Six-year free agents looking for jobs
Nine Minor Leaguers who could make an impact
While most fans are concentrating on the potential destinations and paydays of the "big name" free agents, more than 500 Minor Leaguers have become six-year free agents, and they will also be looking for jobs.
The list doesn't have quite the glitz and glamor of its Major League counterpart, but there are usually a few players who slip through the cracks, bloom late, improve their games or do something to make people look back a year later and wonder how they'd been overlooked.
Will one of them be the next Garrett Jones, the six-year free agent who signed with Pittsburgh last winter after 10 Minor League seasons and led all rookies in homers and slugging percentage in '09?
Here are nine players to watch.
VETERANS' DAYS: A few big league veterans who still have the right stuff
Clay Hensley, RHP (Florida): The 30-year-old has been equally effective as both a starter and a reliever, but he saw most of his time in the former role this summer, when he went 8-4 with a 3.24 ERA in 19 starts at Triple-A New Orleans, limiting Pacific Coast League hitters to a .246 average. He finished the season with a stretch of 15 shutout innings. An eighth-round Draft pick of the Giants in 2002, Hensley has gone 15-18 with a 4.09 ERA in 106 big league games dating back to his Major League debut in 2006.
Mike Koplove, RHP (Seattle): The sidearming hurler, 33, has not pitched in the big leagues since 2007, but his 2009 campaign might change that. Between Triple-A stops at Lehigh Valley (Phillies), Indianapolis (Pirates) and Tacoma (Mariners), he combined for a 1.87 ERA and 11 saves in 55 games, limiting hitters to a .207 average in 72 1/3 innings. He never allowed more than two earned runs in an outing, and only allowed that many five times. In 22 Major League games, all in relief, he's posted a 3.82 ERA with Arizona and, briefly, Cleveland, with a .246 average against.
FIRST-ROUND WAITING ROOM: Former first-round picks whose '09 campaigns could finally earn them their first taste of the bigs
Clint Everts, RHP (Washington): Everts, 25, finished the 2009 season with his original team, though they were known as the Expos when they drafted the teenager with the lively fastball, killer curveball and advanced changeup with the fifth overall pick in 2002 out of high school in Texas. Injuries (2004 Tommy John ligament-replacement surgery) and an eventual shift to the bullpen slowed that ascent, as '09 marked his debut above Class A. His combined efforts between Advanced-A Potomac, Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse -- going 8-1 with a 1.65 ERA in 44 games in relief, striking out 68 in 60 innings and walking just 26 while limiting hitters to a .228 average -- should open eyes.
Chris Lubanski, OF (Kansas City): As does Everts, Lubanski becomes a six-year free agent after having spent his entire career with the club that drafted him, fifth overall, in 2003. The 2009 campaign looked bright for him, as he hit .321 and was named "MVP of the camp" by manager Trey Hillman before being reassigned to Triple-A Omaha, where he hit .308 in 26 games before a pulled hamstring sidelined him in early May. He returned to action in late July but never got back on track, going 2-for-41 before continued hamstring troubles shut him down on Aug. 19. Just 24, the left-handed hitter had consistently posted solid numbers across the board in the past.
LET'S HAVE ANOTHER CUP OF COFFEE -- OR MORE: Players who have seen brief big league time but posted 2009 campaigns that should earn them more
Winston Abreu, RHP (Tampa Bay): Almost 17 years after signing with the Braves as a 16-year-old out of his native Dominican Republic, Abreu put up numbers at Triple-A Durham (1.97 ERA and 15 saves in 37 games, 77 strikeouts in 51 innings and a .133 average against) that should merit a look by teams seeking bullpen help. Signed as a Minor League free agent by the Rays in February, Abreu was called up to the bigs in late June and then claimed on waivers by Cleveland, pitching a total of just six big league innings in that month-long span before being reclaimed by Tampa Bay and returning to Durham. Prior to '09, he pitched in 26 big league games with Baltimore (2006) and Washington (2007), with a 5.93 ERA, and posted a 3.32 ERA in 20 games with Japan's Chiba Lotte Marines in 2008.
Trent Oeltjen, OF (Arizona): The native of Australia has been busy this year, representing his home country in the World Baseball Classic; hitting the lights out at Triple-A Reno, where he batted .303, including 14 triples and 22 steals, and posted a .500 slugging percentage; then winning D-backs fans' hearts in his big league debut as he hit safely in his first five games, including one four-hit game, finishing with a .243 average in 24 games. After nine years in the Minors, the 26-year-old kept it going this fall, hitting .348 in 23 games with Hermosillo in the Mexican League. He can play all three outfield positions, and provide some pop, speed and a lot of hustle.
WAITING FOR THE PHONE TO RING: Awaiting their Major League debuts, could these guys' outstanding '09 seasons finally earn them that long-awaited call?
David Cook, OF (White Sox): There may be no room for Cook in Chicago's system, but maybe he can become an American -- or National League -- idol with another club. A ninth-round pick in 2003 out of Miami University in Ohio, Cook has consistently managed to combine power with patience, as he's been among his league leaders in walks and homers nearly every season. At Double-A Birmingham this summer, he hit .264 with 25 homers and 84 RBIs, drawing 64 walks in 117 games. His 93 bases on balls in 2008 between Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte ranked fourth in the Minors.
Mariano Gomez, LHP (Atlanta): As a six-year free agent last year, Gomez had 17 clubs bidding for his services. The 26-year-old signed with the Braves and posted a 1.99 ERA in 47 games, going eight-for-eight in save opportunities and limiting International League hitters to a .203 average. It still didn't earn him his big league debut, so he'll go through the process again. The southpaw looks to become the first Honduran to pitch in the Majors (former outfielder Gerald Young was born in Honduras to American parents who were working there at the time). His stats, which have gotten better each year at Triple-A, should earn him that honor.
15 YEARS! VOTE FOR THE MAYOR!
John Lindsey, 1B (Florida): This 32-year-old, who just completed his 15th pro season and awaits his first callup, gets a category of his own. Colorado's 13th-round pick in 1995, Lindsey (nicknamed "The Mayor" in honor of longtime New York mayor John Lindsay) almost hung it up when a leg injury sustained in a home-plate collision shut him down in 2006. But then-Dodgers coach/manager Lorenzo Bundy convinced him to stick it out and sign with his club, and over the next two seasons, Lindsey hit .317 with 30 homers and 121 RBIs between Double-A Jacksonville and Triple-A Las Vegas in '07, and .316 with 26 homers and 100 RBIs at Vegas in 2008. He signed with the Marlins, in whose system he'd played in 2005, for '09 and batted .251 with 19 homers and 83 RBIs.
Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.