Friday, September 15, 2017

ANOTHER NEAR RECORD YEAR FOR INDEPENDENT LEAGUES

When a record 45 players who had been in Independent Baseball leagues made their way onto major league rosters last season one had to wonder how high this number might grow because of the continued purchasing from the non-affiliated leagues at a rapid pace.

The record has not been eclipsed as the end of the campaign nears, but when Philadelphia added veteran right-hander Henderson Alvarez to its major league roster the count for 2017 is within one of the high-water mark, based on records maintained by IndyBaseballChatter.

Another intriguing development has emerged this year.  No less than four players who have spent at least part of the current season in an Indy league have already been added to active major league duty.  It isn't the first time this has happened--think of the likes of pitcher Jose Lima, who rebounded back to the majors and dazzled as a starter for a time in 2003--but it has been somewhat of a rarity in recent years.

The Atlantic League can take credit for all four of this year's players, with three of them somewhat shockingly appearing with the same team, the Long Island Ducks.  In addition to Alvarez, the Ducks have produced outfielder Quintin Berry for the postseason-hopeful Milwaukee Brewers and right-hander Tim Melville was in the majors for a time.  Somerset, NJ, which long has been another favorite site where major league organizations find talent, had pitcher Tyler Cloyd go from their roster and shortly end up with the parent Seattle Mariners this season.

Of the 44 players with Independent experience who have been in the majors this season, 30 still are on active rosters with another four on the disabled list.  Seven others have returned to the minor leagues and three have been released.

Five pitchers got their initial major league experience this season with Austin Bibens-Dirkx (Lancaster, PA, Atlantic League, and Victoria, BC, Golden League) with Texas, John Brebbia (Sioux Falls, SD and Laredo, TX, in the American Association) with St. Louis,  Ariel Hernandez (Frontier League Greys) with Cincinnati, Edward Paredes (York, PA, Atlantic League) with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Nik Turley (Somerset) with Minnesota.  All five are still in the majors.


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Monday, July 17, 2017

ALL-STAR GEMS AND SOME AMAZING FEATS

The All-Star Game performances of Max Scherzer (Fort Worth) and Brandon Kintzler (St. Paul and Winnipeg) gave the American Association some nice bragging rights, but Wilmer Font's showing in the Triple-A contest the night after the major league game should not be overlooked.

Font, who is toiling in the Los Angeles Dodgers farm system at Oklahoma City, got the start for the Pacific Coast League, and the right-hander who came out of Ottawa in the Can-Am League, needed only four pitches to retire the International League stars in that first inning.  Font has been leading the PCL in strikeouts.

Among other former Independent Players selected for All-Star Games were the following (*Indicates first pro game was in a non-affiliated league):

Southern League:  Pitchers *Aaron Wilkerson (Grand Prairie, American Association; Florence, Frontier League; Fort Worth, United League), Mike Kickham (Kansas City, American Association) and Ariel Hernandez (Frontier Greys, Frontier) and outfielder Edgar Corcino (El Paso, American Association, and Rockford, Frontier).  Note:  Hernandez is now with the parent Cincinnati Reds.

South Atlantic League:  DH *Boo Vazquez (Joliet and Lake Erie, Frontier).

Florida State League:  Pitchers Jeff Singer (Camden, Atlantic League) and *Trevor Richards (Gateway, Frontier).

Somerset Has Sent 10 to MLB Affiliates

The old fedora needs a big tip to the Somerset Patriots, who have had 10 players signed off their Atlantic League roster already this season by major league organizations.  The most recent departure was All-Star infielder Tyler Bortnick, who has joined Milwaukee's top farm club in Colorado Springs.

No Need for Confusion About Chris Smith

A couple of eyebrows may have been raised when Oakland called up right-hander Chris Smith recently because Toronto had promoted RHP Chris Smith to its major league roster a little earlier in the season.  They are, indeed, two different pitchers.

Oakland's guy has played for Sugar Land in the Atlantic League and Wichita in the American Association while the Blue Jays' Chris Smith, now back at Buffalo, has worked for Lake Erie, Traverse City and Washington in the Frontier League as well as White Sands of the Pecos League.

Simply Amazing

There is not another description to fit 45-year-old Kevin Millar batting one time for the St. Paul Saints (American Association) for the first time since 2010 and belting a two-run homer.  This was 24 years after he first appeared with the Saints on the way to the major leagues.

And how about the Quebec Capitales belting not one, not two, but three grand slams in one Can-Am League game.


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Friday, June 30, 2017

VARGAS, BIBENS-DIRKX HELP SWELL INDY COUNT IN MAJORS TO 24

How times change!

It was only a little over one month ago when the roster of former Independent Baseball players in the major leagues only added up to 15 players on active rosters with an unusually high seven more disabled.

The active group now totals 24 (six more are disabled), with several new faces swelling the count.

Five first-time major leaguers (four are pitchers) have pumped new life into the situation this season.

The most recent player to become a first-time major leaguer is infielder Ildemaro Vargas, who made his debut with the Arizona Diamondbacks Thursday.  Vargas's contract was purchased by Arizona two years ago after playing 30 games for the Bridgeport Bluefish of the Atlantic League.  He got into his first game Thursday, going 0-for-1.

The native Venezuelan had gotten as high as Double-A in five years in the St. Louis farm system before landing in Bridgeport when he was only 23 and young by Atlantic League standards.  He was promoted from Triple-A Reno where the switch hitter was at .307 with six homers, 43 RBI and had scored 64 runs in 73 games.

Pitchers Austin Bibens-Dirkx (Texas), John Brebbia (St. Louis), Nik Turley (Minnesota) and Ariel Hernandez (Cincinnati) made their debuts earlier this season with all but Turley currently in the majors.

Bibens-Dirkx's case may be the most unusual in that the right-hander has been pitching professionally since 2006 with Independent Baseball stops at Victoria, British Columbia, in the long-departed Golden League in '09 and at Lancaster in the Atlantic League last season.

The 32-year-old rookie is 3-0 for his nine appearances (four starts) for the Rangers, with seven-inning performances in wins over Washington and the New York Yankees, allowing only one run each time.

"I'm trying to enjoy every moment," he told The Associated Press.  "I got to pitch in Yankee Stadium.  It was awesome."  He has a 3.68 earned run average for 36.2 innings.

Brebbia pitched for both Sioux Falls and Laredo in the American Association, Hernandez was with the traveling Frontier Greys in the Frontier League and Turley was with Somerset in the Atlantic League.

Right-hander Chris Smith returned to the major leagues with Toronto this week.  He has pitched for three Frontier League teams as well as for White Sands in the Pecos League.

One somewhat surprising major league promotion was that of Tanner Scheppers, who started his professional career with St. Paul in the American Association, but has had his major league career threatened by six trips to the disabled list in the last four seasons.  Scheppers has a 12-6 career record with three saves, mostly before the injuries got more severe.


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Monday, May 08, 2017

12-Year Wait Is Over For Texas Pitcher Austin Bibens-Dirkx

It never gets old to write about a long-striving baseball player who finally gets that major league call.

Think Daniel Nava.  Or Stephen Cardullo.  Or James Hoyt.

The newest entry in this it-can't-happen-but-it-finally-does category is right-handed pitcher Austin Bibens-Dirkx, who turned 32 ten days ago and now in his 12th professional season.  He was added to the Texas Rangers' major league roster Sunday.

"It's a blessing and a dream come true," Bibens-Dirkx told MLB.com.  It has been a grind.  I've seen a lot of highs and a lot of lows.  I'm extremely happy.  I can't put it into words."
Rangers manager Jeff Banister told the same site: "You see these stories over and over again. It never gets old.  It's real.  It's raw, so emotional...guy who spends that much time in the minors, winter ball and independent leagues, there are not enough superlatives and adjectives to describe how you feel."
The native of Salem, OR was a 16th round draft choice by Seattle in 2006, but after three seasons and not advancing above Class A he found himself with Victoria, BC in the now defunct Golden League. Four organizations later Bibens-Dirkx spent a chunk of last season back in Indy ball, this time with Lancaster, PA of the Atlantic League (3-3, 3.81 for 10 starts), before Texas bought his contract and sent him to Triple-A Round Rock.
"We had him in spring training a number of times (1.50 ERA for six appearances and the same number of innings only daily invitations from the minor league camp) and got a really good look at his stuff and got to know the guy," Banister said. "One of the great assets he showed is his overall instincts and moxie to get outs."
The next step?
"My goal was to get here, but the goal doesn't stop," Bibens-Dirkx explained. "The goal is to be successful and be here as long as I can,  do everything I can to make it a tough decision when it comes time to send people down."
He is the second Independent grad to taste the majors for the first time this season, joining another righty, Ariel Hernandez (Frontier League), who was with Cincinnati for a brief time.

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Monday, April 17, 2017

20 Indy League Vets In Majors

It is always nice to see the Independent leagues getting more players to the major leagues.

Sixteen onetime Indy players were active rosters on Opening Day last season with three more on disabled lists.  That number climbed to 20 in 2017, and still stands at that count with two players added recently although the DL list has grown to four and one health-challenged player recently was outrighted to Triple-A.

A record 45 players with Independent experience were in the majors at some time last season.

The roster at the start of this week including both the major league and Independent affiliations:

            Pitchers (14 + 3 on DL)--Tim Adleman, Cincinnati (New Jersey, Can-Am League, and Lincoln and El Paso, American Association); Craig Breslow, Minnesota (New Jersey, Northeast League); Luis Garcia, Philadelphia (Newark, Can-Am);  #Junior Guerra, Milwaukee (Wichita, American Association); Rich Hill, Los Angeles-NL (Long Island, Atlantic League); #Scott Kazmir, Los Angeles-NL (Sugar Land, Atlantic); Brandon Kintzler, Minnesota (St. Paul, American Association, and Winnipeg, Northern League); Vidal Nuno, Baltimore (Washington, Frontier League); *James Paxton, Seattle (Grand Prairie, American Association); *Tanner Roark, Washington (Southern Illinois, Frontier); Chaz Roe, Atlanta (Laredo, American Association); *Max Scherzer, Washington (Fort Worth, American Association);  #Bo Schultz, Toronto (Grand Prairie); *Robby Scott, Boston (Yuma, North American League); Josh Smoker, New York-NL (Rockford, Frontier); Tom Wilhelmsen, Arizona (Tucson, Golden League); Brad Ziegler, Miami (Schaumburg, Northern).

            Position Players (6+1 on DL)--OF-1B-Stephen Cardullo, Colorado (Rockland, Can-Am); #INF-Stephen Drew, Washington (Camden, Atlantic);   OF-Chris Marrero, San Francisco (Somerset, Atlantic); OF-Jose Martinez, St. Louis (Rockford); OF-1B*-Daniel Nava, Philadelphia (Chico, Golden); OF-David Peralta, Arizona (Amarillo and Wichita, American Association, and Rio Grande Valley, North American); C-Rene Rivera, New York-NL (Camden).

            *First professional game was in an Independent League
            #Is on disabled list

             Notes:  Adleman and Garcia have been added since Opening Day.  Breslow, Cardullo, Marrero, Nava and Wilhelmsen were non-roster invitees when spring training started.  Tanner Scheppers, Texas (St. Paul, American Association) was on the disabled list when the season started but has been sent outright to Triple-A.


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