The Twins announced a batch of non-roster invitees to Spring Training today. It included various players on previously-reported minor league deals, as well as right-hander Jeff Brigham and catcher Brian O’Keefe. It also featured right-handers Jordan Balazovic and Daniel Duarte, both of whom were recently designated for assignment. Darren Wolfson of SKOR North relayed today that Balazovic cleared waivers while Bobby Nightengale of the Star Tribune was among those to relay the same for Duarte.
It’s a bit of an early birthday present for Brigham, who turns 32 on Friday. The righty is coming off a disappointing year with the Mets. Acquired from the Marlins in November of 2022, he spent 2023 as an up-and-down depth arm for the Mets. He made 37 appearances with the big league club but allowed 5.26 earned runs per nine innings. His 26.3% strikeout rate was quite strong but he also issued walks to 11.3% of batters faced. He also fared poorly in Triple-A, though in a tiny sample of nine innings.
The Mets non-tendered Brigham at season’s end rather than pay him an arbitration salary, which MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projected would be $1.1MM. The Twins will take a no-risk look at him in camp and see if there’s anything that intrigues them. He’s not too far removed from better results, as he posted a 3.38 ERA with the Marlins in 2022, as well as a 27.7% strikeout rate and 9.9% walk rate. But the stuff may be a concern, as his velo has been dropping. His fastball averaged 96.6 miles per hour in 2019 but he missed most of 2020 due to a biceps injury. His fastball velo dropped to 94.5 mph in 2022 and then 93.5 mph last year.
He’ll give the Twins a bit of non-roster bullpen depth, alongside guys like Matt Bowman, A.J. Alexy, Hobie Harris and Jared Solomon. If Brigham is added to the roster at any point, he still has an option year remaining and less than four years of service time.
O’Keefe, 30, has a small MLB résumé, having appeared in 10 games for the Mariners over the past two seasons. He hit .136/.240/.227 in his 25 plate appearances over that span. He’s had just over 1,000 trips to the plate in Triple-A, hitting .247/.333/.475, though with all of that time spent in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. Baseball Prospectus has looked kindly upon his framing and blocking throughout his minor league career.
The Twins have Ryan Jeffers and Christian Vázquez set to be their catching duo in the big leagues. The latter appeared in some trade rumors over the winter but nothing has come together. Jair Camargo is on the roster but has options and is likely to be in Triple-A. O’Keefe will likely join him in a non-roster capacity and will be on hand should an injury arise.
Balazovic, 25, was once a top 100 prospect but his stock has fallen significantly of late. He posted a 7.39 ERA in 22 Triple-A appearances in 2022, with Baseball America noting that his stuff had diminished in terms of velocity. In 2023, it was reported in February that he had a broken jaw due to “an altercation away from the field.” He went on to post 5.32 ERA in Triple-A and a 4.44 ERA in the majors. That big league work came with unimpressive peripherals such as a 15.7% strikeout rate and 11.1% walk rate.
He is now out of options and would need an active roster spot, in addition to a 40-man spot. It seems no club was willing to take a chance on him, despite the former prospect pedigree, so he will stick with the Twins as non-roster depth. He doesn’t have a previous career outright nor the three years of service time that would allow him to elect free agency.
As for Duarte, 27, he finally cleared waivers after spending the winter touring around the league. He was designated for assignment by the Reds in January and then went to the Rangers on a cash deal and then to the Twins on a waiver claim.
He had an ERA of 3.69 with Cincinnati last year but only struck out 16.9% of batters faced while giving out walks at a 14.7% clip. His 50% ground ball rate surely helped but he won’t be able to maintain a .218 batting average on balls in play or 81.6% strand rate going forward.
His interest around the league likely stemmed from his strong Triple-A numbers. In 35 innings at that level last year, he had a 3.34 ERA, 25.8% strikeout rate, 11.3% walk rate and 51.8% ground ball rate. Like Balazovic, he will have no choice but to accept this assignment and stick with the club as non-roster depth.