Minor league free agents, major league free agents, pitchers coming off injuries—welcome to the annual rite of spring as non-roster pitchers are signed to minor league deals with an invite to camp.
To date, the Cubs have invited nine new arms to camp that opens next week in Mesa, including seven former big leaguers. Some of these pitchers will be released, some will opt out of their minor league deal and look for another path back to the big leagues, and some will end up in Iowa and serve as depth in AAA.
Here’s a look at the “new guys” headed to Mesa.
Jim Henderson, RHP— A veteran of 155 big league games, Henderson went 2-2 with a 4.11 ERA in 44 games last year for the Mets, 40 K in 35 IP. The Canadian native features a fastball in the mid-90s and a slider in the mid-80s. A former Cubs farmhand in 2007-08, the 26th round pick of the Expos in 2003 recorded 28 saves for the Brewers in 2013. Henderson will pitch for Canada in the World Baseball Classic.
Casey Kelly, RHP—Once traded by Boston with Anthony Rizzo to San Diego for Adrian Gonzalez, Kelly made his pro debut in 2012 for the Padres as a starter and went 2-3 with a 6.21 ERA in six starts. Considered one of the top right-handed pitching prospects back in 2011,Tommy John surgery sidelined his career and he returned to the bigs in 2015. After becoming a free agent, he signed with the Braves and appeared in 10 games with Atlanta before going on the DL at the end of July and not pitching again.
Fernando Rodriguez, RHP—The veteran of the non-roster invitees as the The 32-year-old is a veteran of 216 big league games for the Angels, Astros and spent the last two seasons as a fixture in the A’s bullpen, appearing in 56 games in 2015 and 34 last year before landing on the 60-day DL with a right shoulder strain.
Dylan Floro, RHP—Originally claimed off waivers from the Rays last month, Floro was designated for assignment after the trade for Eddie Butler, cleared waivers and outrighted to Iowa. The Rays 13th round pick in 2012 out of Cal-State Fullerton, Floro made 73 starts during his minor league career but made the switch to the bullpen in 2016 as the 26-year-old went 1-2 with a 2.88 ERA with seven saves in 32 relief appearances at AA Durham. Floro made his pro debut in early July and pitched in 12 games for the Rays. He throws a sinking fastball in the low 90s and a slider.
Conor Mullee, RHP—The 28-year-old reliever made his MLB debut for the Yankees last season but was placed on the DL with carpal tunnel syndrome and missed the rest of the season. The Cubs claimed the 6-foot-4 right-hander off waivers, didn’t tender him a contract for 2017 and resigned him to a minor league deal. Mullee has battled injuries his entire career after being selected in the 25th round in 2010.
Daniel Corcino, RHP—A former top pitching prospect in the Reds organization, the Dominican Republic native made his MLB debut against the Cubs and Kyle Hendricks in 2014 and was claimed off waivers by the Dodgers in 2015. The 26-year-old made 27 relief appearances in AA last year, holding hitters to a .211 BAA and a 1.07 WHIP.
Maikel Cleto, RHP—A former St. Louis Cardinal and Chicago White Sox, the 27-year-old has appeared in 41 big league games but sports a 1.76 WHIP and a 6.60 ERA in 45 innings. Released by the White Sox back in March, Cleto pitched in the Mexican League before signing a minor league deal with the Braves—tossing 35 innings in AAA (2-0, 2.14 ERA, 21 IP, 4 SV).
Seth Frankoff, RHP—Coming up in the A’s system, Frankoff spent two seasons in AAA with Oakland before being signed by the Dodgers last year. After three seasons in the bullpen, the 28-year-old made nine starts in AA and logged 74 innings between three levels. Frankoff went 4-1 with a 2.38 ERA in eight starts in the Venezuelan Winter League for Caracas.
Jhondaniel Medina, RHP—The former Baltimore and Pittsburgh farmhand reached AAA last year for the Pirates, his seventh in the minors. The 23-year-old made 23 relief appearances for Lara in the Venezuelan Winter League regular season and tossed 8.2 scoreless frames in the post-season, allowing two hits while fanning nine. Medina’s performance in winter ball earned the right-hander a spot on Venezuela’s roster in the World Baseball Classic. This is a young arm to keep on eye on this spring and at Iowa once the minor league season begins.
Baseball ops makes changes
The Cubs announced several promotions and hirings within their Baseball Operations department. Kyle Evans replaces Jared Porter as the new Director of Pro Scouting/Special Assistant to the President and General Manager. Evans enters his sixth season with the Cubs organization and has held a variety of roles with the club. Alex Suarez has been promoted to Director of International Pro Scouting. He joined the Cubs in 2008 and also serves as the Assistant Director, Player Development and International Scouting. Jason Parks has been promoted to Special Assistant to the President and General Manager. Parks joined the Cubs in 2014 from Baseball Prospectus and served as a professional and amateur scout.
Other hirings include: Andrew Bassett, promoted to Assistant Director, Pro Scouting; Min Sung, promoted to Supervisor, Pacific Rim Scouting/Special Assignment Professional Scout; Jason Cooper, promoted to Special Assignment Scout; Jake Ciarrachi, promoted to MLB Scout; Joe Nelson, hired as MLB Scout; Nic Jackson, hired as Pro Scout; Shane Farrell, promoted to Upper Midwest Area Scout; Ella Cahill, promoted to Amateur Scouting Assistant; John Baker, promoted to Coordinator, Mental Skills; Greg Davey, promoted to Coordinator, Baseball Operations; Albert Lyu, promoted to Developer, Research and Development; Garrett Chiado, promoted to Assistant, Research and Development; Jacob Eisenberg, hired as Assistant, Research and Development; John Pedrotty, hired as Trainee, Baseball Operations.
Farrell replaces long-time midwest scout Stan Zielinski, who passed away recently.