Usually when you talk about adding minor leaguers to the 40-man roster during the offseason it is based around the conversation of who to keep from being drafted in the Rule 5 Draft. But teams can also add a minor leaguer to the 40-man roster in order to keep them from hitting minor league free agency. This isn’t something that happens too frequently, but it is an option.
There are over 30 players eligible for minor league free agency within the Cincinnati Reds farm system. There are several options available for a team that wants to keep a player around. The first is the easiest: add them to the 40-man roster. That move will keep them in the organization. But it’s also a move that takes up a roster spot and pays them the first year 40-man minimum. That’s not much money in the grand scheme of things.
The other option could be to try to re-sign them in free agency. This could possibly save you money versus simply adding them to the 40-man roster. But another team could just sign them to a Major League deal, and get them at the same price that you would have been paying them for that move anyways. And you are also now competing with other teams even if that isn’t the case. There’s risk involved in this scenario that there isn’t when you simply add a player.
Players the Reds could consider adding
As noted, there are over 30 players who will be free agent eligible in a few days. I’m not going to cover all of them. But I do think there are a few players who should at least warrant a conversation among the player development staff and the big league decision makers about whether or not they should be kept around via an addition to the 40-man roster.
Alex Powers | Reliever
The stuff for Alex Powers doesn’t exactly jump off of the page at you. If I described it to you, you probably wouldn’t think much about it, either. And if I also told you that he was going to be 28-years-old at the start of next year and has never appeared in the Major Leagues, you’d be wondering why the Reds would consider adding him to the 40-man roster. But if I told you that in the last two years his ERA at Double-A was 1.96 and in Triple-A it was 1.98 over a combined 91.2 innings pitched where he had 121 strikeouts, allowed just six home runs, and walked just 29 batters – you start to understand that maybe there’s a little something else going on. He’s been nothing short of dominant in the upper levels of the minors the last two seasons.
Chadwick Tromp | Catcher
The old saying about how you can never have enough pitching is true. But we should probably have a similar saying about catching, too. Catchers get beat up all season. And they often find themselves on the injured list as a result of that. The Reds found out just how south things could go earlier in 2019 when they had a period of time where they were starting Juan Graterol, who at one point in the season was their 5th or 6th string catcher in the organization.
Tromp missed much of the 2019 season as he recovered from shoulder surgery. But when he got back on the field he crushed the ball. He began playing rehab games in rookie ball out in Goodyear and put up a .910 OPS. He spent the last month in Triple-A with Louisville and he just kept on crushing the ball, hitting .286/.389/.610. The one area working against Tromp here is that the team already has three catchers on the big league roster, and will also be adding Tyler Stephenson to protect him from the upcoming Rule 5. Will they carry five catchers on the 40-man roster?
Ibandel Isabel | First Baseman
One side of the ledger reads: CAN LITERALLY HIT BASEBALL TO MARS. The other side of the ledger reads: Struck out 42% of the time he stepped to the plate in Double-A this season.
And there lies the rub when it comes to Ibandel Isabel. His power, when he makes contact, is insane. He’s led the league in home runs in each of the last two seasons. This year that was 26 home runs in the Southern League for the Chattanooga Lookouts in just 91 games. His home run per fly ball rate was hiliarously more than twice as high as the second highest rate in the league this year. The gap between his rate and the guy in second place was actually larger than the gap between second place and literally zero.
There’s a lot of give-and-take with Ibandel Isabel. But he’s got the kind of power that is just flat out game changing. The question always remains can he get to it at the highest level due to the strikeouts? Is he worth keeping around without letting him test free agency and seeing if another year in the system with your coaches can improve the contact rate?
Jose Adames | Reliever
If you don’t recognize the name or remember the player Jose Adames I wouldn’t blame you. He’s actually been in the Cincinnati Reds organization since December of 2016. That’s when he was selected in the Triple-A version of the Rule 5 draft from the Miami Marlins. He then missed all of 2017 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He came back that fall in instructional league and was firing 99 MPH fastballs and nasty sliders. But the injury bug simply wasn’t behind him. Adames unfortunately needed another Tommy John surgery and missed all of 2018, then almost the entirety of 2019, too.
He returned to the mound for the final game of the Arizona League Reds season on August 26th. He struck out three batters in 0.2 innings. No, that’s not a typo. The 26-year-old right-handed pitcher then joined the Billings Mustangs for their final week of the regular season where he struck out five batters in 3.0 innings over three games. He would also pitch an inning in the playoffs for Billings, firing a perfect inning with two more strikeouts.
There’s an argument there that can you really add a guy to the 40-man roster who hasn’t pitched above rookie ball since 2016 and has all of 4.2 innings thrown in games that count in that span? And honestly, it’s a pretty good argument. On the flip side, the organization has committed a lot of time to rehabbing not one, but two surgeries with Jose Adames over the last few years. And the cost to add him is rather minimal. Oh yeah, and he still throws 96-99 MPH with a hammer slider.
Mitch Nay | Corner Infielder
The former 1st round pick missed nearly two entire seasons after battling through a staph infection that required multiple surgeries. Picked up by the Reds in the minor league version of the Rule 5 draft in December of 2017 he’s spent the last two seasons in the Cincinnati organization. In 2019 he broke out in Double-A with the Chattanooga Lookouts. In 82 games he hit .304/.366/.561 with 22 doubles, two triples and 13 home runs. He spent just over a month in Triple-A where he struggled to get going.
He turned 26 in late September, so he’s not exactly young anymore. But he also missed a lot of time, and there are some tools there. For the Reds it could come down to a mater of do you use a spot on the 40-man for a potential back up corner infielder, or try to bring him back on a minor league deal but have to compete with other teams for his services.
Narciso Crook | Outfielder
Drafted out of college at 17-years-old, Narciso Crook has been around for a while despite having just turned 24 in July. The outfielder began the year in Double-A Chattanooga. After hitting .296/.342/.437 there he moved up to Triple-A. As a 23-year-old during the season he played in 84 games with the Louisville Bats and hit .273/.329/.484.
Crook is capable of playing all three spots in the outfield, though a majority of his time has been spent more recently in the corners. With the Reds outfield options on the 40-man, things are a bit crowded right now. But depending on how many spots could be open, you could still add him rather than try to bring him back via free agency.
What will happen?
I’d be a bit surprised if the Reds add any of these players. While it’s not unheard of, teams don’t often go this route. Maybe once or twice an offseason you will see a minor league free agent sign a Major League deal. That’s out of about 500 or so minor league free agents. Teams are usually pretty good at identifying the guys before letting them get away. With the Reds specifically, they had chances to bring guys up in September this year to maybe get a look-see. They didn’t. That probably tells you what you need to know about the Reds intentions.