Friday, April 27, 2007


I knew I had a good story for my weekly Independent Baseball Insider column this week. I just underestimated how good it was.

When you have been doing baseball research as long as I have I should not come up short, but I did this time.

The story was about the number of players who were in Independent leagues as recently as all or part of the 2006 season and are playing for major league organizations at either the Double-A or Triple-A level now. I found 21 right way. What I overlooked until a couple of readers sent me emails was another group almost as large.

The list I printed in the Insider ended up with 39 players, a mighty impressive number in this reporter's mind. (I hope I have not missed anyone else.) Not surprisingly, the Atlantic League led the way with 18 of the 39. Somewhat more surprising is that five of them--four playing just one notch below the major leagues in Class AAA--were on Sparky Lyle's Somerset (NJ) Patriots, and they did not even make the playoffs. Five also represented Bridgeport, CT, which lost in the championship round to Lancaster, PA.

The first year American Association, which hardly was a rookie operation since groups of clubs had moved from both the Central and the Northern, had nine players make the move.

Independent Baseball has 91 of its former players in AAA and AA overall with another 11 in the majors. Nearly 60 others are in Class A or in extended spring training awaiting assignments.

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Saturday, April 14, 2007


It is always difficult for me to see on the release list the names of some of the Independent Baseball players I have tracked for years. I feel like I know each of the players personally, even though that frequently is not the case.

Two such players who showed up recently were Howie Clark and Shawn Wooten, both cut loose by San Diego. The handwriting may have been there all along since neither of these veterans who have logged major league time were even non-roster invitees to the major league camp. Wooten did get into at least one game, probably on one of those days when the manager needed some extra men from the minor league camp.

And, it doesn't help that Wooten, a catcher-infielder, is 34; Clark, primarily an infielder, is 33.

Now maybe they will sign with another organization, but if that does not happen at least both of these players got the chance to taste major league life. Many players are not so fortunate.

Wooten was in 267 big-league games, virtually all with the Angels and he hit .272 with 18 home runs and 86 runs batted in. He played in another 1,006 minor league contests, hitting 114 homers, so that's not bad when the grandchildren one day want to know about gramps' playing days.

Clark's career started back in 1992, and he got into 99 major league games (.273-3-23) with Baltimore, Toronto, and the Orioles a second time for seven games last season. He played in 1,224 minor league contests, with 69 homers and 485 RBI.

Clark's Independent experience came pretty much in the middle of his career (2001) when he played in four games for Chico, CA. This Golden League city had a team in the Western League at the time. That brief experience certainly did not hurt since Howie's very first major league games were the next season.

Wooten needed the Independent experience to get another chance after Detroit released him from its minor league system in 1995. He played a year and a half in the defunct Prairie League (Moose Jaw) before the Angels gave him the opportunity to prove himself.

Almost as difficult as seeing Clark and Wooten get their releases was learning that 34-year-old Indy vet Chris Coste, after that remarkable second half at Philadelphia in which he hit .328 and became the favored catcher for some of the starting staff, was sent back to Triple-A (Ottawa). His injury and strep during spring training didn't help, but it seemed he was almost doomed from the day the Phils picked up the veteran Rod Barajas to share the catching with rookie Carlos Ruiz. I think Coste's hustle will get him back, but how soon is another question.

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Friday, April 06, 2007


As I did my homework in spring training, one of the things I wanted to know was who might be the first Golden League graduate to reach the major leagues.

The jury still is out, of course, but Phillies scout Mal Fichman, who spent several seasons as the Independent Baseball talent boss for San Diego, said he knew the Padres were "high on" Manny Ayala. He can reach 93-94 on the radar gun, with an effective changeup as his second best pitch.

Ayala got the Opening Night start for Lake Elsinore in the California League Thursday night, and while he was charged with the loss he gave up only four hits and one run in his six innings. His Golden League work was at Mesa, AZ in 2005.

Higher up the minor league food chain, onetime Detroit Tigers hurler Adam Pettyjohn, who pitched for Long Beach, CA in the Golden League, got the Opening Night nod for Class AA Huntsville, AL. Now one of the lefty prospects for Milwaukee, he had an impressive seven strikeouts (one walk) in four innings of work. Pettyjohn was touched for four hits and two runs.

Victor Hall, who Reno, NV Manager Les Lancaster liked last summer because of his "solid defense" in centerfield and his speed, went one-for-four in his debut with Philadelphia's Clearwater team in the Florida State League.

Newly-signed outfielder Kennard Jones went 0-for-2 in his debut in the Baltimore organization. Jones, who has power, speed and a plus arm, is in the Carolina League (Frederick, MD). He had signed with, but never played for Reno.

That's a solid opening night for the Golden League, which soon will start its third season.

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