Durham MVP Patrick Leonard among 18 Rays minor-league free agents

2011 draft picks Jake Hager, Jeff Ames, Grayson Garvin also among players now free to sign elsewhere.
Patrick Leonard, shown in a 2017 spring game, went on to be MVP at Triple-A Durham. [CHRIS URSO / Tampa Bay Times ]
Patrick Leonard, shown in a 2017 spring game, went on to be MVP at Triple-A Durham. [CHRIS URSO / Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Nov. 8, 2017|Updated Nov. 8, 2017

UPDATE, 6:27: The Rays have also agreed to a minor-league deal with LHP Vidal Nuno, a 30-year-old who has big-league time with the  Yankees, D-backs, Mariners and Orioles, compiling a 5-21, 4.29 mark in 138 games.

UPDATE, 1:30: The Rays have agreed to terms on a minor-league deal with LHP Adam Kolarek, who spent most of the season at Triple-A but pitched in 12 games for them in his first big-league action. They are talking with several of their other minor-league free agents.

DEVELOPING: Triple-A Durham MVP INF/OF Patrick Leonard was one of 18 Rays minor-leaguers who became free agents this week.

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).

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.

Also of note in the group is LHP Jonny Venters, the former All-Star who has been trying to make it back to the majors despite repeated elbow injuries, and C Justin O'Conner, who made an impressive return from injury this season after previously being taken off the 40-man roster.

Leonard, 25, was acquired from Kansas City in the December 2012 blockbuster trade that netted the Rays Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi in exchange for James Shields and Wade Davis.

The right-handed hitter  worked his way up the Rays system and last year hit .268 with 12 homers, 70 RBIs and a .735 OPS while splitting time mostly between third base and right field, with five games at first. The Rays opting to not call him up in September and add him to the roster then was probably a good hint that he wasn't in their future plans.

If Hager, Ames and Garvin, all of whom have had injury issues, sign elsewhere, the Rays will have only one player left from those top 10 selections in 2011, albeit a good one in LHP Blake Snell.

Here is the full group of 18 with their highest level reached courtesy of Baseball America, which has the full list of nearly 600 with the level where they ended the 2017 season.

Tampa Bay Rays (18)
RHP: Hunter Adkins (AA), Jeff Ames (AAA), Fernando Baez (A), Mike Broadway (AAA), Jairo Munoz (A), Kyle Winkler (AA)

LHP: Logan Darnell (AA), Grayson Garvin (AA), Michael Roth (AAA), Jonny Venters (AAA)

C: Curt Casali (AAA), Michael McKenry (AAA), Justin O'Conner (AAA)

2B: Ryan Brett (AAA)

3B: Patrick Leonard (AAA)

SS: Jake Hager (AAA)

OF: Granden Goetzman (A), Cesar Puello (AAA)