Baseball America has published a list of minor leaguers who have become free agents this month, and among them are 18 players in the Detroit Tigers organization. Pitching prospect Luis Cessa would have become a minor league free agent if the Tigers had not added him to the 40-man roster earlier this month.
A player who has spent all or any part of at least seven separate seasons on a minor league roster, including time on optional assignment, is eligible for free agency unless he is on a major league team's 40-man roster or still under contract with a major league club. In addition, players who have accrued three years' service time in the major leagues and are outrighted off a major league roster or are outrighted for the second time in their professional career may opt for free agency at the end of the season.
Once a player is released or non-tendered by a major league team, he cannot be automatically renewed on a minor league contract, and will become a free agent at the end of each season. J.D. Martinez was one such player, who was signed by the Tigers as a minor league free agent after being released by the Houston Astros just prior to the 2014 season. Al Alburquerque and Blaine Hardy were also signed as minor league free agents after being released by their former teams.
Players who don't make it to a 40-man roster within six years rarely make it to the major leagues, but there are always exceptions. The vast majority of those who continue to play baseball after that point are considered "org" players who fill out minor league rosters with little chance of ever reaching the major leagues. Others become "Quad-A" players who are seemingly always a phone call away. Former Tiger Don Kelly served out his six years and became a minor league free agent, and wound up spending parts of 11 seasons in the minor leagues and eight seasons in the major leagues, mostly with Detroit.
Players will typically become eligible for the Rule 5 draft a year or two prior to becoming eligible for minor league free agency, so they have already been passed over in that sense. The few who do eventually make it to the show certainly fall into the category of "late bloomers." Almost all minor league contracts are for one season, so a player who becomes a minor league free agent once, is often eligible for free agency several more times. Many wind up signing with the same team.
Tigers' 2015 minor league free agents
|Jacinto de la Cruz||RHP||DSL|
You will recognize some of the names on this list as players who appeared in Detroit at one time or another. In addition to the above list published by Baseball America, right-handed pitcher Edgar de la Rosa has elected free agency.
Mike Hessman, who has just announced his retirement from baseball, broke the all-time minor league home run record during the 2015 season. Francisco Martinez was traded to Seattle in the deal that brought Doug Fister to Detroit, then was released by Seattle and resigned with the Tigers. Melvin Mercedes pitched well in a cameo appearance for the Tigers, but was outrighted later during the 2014 season.
Around the major leagues, 10 players selected in the first three rounds of the 2009 draft, including Wade Gaynor, will become minor league free agents this month. Gaynor was drafted in the 3rd round (89th overall) by the Tigers in 2009 and signed for a $392,400 bonus. Nearly 85 percent of the minor league free agents around MLB finished on either Double-A or Triple-A rosters.