Thursday, February 23, 2012

NORTH AMERICAN LEAGUE CEO SAYS VARIOUS OPTIONS BEING CONSIDERED AFTER EDMONTON PULLOUT

"We are working on a lot of different angles", North American League CEO Kevin Outcalt told us last night of the dilemma the Northern Division of the second-year league faces because of the sudden pullout of Edmonton, which has had Independent teams for several years.

One of those angles, Outcalt explained, is to double back with everyone considering the league for 2013 to see if anyone can step up sooner since only Maui, Yuma and newcomer San Rafael remain. We know this includes Prescott, AZ and Fullerton, CA, with the latter "a real possibility", according to Outcalt.

Longtime Golden League and NAL member Chico, CA is only a "small chance", the CEO admitted, with the sticking point being that the league wants a three-year commitment from Chico State and the university is only offering a one year agreement to use its stadium.

"Everyone is really disappointed in the way they (Edmonton) did it", added Outcalt. He explained that the Capitals had been very involved in developing a schedule, which was finalized last Friday "and we were to announce it on Monday." He went on to say "I do think there is a relief throughout the league that there will be no teams in Canada", which in the past increased issues in scheduling, travel and moving players across the border from the United States.

The NAL's Southern Division has six teams in Texas, and has its own independent schedule.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE INDEPENDENT BASEBALL INSIDER FOR 2012. Subscriptions to the Insider $48 from now through December, 2012.

REQUEST A FREE WEEK OF THE INDEPENDENT BASEBALL INSIDER

Get the independent minor league baseball trivia question of the day by clicking this link: Independent Minor League Baseball Trivia Questions

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

EDMONTON LATEST TO PULL OUT OF NORTH AMERICAN LEAGUE, LEAVING A VOID

It was painful to learn today that another domino has fallen in the Northern Division of the North American League.

The Edmonton Capitals pulled the plug on playing in 2012, apparently not wanting to be part of a four-team division. The only known teams in the North for the second year of the league are Yuma, AZ, Maui, HA and newcomer San Rafael, CA. Chico, CA and Fullerton, CA have been mentioned, but it is getting very late.

Even Edmonton Manager Orv Franchuk, who led the Capitals to the league title last season and has another year on his contract, was caught by surprise with the announcement, according to multiple media sources.

"It is a tough decision," Capitals Governor Patrick LaForge told The Calgary Herald. "We suspended the team for one year and we're working on finding a proper situation. It could include the NAL but it doesn't have to, under these circumstances." The only other option that would seem even remotely possible with the makeup of leagues today would be for Edmonton to join the American Association, but hundreds of miles separate Edmonton and the next closest AA city, which is Winnipeg. Calgary also dropped out of the NAL after last season, and one would think the Vipers also would need to return to offer a two-team pairing to give some sanity to scheduling.

The Southern Division of the NAL has six teams, but all are in Texas and they have a schedule which calls for regular season play only within that group.

MIKE O'CONNOR MAY HAVE GOTTEN AN EARLY BREAK

Since Mike O'Connor has become exclusively a left-handed specialist the last two seasons, it is entirely possible this onetime Southern Maryland Blue Crabs (Atlantic League) starter (2009) was handed an early break in his initial season as a non-roster invitee with the New York Yankees.

Veteran major league southpaw specialist Hideki Okajima was released after failing his physical so O'Connor, 31, has one less competitor as he bids to join Boone Logan as the lefties in the Yankees' bullpen. O'Connor was 0-1, 2.70 in nine games with the New York Mets last season and 5-5, 5.22 with Triple-A Buffalo.


SUBSCRIBE TO THE INDEPENDENT BASEBALL INSIDER FOR 2012. Subscriptions to the Insider $48 from now through December, 2012.

REQUEST A FREE WEEK OF THE INDEPENDENT BASEBALL INSIDER

Get the independent minor league baseball trivia question of the day by clicking this link: Independent Minor League Baseball Trivia Questions

Friday, February 17, 2012

ROSTERS POSTED FOR INDEPENDENT PROSPECT TOURNAMENT IN ST. PETE

(Story edited and North American League roster added on February 19.)

It is nice to see that Nick Belmonte was able to pretty well stay within his goal of having mostly players 25 and under for the first Independent League Prospect Tournament in St. Petersburg, FL February 24-March 4. Every player on the rosters was born between 1983 and 1990. Not a lot of the players were born before 1986.

In a few instances, players were shifted from the league where they played in the past (or are under contract) to balance the rosters.

Here are the rosters:

AMERICAN ASSOCIATION

Pitchers: Reyes Dorado, Matt Summo, Jake Laber, Kevin Fuqua, Kyle Dahman, Drew Graham, Justin Edwards, Joe Harris, Jeremy Brewer, Alberto Rolon.
Catchers: Alan Rick, Alberto Espinosa.
Infielders: Trent Lockwood, Price Kendall, Jose Duran, Ron Bourquin.
Outfielders: Tim Alberts, Mitch Einerstein, Josh Workman.

CAN-AM LEAGUE

Pitchers: Shaun Ellis, Stephen Fox, Jimmer Kennedy, Jake Hale, Pat Moran, Zach Woods, Alex Smith, T. J. Wink, Mike Zenko.
Catchers: Patrick D'Aoust, Billy Alvino.
Infielders: Ryan Mollica, Nick Giarraputo, Mark Minicozzi, Jerod Edmondson, Matt Nandin, Danny Bomback.
Outfielders: Eric McGee, Brian Sabatella, Bobby Wagner.

FRONTIER LEAGUE

Pitchers: Jordan Cudney, Don Lisi, Nick Schreiber, Andy Mee, David Harden, Dan Marcacci, Tim Brown, Eric Binder, Justin Hall.
Catchers: Pat Trettel, Brett Chamberlain.
Infielders: Will Block, Jesse Sikorski, Evan Button, Travis Weaver.
Outfielders: Alex Foltz, Mike Mobbs, Sean Harrell, Asif Shah.

NORTH AMERICAN LEAGUE

Pitchers: Chander Barnard, Fernando Hernandez, Corey Goudeau, Tom Boleska, Logan Williamson, Chad Robinson, Chris Kaminski, Wade Morrison.
Catchers: Zach Larson, Angel Flores.
Infielders: Daryl Jones, Danny Gonzalez, Jose Sanchez, Davis Page, C. J. Zeigler.
Outfielders: David Peralta, Lyndon Poole, Matt Wright.

MANAGERIAL MOVES

We mentioned the Newark, NJ (Can-Am League) hire of Ken Oberkfell as its new manager in yesterday's Independent Baseball Insider column because he was a major league bench coach (New York Mets) as recently as last summer, but that has not been the only managerial appointment in recent days.

Camden, NJ (Atlantic League) elevated pitching coach Jeff Scott to replace Von Hayes, Maui, HA (North American League) appointed former closer Jamie Vermilyea to replace Brendan Sagara, who took a pitching coach position with the Miami Marlins organization, and Garry Templeton, last year's Maui field boss, has taken over at Yuma, AZ in the same league.

Another significant move saw veteran major league and Independent pitcher Bill Pulsipher become pitching coach for Winnipeg (American Association). Ironically, he also is replacing Sagara, who had that job last year. Pulsipher ended his 18-year professional career last summer with Somerset, NJ of the Atlantic League.


SUBSCRIBE TO THE INDEPENDENT BASEBALL INSIDER FOR 2012. Subscriptions to the Insider $48 from now through December, 2012.

REQUEST A FREE WEEK OF THE INDEPENDENT BASEBALL INSIDER

Get the independent minor league baseball trivia question of the day by clicking this link: Independent Minor League Baseball Trivia Questions

Thursday, February 09, 2012

JUSTIN CHRISTIAN PLUS HURLERS O'CONNOR AND POMERANZ IN THE NEWS TODAY

A few notes from the world of baseball transactions today since this is an off week for the Independent Baseball Insider which returns next week with a complete rundown of the unusually large contingent of Indy players headed to major league spring training camps.

Justin Christian, one of the premier Indy names in recent years since he climbed all the way to the majors from a start in the Frontier League (River City, O'Fallon, MO), could not be blamed if he has a long face today.

Only days before spring training, San Francisco designated the 31-year-old outfielder for assignment when it signed Ryan Theriot and Guillermo Mota and needed 40-man roster space.

Christian, who debuted at River City in 2003 and also has played briefly at Southern Maryland (Waldorf) in the Atlantic League, is getting some nice support from certain Bay Area media because of the way he played the outfield and hit .255 in 18 games for the parent Giants late last season.

What could happen is that some other team will claim Christian (although 40-man space is pretty sparse right now) or the Giants could re-sign him if he clears waivers and bring him right back as a non-roster player. This would give the speedster, who pilfered 54 bases in 137 games between Double-A and Triple-A last season (and three more with the Giants), a renewed opportunity to be a spare outfielder in San Francisco. Christian also has had 24 games with the New York Yankees during his career.

LEFTY MIKE O'CONNOR GETS LOOK FROM YANKEES

Veteran Mike O'Connor is the most recent pitcher to join the impressive list of Independent grads with major league spring training invitations. O'Connor, 31, will try to grab one of the left-handed relief jobs in the New York Yankees bullpen.

He went 0-1, 2.70 in nine appearances for the New York Mets last season. O'Connor's Independent time was with Southern Maryland. He also has been in the majors with Washington, logging some time in both '06 and '08.

BALTIMORE HAS STU POMERANZ

We just discovered while pouring over some transactions that Stuart Pomeranz, who spent 2009 with the New Jersey Jackals (Little Falls) in the Can-Am League, has been signed to a minor league deal by Baltimore.

While his Jackals numbers did not stand out (5-6, 6.50, mainly as a starter), he had 18 saves (1-6, 3.67 with 53 strikeouts in 49 innings over 51 relief appearances in Double-A in the Colorado organization two summers ago. The 6-foot-7 right-hander, only 27, got into three major league spring training games for the Los Angeles Dodgers one year ago (0-0, 3.86), but only worked in two games (at Class AA Chattanooga) during the regular season. One would have to guess he was injured.

Baltimore has placed him on its Frederick, MD (Class A) roster, but with the Orioles' pitching needs it would not be a shock to see him appear in a major league spring training game or two.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE INDEPENDENT BASEBALL INSIDER FOR 2012. Subscriptions to the Insider $48 from now through December, 2012.

REQUEST A FREE WEEK OF THE INDEPENDENT BASEBALL INSIDER

Get the independent minor league baseball trivia question of the day by clicking this link: Independent Minor League Baseball Trivia Questions

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

HEADED FOR NEWARK AS A COACH, OBERKFELL LEADS DOMINICANS TO CARIBBEAN SERIES TITLE

It had to feel good for the Newark (NJ) Bears to see that the Dominican Republic had won the Caribbean Series, which claims superiority over the opposition from Puerto Rico, Venezuela and Mexico.

Why, you ask?

The manager of the Dominican team, which also was the host country, recently signed on as a coach for the Bears, who will play their second season in the Can-Am League this summer.

He is a big name, too.

Ken Oberkfell, who has been a major league coach or Triple-A manager for the last eight seasons, is so popular in the Dominican that he sometimes is referred to as "The Leones' magician", according to an elaborate feature story on MLB.com.. This comes about because of the way the 55-year-old has handled the reigns with Escogido, the country's representative in the Caribbean Series. He has now become the first manager ever to lead Escogido to two Caribbean Series titles. He did not even take over this season in the baseball-crazed country until Thanksgiving.

The Dominican team won its first four games in the Caribbean Series, then lost its last two after the championship already was won.

"Oberkfell is (the) type of manager the players love playing for," praised Escogido President Luis Manuel Bonetti in the MLB.com story. "He's the type of manager that lets them play. He doesn't put (on) any restrictions, and really understands the culture that we have here."

Oddly enough, Oberkfell never played winter baseball along the path that saw him spend 16 seasons in the major leagues as a player. He got into 1,602 major league games, all but 41 of them in the National League. An infielder, he had a career average of .278

The Illinois native is returning to Independent Baseball for the first time since 1995-96 when he managed Mohawk Valley and Elmira, NY, in respective Northeast League seasons. He was bench coach for the New York Mets in 2008 and again last year.

FORMER NEWARK OUTFIELDER TOP HITTER IN SERIES

Another significant tie to Newark in the Caribbean Series was that of Dominican outfielder Pablo Ozuna, who led all hitters in the six-game set with a .421 average (8-for-19). He hit .294 in 119 at-bats for the Bears in 2010, their last season in the Atlantic League.

The biggest surprise among all players with at least 10 at-bats was probably veteran infielder Edgardo Alfonzo of Venezuela. He had the fourth best average of .364 (4-for-11) in the pitching-dominated series. Listed at 38, the longtime major league standout infielder is not believed to have played baseball in the United States in the summer since 2008 except for 26 games and a .154 average for Newark in 2010. He played briefly at Bridgeport, CT in the Atlantic League in '06 and was in a combined 164 games for the Long Island (NY) Ducks in the same league in '07-08.

Venezulan teammate Cesar Suarez, an outfielder who played for four different Indy teams in 2009-10, was right behind Alfonzo at .360 (9-for-25).

We identified 29 players with Independent playing time on the four Caribbean Series rosters.


SUBSCRIBE TO THE INDEPENDENT BASEBALL INSIDER FOR 2012. Subscriptions to the Insider $48 from now through December, 2012.

REQUEST A FREE WEEK OF THE INDEPENDENT BASEBALL INSIDER

Get the independent minor league baseball trivia question of the day by clicking this link: Independent Minor League Baseball Trivia Questions

Friday, February 03, 2012

WHAT FRIDAY FUN WATCHING THE CARIBBEAN SERIES, SIGNINGS AND A FOOTBALL PROPOSAL

What a busy start to the day, especially for the morning after subscribers got this week's Independent Baseball Insider column, but that is the way it goes with breaking news.

Anyone who cares about Independent Baseball will want to follow the Caribbean Series for the next few days (especially if they can see the games on ESPN Deportes or ESPN3)since about 25 per cent of the players on the four teams are current or former Indy players. New Newark, NJ (Can-Am League) coach Ken Oberkfell is even managing the Dominican Republic entry.

In fact, three of the four opening day starting pitchers in what turned out to be pitching-dominated games have Indy ties. The latest after the Insider
was put to bed last night was southpaw Kris Johnson, who limited Mexico to three hits and an unearned run in five innings to get the host Dominicans off to a good start in a 2-1 win.

Johnson pitched for the Kansas City (KS) T-Bones (American Association) much of last season after being released out of Triple-A with Boston. The 27-year-old has since signed with Pittsburgh, an organization that certainly can benefit from better pitching.

Nelson Figueroa, whose latest bid for fulltime major league duty will come with Toronto this spring, continued his exceptional work in the afternoon, winning for Puerto Rico at the expense of another former Indy hurler, Seth Etherton, who started for Venezuela. Figueroa spent a little Indy time with the Long Island (NY) Ducks (Atlantic League) while Etherton was with Long Beach, CA in what was then the Golden League.

I do not pretend to understand all of the roster qualifications, but Figueroa had pitched in the Dominican championship series for Escogido, that country's Caribbean Series representative. Figueroa has now won series games for three of the four countries. He had pitched for both the Dominican and Mexico in past years.

"I'm back here because I want the chance to keep pitching in the big leagues," the right-hander told MLB.com. "I could be sitting somewhere in an office and dealing with rush hour traffic, but instead the stadium is my office and I come to work and get to play and have fun."

NON-ROSTER COUNT UP TO 34

The Continental League is a thing of the past, but it cannot be forgotten because the latest Independent player to get a major league spring training invitation is left-hander Brandon Sisk, who started his pro career with Bay Area (Houston region) in that Texas-Louisiana-based circuit.

Sisk will be with Kansas City after the 26-year-old put up a combined 7-3 record and 2.52 ERA for 41 relief outings in Classes AA and AAA last season. He is the 22nd pitcher to get a non-roster invitation from a major league club. Twelve position players bring the overall count to an impressive 34.

SWEENEY RE-JOINS SEATTLE SYSTEM

Veteran right-hander Brian Sweeney, on the Venezuelan roster for the Caribbean Series, has signed as a free agent with one of his former teams, the Seattle Mariners. It does not appear he will be an official non-roster invitee although it is a pretty good guess he will get some major league exposure this spring.

Sweeney, 37, brings the long-departed Heartland League back to mind since he started his pro career in 1996 with Layayette, IN. He more recently trained with Southern Maryland of the Atlantic League and pitched one game for Somerset, NJ of the same league, both times then signing with major league organizations. He has pitched in the majors for San Diego and Seattle.

LET'S HEAR IT FOR THIS NATIONALS HOPEFUL AND HIS CHEERLEADER FIANCE

Okay, here is a Super Bowl story. Well, NFL saga, anyway.

Another former Independent player to cheer for as he attempts to climb through the Washington Nationals farm system is right-handed pitcher Ben Graham.

The onetime Wichita (KS) Wingnuts (American Association) hurler made some news late in the football season when he popped up at halftime of a Tennessee Titans game in a Santa Claus suit, took off his beard and proposed to cheerleader Janae Kram. She and her mates also were dressed in Christmas outfits.

Guess what, the blond cutie said yes.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE INDEPENDENT BASEBALL INSIDER FOR 2012. Subscriptions to the Insider $48 from now through December, 2012.

REQUEST A FREE WEEK OF THE INDEPENDENT BASEBALL INSIDER

Get the independent minor league baseball trivia question of the day by clicking this link: Independent Minor League Baseball Trivia Questions

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

WHAT INDEPENDENT PLAYERS WILL EXCEL IN CARIBBEAN SERIES STARTING THURSDAY?

I am anxious for the Caribbean Series to get started Thursday, not only because we might get to see some live baseball on TV and certainly to read about it, but because either current or former Independent players often pop up in key roles.

For example, when the host Dominican Republic crowned its representative in what had to be a thrilling decision determined in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 9 in the championship series, onetime Can-Am hurler Raul Valdes turned in another outstanding start.

The lefty, who had pitched for the New Jersey Jackals (Little Falls) and Nashua, NH, was not on the winning side, but he did more than his share for Aguilas. Valdes, who has gotten considerable major league exposure in recent years and is a non-roster invitee for the Phillies this spring training, allowed only one run in six innings, leaving with a 4-1 lead. He struck out seven, and finished the competition with a 1.15 earned run average. Valdes was 4-4, 5.19 for the Dominican League season, starting nine times in 11 appearances.

Another former Indy hurler, Nelson Figueroa (Long Island, NY, Atlantic League), worked a scoreless eighth inning for champion Escogido, helping his team stay in the game. Figueroa will be in spring training with Toronto, bidding for a job with his fourth major league team since leaving the Ducks.

How about this description of the Caribbean Series by Cleveland Manager Manny Acta:
"Pandemonium", Acta told MLB.com."I've been part of it before, and it's a great opportunity for baseball. It's real competitive baseball, especially when it's played back home in the D.R."

PASCUCCI GETS METS INVITE

Valentino Pascucci, a power-hitting first baseman-designated hitter who got his first major league exposure in several years last September, will be back in major league camp with the New York Mets. Pascucci's Indy time was spent with the Camden (NJ) RiverSharks of the Atlantic League.

It seems a bit strange with spring training almost here (hooray), but several Indy players have been among those cut loose by major league farm systems in recent days. How tough trying to catch on right now? All of them have been from the Class A or AA level.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE INDEPENDENT BASEBALL INSIDER FOR 2012. Subscriptions to the Insider $48 from now through December, 2012.

REQUEST A FREE WEEK OF THE INDEPENDENT BASEBALL INSIDER

Get the independent minor league baseball trivia question of the day by clicking this link: Independent Minor League Baseball Trivia Questions