Friday, November 11, 2016

ALTHOUGH NOT SIMILAR, HERNANDEZ AND RUNZLER BOTH HEADED TO MAJOR LEAGUE CAMPS

Ariel Hernandez and Dan Runzler could not be much different except that both are pitchers.

Hernandez is only 24, born in the Dominican Republic and is a right-hander who has not pitched above Class A, but is considered a major league prospect since he has averaged well over one strikeout per inning since his professional debut as an 18-year-old.

Runzler is 31, a California-born southpaw, who is trying to re-kindle a major league career that started back in '09.

Oh, both have spent a majority of their career in the San Francisco organization although neither is with the Giants now.  And, of course, they have relied on Independent Baseball for some of their recent opportunities.

What brings them together, in a sense, is that both will be in major league spring training camps thanks to recent developments.  Hernandez was promoted to Cincinnati's 40-man winter roster, the only former Indy player to earn this new distinction since the season ended.  Runzler is the first of an eventual 20 or so recent Independent players that we have identified to be a non-roster invitee to spring training, this time with Pittsburgh.

Runzler has been one of the most highly discussed potential major leaguers in any Indy league the last two seasons because of some dazzling bullpen efforts while with the Sugar Land (TX) Skeeters of the Atlantic League.  He had 0.52 and 1.95 earned run averages in these two seasons for Gary Gaetti's Skeeters, with some time at Triple-A for Arizona and Minnesota, respectively, in '15 and '16 without being able to duplicate the tiny ERAs.  The Pirates hope he might help their bullpen, at least matcting the 3.86 ERA he compiled in 89 games spread over four seasons for San Francisco, the last of which was four years ago.

Hernandez's time in the Frontier League was very brief (two relief appearances for the Frontier Greys in the '15 season), although it is not uncommon for these stints to pay off for a player who needs a change of scenery before moving to a new major league organization.  He did strike out five of the eight batters he faced early that season before Arizona picked him up.  He moved on to Cincinnati's farm system this season and after 74 strikeouts and only 29 hits in 62 innings during 43 appearances with two Class A teams the Reds had seen enough to know he needed to be protected at the highest level.  A combined 2.18 ERA appears to be only part of the impressive story.


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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

HOW IS THIS FOR A RECORD? 45 FORMER INDEPENDENT PLAYERS IN MAJORS

 

The story keeps getting better for Independent Baseball.

When Toronto added right-hander Chris Smith to its roster Wednesday the record number of former Indy players to wear a major league uniform during the regular season climbed to 45. That is four more than the previous high established two years ago, according to records maintained by IndyBaseballChatter.com.

Yes, two of the 45 are named Chris Smith and both are righties. The other Smith is with Oakland. Toronto’s Smith, a 28-year-old native of Louisville, started his professional career in the Frontier League in 2010. He is the second pitcher who threw his first professional pitch in a non-major-league-affiliated circuit to reach the majors in recent weeks. The other is Boston lefty Robby Scott.

 
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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

'Just A Great Feeling' For Can-Am Grads' First MLB Hit

If the Can-Am League had its own Hall of Fame, this would be a perfect souvenir for a player to donate.

Less than a year removed from All-Star status in the league for his play with the Rockland Boulders (Pomona, NY), Stephen Cardullo gave himself an ideal 29th birthday gift two days early when his pinch hit single landed in left field to give the new Colorado Rockies outfielder-first baseman his very first major league hit.  “Just a great feeling,” he told ESPN.com.  That ball would make a nice treasure, although it apparently is going to Cardullo’s father.

It was Cardullo’s sixth plate appearance for the Rockies (he had an earlier walk), and the Coors Field crowd gave him a standing ovation.

Accolades for Cardullo on his first regular-season major league opportunity have poured in since last Thursday from the likes of coach Mike Martin, Jr. at Florida State, where the Hollywood, FL native went from walk-on status to an offensive power, and both general manager Shawn Reilly and field manager Jamie Keefe of the Boulders had great praise.  The right-handed hitter had spent four full seasons in Independent leagues before the Rockies signed him during the offseason, three in the Can-Am League and one in the Frontier (Florence, KY and London).  This is what Cardullo had to say to The Denver Post about the opportunity:

“Anyone playing Independent ball always has that slight chance to get a call to make a team and eventually make the major leagues.  You have to have that belief deep down that you can make it even given the opportunity, and I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity.”

OTHERS GET TO MAJORS, AS WELL

The expansion of rosters on September 1 likely will mean more former Indy players will join major league teams, but it has already been a banner few days.  Catcher Rafael Lopez, who played in the Atlantic League (Bridgeport, CT) earlier this season, was summoned to join Cincinnati on Saturday, becoming the 40th player with non-affiliated experience to reach The Show this season.
Southpaw Andrew Albers (Quebec, Can-Am, and Lancaster, PA, Atlantic) has re-joined Minnesota, right-hander Brandon Cunniff (Southern Illinois and River City, Frontier League) went back to Atlanta as did first baseman Brandon Snyder (Southern Maryland, Atlantic), righty Bo Schultz (Grand Prairie, TX, American Association) has returned to Toronto and outfielder Logan Schafer, signed earlier this season out of Lancaster, joined the Twins.  Cunniff has since been optioned back to Triple-A.


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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Recent Indy Grads Impressing In MiLB

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).


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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.


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