With the potential of 40 new players being signed by major league franchises every summer from the free agent draft – not counting international free agents mostly out of Venezuela and the Dominican Republic – it would seem franchises would have enough players to stock their teams.
Think again. Attrition – including injuries, releases and other needs – create vacancies, especially in the minor leagues.
Certainly the Reds have enough players to fill their seven stateside minor league teams. The rookie-level Greeneville, Tennessee Reds were added this season. They just don’t want to have 18 second basemen in the system and no catchers. Sometimes, though, extra players are needed.
That’s why all teams check out other players, often working trades or signing dropped free agents.
This season, the Dayton Dragons have already used six players not originally signed by them: outfielders Lorenzo Cedrola, Malik Collymore and Logan Taylor as well as pitchers Aneurys Zabala and Patrick McGuff and catcher Hendrik Clementina.
To have so many imports in the low minor leagues is not unusual. The Reds have a history of dipping into independent leagues, where teams are not owned by major league franchises. McGuff and Taylor fit that profile.
One of the most successful Reds’ acquisitions came near the end of the 2002 season when the Dragons ran out of healthy catchers. Reds farm director Tim Naehring – and other scouts – spotted undrafted Ryan Hanigan in the collegiate Cape Cod League.
Offering an immediate position, the Reds landed Hanigan in late August. He hit .273 while playing excellent defense with the Dragons in six games.
That was enough to get him invited to spring training, followed by a longer stint at Dayton, where he batted .277 in 92 games for the Dragons, augmenting his defense, in 2003.
He made it to the Reds in 2007, playing most of 11 seasons in the majors. This summer, he is with the Giants’ Class AAA Sacramento River Cats.
Oddly, in the same season he joined the Dragons, Hanigan became teammates with Matt Boone, who was signed after failing to get higher than Class A ball with the Tigers over several seasons. Matt is the son of Bob Boone, who was winding down a short career as manager of the Reds. Bob insisted Matt was the best of his baseball-playing sons, which was not the case.
Matt Boone hit .190 in limited duty in 2002 and .195 in ‘03. He still wasn’t going to get out of Class A ball, but the Dragons had a third baseman.
There was also the case of infielder/outfielder Jeremiah Piepkorn, a fifth-year senior at North Dakota State who was signed prior to the 2004 draft. He looked like a bust, too, posting a .168 batting average over 28 games before his season abruptly ended with what was thought to be an appendicitis attack - it was food poisoning.
The next season, now 25 and still in the Midwest League, Piepkorn hit a fine .266, leading the Dragons with 22 homers and 77 RBIs. He played a couple more years, making it to Class AA, and finished his career in an independent league.
Minor league teams also obtain players from trades made at the major league level.
That’s how Hendrik Clementina made it here, a prospect gained from trading pitcher Tony Cingrani to the Dodgers. Former major league outfielder Scott Van Slyke also came to the Reds in that trade. He was released, picked up by the Marlins and released again. Clementina is among the Dragons’ top hitters.
Sometimes a trade will cost a minor league team a player. In the Ken Griffey Jr. trade to the Reds in 1999, outfielder Mike Cameron and pitcher Brett Tomko went to the Mariners and minor leaguers Jake Meyer and Antonio Perez went west. Perez likely would have been Dayton’s second baseman in 2000. He eventually made it to the majors.
Also in 2000, pitcher Brian Reith was traded from the Yankees to the Reds and played for the Dragons, eventually becoming the first Dragons player to make it to the majors.
Reith came to the Reds organization along with celebrated former Michigan quarterback Drew Henson, a third baseman whose major-league career spanned just nine at-bats and one hit.
The following March, Henson went back to the Yankees along with outfielder Michael Coleman for Wily Mo Pena, a star with the 2001 Dragons who had received a large free agent bonus from the Yanks.
Sometimes you don’t have to draft a player to get a good one.