The San Diego Padres moved quickly to retain six minor league players who reached minor league free agency on Monday, letting eight others officially hit the open market.
The Padres inked righthanded pitchers Carlos Belen, Tyler Higgins and Emmanuel Ramirez, catcher Webster Rivas, and infielders Ivan Castillo and Seth Mejias-Brean. Mejias-Brean had been removed from the 40-man roster earlier in the day but elected to stay with the organization.
Belen, originally signed as a 16-year-old infielder in July, 2012, converted to the mound in 2018 and advanced as far as Double-A Amarillo this year. The righty has more tenure in the organization than anyone other than big-leaguers Austin Hedges and Franchy Cordero.
Ramirez, who signed four months later, split 2019 between Amarillo and Triple-A El Paso. While Ramirez rode his split-fingered fastball to success in the Texas League, he was hit hard and struggled with command over the final two months with the Chihuahuas. The 25-year-old righty has topped 100 innings for four straight years and should serve as a swing man for El Paso to open 2020.
Higgins, Rivas, Castillo and Mejias-Brean each began their careers in other organizations, but joined the Padres organization as minor league free agents in previous offseasons. Rivas, 29, has spent much of the last three years as the back-up receiver for Padres Double-A affiliates, but also logged 125 plate appearances in El Paso this season.
Castillo, a 24-year-old second baseman, put things together in his first season with the organization, winning the Texas League batting title. The switch-hitter could conceivably still be a target in the Rule 5 draft, though teams with an interest in giving him a 40-man roster spot could have done so without the requirement that he stay with the big league club all season.
Higgins, who like Castillo joined the club early last winter, got off to a strong start in El Paso and seemed destined to help in the big league bullpen by mid-May. Instead, the hard-throwing 28-year-old wound up having an emergency appendectomy and missing seven weeks. He struggled, giving up 10 homers in 31 innings after returning, but will get another chance in 2020.
Meanwhile, eight players will hit the open market. Outfielders Rodrigo Orozco and Boog Powell both had solid lines in their first year in the organization, but were unlikely to get through the crowded field of options already on the 40-man roster. Slugging first baseman Aderlin Rodriguez topped 20 homers for the fifth straight season, but hits free agency for the third winter in a row.
Kyle Lloyd, the only Padres draftee in the group to opt for free agency, Dillon Overton and Dietrich Enns each provided admirable depth for the El Paso rotation in 2019, but posted inflated numbers with the major league ball. Both Lloyd and Overton made one big league start in their time in the organization, while Enns logged appearances for the Twins back in 2017.