Friday, April 17, 2015

INDY COUNT IN MAJORS UP TO 203 WITH CUNNIFF BUSY OUT OF BRAVES BULLPEN

Atlanta’s Brandon Cunniff has the distinction of being the first graduate of Independent Baseball to make his major league debut in this young season, and what a trial he is getting.

The 26-year-old right-handed reliever has made six appearances within a nine-day span since joining the Braves, and has yet to surrender any hits. He has been charged with four walks (five strikeouts) and one run in 5.2 innings (1.59), and has picked up one victory.

Cunniff was drafted by Miami, but only found work in 18 games before being released. The next two plus seasons (’11-’13) were spent in the Frontier League (River City and Southern Illinois).

Major League Count Up to 203

Records maintained exclusively by IndyBaseballChatter.com and the Independent Baseball Insider now show 203 players have made their way from Independent Baseball to the majors (1993-2015).

The 2015 major league count is down slightly this season with 15 players active and five others on disabled lists. The complete list, including major league affiliation and previous Independent team(s), with those who started in an Independent league identified with an asterisk:

Pitchers (11 + 4 on DL)—Craig Breslow, Boston (New Jersey, Northeast League); Brandon Cunniff, Atlanta (River City and Southern Illinois, Frontier League); *#Aaron Crow, Miami (Fort Worth, American Association); Luis Garcia, Philadelphia (Newark, Can-Am League); *#Luke Hochevar, Kansas City (Fort Worth); Scott Kazmir, Oakland (Sugar Land, Atlantic League); *Chris Martin, New York-AL (Grand Prairie, American Association); *James Paxton, Seattle (Grand Prairie); *Tanner Roark, Washington (Southern Illinois); *#Tanner Scheppers, Texas (St. Paul, American Association); *Max Scherzer, Washington (Fort Worth); *Joe Thatcher, Houston (River City); #Tom Wilhelmsen, Seattle (Tucson, Golden League); Jerome Williams, Philadelphia (Lancaster, Atlantic, and Long Beach, Golden); Brad Ziegler, Arizona (Schaumburg, Northern League).

Position Players (4 +1 on DL) –*2B Stephen Drew, New York-AL (Camden, Atlantic); OF-1B *Daniel Nava, Boston (Chico, Golden); David Peralta, Arizona (Amarillo and Wichita, American Association, and Rio Grande Valley, North American); #Antoan Richardson, Texas (Schaumburg); C Rene Rivera, Tampa Bay (Camden).

#Is on the disabled list.

Several Signed Before Season Starts

Major league organizations are not even waiting for Independent seasons to start to sign players off the non-affiliated rosters. We can count at least five of these cases, including 5-foot-8 lefty Jhonathan Ramos, whose contract was purchased from Wichita, KS (American Association) by Baltimore. The Venezuelan, 25, has pitched as high as Triple-A and started the year with a 29-18 career record for six seasons.

The first Independent Baseball action of ’15 comes next Thursday and Friday in the Atlantic League.


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Friday, April 03, 2015

INSPIRATIONAL EDWARDS STORY INCLUDED AS ABOUT 18 INDY GRADS HEADED FOR OPENING DAY

Most of the decisions have been made regarding Opening Day major league rosters with the rest of them coming by Sunday afternoon, and, as usual, some surprises and disappointments have taken place since major league spring training camps opened in February.

The most pleasant news for the Independent Baseball crowd probably centers around three right-handed pitchers, all of whom made their big-league debut last season and now appear to have made the all-important 25-man rosters. It seems likely American Association (Grand Prairie, TX) product Chris Martin will be in the New York Yankees' bullpen, Frontier League (Rockford, IL) grad Drew Rucinski will be with the Los Angeles Angels and Jon Edwards will be part of the Texas Rangers' pen. The trio has only 28 combined major league appearances.

All have heart-warming stories, none better than that of Edwards, who emerged from the youth-oriented Pecos League (Alpine, TX) and the North American League (San Angelo, TX), which no longer exists.

Not only did Edwards move from the outfield to pitching to salvage his career, but he has overcome testicular cancer surgery when it was discovered a few days before Christmas and he has recently learned he will become a first-time father this fall.

"It was surprising how quickly the doctors wanted to move on it (the cancer) and the urgency of it (surgery) kind of showed the concern the doctor felt," Edwards' wife Katelyn told The Fort Worth Star-Telegram as part of a lengthy feature on the couple, who have a strong religious background.

Edwards has held opposing teams to only seven hits in 12.1 innings while striking out 18 in compiling a 2.92 earned run average this spring for the pitching-starved Rangers.

It appears as many as 22 former Independent players will be on Opening Day rosters although up to four of them may be on disabled lists including Aaron Crow, who is going to have Tommy John (with Tommy John (elbow) surgery and will miss the season. The players, with major league affiliation and previous Independent teams, with those who started in an Independent league identified with an asterisk:

Pitchers (17)—Craig Breslow, Boston (New Jersey, Northeast League); *#Aaron Crow, Miami (Fort Worth, American Association); Jon Edwards, Texas (St. Paul, American Association); San Angelo, North American League, and Alpine, Pecos League); Luis Garcia, Philadelphia (Newark, Can-Am League); *#Luke Hochevar, Kansas City (Fort Worth); Scott Kazmir, Oakland (Sugar Land, Atlantic League); *Chris Martin, New York-AL (Grand Prairie, American Association); Vidal Nuno, Arizona (Washington, Frontier League); *James Paxton, Seattle (Grand Prairie); *Tanner Roark, Washington (Southern Illinois, Frontier); Drew Rucinski, Los Angeles Angels (Rockford, Frontier); *#Tanner Scheppers, Texas (St. Paul, American Association); *Max Scherzer, Washington (Fort Worth); *Joe Thatcher, Houston (River City, Frontier); Tom Wilhelmsen, Seattle (Tucson, Golden League); Jerome Williams, Philadelphia (Lancaster, Atlantic, and Long Beach, Golden); Brad Ziegler, Arizona (Schaumburg, Northern League).

Position Players (5) –*2B Stephen Drew, New York-AL (Camden, Atlantic); OF-1B *Daniel Nava, Boston (Chico, Golden); David Peralta, Arizona (Amarillo and Wichita, American Association, and Rio Grande Valley, North American); #Antoan Richardson, Texas (Schaumburg, Northern); C Rene Rivera, Tampa Bay (Camden, Atlantic).

#Will be or likely to be on disabled list to start season.


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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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