Monday, September 22, 2008


Independent Baseball is down to just one league still with its playoffs to be determined, but don't get the idea the opportunities of following some of the best players from the non-affiliated ranks has gone away. That candle continues to burn brightly this week, and there will be a few people to check out every day well into October.

Now that Windy City (Crestwood, IL) has picked off its second consecutive Frontier League crown, the full attention of Indy teams falls to the Atlantic League. Camden, NJ will be at Long Island, NY and Somerset, NJ at York, PA to open the best-of-three series in the Liberty and Freedom Divisions, respectively, Tuesday night. The best-of-five finals will open Friday at either Camden or Long Islnad.

We are tracking those among the 26 former Independent players now wearing major league uniforms who will could get into the postseason, and will have much more to say on that subject in the coming days in this space or in our regular Independent Baseball Insider column to subscribers each Thursday.

In the interim, three hurlers among the big-league contingent have been getting this corner's attention. They are doing quite well, thank you, even though the glut of sports may not get them on Sports Center as much as they deserve. They are quite evident when we dig into the fine print of the newspapers.

Arizona's Max Scherzer is the likeliest of the trio to make it to Sports Center or Baseball Tonight because his work has bordered on exceptional even though the 24-year-old University of Missouri product still is looking for his first major league victory.

You think I'm overstating it? In three September starts for the Diamondbacks, this onetime Fort Worth (TX) Cats star right-hander has struck out 28 National League hitters in just 16 innings. That three-game sample projects out to 15.75 K's every nine innings. Scherzer has surrendered 14 hits and five walks while being charged with seven runs (3.94), a little above the 3.52 ERA he has for his 15 major league appearances.

Hold your breath that the D-Backs give him some support in what almost certainly will be one more regular season start so he might get to 1-3 before all of the postseason pairings are known by Sunday night.

Scott Richmond, another righty who started in Independent Baseball (Edmonton, Alberta, in the Northern League before the CrackerCats transferred to the Golden League in '08) shot through Toronto's farm system in less than a year (he only signed last November 20), and already has four major league starts. It seems an understatement to say the Blue Jays are impressed with the 29-year-old. His last start came yesterday (Sunday) with the Red Sox still trying to nail down a postseason berth.

Richmond was not overwhelmed, though his record fell to 0-3 (5.14) as the World Champs managed three runs and five hits against him in five innings. One was a two-run David Ortiz homer, and Toronto got only three hits off Daisuke Matsuzaka (18-2) and two relievers the entire afternoon in the 3-0 Boston win.

How highly does that speak of Richmond's three years of seasoning in Edmonton, where he was a combined 4-10 virtually all in relief for two seasons and a 10-9, 4.26 starter last summer.

The third hurler making some career progress at age 32 is Mark DiFelice, now with the NL wild-card-chasing Milwaukee Brewers. After toiling 10 seasons exclusively in the minor leagues, including half of 2005 at Somerset and all of 2006 at Camden (yes, two of the Atlantic League playoff teams mentioned above), DiFelice got into six major league games in June. More impressively, he has been called on four times in September, and not just to mop up. Point in case came Saturday, a devastating 4-3 loss to Cincinnati.

Trailing 4-2 with one out in the bottom of the eighth, Richmond was summoned. He promptly fanned Jolbert Cabrera, gave up a single, then got the final out of the inning to keep Milwaukee within striking distance.

It would not be a total shock to see DiFelice on the postseason roster, if the Brewers can get there. What a jump it would be from the Northern League to the NL postseason in less than one calendar year.

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