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Anthony Castro, Jose Azocar lead the Tigers 2019 class of minor league free agents

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Players will become free agents if not on the roster by the end of the World Series.

MLB: MAR 18 Spring Training - Braves at Tigers Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Anthony Castro was signed by the Detroit Tigers as a 16-year-old international free agent from Caracas, Venezuela in 2011. By the time he finishes the Arizona Fall League (AFL) season for the Mesa Solar Sox on October 26, the Tigers will be nearing a decision on whether to put him on their 40-man roster or let him become a minor league free agent.

Castro and Tigers (and Solar Sox) teammate Jose Azocar have put in their six years of service time in the minor leagues, and will no longer be under club control, unless they are added to the major league 40-man roster by the end of the World Series. Both players have already been eligible for, and sailed through, the Rule 5 draft a year ago, and both players found themselves back on the club’s list of top 30 prospects (per MLB Pipeline) despite the influx of talent over the past few seasons.

There are five other players representing the Tigers in the AFL, including former first round draft pick Derek Hill, who experienced something of a resurgence this season, and who also sailed through the Rule 5 draft last year unclaimed. But while Hill is eligible for the Rule 5 draft once again, a decision on Castro and Azocar must be made much sooner due to their pending free agency.

A number of other players in the Tigers’ minor league system who are not on the 40 man roster will also become minor league free agents, free to sign with any club. They include some names familiar to Tigers fans, like Mikie Mahtook, Bobby Wilson, Austin Adams and Pete Kozma. These are former major leaguers who cleared waivers and were outrighted to the minor leagues. Other players who never quite made it to the major leagues will also become free agents. This year’s class includes Kody Eaves, Albert Valdez, and Victor Medina.

Castro first played in the Tigers organization for two seasons in the now defunct Venezuelan Summer League as a starting pitcher in 2012 and 2013 before coming stateside to pitch in the Gulf Coast League. That’s when his six year “clock” began ticking. He moved up to Single-A West Michigan in 2017, where he had a breakout season with a 2.67 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP in 21 starts. He was promoted to Lakeland, and then Erie in 2018, when he pitched a career high 126 23 innings. Now the Tigers’ No. 20 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, Castro completed his age-24 season at Erie with a 4.40 ERA and 1.37 WHIP. He made 18 starts and nine appearances in relief.

Azocar was signed by the Tigers from Venezuela in October 2012. The speedy outfielder also got started in the Venezuelan League, then moved on to the rookie leagues in Connecticut and Florida before joining the West Michigan Whitecaps in 2018. Between West Michigan and Lakeland, Azocar hit .297/.320/.399 with 11 steals. The 23-year-old joined the Erie SeaWolves this season, batting .284 with 20 doubles, two triples, 10 home runs, 56 RBI, 62 runs scored, nine stolen bases, and a .316 on-base percentage in 122 games. He made the Eastern League All-Star team and was named Eastern League Rookie of the Year. Azocar was ranked 29th on the list of top 30 prospects last spring by MLB Pipeline. The Detroit Free Press wrote that he might be the best hitter in the Tigers’ farm system.

In most seasons, most clubs will not add any pending minor league free agents to their rosters. Some will sign minor league contracts with other clubs, or with the same club. The vast majority of those who are eligible for minor league free agency will never see action in the major leagues. Some will be tagged with the dreaded “organizational guy” label, while others will keep playing baseball for a living as long as they can, hanging onto the dream, hoping for an invitation to spring training.

Following is a list of players in the Tigers organization who are eligible for free agency this winter.

  • Austin Adams
  • Tim Adelman
  • Jose Azocar
  • Kory Behenna
  • Liarvis Breto
  • Anthony Castro
  • Tom DeBlokIsrreal
  • De La Cruz
  • Doug Domnarski
  • Kody Eaves
  • Jose Fernandez
  • Pete Kozma
  • Mikie Mahtook
  • Victor Medina
  • Gerson Moreno
  • Alberoni Nunez
  • Fernando Perez
  • Frank Schwindel
  • Zach Shepherd
  • Jake Thompson
  • Albert Valdez
  • Bobby Wilson
  • Matt Wotherspoon

(h/t to the always reliable Eddie Bajek for the list)