The Diamondbacks inked reliever Sam Clay to a minor league contract this week, according to an announcement from their top affiliate in Reno. The left-hander receives an invite to big league camp.
Initially a Twins draftee, Clay spent six-plus seasons in the Minnesota system but never cracked the 40-man roster. The Twins allowed him to hit minor league free agency, where he drew enough interest to land an MLB deal with the Nationals. Clay spent most of the following season working out of Dave Martinez’s bullpen, making 58 appearances as a rookie. He allowed a 5.60 ERA through 45 innings, striking out a below-average 15.9% of opponents with a slightly elevated 10.3% walk rate.
It wasn’t an ideal start to his big league career, but the sinkerballer showed the ability to rack up plenty of ground balls at the MLB level. He induced worm-burners on around three-fifths of batted balls, showing enough to hold his spot on the 40-man roster for a season and a half. Clay got into six more MLB games this year before Washington designated him for assignment. He made a rapid tour of the NL East, bouncing to the Phillies and Mets on successive waiver claims. In late August, New York succeeded in running through waivers and stashing him in Triple-A for the remainder of season. Clay had pitched just once for them at the MLB level, and he reached minor league free agency again at the end of the year.
The Georgia Tech product spent most of 2022 in Triple-A, where he had a decent season. Between Washington’s and New York’s affiliates, he put up a 3.56 ERA in 43 innings. Clay struck out a fine 24.1% of opponents against a 9.1% walk rate and again posted massive grounder percentages at both stops. Clay held left-handed hitters to a meager .191 batting average and .279 slugging mark in the minors this year, albeit with a 14.6% walk rate that led to a .375 on-base percentage.
Clay will get a look in big league camp to try to earn a spot in Torey Lovullo’s bullpen. Arizona has a pair of southpaws penciled into key roles, with All-Star Joe Mantiply pairing with Kyle Nelson. Clay will try to earn a spot behind that duo, likely as a situational grounder specialist. The 29-year-old still has a minor league option year remaining; if he secures a 40-man roster spot at any point, the Snakes can shuttle him between Arizona and Reno as a depth player for another season.
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