Wednesday, July 27, 2016

FRONTIER LEAGUE'S SMOKER 'WON'T FORGET' HIS FEW INNINGS IN MAJORS

One can only hope that Josh Smoker will not become the latest Independent Baseball grad to spend a brief (usually one day) time on a major league roster and never get into a game. But even if it turns out that way, the 27-year-old southpaw pitcher admitted to MLB.com it is "one I won't forget."

Smoker, who spent 2014 with Rockford, IL in the Frontier League before getting a second affiliated opportunity in the New York Mets organization, was added to the roster as the 26th man for the second game of their doubleheader against St. Louis Tuesday, and arrived in the sixth inning after flying with his Las Vegas 51s teammates to Fresno, CA, where he was told to fly to New York.
"That was a good wakeup call, definitely a good wakeup call," Smoker told MLB.com after watching the final three innings of the 3-1 Mets win from the bullpen.

Chances are the Georgia native, who was Washington's first round draft choice nine years ago, will get more opportunities in the majors since he already was on New York's 40-man roster and had gotten 4.2 innings of experience during spring training. He had impressed Mets brass with 15 strikeouts and a 0.90 earned run average in his last 10 Pacific Coast League innings. He has an overall 4.73 ERA for 43 appearances this season.

IndyBaseballChatter.com maintains a list of Independent players who have gone on to reach the major leagues (Smoker is No. 218) with pitchers Tim Bausher (Boston), Tom Cochran (Cincinnati), Julio DePaula (Baltimore) and Brian Mazone (Philadelphia) and catcher Jose Yepez (Seattle) the only others never to appear in a big-league contest.

(The entire list of 218 is available for a fee, with details available on this blog.)

JEROME WILLIAMS RETURNS

Righty Jerome Williams, whose lengthy resume includes Independent stops with Long Beach, CA in the Golden League and Lancaster, PA in the Atlantic League, has joined the St. Louis Cardinals after making nine starts (5-3, 4.89) with Triple-A Memphis.  The 34-year-old averaged more than six innings each time out.

CATCHING UP WITH COLABELLO, BRESLOW AND THATCHER

First baseman-outfielder Chris Colabello, whose climb to the major leagues after seven seasons in the Can-Am League has been well documented, is back in action with Toronto's top farm club in Buffalo after sitting out his lengthy suspension, but one cannot help wondering if his path back to the majors this season became more difficult when the Blue Jays obtained another right-handed bat in veteran outfielder Melvin Upton Jr. from San Diego.

Like Colabello, Joe Thatcher started his professional career in Independent play (Frontier League). The veteran left-handed reliever came off the free agent list recently when American League Central leader Cleveland signed him. One more longtime major league southpaw, Craig Breslow (New Jersey Jackals), also has a new home, signing with Texas after Miami released him.


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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

BIG NUMBERS BEING POSTED BY INDEPENDENT PLAYERS NOT ALREADY IN MAJORS

Since pitchers often dominate when onetime Independent Baseball stars break through--or even are on the verge of breaking through to the majors--it is refreshing to see what onetime Somerset, NJ (Atlantic League) first baseman-outfielder Chris Marrero is doing for Boston's top farm club in Pawtucket, RI.

It probably will be tough for the 28-year-old to break through to the Red Sox this season because of their big offensive roster, but he not only homered in the Triple-A All-Star Game but has 18 regular-season bombs for a share of second in the International League.  Marrero, who spent part of last season with the Patriots, also has 46 RBI and a .294/.352/.521 log.

The American Association's Wichita Wingnuts have gotten considerable attention this year because of Junior Guerra's terrific breakthrough with Milwaukee, and they also have potent (when healthy) outfielder David Peralta with Arizona. Now the Kansans have a trio of other pitching alums putting up big numbers.

Josh Lowey, who went 15-4 for the Wingnuts in 2012 (one of Guerra's years), is 13-3 with a 1.65 ERA in the Mexican League.  The 31-year-old, who came out of Mercer University in '08 and started a lengthy Independent run, has an amazing 61-21 record in the non-affiliated leagues without a sniff from the majors.  The right-hander also had a 14-8 year for Somerset and has spent considerable time with Windy City and River City in the Frontier League.

In bullpen duty, James Hoyt, another 2012 pitcher for part of the year at Wichita, leads the Pacific Coast League with 23 saves (4-3, 1.81) and continues to pile up strikeouts (78 in 44.2 innings) without getting called up by the parent Houston Astros.  He also worked in the North American League for Yuma, AZ and Edinburg, TX.  Derek Eitel, who pitched briefly for the Wingnuts last season, is 4-0, 2.91 with 52 strikeouts in 46.1 innings as a reliever for San Diego's top minor league team in El Paso, TX.

Lefty Andrew Albers (Quebec, Can-Am League, and Lancaster, PA, Atlantic) continues to do well at Rochester, NY, Minnesota's Triple-A affiliate, where his 8-3 record shares second for wins in the International League.  He has a 3.36 ERA.  And longtime Independent hurler Dustin Crenshaw is 8-2, 2.20 in Mexico.  Crenshaw won 14 of 16 decisions for the St. Paul (MN) Saints of the American Association last season.  The 6-foot-5 South Alabama product also has pitched for Sonoma County in the Pacific Association, Quebec and Gary, IN of the American Association.


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Monday, July 11, 2016

With Success of Cuban Visit CanAm League May Do Again

Buoyed by the success of the three-week visit by the Cuban National Team to all of its six stadiums, the Can-Am League is hoping the experience can be repeated next year.

The league saw a “pretty significant” attendance increase everywhere, commissioner Miles Wolff pointed out. “We are talking about trying to do it again next year”, he added, while admitting a considerable amount of work goes into such an undertaking, including the obtaining of visas.

Rockland (Pomona, NY) had the largest single crowd for a game against the Cubans, Wolff said, and he used Ottawa as an example of the attendance jump with three consecutive crowds of more than 5,000 (a total of 16,386) compared to the Champions’ season average up to now of less than half that amount (2,483).

The Cuban team started slowly when it won only three of 10 games in the league’s three Canadian cities, but reeled off eight consecutive wins during its games in the three United States stadiums to finish 11-9 overall. (Shikoku Island from Japan went 8-12 at the same time.)

Speculation about the reason for the Cuban turnaround included the need to get accustomed to playing most every day as compared to only a few games a week when on its home island.

AARON WILKERSON COULD BECOME NEXT WITH BREWERS

Aaron Hill drew most of the immediate attention in the recent Boston-Milwaukee trade because of how the veteran infielder could improve the Red Sox’s postseason hopes, but another Aaron in the deal also may benefit.

Right-hander Aaron Wilkerson had been picking up support for his first major league opportunity since the Independent Baseball grad had a combined 6-3, 2.14 record this season between Boston’s top two farm clubs in Portland, ME and Pawtucket, RI. In fact, the 27-year-old had gone 22-7 with a 2.52 ERA in 54 appearances (44 starts) since Boston purchased his contract from the American Association (Grand Prairie, TX) in 2014.

“In Aaron Wilkerson, we are adding a starting pitcher who has had tremendous success in the minor leagues and could be an asset to the major league team in the near future,” Brewers general manager David Stearns told FoxSports.com. “He’s just never given up (after Tommy John surgery in 2011), Stearns added to MLB.com. “The Red Sox did a good job of finding him and he’s really flown through that system since he signed.”

Wilkerson, who also pitched for Florence, KY in the Frontier League and Fort Worth in the United League, did not hurt his chances of getting called up in his first start for Triple-A Colorado Springs Sunday. He blanked Iowa (Cubs) on two hits and a walk in a four-inning stint.

It also may help that Milwaukee has seen recent success from another American Association grad, Junior Guerra. The onetime Wichita hurler has won six of eight decisions and posted a 3.06 ERA in 13 starts for the team that is 11 games under .500.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Majors Picking Up Indy Players At Torrid Pace

While the track record over the past two decades shows it is going to happen, the pace of Independent Baseball players having their contracts purchased by major league organizations has been at a torrid pace this season.

Records maintained by the Independent Baseball Insider, believed to be the most complete anywhere, have recorded 42 such transactions since the end of major league spring training with 25 of them in the second half of June, probably in part to help fill out rosters after the free agent draft.

Two impressive facets of these signings are that 10 of the players started their professional career in an Indy league and some of them have come from the newer non-affiliated circuits, including the Pacific Association and the first-year United Shore League.

In no particular order, the native Independent players who have had their contracts picked up for a price by MLB organizations include RHP (and former infielder) Max Duval to Arizona, SS Josh Gardiner and RHP Tim Holmes to the New York Yankees, INF Christian Ibarra to Minnesota, RHP Trey Lambert to Washington, RHP Santos Saldivar to Milwaukee, INF Josh Silver to the Chicago Cubs, RHP Matt Solter to San Francisco, OF Boo Vazquez to Kansas City and LHP Ross Vance to St. Louis.

Vance came out of the three-team United Shore League which started its initial season on May 30.

In addition to the 42 players sold to major league organizations, numerous others have gone to leagues in Mexico, Taiwan and Japan.

COURT MOVES TO TRIPLE-A

Some of the recent signees, largely from the Atlantic League, went straight to Triple-A teams.  One player recently promoted to the top minor league level is infielder-outfielder Ryan Court, who was taken from Sioux City in the American Association.  Boston promoted him from Double-A Portland, ME to its top affiliate in Pawtucket, RI.

Court, 28, hit .331 with Sioux City's potent team last season, and followed that up by hitting .319 in 40 games for Portland.  He is at .300 (9-for-30) after eight appearances for Pawtucket.


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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Along with Ziegler, York and Guerra Earn High Marks

Brad Ziegler's numbers are getting insane with a 0.61 ERA in save situations this season and 43 consecutive saves overall, but I also tip my hat very high among the new products out of the Independent leagues; Washington's Tanner Roark (Southern Illinois Miners, Frontier League) and Junior Guerra (Wichita Wingnuts, American Association) of Milwaukee.

Ziegler (Schaumburg, then in the Northern League) has been around for a while, in fact long enough that the Arizona side-armer's 564 career appearances are the most in the majors since 2008.

The Washington Post credits Roark's improved command of his two-seam fastball as the biggest reason the right-hander now owns one of the lowest earned run averages (3.14) on the potent Nationals' starting rotation and is now striking out nearly 8.1 hitters every nine innings.  He has a 6-4 record for 14 starts this season.

Guerra, the onetime catcher who really started getting pitching notice when he went 18-7 while working for Wichita in 2011 and 2013, had only three major league appearances--a non-descript four innings in relief for the Chicago White Sox last season--until the Brewers called him up from Triple-A Colorado Springs the first week of May.

The 31-year-old seems to have become a steady starter for Milwaukee with a 3-1 record and a 3.81 ERA for nine outings.  He has allowed only 46 hits in 54.1 innings and has 45 punchouts.

"He's certainly done his job," manager Craig Counsell told FoxSports.com.  "He's (gotten better as the game goes on) in a bunch of his starts.  He's getting to 90-100 pitches and still going strong, still going really good."

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