It never is a shock to see a couple of Indy grads taken in the Rule 5 during the Winter Meetings, and players still have another avenue of non-roster invitations to train with the big guys come February and March. More than 50 onetime Independent standouts have been among the fortunate group in major league camps in recent seasons, and that number could even go higher this time given the fact that if we count prime free agents such as (alphabetically) Craig Breslow, Stephen Drew, Luke Hochevar, Max Scherzer and Joe Thatcher 33 of these players are already ticketed for the big-league camps.
BRIAN SWEENEY JOINS PHILLIES SYSTEM
I have had a soft spot for Brian Sweeney ever since this Independent original (Lafayette, IN, Heartland League, 1996) was one of the first players I interviewed early in the Insider days. The Yonkers, NY native had a nice way about him.
Sweeney, who turned 40 this summer, eventually got into 73 major league games (4-2, two saves, 3.41) during his 18-year playing career, playing with Seattle and San Diego. He also spent three seasons in Japan, and the right-hander started one game for the Somerset (NJ) Patriots (Atlantic League) in 2011 (a victory with seven innings of four-hit, two-run baseball) before the New York Mets signed him to play at Triple-A Buffalo, NY.
Sweeney has just been hired to be a pitching coach in the Philadelphia farm system.
ATLANTIC LEAGUE MANAGERIAL NEWS
Butch Hobson proved long ago that he is one of the best Independent managers, and Lancaster, PA has to feel good that he will be returning to help the Barnstormers defend their Atlantic League title. The league also got a new managerial face this week when Bridgeport, CT announced it had hired Ricky VanAsselberg, who already has four Independent championships on his resume.
“He certainly knows how to get players, including vets,” one longtime Independent league official told me this week.
VanAsselberg won two United League titles (Alexandria, LA) and two more in the American Association (Shreveport-Bossier, LA and Grand Prairie, TX), the last in 2011.
Lefty Raul Valdes, a free agent after spending 2014 in the Toronto organization (briefly with the Blue Jays), is having another impressive winter league season in the Dominican Republic. The former Can-Am Leaguer (New Jersey Jackals and Nashua, NH) is 3-0 with a 1.38 ERA, allowing only 12 hits and five walks in 26 innings covering four starts.
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