The Braves have signed a lot of free agents to this point. Oh, sure, you know all about R.A. Dickey (shameless plug), Bartolo Colon (even more shameless plug), and Sean Rodriguez (I have no shame), but the majority of players the Braves have signed won’t be profiled in your season preview nor will they likely even play in SunTrust Park. I’m talking about minor league free agents and if you aren’t aware, I’ve been keeping track of these guys throughout the offseason. Let’s start reviewing these guys and how they fit into next year’s organizational mix.
Armando Araiza, C, 23 years-old
The Braves need catchers and not only because the major league situation is a mixed bag at this point. Last year, the Braves had two catchers on their 40-man roster and invited five more to camp. That’s not even including the amount of catchers needed for the minor league camp. Suffice it to say, while it may not always be lucrative, being a catcher carries amazing job security.
Araiza has been around since 2010 when he made his professional debut as a 17 year-old in the Dominican Summer League. He’s displayed a rocket arm (45% career CS) and very little with the bat (.239/.327/.333 minor league triple slash). Last year, his seventh in the Rays’ organization, was spent largely inactive outside of some time spent on loan to the Mexico League. Once back in the system, he played 27 games between Single-A and Double-A and had some of his best offensive numbers, though 101 PA does not really count for a lot. His nine game cameo with Montgomery was his first taste of Double-A baseball. The Braves don’t have any catching prospects above A-ball so Araiza will have a shot to stick around.
Andres Avila, RHP, 26 years-old
For seven years, Avila slowly climbed the ladder in the Oakland Athletics organization, but after 72 games in Double-A over the last two years, the righty still is looking for his first game in Triple-A. Mostly a reliever during his career, Avila displays good control and some impressive strikeout numbers (8.2 K/9 career, 9.5 K/9 last year at Double-A) while being prone to long flies.
Avila has a nice floor for minor league filler. He’s twice been named to All-Star Game rosters, including last year. In fact, his pre-All Star break numbers were stellar for Midland last year (3.03 ERA, 51 K’s in 38.2 ING, 1.16 WHIP). It was the second half where things kind of came off the rails. He’ll likely be in the mix for a Mississippi bullpen spot or, possibly, work his way into the picture for a Gwinnett assignment.
Joel De La Cruz, RHP, 27 years-old
I covered De La Cruz in my 2016 Player Review series so I won’t want to repeat myself too much. De La Cruz gave the Braves about what you expect from minor league veterans pitching for their fourth franchise – a lot of meh. Atlanta squeezed 62.2 innings out of De La Cruz, which shows how desperate the Braves were for innings last season. He wasn’t very good (5.19 FIP) and couldn’t get enough major league hitters to pound his sinker into the ground like he could in the minors.
He’ll certainly get a shot to stick around this spring, but his chances are very slim even without considering the additions of Colon and Dickey, plus the resigning of Josh Collmenter. If I had to guess, De La Cruz will either be cut at the end of camp or be a swingman for Gwinnett next year.
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(Crop) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Sam Freeman, LHP, 29 years-old
Cornering the market on Freemans in baseball, the Braves added the veteran of 142 major league games last month. Freeman struggled in seven games with the Brewers last year while spending most of the year also struggling in Triple-A. He was just two years removed from appearing in 44 games out of the Cardinals’ bullpen with a 2.61 ERA and 3.79 FIP.
Unlike many minor league signings, I can easily obtain a pitching profile on Freeman. He has four pitches, including a 94-95 mph four-seamer that he can push up to 97 mph on a good day. His sinker carries similar velocity, though he uses it nearly half as much. Predictably, one gets plenty of flyballs while the other gets grounders. He also relies a good deal on an 86 mph splitter and rarely, almost entirely against lefties, employs a slider.
Freeman’s biggest issue comes down to controlling the strikezone. It’s not that he’s exceptionally wild, though a career 5.3 BB/9 and 13.1 BB% rate might make you think that. It’s more that he makes the colossal mistake that relievers simply cannot make – he falls behind hitters. Freeman has to throw strikes out of bullpen and has a career 52.5 first-strike percentage, which is roughly 8% below average. Freeman also has not shown the ability to get lefties out – which is why left-handed pitchers have such good job security. In fact, righties have a wOBA of 99 points less than left-handed hitters, which is truly surprising. Freeman is a project and there certainly is room for a lefty to get into the mix with the Braves’ bullpen right now, but unless Freeman takes a big step forward a few months shy of his 30th birthday, it seems unlikely that he’ll be in the opening day bullpen.
David Freitas, C/1B, 27 years-old
Already a veteran of four franchises during his seven-year career, Freitas has some solid hitting numbers along the way (.273/.361/.421), though only 66 games have come at the Triple-A level. He has been on the cusp of a callup in each of the last four seasons, but has never received that call and that might be for a reason. Ever since he signed with the Nationals after they made him their 15th round pick in 2010, Freitas has logged some of time at first base. Last season, that contrast between positions became much closer as he played 284 innings at first base compared to 334 innings behind the plate.
Now, that may be nothing – and may even be a way to get his bat in the lineup while playing higher-rated catching prospects – but he’s never been very good at throwing out runners, seems to be good for 4-5 errors behind the plate a year, and I can’t find anyone praising his defense. That shouldn’t scare you – Brayan Pena has played 567 games in the majors after the Braves deemed him not a capable receiver. Nevertheless, though Freitas does have some interesting qualities, I would be fairly shocked to see him get much of a look this spring.