Saturday, December 13, 2014

FORMER ATLANTIC LEAGUERS JAKE FOX AND SCOTT RICE HAVE MAJOR LEAGUE CAMP INVITATIONS

The Atlantic League should be beaming over a couple of recent signings, both of which have resulted in major league spring training invitations.

Jake Fox, the 2013 Player of the Year, has signed with Toronto, where power always seems to be revered, and lefty reliever Scott Rice will be back in camp with the New York Mets.

Fox hit 38 home runs between the Mexican League and Philadelphia’s Double-A farm club in Reading, PA this past summer, but the Phillies did not choose to bring him up in September. Right-handed hitter has not been in the big leagues since 2011 (Baltimore) so he will be out to break that drought. Now 32, the University of Michigan product, who can play most any position including catcher, has had three stints at Somerset, NJ, including nearly the full season in ’13 when he banged 25 homers, drove in 82 and hit .310 as the Atlantic League’s top player. The Phils let him go at the end of this past season so he could help the Patriots try to reclaim the Atlantic League championship.

Rice was a popular–and busy–reliever in 2013 when he finally broke through to the majors, ending a 14-year effort to get there. He appeared in 73 games as a 31-year-old rookie with the Mets, compiling a 3.71 ERA, and started ’14 with New York (5.93 in 32 outings) in ’14 before undergoing surgery in July to remove a bone spur in his left elbow. He is expected to be fully healthy when spring training starts. Rice has pitched for Long Island, NY, York, PA, and Newark, NJ in various Atlantic League stints.

FROM JETER GAME HEROICS TO TEXAS RANGERS

Fleet outfielder Antoan Richardson (Schaumburg, IL, now a Frontier League city), who made the most of a September call-up to the New York Yankees, including scoring the winning run on Derek Jeter’s single in the star shortstop’s career finale at Yankee Stadium, has signed with the Texas Rangers and been invited to major league camp.


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Friday, December 05, 2014

GREG BURKE GETS A MAJOR LEAGUE SPRING TRAINING INVITE

Catching up with a few meaningful transactions in this interim period before next week’s Winter Meetings and next Thursday’s Independent Baseball Insider column…

**Right-hander Greg Burke, who started his professional career with the Atlantic City (NJ) Surf (Atlantic League), has another major league opportunity within reach. Colorado re-signed Burke and has invited him to the Rockies’ major league spring training camp in Arizona.

**Two other righties, Kenn Kasparek and Logan Kensing, have been signed as free agents with new organizations. Kasparek, who once played for Fargo, ND (American Association), has a Double-A deal with Baltimore. Kensing (Bridgeport, CT, Atlantic) is a notch higher in Triple-A with the Chicago White Sox.

**First baseman Marquez Smith (Camden, NJ, Atlantic) has a new contract with Cincinnati and is on the Triple-A Louisville, KY roster.

**Outfielder Javier Herrera (Yuma, AZ, Golden League, and Southern Illinois and Rockford, IL, both Frontier League) and right-hander Nick Sarianides (Trois-Rivieres, Can-Am League, and Rockford) have new deals with the old organizations. Herrera is the San Francisco, Sarianides with Arizona.


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Friday, November 21, 2014

COUNTING INDY NOSES WELL AHEAD OF MAJOR LEAGUE SPRING TRAINING PLUS NEWS ON SEVERAL HIRES

Major league teams had until midnight Thursday to promote players to the 40-man roster which will protect them from next month’s Rule 5 draft. Only one former Independent player showed up this time, that being onetime Frontier League right-hander Brandon Cunniff (Southern Illinois and River City) to Atlanta’s roster, as we reported to subscribers in yesterday’s Independent Baseball Insider column.

It never is a shock to see a couple of Indy grads taken in the Rule 5 during the Winter Meetings, and players still have another avenue of non-roster invitations to train with the big guys come February and March. More than 50 onetime Independent standouts have been among the fortunate group in major league camps in recent seasons, and that number could even go higher this time given the fact that if we count prime free agents such as (alphabetically) Craig Breslow, Stephen Drew, Luke Hochevar, Max Scherzer and Joe Thatcher 33 of these players are already ticketed for the big-league camps.

BRIAN SWEENEY JOINS PHILLIES SYSTEM

I have had a soft spot for Brian Sweeney ever since this Independent original (Lafayette, IN, Heartland League, 1996) was one of the first players I interviewed early in the Insider days. The Yonkers, NY native had a nice way about him.

Sweeney, who turned 40 this summer, eventually got into 73 major league games (4-2, two saves, 3.41) during his 18-year playing career, playing with Seattle and San Diego. He also spent three seasons in Japan, and the right-hander started one game for the Somerset (NJ) Patriots (Atlantic League) in 2011 (a victory with seven innings of four-hit, two-run baseball) before the New York Mets signed him to play at Triple-A Buffalo, NY.

Sweeney has just been hired to be a pitching coach in the Philadelphia farm system.

ATLANTIC LEAGUE MANAGERIAL NEWS

Butch Hobson proved long ago that he is one of the best Independent managers, and Lancaster, PA has to feel good that he will be returning to help the Barnstormers defend their Atlantic League title. The league also got a new managerial face this week when Bridgeport, CT announced it had hired Ricky VanAsselberg, who already has four Independent championships on his resume.

“He certainly knows how to get players, including vets,” one longtime Independent league official told me this week.

VanAsselberg won two United League titles (Alexandria, LA) and two more in the American Association (Shreveport-Bossier, LA and Grand Prairie, TX), the last in 2011.

VALDES SHARP

Lefty Raul Valdes, a free agent after spending 2014 in the Toronto organization (briefly with the Blue Jays), is having another impressive winter league season in the Dominican Republic. The former Can-Am Leaguer (New Jersey Jackals and Nashua, NH) is 3-0 with a 1.38 ERA, allowing only 12 hits and five walks in 26 innings covering four starts.




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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

NEARLY 80 FORMER INDEPENDENT STANDOUTS NOW FREE AGENTS

A few more onetime Independent players have received new minor league contracts from their major league organizations although a great many more have been declared free agents.

The most recent signings we have seen include right-handed pitcher Tim Dillard (Lancaster, PA, Atlantic League) with Milwaukee, first baseman Matt Fields (Southern Illinois, Frontier League) with Kansas City, and both first baseman Seth Loman (St. George, UT, Golden League) and catcher Jose Yepez (Pensacola, FL, American Association, and Gary, IN, Northern League) with Atlanta. Loman has a Double-A deal, the others received Triple-A contracts.

Max Scherzer (Fort Worth, TX, American Association) is easily the highest profile free agent among those who have played Independent Baseball, although the list compiled for the Independent Baseball Insider includes 76 other players. The list (those who were in the major leagues at any time during 2014 are in bold face):

RHP (31): Mitch Atkins, Austin Bibens-Dirkx, Eric Brooks, Greg Burke, Robert Coello, Michael Colla, Dane DeLaRosa, Julio DePaula, Shane Dyer, Jarrett Grube, Erik Hamren, Tyler Herron, Shawn Hill, Josh Judy, Kenn Kasparek, Logan Kensing, Josh Kinney, Michael Lee, Anthony Lerew, Mitch Lively, Terance Marin, Mike McClendon, Kyler Newby, Michael Nix, Mark Pope, Scott Richmond, Mark Serrano, Daniel Stange, Brett Tomko, Virgil Vasquez, Zak Wasserman.

LHP (13): Kyle Anderson, Craig Breslow, Brian Burres, Tony Davis, Chad James, Kris Johnson, Zach Kroenke, Jason Lane, James Leverton, Efrain Nieves, Greg Smith, Joe Thatcher, Raul Valdes.

C (9): Craig Albernaz, (OF) Alex Burg, Mitch Canham, Jose Gil, Ralph Henriquez, Eddy Rodriguez, J.R. Towles, J.T. Wise, Zach Zaneski.

IF (14): (SS) Vance Albitz, (OF) Brian Burgamy, (3B) Mike Costanzo, Maikol Gonzalez, (SS) Daniel Mayora, (1B) Mark Minicozzi, (1B) Cody Overbeck, (SS) Jaime Pedroza, (1B-OF) Brock Peterson, Anthony Seratelli, (1B) Curt Smith, Marquez Smith, Nate Spears, (SS) Hainley Statia.

OF (9): Cory Aldridge, Brandon Boggs, Yusuf Carter, Justin Christian, Javier Herrera, Quincy Latimore, Dustin Martin, Antoan Richardson, Burt Reynolds.

ONETIME RELUCTANT INDY HURLER CHANGES HIS MIND

Brandon Cunniff feared his professional career might be at an end when the Marlins, who had drafted him, released him when he was only 21. He did not want to play Independent Baseball, at least initially.

“When I showed up to spring training (with River City at O’Fallon, MO, in 2011), talked to the guys and saw the talent that some of the guys had, I was like ‘wow, this is just like affiliated ball’. I really just didn’t know what to expect (until that time).” The right-handed hurler spent two plus seasons in the Frontier League (River City and Southern Illinois) when the Atlanta Braves came calling. He has had a year and a half in the Braves’ farm system now, including much of 2014 with Class AA Mississippi, and was rewarded this fall with an invitation that only major league prospects receive of going to the Arizona Fall League.

Still only 26, Cunniff has prospered in the AFL, too, taking a 2-0 record and two saves along with a 3.46 ERA over 10 appearances (13 innings) into the final days of the season.


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Friday, October 31, 2014

CHECKING OUT A RUMOR PLUS A SOME NICE WORLD SERIES LINKS

A word to the wise: Do not believe those rumors that the American Association is planning to expand to Brownsville, TX. One owner is believed to be stirring the pot, but the stories that say the league has been involved are not true.

WORLD SERIES RINGS LIKELY

While the Independent leagues did not have any players in this year's World Series, the Giants are not without former Indy people in their organization. As starters, coaches Andy Skeels (current Atlantic League city Somerset, NJ as well as numerous other non-affiliated spots), Ken Joyce (Northeast League) and Todd Linden (North American League) all work in the minor league system.

Speaking of coaches, congratulations are in order to onetime Quebec Manager Darren Bush (he also had a few other Indy stops) for moving up from bullpen coach to hitting coach at Oakland. New Athletics assistant hitting and catching coach Marcus Jensen also played Independent Baseball.

FROM BEST PROSPECT TO MAJORS STILL A BIG CLIMB

Before anyone gets overly giddy for the chances of Baseball America's top Independent prospect Eric Anderson making the majors, none of the last five have gotten that far to this point. Anderson was a rookie right-hander this season with Normal, IL in the Frontier League. History says he will get a chance in a major league farm system.

WHO IS HOT IN WINTER BASEBALL?

Free agent corner infielder Andy Marte (York, PA, Atlantic League) and New York Yankees catching hopeful Jose Gil (Lincoln, NE, American Association) have hot bats in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, respectively. Marte has three homers and is hitting .367 (11-for-30) while Gil is at .345 (10-for-29) with one homer.

Right-hander Tim Dillard (Lancaster, PA, Atlantic) has allowed only three hits and one run over 10.1 innings in nine appearances in Venezuela. He has struck out 12.


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