Seven Triple-A players and two Double-A players are no longer affiliated with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Right-handed pitchers Emiliano Fruto and Brandon Medders, outfielders Phil Avlas and Tim Raines, middle infielders Don Kelly and Jesus Merchan, and catcher Matt Morgan all finished the season with the Tucson Sidewinders and will not remain in the organization. Infielder Guillermo Reyes and first baseman/corner outfielder Javier Brito both finished the season in Mobile. They, too, are free agents. Any player with six years of professional service time who isn't a member of a 40-man roster has the option to declare free agency in November.
Brito actually began the season in Triple-A, but an early-season injury caused him to struggle initially and get sent down to Mobile to get consistent playing time. After an MVP season there in 2007, Brito was merely solid upon his return. Then in August, Brito broke out with a .295 batting average, .404 on base percentage, seven homers, and 22 driven in.
He ranked as the Diamondbacks' 15th-best prospect this spring and has always exhibited among the best plate discipline in the entire Diamondbacks system. The notion that the Diamondbacks would not want to keep him on their 40-man roster for the upcoming season is a bizarre one. He is currently playing for Bravos de Margarita in the Venezuelan Winter League, and figures to get an opportunity with another organization next spring.
2008 was the only season that Raines and Merchan spent in the Arizona organization, and it was a productive one for both players. Merchan batted .339, a fantastic figure for a shortstop, which offset his low secondary average and high error total of 23. Raines batted .311 with 61 extra base hits and 28 stolen bases, committing just one error in the field. Both players spent a lot of time on the FutureBacks Power Rankings. The failure to include either player on the 40-man roster is surprising, given the Diamondbacks' need for a second baseman and Raines' relative youth and productivity.
The other six free agency declarations were less surprising. Kelly and Reyes also spent just one year in the organization, so their lack of productivity in 2008 made the decision to let them leave easy. Emiliano Fruto came to the organization in exchange for Chris Carter. Carter has continued to hit well for the Red Sox' Triple-A affiliate, but Fruto did nothing but struggle for the Diamondbacks. His departure denotes that trade as a net loss for the Diamondbacks.
The final three free agents had previously spent their entire professional careers with the Arizona Diamondbacks organization. So while their departures make sense from a performance standpoint, it is sad to see them go.
Matt Morgan had been a defensive-minded catcher in the organization since 2002. He has caught many of the parent club's homegrown pitchers, including Max Scherzer, Tony Pena, and Doug Slaten. Phil Avlas also spent several years as a catcher before converting t the outfield. He simply did not hit well enough to succeed in that role. Even Brandon Medders, who drew ire from fans upset over his walks and home runs allowed the past two seasons, had his moments in the sun with this franchise and will be missed by many.
The Diamondbacks' 40-man roster currently features only 34 players, giving the team leeway to make several offseason acquisitions and protect more of their players from the upcoming Rule 5 Draft.