DETROIT -- Two weeks after the Tigers seemingly parted ways with Nick Ramirez, they brought the lefty reliever back into their farm system. The team announced Thursday it re-signed Ramirez to a Minor League contract, bringing a potentially valuable bullpen arm back into the fold.
The Tigers held onto right-handed prospect Anthony Castro and outfielder Jose Azocar, signing both to successor contracts this week before they could hit the Minor League free agent market. Right-hander Tim Adleman and first baseman Frank Schwindel also returned on Minor League deals.
Though Ramirez played a valuable role in the Tigers’ bullpen this summer, he was a victim of the team’s 40-man roster crunch as management moved to clear roster space and protect prospects from next month’s Rule 5 Draft. Ramirez was outrighted to Triple-A Toledo, and he became a Minor League free agent following the World Series.
Ramirez, a former first baseman in the Brewers system who became a full-time pitcher upon signing with the Tigers last year, struck out 74 batters over 79 2/3 innings to go with a 4.07 ERA over 46 appearances. He allowed a mere .644 OPS to left-handed hitters compared with an .801 OPS against righties.
That effectiveness propelled Ramirez from long relief upon his callup in May to late-inning lefty matchups in the stretch run. With a three-batter minimum expected to go in effect for relievers next year unless an inning is over, Ramirez has a chance for a prominent role.
The flip side is that by signing a Minor League contract, Ramirez is also eligible for other teams to take in the Rule 5 Draft. It’s an unlikely move for a 30-year-old, but it’s an option for a win-now team looking for lefty depth.
The same Rule 5 eligibility applies to Castro, the Tigers’ No. 20 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, as well as Azocar, who finished second in the Eastern League in batting for Double-A Erie.
The 24-year-old Castro had flashes of brilliance as a swingman in Erie, striking out 116 batters against 75 hits over 102 1/3 innings to go with a 5-3 record and 4.40 ERA. He carried that momentum to the Arizona Fall League, where he went 3-2 with a 4.58 ERA for Mesa, allowing 10 runs on 13 hits over 19 2/3 innings with 20 strikeouts.
Azocar was part of an outstanding defensive outfield at Erie while contributing key runs in the middle of the order. The 23-year-old Venezuelan batted .286 with a .715 OPS, churning out 21 doubles, 10 home runs and 58 RBIs, but striking out 132 times in 538 plate appearances. Azocar hit .279 (17-for-61) in the Arizona Fall League with seven RBIs.
Schwindel and Adleman were both mid-season signings who filled depth roles in the system over the summer. The 27-year-old Schwindel, who made the Opening Day roster for the Royals, signed in June and spent most of the summer between Erie and Triple-A Toledo. He hit .327 (37-for-113) for the Mud Hens with nine homers, 33 RBIs and a .990 OPS.
Adleman, signed out of independent ball following two years in the Reds rotation, went 11-4 with a 3.23 ERA in 20 games between Erie and Toledo, striking out 123 batters over 117 innings.