The Diamondbacks have made three minor league free agent signings of note this month. Right handed relief pitchers Austin Brice and Ryan Hendrix and left hander Sam Clay have all recently been signed to provide bullpen depth in the minors. All three have pitched in the majors before, with Brice having the most experience.
It’s important to emphasize that these are all virtually zero risk signings. They’ll get spring training invites and perhaps the opportunity to pitch their way on to the roster either out of spring training or from Triple-A Reno. No longer “prospects”, each has something to bring to the table, despite lack of sustained major league success to date.
Austin Brice was drafted out of high school by the Florida Marlins all the way back in 2010. He made his MLB debut in 2016, and the Diamondbacks are now his 5th organization, having previously been with Cincinnati, Boston, and most recently Pittsburgh. He had success in 2019 during his second stint with the Marlins when he pitched in 36 games and posted a 3.43 ERA IN 44 innings. That was followed by two very rough seasons with the Red Sox however.
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Brice, who will be 31 next season, saw an uptick in velocity on his four seam and sinker during his brief opportunities with the Pirates last year, averaging just shy of 94 MPH on each. But his main pitch is his curveball, which he’s thrown over 40% of the time in his career. During 2019 that pitch had a spin rate of 2900. After dipping below 2700 in 2020-21, the spin rate appeared to rebound to 2750 last year. Perhaps it’s this uptick in velocity and stuff that caught the D-backs eye.
Ryan Hendrix was a 5th round draft pick by the Reds in 2016. His slider has always been considered a very good pitch, and when he can locate his mid 90’s fastball and get chase on his slider he can rack up the strikeouts. He has a 9.9K/9 in the majors and 12K/9 in the minors. Unfortunately location and control have eluded him throughout his career, leading to very high walk rates. Hendrix, who will be 28 years old next season, is a project pitching coach Brent Strom and the coaching staff.
This is exactly the type of arm with tantalizing power stuff the organization is trying to add. If they can find the magic combination to unlock his talent, the team could be rewarded with a late inning power reliever. It’s getting late in the game for Hendrix perhaps, so he’ll need to show something early in camp.
Sam Clay was drafted by the Twins out of Georgia Tech in the 4th round in 2014. He’s a prototypical sinker/slider lefty that gets a ton of ground balls, over 60% in fact. He uses a changeup against right handers, but throughout his career has had a big platoon split. Clay may have had more success in the days when a lefty could come in and face just one batter. But the three batter minimum makes him a less attractive option unless he can figure out how to be more effective against right hand batters. Whether that comes via an improved changeup, or adding a new pitch remains to be seen.