Wednesday, August 24, 2016

RECENT INDY GRADS IMPRESSING IN VARIOUS AFFILIATED LEAGUES

One constant in writing about Independent Baseball is the never-ending-opportunity to shed the spotlight on players who have not yet reached the major leagues, but are showing impressive strides after being signed out of the non-affiliated leagues and playing in the affiliated minors.

Today's stories are absolutely juicy.

One year ago Stephen Cardullo was an all-star outfielder in the Can-Am League, hitting .331 for the Rockland Boulders (Pomona, NY). Today, the soon-to-be 29-year-old can boast of hitting .308 with 26 doubles, 5 triples, 17 homers and 72 RBI for the Los Angeles Dodgers' top farm club in Albuquerque.

Omar Bencomo, a 27-year-old who had to fight his way back after gunshot wounds in his native Venezuela that kept him off the diamond for two years, rebounded through Italy and the American Association (Laredo, TX and Wichita, KS), and the right-hander has recently been promoted by Minnesota to the Twins' Triple-A club in Rochester, NY. He has split his first two starts for the Red Wings.   "I'm so proud to be here," he told The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.  "A lot of things happened to me to get here.  I took a long time to get 100 per cent but I'm here."

Mike Zouzalik was a strikeout-per-inning reliever for the St. Paul (MN) Saints of the American Association last season (4-1, 2.06 in 39 appearances) before his contract was purchased by Baltimore.  He had split this season between Class A Frederick, MD and Double-A Bowie, MD until recently when he was promoted to Norfolk, VA.  In  his first appearance in Triple-A, the righty escaped one bases loaded jam and worked three scoreless innings.  "When I got released (Texas in 2014), I was really kind of relieved," he told The Norfolk Pilot.  "I was throwing, and I had no idea where it was going...I just wasn't really having fun.  When I played with Wichita (his first American Association team later that year) and we won the championship, that reminded me how much fun this game is.  That was huge for me."

Ross Vance got his initial professional opportunity this season in the first-year United Shore League (Utica, MI), but St. Louis came along early on and purchased the 24-year-old lefty.  He already has 47 strikeouts in a mere 34 innings for Johnson City, TN of the Appalachian League, winning all three of his decisions and posting a 2.38 earned run average in 13 appearances (two starts).


Get the independent minor league baseball trivia question of the day by clicking this link: Independent Minor League Baseball Trivia Questions

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Record Likely For Number Of Indy Players

With more than six weeks remaining in the major league season it seems virtually certain a record is going to be established for the most players with time in Independent leagues reaching baseball's pinnacle in any one year.

The count has already reached 38, based on records maintained by IndyBaseballChatter.com, only three below the high-water mark reached two years ago. The final count last season was 37.

The confidence that a new mark will be established stems from the fact several more players could easily get the call. And there is always the chance of another Rich Hill situation of a player still laboring in an Indy circuit in August who could have his contract purchased and he could land at the game's highest level days later.

Here are some of the top candidates to reach active major league status this year.

Rehabbing veteran Tanner Scheppers seems likely to join the Texas Rangers when rosters expand September 1, and another possibility is RHP Aaron Wilkerson, now working in Triple-A for Milwaukee. Veteran lefty Joe Thatcher could join his new parent, the Chicago Cubs.

THE DISABLED LIST GROWS

With Tim Adleman (New Jersey, Can-Am League, and El Paso and Lincoln, American Association) back in the majors with Cincinnati, 16 onetime Independent players are active on major league rosters.  The unusual aspect is that another nine, very likely a high-water mark, are on major league disabled lists.  Seven of those are pitchers.

WILKERSON BENEFITTED FROM INDEPENDENT PLAY

On paper, Aaron Wilkerson seemed to have benefitted from the trade last month when he went from Boston's Triple-A Pawtucket farm club to the corresponding level in the Milwaukee chain at Colorado Springs.  And, he knows he owes his second chance at reaching the major leagues to time he spent in Independent Baseball after being out of the game for a couple of years and moving on with his life outside of the game.

"Independent ball was my way of doing a self-evaluation," the 27-year-old told The Colorado Springs Gazette recently.  "I was able to put up good numbers (at Florence, KY of the Frontier League and Grand Prairie, TX of the American Association) and another opportunity came my way."

The right-hander has struggled since joining Colorado Springs (1-5, 6.69 in eight starts) after a strong start to the season with Boston's top two farm clubs (6-3, 2.14) led to talk of a major league call-up, but he had an encouraging no-decision start Wednesday when he struck out 10 El Paso batters in six innings of three-run work.


Get the independent minor league baseball trivia question of the day by clicking this link: Independent Minor League Baseball Trivia Questions

Monday, August 08, 2016

Astros' James Hoyt Latest To Make Independents Proud

It finally happened!

Strikeout machine James Hoyt, who pitched for three independent baseball teams before getting his first chance with a major league organization, has made his long-awaited major league debut with the postseason-hopeful Houston Astros.

The 29-year-old right-hander is the first player who started in a non-affiliated league to reach the majors since Ian Thomas did so. Both players were in Independent play as recently as 2012, and are the 42nd and 43rd players who started their pro career in an Indy circuit to climb all the way to the majors. Thirty of them have been pitchers.

The 6-foot-5 Hoyt was plagued by wildness during his last collegiate season at Centenary College, but after working on a sailboat in San Diego for a time the next year (2011) he hooked up with the Jose Canseco-managed Yuma (AZ) Scorpions of the North American League, then Edinburg, TX of the same league and finally the Wichita (KS) Wingnuts of the American Association in 2012.

He struck out 248 hitters in only 191 innings in the Atlanta and Houston farm systems between 2013 and last season, and he was enjoying a banner season with the Astros’ Triple-A club in Fresno, striking out batters at a rate of 15.1 for every nine innings. He had 84 whiffs in 50 innings, a 1.62 ERA and his 28 saves ranked as the second highest total in all of the affiliated minors. Baseball America tabbed him the top reliever in the Pacific Coast League in its recent “best tools” issue.

Hoyt has been in three games in the last five days since being called up, allowing one hit (an Edwin Encarnacion solo home run) while walking one and collecting four strikeouts in 2.2 major league innings.

Wichita Now Has Indy-Leading Four in Majors

The Wichita Wingnuts have a great deal to boast about these days. The American Association franchise has an independent baseball-leading four former players in the major leagues now that James Hoyt and changeup specialist Chris Smith of Oakland Athletics have been called up.

The ‘Nuts already had slugging Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder David Peralta (disabled list) and the surprising Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Junior Guerra in the majors.

Smith, 35, is back in the majors for the first time since making 20 starts (8-4, 3.55) for Wichita in ’13 and 12 appearances (eight starts) for Sugar Land, TX of the Atlantic League the next season before San Diego Padres purchased the right-hander’s contract and sent him to their top farm club in El Paso, TX. He won all six of his decisions and compiled a 2.15 ERA with Sugar Land.

The onetime University of California-Riverside hurler had 50 previous major league relief opportunities with Boston Red Sox and Milwaukee between 2008 and 2010.  Baseball America named Smith the pitcher with the best changeup in the Pacific Coast League for his work with the Athletics’ Nashville club this season.

Sugar Land ranks second among all Independent teams with three major leaguers, including the Los Angeles Dodgers Scott Kazmir and another southpaw, Hunter Cervenka, a rookie just obtained by Miami Marlins from the Atlanta Braves.

Get the independent minor league baseball trivia question of the day by clicking this link: Independent Minor League Baseball Trivia Questions

Monday, August 01, 2016

Reynolds, Sermo Capitalize On New Opportunities

Fortunes can change quickly in Independent Baseball.  Just ask Matt Reynolds and Jose Sermo, both enjoying triumphant returns to major league organizations.

From Lancaster to SF Giants in a Month

Matt Reynolds suddenly finds himself involved in the National League West pennant chase only a month and a few days removed from the Lancaster (PA) Barnstormers' bullpen in the Atlantic League.  The 31-year-old southpaw had relieved in 213 major league games for Colorado and Arizona between 2010 and 2015 when he suddenly found himself needing a new opportunity after the Diamondbacks released him in the last week of spring training.

"It's kind of been an interesting journey," the 6-foot-5 hurler admitted to KNBR.com, shortly after being promoted from Triple-A to the San Francisco Giants, for whom he made two appearances (1.0, 1 hit, 1 walk, 1 strikeout) over the weekend during their series against another division leader, Washington.  "I certainly wasn't expecting any of this."

Reynolds described his time with Lancaster, which only ended after a June 21 appearance, as a "fun opportunity", and the onetime Austin Peay starter shared one funny experience during his time with the Barnstormers, which included 26 relief outings and 32 strikeouts in 22 Atlantic League innings (1-0, 1.63).  He was getting ready to warm up for his first appearance, he told KNBR.com, when teammates told him to slow it up because the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs do a mid-game fireworks show.  “I was a little shocked and blown away,” he mused.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy says he plans to use Reynolds as a situational reliever for now.

Three-Homer Game Launches Sermo

Jose Sermo played half of last season and 29 games earlier in '16 with Gary, IN of the American Association before Boston purchased the infielder's contract and gave him a second opportunity in affiliated baseball following three years in the Milwaukee farm system.

He had shown some power early this summer at Gary, whacking five homers while hitting .311 with a sparkling .425 on-base percentage and 24 runs driven in.  Sermo admits things were not going that good for Salem, VA in the Carolina League until last Tuesday (July 26) when the switch-hitter recorded his first three-homer game.  He hit two right-handed and the last one as a lefty.

"I was struggling a little bit, but I kind of tried to relax," Sermo told MiLB.com.  "(Coach Angel) Berroa was talking to me like 'just relax.  You look like you just want to hit already and you're not even close to being in the box.  Just relax.'"  Berroa may have been thinking back to when he was a star in the Independent game himself, mainly for Bridgeport, CT of the Atlantic League, where his number has been retired.

Sermo, 25, has been hot since that night, going 8-for-18 to lift his season average (29 games) to .245.


Get the independent minor league baseball trivia question of the day by clicking this link: Independent Minor League Baseball Trivia Questions

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Frontier League's Smoker 'Won't Forget' His Innings In Majors

One can only hope that Josh Smoker will not become the latest Independent Baseball grad to spend a brief (usually one day) time on a major league roster and never get into a game. But even if it turns out that way, the 27-year-old southpaw pitcher admitted to MLB.com it is "one I won't forget."

Smoker, who spent 2014 with Rockford, IL in the Frontier League before getting a second affiliated opportunity in the New York Mets organization, was added to the roster as the 26th man for the second game of their doubleheader against St. Louis Tuesday, and arrived in the sixth inning after flying with his Las Vegas 51s teammates to Fresno, CA, where he was told to fly to New York.
"That was a good wakeup call, definitely a good wakeup call," Smoker told MLB.com after watching the final three innings of the 3-1 Mets win from the bullpen.

Chances are the Georgia native, who was Washington's first round draft choice nine years ago, will get more opportunities in the majors since he already was on New York's 40-man roster and had gotten 4.2 innings of experience during spring training. He had impressed Mets brass with 15 strikeouts and a 0.90 earned run average in his last 10 Pacific Coast League innings. He has an overall 4.73 ERA for 43 appearances this season.

IndyBaseballChatter.com maintains a list of Independent players who have gone on to reach the major leagues (Smoker is No. 218) with pitchers Tim Bausher (Boston), Tom Cochran (Cincinnati), Julio DePaula (Baltimore) and Brian Mazone (Philadelphia) and catcher Jose Yepez (Seattle) the only others never to appear in a big-league contest.

(The entire list of 218 is available for a fee, with details available on this blog.)

JEROME WILLIAMS RETURNS

Righty Jerome Williams, whose lengthy resume includes Independent stops with Long Beach, CA in the Golden League and Lancaster, PA in the Atlantic League, has joined the St. Louis Cardinals after making nine starts (5-3, 4.89) with Triple-A Memphis.  The 34-year-old averaged more than six innings each time out.

CATCHING UP WITH COLABELLO, BRESLOW AND THATCHER

First baseman-outfielder Chris Colabello, whose climb to the major leagues after seven seasons in the Can-Am League has been well documented, is back in action with Toronto's top farm club in Buffalo after sitting out his lengthy suspension, but one cannot help wondering if his path back to the majors this season became more difficult when the Blue Jays obtained another right-handed bat in veteran outfielder Melvin Upton Jr. from San Diego.

Like Colabello, Joe Thatcher started his professional career in Independent play (Frontier League). The veteran left-handed reliever came off the free agent list recently when American League Central leader Cleveland signed him. One more longtime major league southpaw, Craig Breslow (New Jersey Jackals), also has a new home, signing with Texas after Miami released him.


Get the independent minor league baseball trivia question of the day by clicking this link: Independent Minor League Baseball Trivia Questions