ten strikeouts. Jones was a third-round pick of the San Diego Padres back in 2002, and played all three outfield positions in their organization, though he's been primarily in right field with Newark. Just 28, it seems far from impossible to imagine him helping a big league team. Jones' big limitation during his time with the Padres was a lack of power, something he clearly doesn't suffer from in Newark.
- Daryle Ward is a name familiar to many baseball fans, and he is remaking a name for himself with Newark as well, leading the Atlantic League with six home runs. Ward played with six major league teams, most notably with the Houston Astros, and could be a source of power for a team short at first base or designated hitter. Two notes of caution: Ward is turning 35 next month, and has three walks in his first 78 at-bats, a sign he has become an all-or-nothing hitter.
- Rene Rivera, who played briefly with the Seattle Mariners and now plays with the Camden Riversharks, is tied with Ward for the league home run lead. Rivera plays catcher, a position where power is scarce, particularly this season, so he may be the best bet to find his way back to the major leagues. What works against Rivera is that he's never hit with anything close to this kind of power- in 259 plate appearances last season with Triple-A Buffalo, Rivera had nine home runs. Still, Rivera was a second round pick of the Mariners back in 2001, and is just 26. Catchers often develop later offensively, so perhaps Rivera has figured it out.
- Another potential late bloomer is right-hander Ben Fritz, a first round pick of the Athletics back in 2001. The 6'4" hurler has been nothing short of dominant for the Lancaster Barnstormers so far this season, with 23 strikeouts against seven walks in his past three starts. Fritz never put it together for Oakland, but still just 29, perhaps Fritz is ready to shed his first-round bust label once and for all.
Some difference-makers were signed this past winter, and others will be acquired at the trade deadline, but don't discount the possibility that one could come from independent league baseball, either.