Minor league deals often go unnoticed or are met with an eye roll from fans — the ever-witty “Championship!” comments abound following such deals — and more often than not, they end up as inconsequential moves that are quickly forgotten. Each year, though, a handful of minor league signings yield legitimate value for their new clubs. With the more than half of the season in the books and the All-Star break upon us, enough of the season has passed that we can discern which minor league deals have yielded the most significant dividends in 2016…
- Robbie Grossman, Twins: Grossman wasn’t an offseason minor league signing, but he inked a minors pact with the Twins in mid-May and was brought up to the big leagues almost immediately thereafter. Since arriving in Minneapolis, he’s seen regular playing time and enjoyed the most productive stretch of his career. The switch-hitter is batting .289/.421/.465 with six homers and 10 doubles over the life of 195 plate appearances and has walked at an incredible 18.5 percent clip. Defensive metrics are way down on his work in left field, but the bat has been good enough that Fangraphs pegs him at a strong 1.1 WAR thus far. He’s controllable for another four seasons as well.
- Matt Joyce, Pirates: Joyce’s 2015 season with the Angels was awful, but he’s more productive on a per-plate-appearance basis in 2016 than he ever has been before. He’s been heavily platooned, as usual, and has posted an excellent .295/.420/.558 batting line with eight homers in 157 plate appearances as the Pirates’ fourth outfielder. He, too, has drawn poor marks from UZR and DRS, but he’s been productive enough at the plate that he won’t be settling for a minor league contract again this winter.
- Dae-ho Lee, Mariners: Lee didn’t generate as much interest as countryman Byung Ho Park, but he’s been the better player of the two thus far. Through 188 plate appearances, the former KBO and NPB star is hitting .288/.330/.514 with a dozen homers and four doubles. He’s been platooned quite a bit himself, but his numbers against righties are actually a bit better than his still-strong production against lefties.
- Fernando Abad, Twins: Some of the shine has worn off from Abad’s early dominance, as he’s yielded seven runs in his past six outings. In spite of that slump, though, Abad boasts a 2.83 ERA with 8.2 K/9, 4.1 BB/9 and a 46.7 percent ground-ball rate. He’s pitched 28 2/3 innings for the Twins and could be a trade chip this summer. He’s controllable through the 2017 campaign, which adds to his appeal.
- Matt Belisle, Nationals: A strained calf has limited Belisle to 19 innings with the Nats this season, but he’s been terrific when healthy. The veteran right-hander has a 2.37 ERA with 16 strikeouts against four walks (two intentional) with a 41.1 percent ground-ball rate in D.C. He’s helped to stabilize what has been a vastly improved Nationals bullpen in 2016.
- Ryan Buchter, Padres: The 29-year-old has been brilliant for San Diego in 2016, logging 38 innings with a 2.61 ERA and averaging 13 strikeouts per nine innings. He has some control issues, averaging five walks per nine as well, but he’s missed so many bats that the free passes haven’t hurt him often. He’d only thrown one big league inning prior to this season, so San Diego can control him for six years if he can maintain this breakout. (Apologies for leaving Buchter off the initial list; he was added to the 40-man back in January, which caused me to incorrectly remember him as a Major League signee.)
- Matt Bush, Rangers: That Bush even made it to a Major League mound after the trajectory his career took is astonishing on its own, but his performance thus far with the Rangers has been excellent as well. The 30-year-old has a 2.49 ERA with 8.9 K/9, 2.8 BB/9 and a 37.1 percent ground-ball rate through 25 1/3 innings out of the Rangers’ bullpen. With Shawn Tolleson’s 2016 struggles and a three-month stay on the disabled list for Keone Kela, Bush’s emergence has been critical for Texas.
- Dillon Gee, Royals: Gee’s 4.11 ERA isn’t exactly flashy, but he’s provided 57 serviceable innings in 13 relief appearances and five starts for the Royals. And, with Chris Young shifting to the bullpen, Gee could continue to get some starts for Kansas City following the All-Star break. The Royals can hang onto him for another season via the arbitration process, as well.
- Brandon Kintzler, Twins: The former Brewers right-hander has found himself in the closer role for the Twins following an injury to Glen Perkins and a disastrous season for Kevin Jepsen. Kintlzer doesn’t miss bats (5.5 K/9), but he’s walked just two batters in 26 innings and has posted an exceptional 64.2 percent ground-ball rate en route to a 2.42 ERA. Like his bullpen-mate Abad, Kintzler is controllable through the 2017 season and could be appealing to clubs in need of relief help.
- Chien-Ming Wang, Royals: Wang’s improved velocity was a big storyline in Spring Training, but he’s settled in at an average of 91.6 mph, which is right in line with his career mark in that regard. The 36-year-old’s sinker isn’t generating grounders like it used to, but he’s still managed a 3.68 ERA with 5.9 K/9, 2.7 BB/9 and a 46.2 percent ground-ball rate in 36 2/3 innings with the reigning World Series champions this year.