Changing minor league teams is no easy task

As baseball fans know, spring training is when MLB teams establish their respective 25-man and 40-man rosters for the upcoming season. But what some fans may not realize is that it is also when MLB teams set their minor league rosters for the coming season as well. These minor league rosters are set in hopes of not only benefiting the overall franchise right now, but also for seasons to come.

The ultimate decisions as to who goes where within the Dodgers minor league system is made by Dodgers Vice President of Player Development De Jon Watson and Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti after consulting with the scouting staff and minor league coaches, and it generally takes place during the final days of minor league spring training camp – often the last day. This, of course, means that the respective minor league affiliate teams have no idea which players have been assigned to them until shortly before their season begins. The exception to this are the Dodgers two short-season rookie league teams (the AZL Dodgers and Ogden Raptors), who begin their seasons after the MLB First Year Player Draft in June.

Minor leaguers are scrutinized very closely during spring training especially by Dejon Watson. Even Dodger manager Don Mattingly will get in on the action when the big leaguers have a day off. (Photo credit - Ron Cervenka)

Dodgers Vice President of Player Development De Jon Watson watches minor leaguers very closely during spring training to determine which Dodgers affiliate team they will ultimately be assigned to. Even Dodgers manager Don Mattingly occasionally gets in on the action when the big leaguers have a rare day off. (Photo credit – Ron Cervenka)

Even though I have been following the Dodgers minor league system for quite some time now, I must confess that I do not fully understand with any clarity the criteria or protocol used to determine who goes where within the minor league system – or if there even is a criteria or protocol. I would imagine, however, that a player’s age and minor league experience might have a lot to do with it – Julio Urias notwithstanding.

Minor leaguers in the Dodgers farm system receive a tremendous amount of one-on-one training - even occasionally from this guy. (Photo credit - Ron Cervenka)

Minor leaguers in the Dodgers farm system receive a tremendous amount of one-on-one time during spring training – even from this guy. (Photo credit – Ron Cervenka)

Unless a player is part of a trade, as was Allen Webster being traded to the Red Sox (August 25, 2012) or Ethan Martin traded to the Phillies (July 31, 2012), it is not an easy path for a minor league player to move from one team to another team and rarely, if ever, their choice.

Perhaps the easiest but definitely most painful way to join another organization is simply to be released and then hope to be signed by another team. Although a minor league player can ask to be released at any time, the team does not have to grant their release, and there are no guarantees whatsoever that they will be picked up by another team. Most often the release is a decision made by the parent organization if/when they feel that the minor league player is no longer an asset to the organization on any level or has no real chance to make it to the major leagues with their organization due to their depth chart. On April 3, 2011 the Cleveland Indians released minor leaguer Preston Mattingly, son of Dodgers manager Don Mattingly. Preston had previously been traded to the Indians by the Dodgers who had drafted him in the first round of the 2006 First Year Player Draft. Unlike players on a MLB team’s 40-man roster, a minor league player does not have to clear waivers when he is released and can be signed by another team immediately.

One other route to become part of another MLB organization (and also not of the player’s choosing) is the annual Rule 5 Draft. The Rule 5 Draft is held each year during the annual Winter Meetings and this past winter it was held on December 12, 2013 in Orlando, Florida. Only nine minor league players were selected in this year’s Major League Rule 5 Draft. Ironically, one such move involved the Dodgers but in a roundabout way. The New York Mets selected right-handed reliever Seth Rosin from the Philadelphia Phillies as the sixth pick and then, via a pre-draft arrangement, immediately traded him to Dodgers for cash. The 25-year-old Rosin played for the AA Reading Fightin Phils in 2013. As most long-time Dodger fans painfully recall, a young Dodger minor league outfielder named Roberto Clemente was snatched away from them by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1954 Rule 5 Draft and the rest, as they say, is history.

In a matter of two days, 24-year-old Seth Rosin went from having a good chance of making the Dodgers 25-man to almost no chance making it. (Photo credit - Ralph Trout)

The Dodgers acquired 24-year-old right-hander Seth Rosin from the Phillies (via the Mets) in the Rule 5 Draft this off-season. (Photo credit – Ralph Trout)

In the minor league phase of this year’s Rule 5 Draft, 34 players were selected from Triple-A rosters and only two from Double-A rosters. Teams pay $12,000 for Triple-A players that they select in the Rule 5 Draft and $4,000 for Double-A players. The Rule 5 draftees are chosen from a pool of players not protected on the reserve lists at the Double-A (37-man roster) and Single-A (35-man roster) levels. The minor league Rule 5 Draft is basically a tool for MLB teams to fill out their minor league affiliate rosters rather than acquiring them as true potential MLB prospects. That being said, there is an occasional diamond in the rough obtained via the minor league Rule 5 Draft. Minor league Rule 5 draftees can be assigned to any level by the drafting team. The Dodgers took no players in this year’s minor league Rule 5 Draft nor did they lose anyone to it.

The most common path for moving from one minor league team to another is through free agency but it, too, is not an easy path. Minor league players are subject to the ‘six-year free agency rule’ to become free agents; however, even this is not as simple as it sounds and may well be a misnomer. Since partial seasons are included and begin in the year a player is drafted, the term is actually seven years under contract in the minor league system of a MLB team. For instance, infielder Rafael Ynoa began play with the DSL Dodgers in 2006 but wasn’t granted free agency until after the 2013 season. At a time when the Dodgers are in desperate need of a second baseman and/or a utility infielder, the 26-year-old Santiago, Dominican Republic native could have very well fit the bill and not re-signing him left many Dodger fans scratching their heads. As expected, at least by those head-scratchers, Ynoa was immediately signed by the Colorado Rockies and could very well see MLB action in 2014.

Just like their major league brethren, minor league players are declared free agents five days after the World Series ends. They are then free to sign with whatever organization they choose. At the same time other players who were previously signed by minor league teams as free agents and then signed a contract for one year with another team also become free agents – if not re-signed by their current team. Kelvin De La Cruz signed a minor league contract with the Dodgers for the 2013 season and was not re-signed for 2014. On November 18, 2013 he signed a one-year Major League contract with the Baltimore Orioles.

After spending the 2013 season at Triple-A Albuquerque, after which the 26-year-old left-hander became a free agent and was immediately signed to a major league contract by the Orioles. (Photo credit - Jon SooHoo)

After spending the 2013 season at Triple-A Albuquerque, 25-year-old left-hander Kelvin De La Cruz became a free agent and was immediately signed to a major league contract by the Orioles. (Photo credit – Jon SooHoo)

The following Dodger minor league players were declared free agents following the 2013 season.

  • RHP: Juan Abreu (AAA)
  • RHP: Angel Castro (AAA)
  • RHP: Kyle Cofield (AAA)
  • RHP: Blake Johnson (AAA)
  • RHP: Anthony Ortega (AAA)
  • RHP: Matt Palmer (AAA)
  • RHP: Mario Santiago (AAA)
  • RHP: Daniel Tamares (Low-A)
  • RHP: Luis Vasquez (AAA)
  • RHP: Sean White (AAA)
  • LHP: Kelvin de la Cruz (AAA)
  • LHP: Thomas Melgarejo (AA)
  • LHP: Jonathan Sanchez (AAA)
  • C: Eliezer Alfonzo (AAA)
  • C: Damaso Espino (AAA)
  • C: J.R. Towles (AAA)
  • C: Matt Wallach (AA)
  • C: Griff Erickson (AA)
  • 1B: Sean Burroughs (AAA)
  • 2B: Rafael Ynoa (AA)
  • SS: Miguel Rojas (AA)
  • 3B: Brian Barden (AAA)
  • 3B: Pedro Guerrero (AA)
  • 3B: Ryan Mount (AA)
  • OF: Matt Angle (AAA)
  • OF: Tony Gwynn Jr. (AAA)
  • OF: Jeremy Moore (AAA)

Several of these have signed with other teams. They are:

  • Matt Angle – Marlins
  • Kelvin De La Cruz – Orioles
  • Tony Gywnn Jr.. – Phillies
  • Matt Palmer – Mariners
  • Luis Vazquez – Braves
  • Rafael Ynoa – Rockies
  • Juan Abreu – re-signed with Dodgers

At the same time, the Dodgers signed 16 minor league free agents during this off-season, eight of whom are non-roster invitees (NRI) to major league spring training camp:

  • Drew Carpenter – RHP Athletics
  • Juan Gonzalez – RHP Rockies
  • Jack McGeary – LHP Red Sox
  • Josh Ravin – RHP Red Sox
  • Alberto Rosario – C Red Sox
  • Fabio Martinez – RHP Indians
  • Justin Souza – RHP Tigers
  • Jamie Romak – OF Cardinals
  • Sam Demel – RHP Yankees NRI
  • Daniel Moskos -LHP White Sox NRI
  • Brendan Harris – 3B Rangers NRI
  • Clint Robinson -1B Blue Jays NRI
  • JC Boscan – C Cubs NRI
  • Miguel Oliva – C Marlins NRI
  • Griff Erickson – C Dodgers NRI
  • Miguel Rojas – 2B Dodgers NRI
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3 Responses to “Changing minor league teams is no easy task”

  1. Bluenose Dodger says:

    The following former Dodger or Dodger farm team players are still unsigned for 2014: Lucas May, Jamie Hoffman, Ramon Troncoso, James MacDonald, Travyon Robinson, Josh Fields.

    Matt Wallach is also not signed.

    Two youngsters I thought might gain some attention by the Dodgers are Jesus Guzman (23)a LHP in the Tigers organization and Jeyckol De Leon (23) a catcher from the Mets organization. However, I was looking mostly at age and both would probably have to report to Rookie League teams.

  2. Ron Cervenka says:

    One thing that the Dodgers seem to do with their minor leaguers more so than any other franchise is to give guys a shot at other positions before cutting them lose. It doesn’t always work but it seems to have worked well with Kenley Jansen and now Pedro Baez.

    • Bluenose Dodger says:

      Bladimir Franco who played some 3B with the Quakes in 2013 has also been converted to pitching. Late in the season he made 9 appearances with the AZL Dodgers in relief and pitched quite well. 9 K’s in 9 innings. 3.86 ERA.

      Has a good fastball, needs work on a breaking ball and command.

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