With one month of the season in the books, we’ll check in on how this winter’s crop of minor-league signees is faring, starting on the position-player side. It’s fairly common to see quite a few relief pitchers emerge from the ranks of non-roster invitees to make Opening Day rosters and even earn significant bullpen roles. Hitters, though, tend to face a tougher path to playing time.
Every so often, there’s a gem — J.D. Martinez, anyone? — but for the most part, teams are hoping that some of the players they ink to minors pacts will help with depth and stability over the course of a long season. Here are the biggest contributors to date (by order of most to least plate appearances):
- Ryan Flaherty, INF, Braves: The long-time utility infielder broke out early after landing with the Atlanta organization right at the start of the season. He has started to cool but still owns an appealing (albeit almost certainly unsustainable) .300/.398/.400 slash line in his 93 plate appearances. With Johan Camargo back from the DL and Jose Bautista on the way, though, Flaherty’s window of opportunity promises to narrow significantly.
- Pedro Alvarez, DH, Orioles: If there’s a player who may have earned himself a much bigger role, it could be Alvarez. With the struggling, injury-riddled O’s desperate for any spark, he has swatted six long balls and posted a .237/.357/.576 slash over seventy plate appearances. It’s still anyone’s guess exactly how the Baltimore roster will evolve over the season, but the 32-year-old Alvarez ought to keep earning chances if he keeps hitting and might even end up becoming a bit of a trade asset.
- Abraham Almonte, OF, Royals: The 28-year-old can be a handy asset if he’s hitting at close to a league-average rate, which is just what he’s done for Kansas City. It’s hard to imagine Almonte functioning as more than a fourth outfielder for the Royals, barring injury or trade, but he could get a significant chance at MLB action over the course of what is shaping up to be a season to forget in K.C.
- Gregor Blanco, OF, Giants: Now that he’s back in the bay, Blanco has returned to doing what he does best: getting on base at surprisingly useful levels while providing sometimes excellent baserunning and solid glovework at all three outfield positions. He has been a quality reserve outfielder in the past and now has perhaps earned the presumption of a roster spot the rest of the way in 2018, though he’ll need to keep performing to fend off some younger players as the season progresses.
- Danny Valencia, 3B, Orioles: Valencia has earned a surprising amount of playing time owing to injuries but has not exactly produced compelling results through 17 games of action. He’s also not considered a quality fielder or baserunner. But it’s only fair to note that Valencia has likely been striking the ball much better than his three home runs and .204/.291/.429 batting line would suggest. He’s carrying only a .206 BABIP and a .301 wOBA that lags far behind the .350 xwOBA that the quality of his contact predicts.
Beyond this group, things thin out even further. Rajai Davis and Moises Sierra have received fairly significant time with the Indians and Nationals, respectively, but have contributed next to nothing with the bat. A.J. Ellis, Bryan Holaday, and Jose Lobaton have been marginal-hitting reserve backstops, while players such as Cliff Pennington and Ryan Goins have similarly provided backup infield gloves without hitting enough to stake anything but temporary claims to jobs.
Of course, the results will change as the season goes on. Perhaps next time we check in, there’ll be some interesting new names to consider … after all, such notable veterans as Bautista (Braves), Jayson Werth (Mariners), and Melky Cabrera (Indians) are all in the pipeline of their respective teams after striking minors deals in recent weeks.
The original version of this post mistakenly included reference to Alcides Escobar, who in fact signed a MLB deal his winter with the Royals.