30 under-the-radar acquisitions who could pay off big

February 12th, 2019

Fans and analysts spend the entire offseason speculating where the top free agents could go, but sometimes an under-the-radar pickup can end up making a world of difference. As positional competitions begin to heat up at Spring Training camps this month, MLB.com's beat writers were asked to identify one potentially overlooked acquisition for each of the 30 clubs. Here's who they came up with.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::
Blue Jays: , RHP
Shoemaker flashed mid-rotation potential in 2016 when he posted a 3.88 ERA over 160 innings for the Angels. He hasn't been healthy for a long stretch since, but the Blue Jays believe the talent is worth the gamble. Shoemaker should open the year as Toronto's No. 4 starter and he has a chance to become a bargain at $3.5 million on a one-year deal. An additional year of control in 2020 provides the Blue Jays with even more upside on this low-risk signing. -- Gregor Chisholm

Orioles: Drew Jackson, SS
The Orioles signed just one Major League free agent this winter, so in a sense, every addition they've made qualifies as under the radar. But let's highlight Jackson, who joined the O's via trade after the Phillies selected him in the Rule 5 Draft. Though Jackson hasn't played above Double-A, he broke out with 15 home runs and 22 stolen bases at that level in 2018. He figures to be fellow Rule 5 pick 's main challenger for the shortstop job, with his positional versatility also making him a candidate for a utility role on the O's bench. -- Joe Trezza
Rays: , RHP
Signing and trading for were the highlight of a busy December for the Rays, but one move that slipped under the radar was when Tampa Bay snuck into a three-team deal with the Rangers and Athletics in order to acquire Pagan from Oakland. The 27-year old reliever won't jump out as a big acquisition, but he has the potential to be a key piece in the Tampa Bay bullpen. In 55 appearances last season, Pagan finished with a 4.92 FIP, but did find plenty of success against right-handed hitters. Hitters from that side of the plate hit just .196 against Pagan, which could set him up to be a potential candidate for an opener role in 2019. -- Juan Toribio
Red Sox: , RHP
Looking for this year's ? The Red Sox are hoping that the 26-year-old Brewer can fall into that category. The righty was acquired via trade from the Padres in November and the Red Sox see some untapped potential in the righty reliever. Brewer's top weapon is a cutter that can reach 95 mph. He also utilizes a curve and slider. Look for Boston's coaching staff to work with Brewer on refining his pitch mix. If he can make the necessary improvements, he could become a surprise contributor in a bullpen which needs people to step up. -- Ian Browne

Yankees: , RHP
The easiest story to root for in any camp could be Farquhar, who is vying for a spot in the Yankees' formidable bullpen after recovering from a ruptured aneurysm and brain hemorrhage sustained while pitching for the White Sox last April. The right-hander says that he is determined to pitch in the Majors again; Farquhar turns 32 this month and owns a 3.93 ERA in 253 career appearances. -- Bryan Hoch
Indians: , RHP
There's been plenty of talk surrounding new acquisitions like , , and on how they could impact the Tribe's roster, but Rodriguez is one who has flown under the radar. The 25-year-old right-hander was traded to the Indians with Minor League outfielder Daniel Johnson in exchange for in November. He spent time at Double-A, Triple-A and the big leagues for the Nationals in 2018, going a combined 7-5 with a 3.40 ERA in 19 Minor League starts. In his 14 games with Washington, including eight starts, Rodriguez logged a 5.71 ERA -- but pitched to a 2.70 ERA in relief.

The 6-foot-6-inch, 232-pound hurler has a decent fastball and an above-average curveball with a developing changeup. Rodriguez most likely won't make the Opening Day roster, but he could definitely be a relief option the Indians call upon some time this season, and he could make a solid impact. -- Mandy Bell

Royals: , UTIL
The signing of the super-utility man Owings this offseason didn't exactly light up Royals Twitter. But what fans might not realize is that Kansas City expects Owings to be a significant addition to their lineup on virtually a daily basis. Royals general manager Dayton Moore has said several times this offseason that the team will utilize Owings in multiple ways: Backing up at shortstop, at second base and at third base. If the Royals form some sort of Dozier/Ryan O'Hearn platoon at first base, Owings will see plenty of playing time at third. Why? Club officials believe Owings is a prototypical Royal. He is a sound defender with above-average speed -- he stole 21 bases in 2016 with 11 triples. Moore also stated that Owings was sought after by multiple teams this offseason and the Kansas City was fortunate to win the sweepstakes. They may not know it now, but Royals fans will hear Owings' name quite a bit in 2019. -- Jeffrey Flanagan
Tigers: , UTIL
Cowart, a former Angels first-round Draft pick, was on track to try to become a two-way player with the Mariners before the Tigers claimed him on waivers last month. Detroit was one of the rare teams to not use a position player as a pitcher last year, but the Tigers are looking for young talent, and they have room to experiment this spring in the middle of a rebuild. Cowart impressed Detroit scouts with a mid-90s fastball in high school, and backed it up with a solid bullpen session for team officials last month in Lakeland, Fla. He's a longshot, but he reports to Spring Training with considerable upside. -- Jason Beck

Twins: , UTIL
Most of Minnesota's Major League free-agent acquisitions this offseason addressed bigger holes on the roster (first base, second base, designated hitter and bullpen). But, in a less splashy move, the Twins signed Torreyes in December after the utility infielder was first traded from the Yankees to the Cubs, and then non-tendered by Chicago. Though the Twins already have filling a utility role on the Major League roster, the 26-year-old Torreyes is controllable through 2022 and is a career .281 hitter in four seasons with the Dodgers and Yankees -- though he doesn't walk much or hit for power.
The Twins' current 25-man roster projection doesn't have much positional flexibility -- especially with signed to be the primary designated hitter -- so additional utility depth for the Twins could prove important during a season in which Minnesota hopes to contend for a playoff spot. Torreyes' most consistent playing time came in 2017, when he hit .292/.314/.375 in 108 games. -- Do-Hyoung Park
White Sox: , LHP
won't pitch in 2019 after undergoing Tommy John surgery last September to repair a tear of the ulnar collateral ligament. Fellow top pitching prospect should reach the Majors in '19, but he won't break camp with the team. So, an opening exists at the fifth starter's slot and Banuelos is poised to fill that void. The southpaw only has six big league starts and seven appearances on his career resume, but the White Sox had enough interest in the one-time highly-touted prospect to make a trade with the Dodgers for the 27-year-old on Nov. 1 instead of waiting for him to become a six-year free agent. -- Scott Merkin
Angels: , 1B
With a right-handed heavy lineup, the Angels were in need of power from the left side this offseason and found their man in the first baseman Bour. The Angels signed Bour for one year and $2.5 million as he's coming off a bit of a down year with the Marlins and Phillies, hitting .227 with 20 homers and 59 RBIs in 141 games. But Bour, 30, has a strong track record as a hitter with power and patience and will split time at first base with . Bour has trouble against lefties, so Pujols will likely play first on days when a lefty is on the mound. -- Rhett Bollinger

Astros: , SS
The Astros' first move of the offseason was to trade for Diaz, which pretty much signaled free agent utility player wouldn't be back. Like Gonzalez, Diaz brings versatility and will be play first base, left field, third base and shortstop, which is his primary position. A right-handed hitter, Diaz was an All-Star in his rookie season with the Cardinals in 2016 and spent the '18 season in Toronto, slashing .263/.303/.453 in 452 plate appearances with 18 homers and 55 RBIs. His .756 OPS was actually higher than Gonzalez's OPS (.733) in '18.
The Astros have entrenched starters in left field (Michael Brantley), third base (Alex Bregman), shortstop (Carlos Correa) and first base (Yuli Gurriel), so Diaz won't know which glove he's going to wear until he comes to the ballpark every day and checks the lineup. In his Major League career, he's started 258 games at shortstop and 33 at third base. He's also had limited appearances at left field and second base. -- Brian McTaggart
Athletics: , C
The A's employed two big league backstops when pitchers and catchers reported Sunday, then added a third ahead of Monday's first workout that could prove instrumental to the club this season. Hundley, a veteran of 11 Major League seasons, latched on with Oakland through a Minor League deal and has potential to step in and use his wealth of experience to fill the void left by . Hundley also brings a bit of pop to the table, having hit 10 homers in three of his last four seasons. -- Jane Lee

Mariners: , LF
It's easy to get lost amid general manager Jerry Dipoto's flurry of offseason moves. But Santana could be an interesting factor for the Mariners, as he provides a potent right-handed bat with some interesting upside after being acquired from the Brewers for outfielder and Minor League pitcher Noah Zavolas. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound Dominican native had a breakout year for the Brewers in 2017 with 30 homers, 85 RBIs, 15 stolen bases and an .875 OPS, but he struggled last year after losing playing time following the Brewers' acquisitions of and . Still just 26, Santana will be a key part of the rebuilding efforts in Seattle if he gets back to his previous production. -- Greg Johns
Rangers: , C
The Rangers signed Mathis to be their No. 1 catcher after making the surprising decision of not picking up the option on fellow backstop . The decision was defense over offense; Chirinos hit 18 home runs last season and drove in 65 runs while Mathis' career .564 OPS is the lowest for any Major League player over the past 20 years with a minimum of 2,000 plate appearances. But, Mathis has an excellent reputation for being strong defensively and being able to work well with pitchers. The Rangers are counting on him to help improve their pitching, stabilize their defense and mentor young catchers like and . -- T.R. Sullivan
Braves: , OF
LaMarre has appeared in just 105 Major League games (76 in 2018) since the Reds selected him in the second round of the 2010 MLB Draft. But the 30-year-old outfielder showed some promise as he hit .303 with two homers and a .809 OPS in the 33 games he played after the White Sox claimed him off waivers before last year's All-Star break. is the top candidate to open the season as Atlanta's primary backup outfielder, but the disappointing fashion in which Duvall concluded the 2018 season gives the Braves reason to at least debate whether he'll provide value to the bench. LaMarre is a longshot for an Opening Day roster spot, but he has a chance to create some intrigue if Duvall struggles during the Grapefruit League season. -- Mark Bowman
Marlins: , OF
The Marlins claimed Herrera off waivers from the Royals on Jan. 2. At the time, the transaction appeared to be just another roster move to help create depth and competition in Spring Training. But the pickup may be much more than that. Herrera, a 26-year-old who saw limited big league time with the Royals and Reds last year, may have a chance to win a starting outfield spot for Miami. Right field could be his on Opening Day -- if he impresses in camp. -- Joe Frisaro

Mets: , 1B
While prospect Peter Alonso will dominate first-base talk at Mets camp this spring, keep an eye on Davis, whom the Mets acquired in January in a trade with the Astros. The owner of a .988 OPS last year at Triple-A, Davis could be the right-handed slugger the Mets need to replace . His power is real, and he's capable of playing both corner infield and outfield spots -- as well as even pitching on occasion. To make a mark, Davis simply must prove he's capable of transitioning his Minor League success to the Majors. -- Anthony DiComo
Nationals: , 2B
The Nationals needed someone to fill in a gap at second base for a year before their young prospects are ready. After a disappointing contract year, Dozier needed a place to re-prove himself. It made Dozier and Washington a perfect fit -- a one-year, $9 million match in January -- that could end up as one of the steals of the offseason. Dozier was playing through an injury for most of 2018 and his production dipped from it. In the three seasons prior from 2015-17, Dozier averaged 4.5 Wins Above Replacement, according to Baseball-Reference. If the Nationals get a player anywhere close to that, their lineup could be scary. -- Jamal Collier
Phillies: , LHP
The Phillies have a ton of depth in their bullpen, and the competition for eight jobs coming out of Spring Training should be fierce. But there is reason to think Alvarez will land one of those jobs. He went 6-4 with a 2.71 ERA and 3.05 FIP in 76 appearances last season with the Angels, who traded him in December for right-hander . The Phillies could use another reliable left-hander in the 'pen; they currently have and Austin Davis as the only other left-handers. Another thing working in Alvarez's favor? He is out of options. -- Todd Zolecki

Brewers: , RHP
"This is a pitcher who over the last couple of years has dominated the upper levels of the Minor Leagues," Brewers general manager David Stearns said the day he traded to the Mets for a prospect package including the righty reliever Wahl. It's no sure thing that Wahl makes the Opening Day roster, but it is clear that the Brewers are high on his potential, and considering how aggressively they shuffle arms between the Minors and Majors -- and how heavily manager Craig Counsell relies on his relief corps -- it's likely that Wahl will get a chance to deliver innings at some point this season. -- Adam McCalvy
Cardinals: , OF
Sandwiched between the more notable additions of and , Robinson arrived from Texas in a trade for during the MLB Winter Meetings. The dearth of left-handed hitters on the Cardinals' roster makes Robinson stand out as a likely fit for the bench. His defensive versatility is a plus, too. In particular, the Cardinals are intrigued by Robinson's ability to fill in at center field and shortstop. -- Jenifer Langosch

Cubs: , 2B
The signing of Descalso did not break the bank (two years, $5 million guaranteed) or steal any headlines, but it was an important deal for Chicago for a few reasons. One box it checked for the Cubs was adding a veteran with leadership skills to the clubhouse. That was a priority for the team this offseason. Descalso also brings a more fly-ball oriented offensive approach for a Cubs team that saw its ground-ball rate soar in the final two months last year. Descalso, who has rebuilt his swing over the past few years, posted a 46.3 percent fly ball rate in 2018, per FanGraphs (up from 36.9 percent in his career), and saw a power spike (11.4 percent homer-to-fly ball rate in '18, compared to 6.9 for his career) go along with it. Descalso can also play multiple positions; he'll likely help out at second base, while offering depth for first, third and the corner outfield spots. -- Jordan Bastian
Pirates: , OF
The Pirates signed Chisenhall in November to a one-year, $2.75 million contract with up to $3 million in incentives, a low-cost gamble on the veteran outfielder's upside. The 30-year-old felt like he was entering a new phase of his career the last two years in Cleveland, when he slashed .297/.368/.503, but injuries (mostly calf strains) limited him to only 365 plate appearances in 111 games during that time. Chisenhall will get a chance to start in right field until is fully healthy, and he's expected to play a significant role after that given his defensive versatility. Most of the Pirates' free-agent signings fly under the radar, as they aren't involved with the big names at the top of the market. But if Chisenhall can combine his offensive adjustments with good health, he could turn out to be a savvy addition for the Pirates.-- Adam Berry
Reds: , LHP
Duke, 35, was just signed to a one-year, $2 million contract on Monday to rejoin the Reds bullpen, where he pitched in the second half of 2013 before leaving as a free agent. Although last season's splits indicate he would be used as a one-out situational left-hander, the club feels he can get outs from both sides of the plate.
Entering his 15th season in the Major Leagues, Duke saw his ERA rise to 4.15 last season with the Twins and Mariners. But he's a ground-ball pitcher who allowed one home run in 52 innings. His fielding independent percentage (FIP) also dropped significantly from 5.29 in '17 to 3.01 last season. That would bode well for Duke as he returns to Great American Ball Park. -- Mark Sheldon
D-backs: , RHP
The D-backs are hoping that they have unearthed a gem in Kelly, much like the Cardinals did last year with starter . Kelly spent the past four years pitching in Korea, where he increased his velocity and had a lot of success in what is known as a hitter-friendly league. Kelly signed a two-year, $5.5 million deal that also includes club options for 2021 and '22.
Kelly is projected as the team's No. 5 starter heading into camp, and a solid season from him would go a long way towards shoring up the starting rotation and giving Arizona some depth. -- Steve Gilbert

Dodgers: , C
Martin is not exactly a comparable to and , who came out of nowhere with breakout seasons. But he could provide the same type of unexpected, under-the-radar impact if a return of offensive production coincides with his return to the Dodgers after a trade from the Blue Jays. -- Ken Gurnick
Giants: , OF
Ferguson was one of two players the Giants selected during the Rule 5 Draft in December, and he'll enter Spring Training with an opportunity to stick given the club's shortage of outfielders. A 19th-round Draft pick of the Astros in 2015, Ferguson is a career .297 hitter with a .393 on-base percentage in the Minors and can play all three outfield spots. In 2018, he batted .305 with an .866 OPS and four home runs in 65 games with Triple-A Fresno. Ferguson, 26, will have to be offered back to the Astros if he isn't kept on the 25-man roster for the entire season, so the Giants are expecting to give him a long look this spring. -- Maria Guardado
Padres: , INF
The Padres need infield depth, left-handed hitters and high-OBP guys. Quiroz fits the billing. After spending seven seasons playing professionally in Mexico, Quiroz signed with the Red Sox last year before San Diego landed him in November in exchange for the righty reliever Brewer. Now, Quiroz gets the chance to fight for an important role in the Padres' infield -- and perhaps a starting job at third. He batted .283/.406/.547 in the Boston organization last season. -- AJ Cassavell
Rockies: , 1B
Reynolds has been such an effective under-the-radar acquisition for this club that maybe he should be, well, on the radar. He signed a one-year deal for 2016 and slashed .282/.356/.450, then signed a Minor League deal in '17 and hit 30 homers for Colorado. After spending 2018 with the Nationals, Reynolds is back in Rockies camp under a Minor League contract -- but with hopes of providing impact again. -- Thomas Harding