Monday, June 18, 2018


So many baseball people like Wilmer Font's potential.  That is why he has been able to stay in the major leagues this year even though he was anything but sharp during stints with the Dodgers and Oakland.

The potential probably never looked better than Sunday when the 28-year-old, who had a season and a half at Ottawa in the Can-Am League (16-6) before getting his second affiliated opportunity, made one of those Tampa Bay bullpen-day starts, handcuffing the potent New York Yankees on one a run in 4.2 innings.  The Rays won the Yankee Stadium tussle, 3-1, with the win going to another former Independent Baseball hurler, Chaz Roe.

"Today, he (Font) gave us a huge boost with a chance to win," manager Kevin Cash told  "He went a little deeper than what we anticipated.  But he was efficient and threw strikes."

Font said he "wanted to (finish) the fifth, but we got a team win.  That's all that matters."  The right-hander, who had a grand total of five major league innings (Texas, '12-'13) prior to joining the Dodgers late last season after winning Pitcher of the Year honors in the Pacific Coast League, has been a starter almost exclusively since joining Ottawa.  The Venezuelan believes he can be a part of the Rays' rotation.  "I feel pretty good starting," he told  "I can throw more pitches the next start."

Yankees manager Aaron Boone also praised the hurler, who has only been with Tampa Bay since May 26, working four times out of the bullpen and starting in his last three appearances.  "Font was good," Boone said.  "He fastball was a wide range--low 90s to even upper 90s.  A lot of teams have been interested in him because the ability is there.  He flipped in the curve enough to keep us off balance.  He was under control for most of the game, and we couldn't break through on him."

Font now has a 2.20 earned run average in 16.1 innings for his new team, allowing 11 hits although his walks (eight) remain fairly high.  To show how far he has come since his difficult days with the Dodgers and Athletics, the 6-foot-4 hurler still has a 7.56 ERA (0-3 record) in his 33.1 innings this season.

"It was definitely a good win for us," said Roe, who pitched in the American Association (Laredo) and has worked his way into regular relief duty in the majors, pitching for Arizona, the Yankees, Baltimore, Atlanta and the Rays.  He is 31.

The Independent leagues have contributed 21 players currently on major league rosters or disabled lists with the Rays and Washington both owning three of them.  Frontier League grad Vidal Nuno (Washington, PA) also is with Tampa Bay while the Nationals have ace Max Scherzer (Fort Worth, American Association), starter Tanner Roark, who made his pro debut at Southern Illinois in the Frontier League, and reliever Brandon Kintzler, who pitched for St. Paul in the American Association and Winnipeg before the Goldeyes transferred to that league from the Northern League.

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Monday, April 02, 2018


How lofty does it sound when you hear 103 players who have been in one or more Independent leagues wore a major league uniform during spring training?

It happened.

Fifty-eight were either on 40-man rosters or had non-roster invitations to one of the 30 camps in Arizona and Florida.  At least another 45 were brought over from minor league camps to suit up with the big guys for one or more games.  We may have missed a few more, but can identify the 103.

Sixteen of the 58 full-time trainees were on Opening Day rosters, although that number is down from 20 of one year ago.

The only totally new player among the 16 is Boston reliever Marcus Walden, who was with the Lancaster Barnstormers in the Atlantic League virtually all of 2015, posting a 2-4 record, 15 saves and a 2.95 earned run average in 48 appearances.  The right-hander spent last season as a combo starter-reliever for Triple-A Pawtucket (10-6, 3.92) in the Red Sox system, then had a terrific spring training as a non-roster pitcher.

Catcher Raffy Lopez (Bridgeport, Atlantic League), who spent part of last season at Toronto, also went from non-roster status to San Diego's Opening Day roster although he went back to Triple-A during the first weekend without getting into a game for the Padres.

The American Association is the most decorated of the Independent leagues with six major leaguers plus Houston reliever James Hoyt, who started the season the disabled list.

The Independent players who were on 25-man rosters when the season kicked off March 29 with their current major league and their Independent affiliations:

Pitchers (12):  Wilmer Font, Los Angeles-NL (Ottawa, Can-Am League), Luis Garcia, Philadelphia (Newark, Can-Am), Rich Hill, Los Angeles-NL (Long Island, Atlantic League), Brandon Kintzler, Washington (St. Paul, American Association and Winnipeg, Northern League), Chris Martin, Texas (Grand Prairie, Association), James Paxton, Seattle (Grand Prairie), Tanner Roark, Washington (Southern Illinois, Frontier League), Chaz Roe, Tampa Bay (Laredo, Association), Max Scherzer, Washington (Fort Worth, Association), Josh Smoker, Pittsburgh (Rockford, Frontier), Marcus Walden, Boston (Lancaster, Atlantic) and Brad Ziegler, Miami (Schaumburg, Frontier).

Position Players (4):  C Raffy Lopez, San Diego (Bridgeport, Atlantic), 1B-OF Jose Martinez, St. Louis (Rockford), OF David Peralta, Arizona (Wichita and Amarillo, Association, and Rio Grande Valley, North American League) and C Rene Rivera, Los Angeles-AL (Camden, Atlantic).

Hoyt pitched for Wichita plus the North American cities of Edinburg and Yuma.

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Monday, March 12, 2018


The toughest break among the 58 onetime Independent Baseball players in major league camps this spring probably belongs to veteran Daniel Nava since the very first day of spring training the gritty outfielder by way of Chico, CA of the Golden League had to shut it down and have back surgery.

He had signed with Pittsburgh, and was considered a likely fourth outfielder--possibly even part of a leftfield platoon--with his sixth major league team since the days when he barely made an Independent roster.

"Not what I was hoping for, but I've got to look at it from the positive perspective," he told after returning to the Pirates' camp in Bradenton, FL.  "The pain's gone, and it explains a lot of things that have happened the past couple years with my body.  Hopefully, I'm 35 years young rather than 35 years old."

Typical recovery time from similar surgery is said to be 10-12 weeks.  Nava hit .301 in 214 plate appearances with Philadelphia last year before going down with what was described as a lower back strain.

Less Than a Year to Majors

If anyone needs convincing of the talent in the Indy leagues, consider this fact:  Six of those in major league camps this month played non-affiliated baseball as recently as last season.  Numerous other former Independent players have worn a major league uniform for at least a day after getting the call from minor league camps.

The six who have been vying for major league jobs, with their current team and former Independent affiliation, are:  Pitchers Henderson Alvarez, Philadelphia (Long Island, Atlantic League);  Tyler Cloyd, Miami (Somerset, Atlantic); Kevin Lenik, Kansas City (Windy City, Frontier League); Tim Melville, Baltimore (Long Island) and James Needy, Miami (Sioux City, American Association) and catcher Shawn Zarraga, Los Angeles Dodgers (Cleburne, American Association).

They May Make It to Opening Day

One new face said to be in line to start the season in the Dodgers' bullpen is Can-Am League (Ottawa) product Wilmer Font.  He was Pitcher of the Year in the Pacific Coast League last year. 

Two versatile non-roster infielders are making strong bids for their first major league action.  The Can-Am (New Jersey) provided Peter Mooney for Miami and the Chicago Cubs are looking at Ryan Court (Sioux City).  Both have been in virtually every spring training game their team has played while hitting above .300.  

"Playing for your hometown team and getting that dream to play in Wrigley (Field), it's an honor to put on the Cubs uniform every day," Court told The Northwest Herald.  "It keeps me going.  I come to the ballpark with a smile every day."

Court makes it clear his time in Sioux City (2015) also was great for him.  "I had a lot of fun playing Indy ball," he told the newspaper, "and I think it's because a lot of guys are in the same situation.  "They've been out of pro (affiliated) ball, trying to fight to get back, so everyone was pulling for each other.  Indy ball was great, and now being with these guys, that seems like it's the Cubs culture, to pull for your team.  The motto this year is 'everybody in'.  It couldn't be more true with this group."

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Thursday, February 22, 2018


Well, that did not take long.

The very first game played by a major league team in 2018--well, sort of--is history, and the winning pitcher was in the Atlantic League most of the last two seasons.

Arizona did not use any of its regulars in the 7-2 triumph over Arizona State University Wednesday, choosing to rely mostly on players from their farm system.  As a result and with the Diamondbacks frequently reaching into the Independent Baseball ranks for talent, three former Indy players were called upon, and each one contributed.

David Carpenter, a catcher when his professional career started in 2006 and an experienced major leaguer, was credited with the victory when he struck out three ASU hitters (one walk) in a scoreless fifth inning, half an inning before the D-Backs took the lead for good.

Carpenter, who has not been in the majors since 2015, spent much of the last two years with Bridgeport, CT of the Atlantic League, becoming a full-time closer in '17 when he saved 30 games in 39 appearances with a 1-3 record and 1.91 earned run average.  He only allowed 27 hits in 37.2 innings while striking out 45.

Two innings ahead of Carpenter (third inning) Arizona gave the ball to Ryan Atkinson, a 24-year-old righty who stepped off the University of Cincinnati campus undrafted in '15 and started his pro career in the Frontier League (Evansville, IN) before being gobbled up by the Diamondbacks.  He struck out two Wildcats during an unblemished inning.

Promising infielder Ildemaro Vargas, who is on the 40-man roster after playing briefly in the majors last season, was Arizona's leadoff hitter.  The second baseman went 1-for-2 and scored a run.

Indy Total in Majors Climbs to 58

When veteran left-hander Craig Breslow (New Jersey Jackals) signed a minor league pact with Toronto and accepted a camp invitation the total of players with Independent league experience who are in major league camps climbed to 58.  That is one more than last season.

Forty-five of the 58 are pitchers, five more than one year ago.

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Friday, February 09, 2018


Another couple of names likely will be added, but has compiled another impressive list of 56 players who have toiled in Independent leagues and are due in major league spring training camps.  Twenty-six of them are on 40-man rosters while the other 31 are non-roster invitees, a count that has swelled the last few days as veteran outfielder Daniel Nava (Pittsburgh) and established reliever Tom Wilhelmsen (San Diego) have reached agreements that include spring training opportunities.

Forty-four pitchers--four more than one year ago--are included along with four catchers, five infielders and four outfielders.

The four primary Independent leagues (American Association, Atlantic, Can-Am and Frontier) have given most of these players their opportunities although the smaller Pecos League and former circuits such as the Golden, Northern, North American and United continue to have players at this level.

Two unsigned veterans (infielder Stephen Drew and reliever Craig Breslow) could increase the total count and some major league organizations may add to their non-roster invitations.  The modern day trend of bringing players up from minor league camps for one or more exhibition games will give still more Indy players exposure to the major league brass.

The list of onetime Independent players expected in the 30 camps, by position, with the major league team and where each person played in the Independent ranks:

         Pitchers (44)--Henderson Alvarez, Philadelphia (Long Island, Atlantic League); NR*Ryan Atkinson, Arizona (Evansville, Frontier League); NR-Austin Bibens-Dirkx, Texas (Lancaster, Atlantic, and Victoria, Golden League); Buddy Boshers, Houston (Somerset, Atlantic); John Brebbia, St. Louis (Sioux Falls and Laredo, American Association);  NR-Tyler Cloyd, Miami (Somerset, Atlantic);  NR-Steve Delabar, Texas (Brockton, Can-Am League, and Florence, Frontier); NR-Jose Flores, San Francisco (Sioux City, American Association); Wilmer Font, Los Angeles-NL (Ottawa, Can-Am); Luis Garcia, Philadelphia (Newark, Can-Am); Junior Guerra, Milwaukee (Wichita, American Association); NR-Cody Hall, Tampa Bay (Lancaster); Ariel Hernandez, Cincinnati (Frontier Greys, Frontier); Rich Hill, Los Angeles-NL (Long Island); James Hoyt, Houston (Wichita; Edinburg and Yuma, North American League); Scott Kazmir, Atlanta (Sugar Land, Atlantic); NR-Mike Kickham, Miami (Kansas City, American Association); Brandon Kintzler, Washington (St. Paul, American Association, and Winnipeg, Northern League);  NR-Kevin Lenik, Kansas City (Windy City, Frontier); NR-Brandon Mann, Texas (Fargo, American Association, and Lancaster); *Chris Martin, Texas (Grand Prairie, American Association); NR-Jarret Martin, Oakland (Sussex County, Rockland and Ottawa, Can-Am League, and York, Atlantic); NR-Tim Melville, Baltimore (Long Island); NR-Brian Moran, Los Angeles-NL (Bridgeport, Atlantic); James Needy, Miami (Sioux City, American Association); NR-Vidal Nuno, Tampa Bay (Washington, Frontier); Edward Paredes, Los Angeles-NL (York, Atlantic); *James Paxton, Seattle (Grand Prairie); NR*Trevor Richards, Miami (Gateway, Frontier); *Tanner Roark, Washington (Southern Illinois, Frontier); Chaz Roe, Tampa Bay (Laredo, American Association); NR-Drew Rucinski, Miami (Rockford, Frontier); *Max Scherzer, Washington (Fort Worth, American Association);  NR-Bo Schultz, Pittsburgh (Grand Prairie, American Association); Robby Scott, Boston (Yuma);  NR-Tayler Scott, Texas (Sioux City); NR-Chris Smith, Washington (Lake Erie, Traverse City and Washington, Frontier; White Sands, Pecos League); Josh Smoker, Pittsburgh (Rockford);  NR-Robert Stock, San Diego (New Jersey and Sussex County, Can-Am); NR-Marcus Walden, Boston (Lancaster); NR-Tom Wilhelmsen, San Diego (Tucson, Golden); *Aaron Wilkerson, Milwaukee (Grand Prairie; Florence, Frontier; Fort Worth, United League); NR*Eric Yardley, San Diego (Trinidad and Taos, Pecos); Brad Ziegler, Miami (Schaumburg, Northern).

            Catchers (4)--NR-Rafael Lopez, San Diego (Bridgeport,  Atlantic); Rene Rivera, Los Angeles-AL (Camden, Atlantic);  NR-Jan Vasquez, Colorado (Long Island); NR (Also plays 1B)-Shawn Zarraga, Los Angeles-NL (Cleburne, American Association).

            Infielders (5)--NR-Ryan Court, Chicago-NL (Sioux City); NR-Steve Lombardozzi, Oakland (Southern Maryland, Atlantic); NR-SS Peter Mooney, Miami (New Jersey); NR-1B Brandon Snyder, Tampa Bay (Southern Maryland); Ildemaro Vargas, Arizona (Bridgeport, Atlantic).

            Outfielders (4)--NR-Jeremy Barfield, Boston (Sugar Land and Camden, Atlantic); Jose Martinez, St. Louis (Rockford); NR*Daniel Nava, Pittsburgh (Chico, Golden); David Peralta, Arizona (Amarillo and Wichita, American Association; Rio Grande Valley, North American).

            *First professional game was in an Independent league.
            NR-Non-roster invitee.

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