The Rangers announced seven minor league signings today, with the players all receiving invitations to the club’s big league Spring Training camp. The signings of Diego Castillo and Jesus Tinoco were previously reported, and Texas’ group included three more players with MLB experience — outfielder Derek Hill, catcher Andrew Knapp, and outfielder Elier Hernandez.
Hill has seen some action in each of the last four Major League seasons, beginning with his big league debut as a member of the Tigers in 2020. Hill appeared in 95 games with Detroit from 2020-22 before signing a minors deal with the Nationals last winter that resulted in 13 more MLB appearances this past season. Washington designated Hill for assignment and outrighted him off the 40-man roster in July, and Hill chose to become a minor league free agency after the regular season was over.
Just a few days shy of his 28th birthday, Hill hasn’t hit much over his limited big league career, with a .229/.279/.314 slash line over 304 plate appearances. Selected 23rd overall by the Tigers in the 2014 draft, Hill’s bat took a while to get going even in the minors, though he has hit .288/.348/.472 with 22 homers and 28 steals (in 35 tries) over 756 career PA at the Triple-A level.
These numbers hint at some “quad-A” uncertainty for Hill, yet his speed, Triple-A production, and his ability to at least passably play all three outfield positions should keep giving him some opportunities on minor league contracts. With Robbie Grossman and Travis Jankowski both free agents, Hill and Hernandez will give the Rangers some outfield depth at the Triple-A level, especially since top prospect Wyatt Langford is expected to make his MLB debut in 2024 and Evan Carter has already broken out as an outfield regular heading into next season.
It’s a familiar role for Hernandez, who is returning for his fourth straight season in the Texas organization. Originally an international signing for the Royals way back in 2011, the 29-year-old Hernandez has become a fixture at Triple-A Round Rock, posting particularly good numbers for the Rangers’ top affiliate in each of the last two seasons. That production earned Hernandez his first big league look in 2022, when he had a .442 OPS over 35 PA in 14 games with Texas.
The 32-year-old Knapp has the most Major League experience of the trio, as the veteran backstop suited up for 325 appearances from 2017-22. Most (309) of that work came as a part-time catcher and backup with the Phillies, but Knapp has since bounced around the league since he first elected free agency following the 2021 season. Knapp saw MLB action with three teams (the Pirates, Mariners, and Giants) in 2022, and he has also been a member of the Reds, Tigers, and Astros organization without the benefit of any big league call-ups. Knapp spent all of 2023 at Triple-A, hitting a combined .233/.328/.377 over 358 for Detroit and Houston’s top affiliates.
With Mitch Garver now joining the Mariners and already leaning more towards a DH-only role anyway, the Rangers were in need of some additional depth behind the plate. Jonah Heim will start and Knapp could give Sam Huff some competition for the backup job in Spring Training. Since there aren’t any other catchers in the organization with any big league experience, Texas will likely look to add one or two more backstops on minor league deals to further add to their list of catching options heading into camp.