Most of these are old signings, but I’m just now getting around to it. Here is a list of players that were re-signed to minor league contracts for 2016.
Matt Kennelly – An Aussie who has been a fixture in the offseason with the Perth Heat of the Australian Baseball League with brothers Tim and Sam, Matt has been in the system since 2007 save for a few months when the Reds picked him up in 2013. Along the way, he has served as a backup for both Evan Gattis and Christian Bethancourt, but has appeared in 41 games at AAA. Like many catchers, Kennelly has turned into a well-liked organizational guy who gets looks each spring as the team needs more catchers for spring training. Last year, Kennelly hit .217/.306/.252 while mostly playing for Mississippi, a team he first played for back in 2011.
Sean Kazmar – Over the last three years, Kazmar has been a decent enough bat for Gwinnett who is capable of playing all over the infield. Last year, he hit .280 with 3 HR and a .314 OBP. A veteran of 12 minor league seasons since the Padres picked him in the 5th round of the ’04 draft, Kazmar spent 19 games in the majors with San Diego in 2008, but has not made it back since. He’s simply a veteran who provides depth until younger, more impressive players push him out of a job.
Emerson Landoni – A member of the system since 2012, Landoni actually made his debut with the shared squad of the Tigers and Marlins in 2006 and spent four more years in the Yankees organization before coming to the Braves. He’s played for Mississippi in each of the last four years, but is coming off his best season at .297/.339/.380. He has spent most of his career up the middle between 2B and SS, but has also played 1B, 3B, and a little LF. Like Kazmar, Landoni’s value appears rooted in defense, flexibility, and being a good organizational guy. Depending on how the roster looks, Landoni might be stuck at Mississippi yet again.
Ryan Lavarnway – Unlike everyone else on this list, Lavarnway spent a chunk of 2015 in the majors and has appeared in 134 games over the last five years in the bigs. He was a decent prospect in the Red Sox organization after being plucked from Yale in 2008, but has never shaken the perception that he doesn’t have the glove behind the plate to be more than an adequate backup at best. After Boston let him go following 2014, the O’s got first crack at him, but cut him in May. The Braves quickly swooped in and after a couple of weeks raking at Gwinnett, he was called up to replace Bethancourt. He really didn’t get much of a look, starting just 17 games in the majors, including just three games after Bethancourt rejoined the Braves for September. Overall, he hit .227/.311/.394 with the Braves with 2 HR. Right now, he seems like the top target to fill in if either A.J. Pierzynski or Tyler Flowers gets hurt this spring. Barring that, he seems set for a trip to Gwinnett pending any kind of opt-out as part of his deal.
Andy Otero – The southpaw is the youngest player of this group at 23. It took him a long time just to get to A ball after spending five years in rookie ball. One season was completely lost to injury and two others were almost complete losses (14 innings combined). Finally, in 2014, Otero moved up to Rome and pitched 55 innings out of the pen with over a K an inning. Last year, he upped that total to 59.1 ING with 2 starts, a 1.25 WHIP, and 8 K/9 compared to 2.4 BB/9. He gets downward movement on his pitches, which keeps the ball in the yard, and has solid control. The downside is that he gives up a lot of hits. Has reverse splits so far so his totals look better against righties than lefties.
Braeden Schlehuber – A waste of a 4th round pick, Schlehuber has still remained a part of the picture for the Atlanta Braves since 2008. A career .218 hitter, Schlehuber is known for his defense and finally got to AAA last year for 39 games. His situation is not too dissimilar to Kennelly – catchers who have a good rapport with the pitchers of the organization and are brought to spring training each year before a demotion to the minor league camp. Unless another catcher is added, Schlehuber and Kennelly will likely compete to join Lavarnway in Gwinnett to begin 2016, but the two are completely interchangeable.
And that’s all for this list. Outside of Lavarnway, none of the names will likely be in the mixture for major league at-bats in 2016 and Lavarnway needs injury to even get into the discussion. However, in most cases, it tells us how well-liked these players are by minor league personal for what intangibles they bring to the clubhouse. It shouldn’t surprise any to see a guy like Kennelly or Schlehuber transition into a coaching position once their careers come to a close.
For more on minor league free agents signed by the Braves for 2016, click here.