Free agency just isn’t for players in the majors, but it also covers those in the minor leagues. Such as the case with the Rays who have lost 18 minor leaguers to free agency, including Durham’s MVP.
The minor-league free agency began this week with a bang. The Rays had 18 minor-league players become free agents after the 2017 season. The biggest name involved was Patrick Leonard of Triple-A Durham.
Only months removed from winning the team MVP for Triple-A Durham, Patrick Leonard is a minor-league free agent. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reported that Leonard was among the 18 players that would be free agents following their sixth season in the minors.
"“The players earn the right to become free agents by spending six years in the minors and can sign with any team. The Rays could have kept them free agency by adding them to the 40-man roster. They also still can re-sign the players to new minor-league deals and invite them to spring training, and in some in cases may have already had those conversations.”"
Leonard had spent the last five seasons in Tampa’s System after coming over in the Wil Myers/James Shields trade. The 2012 fifth-rounder initially struggled with Low-A Bowling Green but began to blossom as he moved up the ranks. Leonard was named an All-Star in the Florida State League before spending much of the next two seasons in Double-A.
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The jump to Triple-A in 2017 was much better than his first appearance in Durham. After hitting .198 in 42 games at Triple-A in 2016, Leonard burst onto the scene in 2017. As a 25-year old, Leonard earned Durham’s MVP after hitting .258 with 12 home runs and 70 RBIs.
Rays Lose Several First Rounders
Leonard is just one of the 18 minor-league free agents that Tampa may lose in the off-season. Topkin outlines a bigger group of free agents that have been in the system since 2011.
Also available to sign elsewhere are three players from the top of the 2011 draft class in which the Rays had 10 of the top 60 picks: INF Jake Hager (32), RHP Jeff Ames (42) and LHP Grayson Garvin (59).
In what is already shaping up to be a bust of a draft class, the Rays may lose three of their top picks from 2011.