Tuesday, September 26, 2017

WILKERSON'S PROMOTION TO BREWERS GIVES INDEPENDENT LEAGUES A RECORD-TYING 45TH PLAYER IN MAJORS THIS SEASON

Aaron Wilkerson's recent promotion to the postseason-hopeful Milwaukee Brewers should have brought a double dose of happiness the everyone in an Independent league.

First, it meant the non-major-league-affiliated leagues equaled the record set one year ago when 45 players who have worn one or more Indy league uniforms have been in the major leagues this season.
But Wilkerson started his professional career in an Indy league, a feat only shared by three active big-leaguers (James Paxton, Tanner Roark and Max Scherzer along with Stephen Drew and Daniel Nava, both currently on disabled lists).

Wilkerson has been touted as a potential major leaguer for some time now, but that was not the case back in 2011 when his career was stalled--threatened, one might say--when the Cumberland University product (Lebanon, TN) was sidelined to undergo the dreaded Tommy John surgery.  He did not pitch for nearly two years, with some of his time spent working in the grocery store.

The 28-year-old Wilkerson went undrafted, with the elbow injury playing an obvious role.  So he worked his way through three leagues in 2013 and Boston finally gave him an opportunity the next season out of the American Association (Grand Prairie, TX).  (He also worked in the United and Frontier Leagues.)

The Red Sox nurtured his development from the rookie New York-Penn League to its top farm club in Pawtucket, RI before reluctantly giving the 6-foot-3 hurler up midway in the 2016 season as part of a 2-for-1 swap that netted the Fenway Park residents needed experience in the form of veteran infielder Aaron Hill.

"It (reaching the majors) means the world," Wilkerson told MLB.com.  "It's almost surreal right now."

Wilkerson earned the trip to the majors by allowing only 117 hits in 142.1 innings and winning 11 of 15 decisions (3.16 ERA) this summer for Double-A Biloxi, MS, then throwing seven no-hit innings with 11 strikeouts for Triple-A Colorado Springs in a Pacific Coast League playoff game.

The right-hander has worked twice for manager Craig Counsell so far, a two-strikeout inning in relief and a start.  He has allowed four hits and three runs in 3.1 innings with more work possible yet this week.

Wilkerson is the 46th player to start in an Independent League and make it all the way to the majors, according to records maintained by IndyBaseballChatter.com.  Thirty-three of them are pitchers. 


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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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