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Yankees prospects eligible for minor league free agency

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Which minor league players will be eligible for free agency very soon?

USA TODAY Sports

Major leaguers aren't the only players who experience free agency in the offseason; minor league players get to enjoy it too. For minor leaguers to be eligible for free agency, they must have seven years of experience in a major league organization without being added to the 40-man roster. This year, the Yankees prevented Jose Pirela from being eligible for free agency by calling him up in September, but a few others will be eligible if the two sides don't come to a new agreement by January 15.

Jeremy Bleich was drafted 44th overall in the 2008 MLB Draft and remains one of the very few alumni from that draft to still be with the organization. After missing the entire 2011 season with a shoulder injury, the left-hander just reached Triple-A for the first time as a 27-year-old. He saw some promising results after moving to the bullpen in 2012 ad 2013, but he struggled this year with a 4.31 ERA, 4.0 BB/9, and 7.5 K/9 after moving back to the rotation. It's very possible the Yankees could keep him around as organizational filler, but he won't be missed if he leaves.

Shortstop Ali Castillo isn't considered to be much of a prospect and he's never been younger than the league average at any level he's played at, making his mediocre results look even worse. At one point it looked like he had the potential to hit, but now it's clear that he's never going to make it through the upper majors after only managing a .645 OPS in his second season of Double-A at the age of 25. It would be easy to see him go if it wasn't for the fact that he was Trenton's starting shortstop and, with only Cito Culver close behind him, it doesn't look like they have much in the way of a replacement.

It pains a lot of people to say that Pat Venditte, the cult favorite ambidextrous pitcher, has now completed his seventh season in the Yankees' organization and is still no closer to making the majors. Recovering from shoulder surgery, the 2008 draft pick had a solid season with a 2.64 ERA, 2.5 BB/9, and 9.5 K/9 as he finally reached Triple-A for the first time at 29. It looked like he was as close as he'd ever come to a call-up, but it just never happened. At this point, it's probably time to realize that it's just never going to happen, at least not with the Yankees. He'll be better off hooking on with another team who might be more willing to give him a shot in the big leagues.

Two players who were eligible for minor league free agency this year were 24-year-old catcher Kyle Higashioka and 25-year-old right-hander Joel De La Cruz. The 2008 seventh-round pick Higashioka made his return from Tommy John surgery this year and is currently playing in the Arizona Fall League. De La Cruz is a little less straightforward, as he was originally signed by the Brewers nearly a decade ago and spent time with the Nationals before making his way to the Yankees. He also re-signed with the organization last year, so he's had a few contracts over the course of his career.

Bleich, Castillo, and Venditte is a relatively light class for the Yankees, but it will only get worse next year. After the 2015 season, infielders Anderson Feliz and Jose Rosario, catcher Jackson Valera, righties Brett Gerritse and Caleb Cotham, lefty Aaron Dott, and outfielders Daniel Lopez and Yeicok Calderon will all be eligible for minor league free agency. Before that time it's possible that any number of these players will be released, traded, or claimed within the next year, so they might not have much to worry about very soon.