So, the Mets signed some free agents yesterday! However, they were small moves, as New York inked two relievers and one outfielder to minor league deals, including invites to Big League spring training. What type of impact will Jamie Hoffmann, Scott Rice, and Carlos Torres have on for the organization in 2013? That remains to be seen. For right now, I’m trying to get to know who these guys are since my first reaction was, “They signed who, who, and who?”
Most people had the same reaction to these signings, but like the deals agreed to with reliever Greg Burke and infielder Brian Bixler earlier this month, these are low risk-high reward situations where the Mets could get a huge return on their investment if these players break out now that they finally have the chance to show what they can do on a baseball field.
First, let’s take a look at Jamie Hoffmann. A product of New Ulm High School in Minnesota, the outfielder signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2003 as an amateur free agent. It took him until May 2009 to make his MLB debut with the Dodgers, but he’s barely had enough time up in the Show to have a cup of coffee, as he walked to the plate 24 times in 2009, and 4 times in 2011. After spending 7 mostly productive years in the LA minor league system, the Colorado Rockies claimed him off waivers in December 2011, but out-righted him to the minors in spring training the following year. Hoffmann elected for free agency, and spent the 2012 season in Norfolk, the Triple-A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles.
What could have attracted the Mets to take a small risk on Hoffmann and bring him into spring camp? Well, he’s shown a propensity to hit and get on base, while playing all three outfield positions. With it looking more possible Scott Hairston will be signing elsewhere and Andres Torres still having a chance of getting non-tendered, Terry Collins will need another outfielder on the bench. Hoffmann has had plenty of opportunity to play in his minor league career, as the right-handed hitter has appeared in at least 100 games in seven of his eight years in the minors. By looking at his stats, a few things jump out at me; one is that he can handle the bat (.286/.356/.419 career line). I know he spent three of his last four years in the PCL, but he’s never had a career average at any minor league level below .274, and has never seen his career on-base percentage at any level drop below .335. Also, he has some power (19+ doubles in seven seasons) and can steal some bags (10+ steals in seven seasons). Throw in his extensive experience at all three outfield positions, and he’s a solid candidate to be a bench player.
Next on our list here is Scott Rice. The southpaw reliever thought he had a bright future ahead of him when the Orioles drafted him out of high school with the 44th overall pick back in 1999. Unfortunately for him, it’s been a long, 14-year journey through the minor leagues with multiple organizations. Rice initially started his professional career as a starting pitcher, but after four seasons of up-and-down (mostly down) performances, he was turned into a full-time reliever, and experienced immediate success. He eventually hit a rough patch and began bouncing between Indy Ball and the minors, until he found a home in Double-A with the Dodgers, going 4-4 with a 1.95 ERA in 50.2 innings pitched during 2011. Last season, he was bumped up to Triple-A, going 2-3 with a 4.40 ERA in 59.1 innings pitched.
Why does Scott Rice entice the Mets at all? Well, he’s been around for a long time and has had lots of experiences traveling through the minor league circuit, he’s left-handed, and he can strike people out (7.46 Ks/9IP in ’11 and 7.1 Ks/9IP in ’12). Oh, and let’s not forget that this man is hungry to get his shot in the Major Leagues. He’s spent 14 years trying to get to the Show without any success, and he signs with a Mets team that will likely be having an open tryout for the final roster spots in the bullpen. Wouldn’t that jack you up too if you were Scott in this situation?
The last minor league deal the Mets agreed to yesterday was with Carlos Torres. The right-handed reliever was drafted in the 15th round by the Chicago White Sox in 2004, and made his MLB debut with the organization in 2009. He’s spent parts of three seasons in the Majors, with most of his Big League time coming this past year in Colorado, as he went 5-3 with a 5.26 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, and 42 strikeouts in 53 innings pitched. Torres is very different because he’s still learning how to be a reliever; he’s spent the majority of his last five years in the minors and in Japan as a starter, only having two full seasons as a reliever under his belt, most recently in 2007. Like Rice, he’s likely attractive to the Mets because he owns a 8.5 K/9IP ratio in the minors and struck out 7.1 batters every 9 innings in the Bigs with the Rockies in 2012.
These three signings will be going under the radar as the Mets are currently frying bigger fish, such as trying to extend David Wright and R.A. Dickey, but these moves are significant. Like I said earlier, it’s a low risk-high reward scenario if they perform well, but with invites to MLB spring training, it will create some competition amongst the players. Last spring, I felt like most roles were already set for the season, without much room for debate. This season, there are plenty of hungry players being brought in, ready to prove their worth as they try to displace the incumbents.
Even if nothing happens and each of these players end up in Triple-A, they will have served their purpose as motivation for players like Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Lucas Duda, Elvin Ramirez, and Robert Carson, showing them the team is always looking for productive players in what is a results-oriented business. So, expect these players to get decent looks in February in March as Collins starts to put his roster together.