Monday, July 02, 2018

TWO MORE INDY HURLERS NOW IN MAJORS

Pitchers who have paid their dues in Independent leagues are continuing to get new opportunities in the major leagues.

The two most recent examples are Milwaukee's Aaron Wilkerson, who started his professional journey in the now defunct United League, and reliever Robert Stock of San Diego, who came out of the Can-Am League (New Jersey Jackals) only two years ago.

They join 17 others who currently are drawing major league paychecks, although two are on the disabled list.

Wilkerson will be monitored closely in that the Brewers are driving toward a possible postseason berth, and the 29-year-old could work into starting roles.  He debuted in the major late last season (three appearances; two starts) and went to spring training to compete for a rotation job only to injure his non-throwing (left) shoulder on a swing just before the regular season.

He has been back on the mound since mid-May, posting a nice 2.08 earned run average in eight appearances (seven starts) for Triple-A Colorado Springs.  He had a rocky first appearance of '18 for Milwaukee, allowing Cincinnati three runs and five hits in three innings Sunday. 

Wilkerson broke into the professional ranks with Fort Worth (United League), Florence, KY of the Frontier League and Grand Prairie, TX of the American Association in 2013, then returned to Grand Prairie early the next season before Boston bought his contract.

Stock, 28, had a full season with New Jersey two years ago, posting a 2.85 ERA (1-2, five saves) in 52 appearances.  He has relieved four times in a week in his first trip to the majors, striking out five in three innings with a 3.00 ERA for the Padres.




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Monday, June 18, 2018

FONT MAKES A BIG STEP FOR TAMPA BAY BY TOPPLING THE YANKEES

So many baseball people like Wilmer Font's potential.  That is why he has been able to stay in the major leagues this year even though he was anything but sharp during stints with the Dodgers and Oakland.

The potential probably never looked better than Sunday when the 28-year-old, who had a season and a half at Ottawa in the Can-Am League (16-6) before getting his second affiliated opportunity, made one of those Tampa Bay bullpen-day starts, handcuffing the potent New York Yankees on one a run in 4.2 innings.  The Rays won the Yankee Stadium tussle, 3-1, with the win going to another former Independent Baseball hurler, Chaz Roe.

"Today, he (Font) gave us a huge boost with a chance to win," manager Kevin Cash told MLB.com.  "He went a little deeper than what we anticipated.  But he was efficient and threw strikes."

Font said he "wanted to (finish) the fifth, but we got a team win.  That's all that matters."  The right-hander, who had a grand total of five major league innings (Texas, '12-'13) prior to joining the Dodgers late last season after winning Pitcher of the Year honors in the Pacific Coast League, has been a starter almost exclusively since joining Ottawa.  The Venezuelan believes he can be a part of the Rays' rotation.  "I feel pretty good starting," he told MLB.com.  "I can throw more pitches the next start."

Yankees manager Aaron Boone also praised the hurler, who has only been with Tampa Bay since May 26, working four times out of the bullpen and starting in his last three appearances.  "Font was good," Boone said.  "He fastball was a wide range--low 90s to even upper 90s.  A lot of teams have been interested in him because the ability is there.  He flipped in the curve enough to keep us off balance.  He was under control for most of the game, and we couldn't break through on him."

Font now has a 2.20 earned run average in 16.1 innings for his new team, allowing 11 hits although his walks (eight) remain fairly high.  To show how far he has come since his difficult days with the Dodgers and Athletics, the 6-foot-4 hurler still has a 7.56 ERA (0-3 record) in his 33.1 innings this season.

"It was definitely a good win for us," said Roe, who pitched in the American Association (Laredo) and has worked his way into regular relief duty in the majors, pitching for Arizona, the Yankees, Baltimore, Atlanta and the Rays.  He is 31.

The Independent leagues have contributed 21 players currently on major league rosters or disabled lists with the Rays and Washington both owning three of them.  Frontier League grad Vidal Nuno (Washington, PA) also is with Tampa Bay while the Nationals have ace Max Scherzer (Fort Worth, American Association), starter Tanner Roark, who made his pro debut at Southern Illinois in the Frontier League, and reliever Brandon Kintzler, who pitched for St. Paul in the American Association and Winnipeg before the Goldeyes transferred to that league from the Northern League.



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Monday, April 02, 2018

INDEPENDENT PLAYERS IN MAJOR LEAGUE UNIFORMS HIT CENTURY MARK

How lofty does it sound when you hear 103 players who have been in one or more Independent leagues wore a major league uniform during spring training?

It happened.

Fifty-eight were either on 40-man rosters or had non-roster invitations to one of the 30 camps in Arizona and Florida.  At least another 45 were brought over from minor league camps to suit up with the big guys for one or more games.  We may have missed a few more, but can identify the 103.

Sixteen of the 58 full-time trainees were on Opening Day rosters, although that number is down from 20 of one year ago.

The only totally new player among the 16 is Boston reliever Marcus Walden, who was with the Lancaster Barnstormers in the Atlantic League virtually all of 2015, posting a 2-4 record, 15 saves and a 2.95 earned run average in 48 appearances.  The right-hander spent last season as a combo starter-reliever for Triple-A Pawtucket (10-6, 3.92) in the Red Sox system, then had a terrific spring training as a non-roster pitcher.

Catcher Raffy Lopez (Bridgeport, Atlantic League), who spent part of last season at Toronto, also went from non-roster status to San Diego's Opening Day roster although he went back to Triple-A during the first weekend without getting into a game for the Padres.

The American Association is the most decorated of the Independent leagues with six major leaguers plus Houston reliever James Hoyt, who started the season the disabled list.

The Independent players who were on 25-man rosters when the season kicked off March 29 with their current major league and their Independent affiliations:

Pitchers (12):  Wilmer Font, Los Angeles-NL (Ottawa, Can-Am League), Luis Garcia, Philadelphia (Newark, Can-Am), Rich Hill, Los Angeles-NL (Long Island, Atlantic League), Brandon Kintzler, Washington (St. Paul, American Association and Winnipeg, Northern League), Chris Martin, Texas (Grand Prairie, Association), James Paxton, Seattle (Grand Prairie), Tanner Roark, Washington (Southern Illinois, Frontier League), Chaz Roe, Tampa Bay (Laredo, Association), Max Scherzer, Washington (Fort Worth, Association), Josh Smoker, Pittsburgh (Rockford, Frontier), Marcus Walden, Boston (Lancaster, Atlantic) and Brad Ziegler, Miami (Schaumburg, Frontier).

Position Players (4):  C Raffy Lopez, San Diego (Bridgeport, Atlantic), 1B-OF Jose Martinez, St. Louis (Rockford), OF David Peralta, Arizona (Wichita and Amarillo, Association, and Rio Grande Valley, North American League) and C Rene Rivera, Los Angeles-AL (Camden, Atlantic).

Hoyt pitched for Wichita plus the North American cities of Edinburg and Yuma.



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Monday, March 12, 2018

FROM AN INDEPENDENT LEAGUE TO THE MAJORS IN LESS THAN A YEAR

The toughest break among the 58 onetime Independent Baseball players in major league camps this spring probably belongs to veteran Daniel Nava since the very first day of spring training the gritty outfielder by way of Chico, CA of the Golden League had to shut it down and have back surgery.

He had signed with Pittsburgh, and was considered a likely fourth outfielder--possibly even part of a leftfield platoon--with his sixth major league team since the days when he barely made an Independent roster.

"Not what I was hoping for, but I've got to look at it from the positive perspective," he told MLB.com after returning to the Pirates' camp in Bradenton, FL.  "The pain's gone, and it explains a lot of things that have happened the past couple years with my body.  Hopefully, I'm 35 years young rather than 35 years old."

Typical recovery time from similar surgery is said to be 10-12 weeks.  Nava hit .301 in 214 plate appearances with Philadelphia last year before going down with what was described as a lower back strain.

Less Than a Year to Majors

If anyone needs convincing of the talent in the Indy leagues, consider this fact:  Six of those in major league camps this month played non-affiliated baseball as recently as last season.  Numerous other former Independent players have worn a major league uniform for at least a day after getting the call from minor league camps.

The six who have been vying for major league jobs, with their current team and former Independent affiliation, are:  Pitchers Henderson Alvarez, Philadelphia (Long Island, Atlantic League);  Tyler Cloyd, Miami (Somerset, Atlantic); Kevin Lenik, Kansas City (Windy City, Frontier League); Tim Melville, Baltimore (Long Island) and James Needy, Miami (Sioux City, American Association) and catcher Shawn Zarraga, Los Angeles Dodgers (Cleburne, American Association).

They May Make It to Opening Day

One new face said to be in line to start the season in the Dodgers' bullpen is Can-Am League (Ottawa) product Wilmer Font.  He was Pitcher of the Year in the Pacific Coast League last year. 

Two versatile non-roster infielders are making strong bids for their first major league action.  The Can-Am (New Jersey) provided Peter Mooney for Miami and the Chicago Cubs are looking at Ryan Court (Sioux City).  Both have been in virtually every spring training game their team has played while hitting above .300.  


"Playing for your hometown team and getting that dream to play in Wrigley (Field), it's an honor to put on the Cubs uniform every day," Court told The Northwest Herald.  "It keeps me going.  I come to the ballpark with a smile every day."

Court makes it clear his time in Sioux City (2015) also was great for him.  "I had a lot of fun playing Indy ball," he told the newspaper, "and I think it's because a lot of guys are in the same situation.  "They've been out of pro (affiliated) ball, trying to fight to get back, so everyone was pulling for each other.  Indy ball was great, and now being with these guys, that seems like it's the Cubs culture, to pull for your team.  The motto this year is 'everybody in'.  It couldn't be more true with this group."


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Thursday, February 22, 2018

INDY HURLER CREDITED WITH VICTORY IN VERY FIRST GAME OF '18

Well, that did not take long.

The very first game played by a major league team in 2018--well, sort of--is history, and the winning pitcher was in the Atlantic League most of the last two seasons.

Arizona did not use any of its regulars in the 7-2 triumph over Arizona State University Wednesday, choosing to rely mostly on players from their farm system.  As a result and with the Diamondbacks frequently reaching into the Independent Baseball ranks for talent, three former Indy players were called upon, and each one contributed.

David Carpenter, a catcher when his professional career started in 2006 and an experienced major leaguer, was credited with the victory when he struck out three ASU hitters (one walk) in a scoreless fifth inning, half an inning before the D-Backs took the lead for good.

Carpenter, who has not been in the majors since 2015, spent much of the last two years with Bridgeport, CT of the Atlantic League, becoming a full-time closer in '17 when he saved 30 games in 39 appearances with a 1-3 record and 1.91 earned run average.  He only allowed 27 hits in 37.2 innings while striking out 45.

Two innings ahead of Carpenter (third inning) Arizona gave the ball to Ryan Atkinson, a 24-year-old righty who stepped off the University of Cincinnati campus undrafted in '15 and started his pro career in the Frontier League (Evansville, IN) before being gobbled up by the Diamondbacks.  He struck out two Wildcats during an unblemished inning.

Promising infielder Ildemaro Vargas, who is on the 40-man roster after playing briefly in the majors last season, was Arizona's leadoff hitter.  The second baseman went 1-for-2 and scored a run.

Indy Total in Majors Climbs to 58

When veteran left-hander Craig Breslow (New Jersey Jackals) signed a minor league pact with Toronto and accepted a camp invitation the total of players with Independent league experience who are in major league camps climbed to 58.  That is one more than last season.

Forty-five of the 58 are pitchers, five more than one year ago.


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