Thursday, March 26, 2015

ANGELS' RUCINSKI APPEARS TO BE THIS YEAR'S TOP INDEPENDENT SURPRISE

It seems every spring training at least one virtual unknown out of an Independent league stuns some major league team. Think Jon Weber with the Yankees, Chris Coste with Philadelphia and last year Ian Thomas with the Braves.

James Hoyt (Wichita, KS) with Houston or Mark Hamburger (St. Paul, MN) with Minnesota, both out of the American Association, are decent stories this year although it seems unlikely anyone compares right now to 26-year-old Frontier League product Drew Rucinski, who is making a very big statement with the Los Angeles Angels.

General Manager Jerry Dipoto confirmed as much this week.

“Drew came in as guy no one paid a whole lot of attention to, but in the last 10 days, Drew has put himself in position not only to be on our club, but I have already fielded multiple phone calls from other teams wondering if Drew Rucinski might be available,” Dipoto told The Orange County Register this week. “He put his best forward at the right time, and we have noticed.”

Dipoto told the newspaper Rucinski is not only in the running for the long relief job opened when Cory Rasmus got hurt, but he could start for the Angels, confirming so far he has outpitched Hector Santiago, Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano. Asked flat-out about Rucinski’s chances of making the team, Dipoto said: “You should be liking them. He’s had an unbelievable spring.”

The right-hander went undrafted after four seasons at Ohio State (22-13), pitched one game for Rockford, IL in 2011, then got a brief look from the Cleveland Indians. Rucinski was back in the Frontier League city for all of ’12 and most of ’13 (a combined 11-10, mostly in starting roles) before the Angels signed him largely to fill out a Class A roster.

He was a strong 10-6, 3.14 as a starter for the Angels’ Double-A Arkansas team last season, and got into three games in relief for the parent club at season’s end.

The Neenah, WI native has allowed two runs in 12 innings this spring, including four hitless innings in a start against Colorado’s regular lineup. He pitched the final 4 2/3 innings of a victory over San Francisco on Sunday, ending the game with a strikeout with the tying run at third.

“I wish I could tell you we thought he was going to show up and do what he’s doing now, but sometimes you get lucky,” Dipoto admitted to The Register.

Rucinski is scheduled to pitch again Friday, possibly in a minor league game, mostly to get enough innings of work.


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Thursday, March 19, 2015

THE UPS AND DOWNS OF SPRING TRAINING

Mark Hendrickson’s bid to make a comeback with Baltimore after becoming a grandfather did not work out, but as surely as one career slows down another gets a timely boost.

Drew Rucinski took advantage of a surprise start for the Los Angeles Angels when C. J. Wilson was under the weather this week, and all the 26-year-old out of the Frontier League (Rockford, IL) did was turn in four innings of hitless work in an 11-0 romp over Colorado.

That effort has to help the right-hander’s chances either now or in the future. Thirty-two of Rucinski’s 48 pitches–he faced one batter in the fifth–were strikes as he fanned five and allowed only one walk in lowering his Cactus League earned run average to 2.45 for 7.1 innings and two relief appearances in addition to the start.

The Neenah, WI native logged his first 13 days of major league service time last September and posted a 4.91 ERA for three efforts out of the bullpen. He had an 11-11, 3.28 record for his combined work at Rockford in 2011-13, and was 10-6, 3.14 in 26 starts for Class AA Arkansas last season.

As for Hendrickson, who finished last season closing for the York (PA) Revolution in the Atlantic League, his re-invented sidearm delivery at 40 years and nine months was not sufficient for another opportunity with Baltimore, which had invited the 6-foot-9 onetime NBA player to camp after an offseason workout.

Hendrickson, whose first major league spring training was in 2000, has a 48-54 career record in the majors. He took a positive attitude to camp in Sarasota, FL, probably knowing his chances were slim.

“If people in York County can see me doing something that’s probably against the odds, maybe that will push them to do something they thought they couldn’t do,” he told Goerie.com before camp opened.

JETER DAY STAR IN NEWS AGAIN

Speedy Antoan Richardson, who stands only 5-foot-8, has won a promotion since spring training started to the Texas Rangers’ 40-man roster. Now, perhaps the outfielder, 31, can make the Opening Day roster.

Richardson, who play Independent Baseball in Schaumburg, IL for 27 games and stole 20 bases when he was between affiliated organizations in 2009, has only 22 major league games on his lengthy career resume, but he is well remembered for scoring the winning run on Derek Jeter’s Yankee Stadium finale last September.


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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

ANOTHER 10 GET SHORT TRIPS TO MAJOR LEAGUE CAMPS

It is not just the 52 former Independent Baseball players who are getting to strut their ability in major league spring training camps. Far from it.

The Independent Baseball Insider has identified 10 more such players who have gotten at least a one-day opportunity to be in uniform for Grapefruit or Cactus League games as MLB team reinforce their rosters, especially for late-inning duty.

Interestingly, two of those who have gotten into games come from the Golden League, which has been out of operation for a few years. First baseman Seth Loman got into one game with Atlanta, and Austin Bibens-Dirkx saw brief duty with Toronto. Both of those players have seen spring training duty in other years, too. Loman played Indy baseball for St. George, UT; Bibens-Dirkx was with Victoria, Canada.

Julio DePaula, who had a whirlwind ride from York, PA of the Atlantic League to the parent Baltimore Orioles last summer, has seen action with his new team, Arizona. It certainly would seem the D-Backs are intrigued, getting DePaula into two games aready. He has given up a run and a hit in 1.1 innings. The right-hander also has pitched for Bridgeport, CT of the Atlantic League and St. Paul, MN of the American Association.

Arizona also has looked at right-hander Brandon Sinnery (Lincoln, NE, American Association; London, Ontario, Frontier League). Another American Association grad, righty Matt Nevarez (Wichita, KS), spent at least one day with Pittsburgh, and Atlantic League righties Mark Rogers and Mitch Atkins have been with Texas. Rogers, signed only recently, played at Lancaster, PA, while Atkins was at Somerset, NJ.

Frontier League players besides Sinnery who have gotten to wear major league uniforms include RHP Johnny Omahen (Traverse City, MI) with Arizona, OF Matty Johnson (Gateway, Sauget, IL) with Boston and RHP Stephen Shackleford (Florence, KY) with Philadelphia.


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Tuesday, March 03, 2015

GRANDPA HENDRICKSON PASSES FIRST TEST WITH ORIOLES

One can only imagine the taunts Mark Hendrickson is going to hear this season if he makes the Baltimore Orioles bullpen since the 6-foot-9 lefty has a six-month old granddaughter. Where he stands on the comeback trail likely won’t be known for a few weeks, but the onetime NBA player passed his first test during a six-inning intra-squad game that ended in a 0-0 tie.

Pitching in the third inning, Manager Buck Showalter had Hendrickson extend an extra batter so he would face power-hitting Chris Davis. Showalter even left the dugout to get a closer look, and the 40-year-old, who last season was in the York (PA) Revolution bullpen in the Atlantic League, did not disappoint. He got Davis to watch a called third strike.

“It’s an opportunity,” Hendrickson, who last pitched in the majors in 2011, told CSNBaltimore.com earlier this spring. “I think, if anything, the way I progressed the past couple years that’s all I’m looking for.”

Colabello to Get a Look in Left Field

Start looking for former Can-Am Leaguer Chris Colabello in left field during Toronto’s spring training games. That seems to be the seven-year Worcester, MA star’s best opportunity with his new team although he primarily played first, right field and designated hitter when he was with Minnesota the last two seasons.

Sportsnet.ca reports Toronto Manager John Gibbons has hinted Danny Valencia and Colabello, who is in camp as a non-roster invitee, will see time in left as the Blue Jays fill the void created when the expected starter, Michael Saunders, suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee that is expected to keep him out of action until July.

Holdzkom Will Get an Early Look

With 20 of its former players in major league camps, it was easy to predict the American Association would be in the news frequently. Sure enough, that is true as teams head into the exhibition season.

For starters, John Holdzkom, one of the darlings of last season when he started out in the American Association (Amarillo, TX) and ended up in Pittsburgh’s playoff game after a whirlwind climb, has been tabbed to work an inning in one of the Pirates’ first two Grapefruit League games, both against Toronto as he zeroes in on trying to nail down a fulltime bullpen spot.

“He’s got an opportunity,” a home country blog in New Zealand (stuff.co.nz) quoted Pittsburgh Manager Clint Hurdle. “It’s real. He knows it’s real. I don’t think he’s putting any pressure on himself. Still, in his mind, he’s got nothing to lose. He got a taste of it (major leagues), he likes it, and he wants more of it.”


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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

INDEPENDENT LEAGUES HAVE 52 PLAYERS TICKETED FOR MAJOR LEAGUE SPRING TRAINING

By the time all position players have reported to spring training in little more than a week, 52 players who have spent time in one or more Independent leagues will be wearing major league uniforms, records compiled by the blog IndyBaseballChatter.com reveal. This is an increase of one over last year and the number of players on 40-man rosters has jumped from 25 to 28. The rest of the players are non-roster invitees.

Forty-one pitchers are included.

The American Association tops all leagues with 20 players, four more than the Atlantic League, with eight representing the Frontier League and five the Can-Am. Several leagues no longer operating also have representation.

The list with major league affiliation and previous Independent leagues and teams, with those who started in a non-affiliated league identified with an asterisk (*) and non-roster players shown with an “n”:

Pitchers (41)—nAndrew Albers, Toronto (Quebec, Can-Am League); Dylan Axelrod, Cincinnati (Windy City, Frontier League); Craig Breslow, Boston (New Jersey, Northeast League); nBrian Broderick, Kansas City (Sugar Land, Atlantic League); n*Greg Burke, Toronto (Atlantic City, Atlantic); nAngel Castro, Oakland (Lincoln, American Association); *Aaron Crow, Miami (Fort Worth, American Association); Brandon Cunniff, Atlanta (Southern Illinois and River City, Frontier); Steve Delabar, Toronto (Brockton, Can-Am League, and Florence, Frontier); nDane DeLaRosa, Baltimore (Southern Maryland, Atlantic; El Paso, American Association; and Victoria, Orange County, Long Beach and Yuma, all Golden League); Jon Edwards, Texas (San Angelo, North American League, and Alpine, Pecos League); Luis Garcia, Philadelphia (Newark, Can-Am); nMark Hamburger, Minnesota (St. Paul, American Association); nMark Hendrickson, Baltimore (York, Atlantic); n*Luke Hochevar, Kansas City (Fort Worth, American Association); John Holdzkom, Pittsburgh (Amarillo and Sioux City, American Association, and San Angelo, United League); n*James Hoyt, Houston (Wichita, American Association, and Edinburg and Yuma, North American); Scott Kazmir, Oakland (Sugar Land, Atlantic); nLogan Kensing, Chicago-AL (Bridgeport, Atlantic); Brandon Kintzler, Milwaukee (St. Paul, American Association, and Winnipeg, Northern League); nJason Lane, San Diego (Sugar Land and Southern Maryland, Atlantic); nMitch Lively, Washington (San Angelo, United); *Chris Martin, New York-AL (Grand Prairie, American Association); Vidal Nuno, Arizona (Washington, Frontier); *James Paxton, Seattle (Grand Prairie, American Association); nScott Rice, New York Mets (York, Long Island, and Newark, Atlantic); *Tanner Roark, Washington (Southern Illinois, Frontier); nChaz Roe, Baltimore (Laredo, American Association); Drew Rucinski, Los Angeles Angels (Rockford, Frontier); nCody Satterwhite, New York-NL (Sioux City, American Association); *Tanner Scheppers, Texas (St. Paul, American Association); *Max Scherzer, Washington (Fort Worth, American Association); Bo Schultz, Toronto (Sioux Falls and Grand Prairie, American Association); nJoe Thatcher, Houston (River City, Frontier); Caleb Thielbar, Minnesota (St. Paul, American Association); *Ian Thomas, Atlanta (York, Atlantic, and Winnipeg, Northern and American Association); nJon Velasquez, New York – NL (Camden, Atlantic, and Rockland, Can-Am); Tom Wilhelmsen, Seattle (Tucson, Golden League); Jerome Williams, Philadelphia (Lancaster, Atlantic, and Long Beach, Golden); nDontrelle Willis, Milwaukee (Bridgeport and Long Island, Atlantic); Brad Ziegler, Arizona (Schaumburg, Northern).

Catchers (3) – Rene Rivera, Tampa Bay (Camden, Atlantic); nEddy Rodriguez, New York-AL (Sioux Falls and El Paso, American Association); nJose Yepez, Atlanta (Pensacola, American Association, and Gary, Northern).

Infielders (4) — n*1B-OF Chris Colabello, Toronto (Worcester and Nashua, Can-Am), *2B-SS Stephen Drew, New York-AL (Camden, Atlantic); n1B Matt Fields, Kansas City (Southern Illinois, Frontier); n1B-OF Jake Fox, Toronto (Somerset, Atlantic).

Outfielders (4) — nBen Francisco, Lancaster (Atlantic); *Daniel Nava, Boston (Chico, Golden); David Peralta, Arizona (Amarillo and Wichita, American Association, and Rio Grande Valley, North American); nAntoan Richardson, Texas (Schaumburg, Northern).


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