Every year, every MLB team fills out their 40 man roster. As that is happening, they are also adding minor league free agents and offering them nothing more than an invitation to big league spring training. That is enough to be seen, to get an opportunity.
Generally speaking, news of these minor league signings is treated fairly ho-hum. However, the last few years, the Minnesota Twins have done a great job of adding veteran minor league talent. Usually, those players are guys who help the AA and AAA rosters by providing experience and to fill gaps in the minor league system.
However, the Twins have had much success in recent years in the free agency realm. Consider in 2011, the Twins signed Caleb Thielbar as a minor league free agent in August. The story has become famous, but right before spring training that year, the Twins signed Andrew Albers.
The Twins had a tremendous year of minor league signings prior to the 2012 season. Sure, there were a couple that didn't make it, but the Twins front office deserves credit for targeting some very good players. Here's a look at the Twins minor league signings for 2012:
No Time With Twins
Steve Pearce - The 1B/OF signed with the Twins, but he spent most of that spring training hurt and was let go before the end of spring training. He went on to spend time in the big leagues with the Orioles, Astros and Yankees.
Brendan Wise - The right-handed pitcher from Australia had been terrific in AAA for the Tigers the two previous seasons, but he struggled with Rochester.
JR Towles - The catcher who was a former top prospect caused some excitement when the Twins signed him. However, he did very little in AAA and was hurt for a large part of the season.
Luke French - The former big league southpaw signed with the Twins and was tremendous early in New Britain. However, he was pretty poor in AAA and went back to the Rock Cats.
Cups of Coffee
Matt Carson - The 30+ outfielder had spent time in the big leagues with the A's. He was a very solid performer for the Red Wings, and when he was called up to the Twins late in the season, he got 66 at bats.
Luis Perdomo - He had spent time with the Padres in 2009 and 2010. He was terrific for New Britain and Rochester in 2012 and earned his promotion to the Twins. However, with the Twins he had no control. He resigned with the Twins this spring but has been inconsistent in the Red Wings bullpen.
Sean Burroughs - The former Little League World Series hero signed a minor league deal with the Twins and made the Opening Day roster. He got just 18 plate appearances before being DFAd and sent to Rochester where he spent he rest of the season.
Wilkin Ramirez - The Twins actually signed Ramirez before the 2012 season. The former top prospect of the Tigers had spent big league time with Detroit and Atlanta. An injury in spring training meant his season started late, but he showed good power when healthy. This spring, he made the Twins roster out of spring training as an extra outfielder. He missed about two months due to a concussion and has just returned to the Twins.
Chris Colabello - The story is well known. The Twins signed Colabello out of the Can-Am League before the 2012 season, and he hit well in New Britain. This spring, he played in the WBC and went to big league camp. He put up incredible numbers in Rochester this season and has been recalled to the Twins several times this season. Can he be part of the future? That will be determined, likely, over the next two months.
PJ Walters - He was signed by the Twins before the 2012 season. The former prospect pitched well enough in the spring and then in Rochester to get a call up. He pitched well until he was injured and then struggled in his return. The same thing happened this year. He went to Rochester and was summoned back to the Twins. In total, he has made 20 starts and pitched 101 innings for the Twins in the past two seasons.
Sam Deduno - The enigmatic right-hander had spent time with the Rockies and the Padres in 2010 and 2011, respectively, before the Twins signed him before the 2012 season. Control had plagued him, but he pitched well enough, and the Twins' need was big enough that he got an opportunity. The Twins DFAd him after the season, but then resigned him to a minor league deal. This spring, he was a WBC hero for the Dominican Republic. Unfortunately, he was injured and started the season late. Once he started pitching, it didn't take long for him to get moved up to the Twins. He has gone from walking 6.0 per nine to just 3.4 per nine. He has reduced his HR rate from 1.1 to 0.5. He is looking like a long-term middle of the rotation type. He's now made 29 starts for the Twins and worked 167 innings.
Jared Burton - Burton was a very good reliever for the Reds when he was healthy. After missing the majority of two seasons, the Twins signed him to a minor league season. Last year, he was so good in a set up role that the Twins signed him to a two year extension. Although he struggled for a few weeks this season, he has again been very good. He has now pitched in 113 innings in 118 games for the Twins.
Casey Fien - Fien had spent time with the Tigers before signing as a minor league free agent before the 2012 season. Though he started off slow at Rochester, he came on very strong for the Red Wings. He was promoted to the Twins and ever since he has been one of the best relievers in the league. In 90 games and 84.1 innings, he has posted a 2.56 ERA and a 0.90 WHIP.
I'd say that was a pretty strong minor league free agent class. The 2012 class includes Twins infielder Doug Bernier. At Rochester, Jeff Clement has hit in the middle of the order and Antoan Richardson has been a terrific leadoff hitter. Also consider that Josmil Pinto, Deibinson Romero and Edgar Ibarra all had the opportunity to become free agents last winter but chose to stay with the Twins.
Obviously it is not an ideal situation to get so much big league playing time from free minor league free agents. Having three players with ties to independent league, along with a 33-year-old journeyman, and several DFA claims that have played a lot. However, these often are the best stories in baseball as we have seen with Albers, Colabello, Thielbar and others.
However, minor league free agency can be an important part of roster building for major league teams. It is one area where the Twins have been quite successful.