The Nationals announced Wednesday that they’ve signed 27-year-old lefty Sam Clay to a Major League contract. The 2014 fourth-rounder has spent his entire career prior to this point in the Twins organization but has yet to appear in the Majors. Clay’s contract comes with a $575K guarantee, tweets Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post. Clay is represented by the Ballengee Group.
While Major League deals for minor league free agents who have yet to make their Major League debut are admittedly rare, there’s a handful of them every winter. The Nationals, in fact, fared well in exactly that type of signing just one year ago when they inked longtime Athletics farmhand Kyle Finnegan to a Major League deal. He went on to toss 24 2/3 frames of 2.92 ERA ball out of the Washington ’pen in 2020. They’ll hope for similar success with Clay in 2021.
Because of the lack of a minor league season in 2020, Clay has just 22 2/3 innings of work at the Triple-A level under his belt. He’s pitched to a 4.37 ERA in that time but logged a much more impressive 26-to-10 K/BB ratio and a 60.6 percent ground-ball rate. Clay’s sinker has consistently generated ground-ball rates north of 55 percent, including a ridiculous 77 percent mark through 46 2/3 frames at the Double-A level in 2019.
Past scouting reports on the 6’2″, 190-pound lefty have also touted an above-average curveball, and it should be noted that because of his extreme ground-ball capabilities, he’s surrendered just six home runs in 405 1/3 minor league innings. To further emphasize the eye-popping nature of that stat, consider that Clay has faced 1814 batters in that time.
Clay was never selected to the Twins’ 40-man roster at any point in his career to date, which also means he’s never been optioned to Triple-A. As such — much like Finnegan — he still has three minor league option years remaining, so he doesn’t need to crack a spot on the Nationals’ Opening Day roster by any means. He’ll give the Nats some much-needed lefty depth in their bullpen mix, where Ben Braymer had previously stood as the only southpaw bullpen piece on the team’s 40-man roster.