Friday, August 22, 2014

EXPECT MORE MEXICAN LEAGUERS TO SHOW UP; PRAISE HEAPED DO D-BACKS' PERALTA AND THE SCOUT WHO FOUND HIM

The end of the regular Mexican League season a few days ago reminds me we will almost certainly see the return of a number of players to the Atlantic League and perhaps other Independent leagues in the days ahead, often bolstering rosters for the postseason.

For example, it would not be surprising to see the top two hitters among the returnees. Batting champion Sandy Madera (.403) and runner-up Chris Roberson (.384) have played Independent Baseball in the past with Madera with the New Jersey Jackals (Can-Am League) on multiple occasions as well as with Newark, NJ, which no longer has a team in either the Atlantic League or the Can-Am. Roberson was at Winnipeg (American Association) as recently as two years ago.

MORE PRAISE FOR PERALTA, D-BACKS AND CARMINUCCI

We have written in this space and our weekly Independent Baseball Insider column on various occasions how the Arizona Diamondbacks have been the most active of any major league organization in signing Independent players the last couple of years, largely because onetime Can-Am League and American Association Manager Chris Carminucci is that team’s coordinator of Independent league scouting. J. P. Morosi of FoxSports.com did a lengthy piece on the subject just this week. Excerpts follow:

“The lucky ones (scouts) have assignments that fall within a given geographic region. Chris Carminucci, the Arizona Diamondbacks’™ coordinator of independent league scouting, is not one of them. And his willingness to go anywhere, in the name of finding talent, is why the fourth-place Diamondbacks can claim one of the best stories in baseball this season: David Peralta, the effervescent 27-year-old rookie outfielder from Venezuela.

“€œI can’€™t keep track of him (Carminucci),”€ said Mike Bell, the Diamondbacks’€™ director of player development. “œI don’€™t know if I’€™ve ever called him when he’€™s not in a car driving through Canada, or in Lincoln, Nebraska, or somewhere in the Northeast. Then he gets on a plane and shoots down to Texas.

“This guy must have coffee running through his veins. And I’€™ve never talked with him when he’s not having a good day.”

“A slight amendment: Carminucci is having a good year. This season, the Diamondbacks have called up three players Carminucci signed out of independent leagues: infielder Andy Marte, right-hander Bo Schultz, and Peralta. For three indy ball alums to play on the same team is rare. To have one on the fringe of the National League Rookie of the Year discussion . . . well . . . it would be difficult to imagine this sort of baseball tale even while daydreaming in the grandstand at Yogi Berra Stadium –€” which, by the way, is home to an independent club in Upper Montclair, N.J.

“Peralta, who made his major-league debut June 1, is now the Diamondbacks’€™ everyday right fielder and No. 3 hitter, with All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt lost for the season. Peralta’€™s .793 OPS ranks among the top 30 major-league outfielders who have at least 250 plate appearances this year. His star rose even higher this month, with a bold steal of home on a lazy throw back to the pitcher by Colorado catcher Michael McKenry. He’€™s drawn favorable comparisons to Rays outfielder David DeJesus, the smooth, steady, 12-year big leaguer.

“And to think: Peralta’€™s pro baseball career began as a pitcher in the St. Louis Cardinals’ system. He was released in 2009 after two shoulder surgeries, having never made it out of rookie ball. But Peralta went home to Venezuela, transformed himself into a position player and returned to the U.S. in 2011 as an outfielder with the Rio Grande Valley WhiteWings of the North American League . . . which no longer exists.

“Once Peralta moved in 2012 to the Wichita Wingnuts of the (higher-profile and still-breathing) American Association, he was on Carminucci’s radar

“€œEvery independent league player brings something to the clubhouse: They’ve failed,”€ said Carminucci, a former independent league player, manager and general manager. “€œIn this game, you have to learn how to fail and get back up and fight. David in particular has done that, but that’s true of these other guys, too. And from the moment he walked into that clubhouse last year, everyone had instant respect for him, because he came all the way back.

“There’€™s a saying in Independent ball: ‘You don’€™t like where you are? Play better and get out.’

“The stellar half-season at Visalia wasn’€™t enough for Peralta to get an invitation to the Diamondbacks’€™ major-league spring camp. He made an impression on general manager Kevin Towers, anyway. Added to the roster for a spring game because the Diamondbacks needed an extra outfielder, Peralta grounded a single up the middle and hustled to second on a momentary bobble by the center fielder.

“KT was sitting ahead of me,”€ Bell recalled. “€œHe turned around and asked, ‘€˜Does he always run that good?’€™ I just said, ‘€˜I can tell you, he always runs that hard.’

“€œThere are certain players who have a look about them. That day, a light bulb went off in Kevin’€™s head, like, ‘€˜This guy’€™s a big leaguer.’€™ Kevin started talking about him [as a call-up candidate] real early in the season. It’€™s funny: That one play in spring training stood out in our GM’s eyes, and it stuck with him all year.”

“The irony, of course, is that Carminucci has had little time to admire the ascent of his star signee. He’€™s too busy trying to find the next David Peralta, while several more of his former independent leaguers are progressing through the Diamondbacks’€™ system. Nick Sarianides, a 24-year-old reliever, has been dominant at low Class A South Bend; Carminucci found him pitching for a Can-Am League team in Trois-Rivieres, Quebec.

“Carminucci said he’€™s grateful that Towers, Bell and chief Diamondbacks scout Bill Bryk value his expertise in what many baseball executives view as a niche market. In contrast to massive amateur scouting departments that cost upwards of $4 million per year –€” before signing bonuses –€” only a handful of major-league organizations employ a full-time independent league scout like Carminucci.

“Perhaps more of them should.”

AMENDING EDWARDS’S PATH TO TEXAS RANGERS

I made a bobble in yesterday’s Insider when I said new Texas Rangers reliever Jon Edwards had spent time in the American Association (St. Paul, MN). I had read that on a website, but did not double check. Edwards only worked in the Pecos and North American Leagues before Texas signed him.


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Friday, August 08, 2014

SEAN BIERMAN KEEPS ADDING TO HIS PITCHING FEATS FOR ROCKLAND COUNTY

Sean Bierman is doing more than his share to keep Rockland County (Pomona, NY) on the heels of the New Jersey Jackals (Little Falls) in the Can-Am League race.

The 25-year-old left-hander picked up an 11-3 victory Thursday night to move the Boulders within one-half game of New Jersey despite the fact he may not have had his best stuff as evidenced by the fact he allowed 10 hits but only one run in working the first six innings, and improving his record to 8-5 with a tiny 1.88 earned run average.

Bierman, a New Jersey native who came out of the University of Tampa, hurled a complete-game three-hitter to defeat the Jackals 1-0 in his previous start. That vaulted him to a second consecutive Pitcher of the Week award and he also took league-wide honors for the month of July. No one had won back-to-back Pitcher of the Week honors since another southpaw, James Leverton, now with Miami’s top farm club in New Orleans, in July of 2011.

Bierman has won four straight and seven of eight since July 1 when his ERA was at 2.67.

SLAM MAY HAVE COST BO SCHULTZ HIS MAJOR LEAGUE JOB

Bo Schultz (Grand Prairie, TX, American Association) had worked his way up to the parent Arizona Diamondbacks for the second time this season, but his second poor outing in three games since coming up from Reno, NV sent him back to Triple-A once more. Schultz was only charged with two runs in a 4.1 inning relief stint against Kansas City although the first hitter he faced, Norichika Aoki, slugged a grand slam to put the Diamondbacks down, 11-1.

Schultz has a 7.88 ERA for his eight innings with Arizona spread over four appearances. He has been 8-7, 5.75 in 21 starts at Reno this season.

RARE CYCLE FOR DUCKS

I can’t shake the thought of what the Long Island (NY) Ducks did in a recent Atlantic League game.

They had a home run cycle, a bases empty job plus round-trippers with one, two and three runners aboard.


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Friday, July 25, 2014

SIX-PITCH RULE ALREADY BEING USED; JASON LANE, JAKE FOX SWINGING HOT BATS

It turns out one of the speed-up rules adopted by the Atlantic League has been in play in the Can-Am League and American Association for some time. That is the rule which limits pitches between innings (except in cold weather) to six instead of the normal eight.

Miles Wolff, commissioner of those leagues, believes this single step, which does not apply when a pitcher is first entering a game, could be saving seven or eight minutes a game. The veteran executive points out the Carolina League at one time allowed only five pitches.

Wolff says when the American Association All-Star Game is played in Winnipeg Tuesday the Can-Am League rule instituted this year whereby when a game gets to the 11th inning each team will start the inning with a runner on second base. That rule will apply if the All-Star contest gets to a 10th inning since the teams will have a limited number of relievers, and most or all of them will be in the game by that time.

JASON LANE’S AVERAGE UP TO .419; FOX DRIVING RUNS IN

Jason Lane, who had a brief recall to the parent San Diego Padres as a pitcher earlier this season, is 5-8, 4.76 after 18 starts for Triple-A El Paso, TX, but the real news may be what this onetime major league outfielder is doing at the plate. He has appeared in 32 games, and after a 3-for-3 performance earlier this week is hitting .419 (18-for-43) with three homers and 10 runs batted in. His OPS (on-base plus slugging) is off the charts at 1.211.

2013 Atlantic League Player of the Year Jake Fox, who we probably will pay attention to in next week’s Independent Baseball Insider column, has 42 RBI in 38 games (.343) since joining the Class AA Reading (PA) Fightin Phils from Mexico.

TRACKING PLAYER RELEASES

As always, there have been a few former Indy players released in recent days by major league organizations.

One such release was handed to Frank Viola III, trying to make it as a knuckleball pitcher. Toronto dropped the former St. Paul (MN) Saints (American Association) right-hander. Other releases have been felt by RHP Brett Brach (Somerset, NJ, Atlantic League) from Washington, SS Jaime Pedroza (Lancaster, PA, Atlantic) from the Chicago White Sox and 3B Rusty Ryal (Sugar Land, TX, Atlantic) by Philadelphia. Pedroza is already back with Lancaster.

RHP Mitch Lively, a major league spring training invitee by San Francisco again this year, was released by the Giants, then quickly signed by Washington and sent to Triple-A Syracuse, NY.


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Friday, July 18, 2014

VAN STRATTEN MOVES WITHIN TWO OF AMERICAN ASSOCIATION'S ALL-TIME HITTING STREAK

Nick Van Stratten of Laredo, TX extended his American Association hitting streak to 32 games, two shy of Stephen Douglas’s league record, with a single in four at-bats Thursday night. The Lemurs topped host Sioux Falls, SD, 1-0, on John Alonzo’s seventh-inning home run. Van Stratten is on pace to break the record at Grand Prairie, TX this weekend.

HERE AND THERE

Bouncing around with a few former Independent players now in major league organizations:

**Jerome Williams (Lancaster, PA, Atlantic League, and Long Beach, CA, Golden League), released recently by Houston, made his first start for Texas’s top farm club in Round Rock, allowing seven hits and four runs (three earned) in 4.1 innings.

**First baseman Brock Peterson (Bridgeport, CT, Atlantic) is taking advantage of his new organization (Los Angeles Dodgers), hitting a homer and double in five at-bats for Albuquerque, NM, Thursday night with his average at .375 (18-for-48) in 14 games. He has three homers and nine RBI.

**Julio DePaula, who jumped from York, PA (Atlantic) to the parent Baltimore Orioles in a mere 11 days, returned to Class AA Bowie, MD, but has allowed four runs in as many innings over three outings. Still, in six appearances overall with Bowie, DePaula has two saves and a 3.48 ERA while posting 14 strikeouts in 10.1 innings.

**Lefty Greg Smith (Grand Prairie, TX, American Association) has a winning record (7-6) and a 3.86 ERA in 18 starts for Philadelphia’s top club, Lehigh Valley (Allentown, PA).

**Outfielder Cory Aldridge (Somerset, NJ, and Newark, NJ, Atlantic) is hitting .333 (10-for-30) with a .432 on-base percentage in 10 games since Toronto promoted him to Triple-A Buffalo, NY.

RE-ENTERING GAMES NOW POSSIBLE

One unique aspect of the Atlantic League’s speed-up rules is that even a player who has been taken out of the game may serve as the substitute runner for a catcher. He could even be used multiple times so some creative team may look for a speedster who would serve primarily in that role.

To clarify from yesterday’s Independent Baseball Insider column, umpires will be allowed to give a batter an automatic ball if the team in the field uses more than the allowable 45 seconds for a mound visit if the pitcher is not relieved.


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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

NEW TEXAS FARMHAND HAMREN WAS HAPPY WITH ATLANTIC LEAGUE ALL-STAR SELECTION

While the major leaguers have their All-Star Game tonight (Tuesday), we will be watching no less than four minor league classics Wednesday since two are Independents (Atlantic and Frontier) and the other two (Triple-A, Eastern League) have a number of former Indy players. Our regular Independent Baseball Insider column will have all of the details for subscribers on Thursday
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One pitcher who must have some mixed emotions is right-handed reliever Erik Hamren, who was chosen to represent Southern Maryland (Waldorf) in the Atlantic League contest in Sugar Land, TX, then had his contract sold to the Texas Rangers.

"I was excited to get the news (of the All-Star selection)," the 27-year-old had told SoMdNews.com. "It's near the top (of my career achievements), just simply to be recognized in a league with a lot of great talent." Hamren's goal, like every minor leaguer, is to get to the majors where he enjoyed a stay with San Diego (1-0, 4.38 in 14 appearances) three years ago. Hamren was having a strong campaign with the Blue Crabs (42 strikeouts in 37.1 innings with a 2.41 ERA in 36 games), and started well in the Class AA Texas League with two scoreless innings and three strikeouts for Frisco.

NEWEST MAJOR LEAGUERS

Two onetime Indy southpaws earned major league promotions in recent days, Ryan Feierabend (York, PA, Atlantic League) with Texas and Kris Johnson (Kansas City, KS, American Association) with Minnesota. Feierabend, 8-5, 4.54 in 19 starts for Triple-A Round Rock, TX, had not been in the majors since stints with Seattle in 2006-7-8. He worked 1.1 innings (one run) over the weekend for the Rangers. Johnson is in his second stint with the Twins this season.

COELLO REAPPEARS IN BALTIMORE ORGANIZATION

Former Golden League pitcher Robert Coello, a major league spring training invitee of the New York Yankees but released recently out of Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, PA, signed with Baltimore over the weekend and one day later picked up a save for Triple-A Norfolk, VA.
Other players who have drawn their walking papers from organizations in recent days include former Can-Am League batting star Bridger Hunt from San Diego and Continental League pitcher Brandon Sisk from the Los Angeles Angels

A REAL CHAMPION

New Grand Prairie, TX Manager Eric Champion brings an impressive resume to the American Association team. He led Baptist Christian to back-to-back small-college national championships. Champion replaced Ricky VanAsselberg at Grand Prairie. He had been the bench coach.

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