Monday, April 02, 2018

INDEPENDENT PLAYERS IN MAJOR LEAGUE UNIFORMS HIT CENTURY MARK

How lofty does it sound when you hear 103 players who have been in one or more Independent leagues wore a major league uniform during spring training?

It happened.

Fifty-eight were either on 40-man rosters or had non-roster invitations to one of the 30 camps in Arizona and Florida.  At least another 45 were brought over from minor league camps to suit up with the big guys for one or more games.  We may have missed a few more, but can identify the 103.

Sixteen of the 58 full-time trainees were on Opening Day rosters, although that number is down from 20 of one year ago.

The only totally new player among the 16 is Boston reliever Marcus Walden, who was with the Lancaster Barnstormers in the Atlantic League virtually all of 2015, posting a 2-4 record, 15 saves and a 2.95 earned run average in 48 appearances.  The right-hander spent last season as a combo starter-reliever for Triple-A Pawtucket (10-6, 3.92) in the Red Sox system, then had a terrific spring training as a non-roster pitcher.

Catcher Raffy Lopez (Bridgeport, Atlantic League), who spent part of last season at Toronto, also went from non-roster status to San Diego's Opening Day roster although he went back to Triple-A during the first weekend without getting into a game for the Padres.

The American Association is the most decorated of the Independent leagues with six major leaguers plus Houston reliever James Hoyt, who started the season the disabled list.

The Independent players who were on 25-man rosters when the season kicked off March 29 with their current major league and their Independent affiliations:

Pitchers (12):  Wilmer Font, Los Angeles-NL (Ottawa, Can-Am League), Luis Garcia, Philadelphia (Newark, Can-Am), Rich Hill, Los Angeles-NL (Long Island, Atlantic League), Brandon Kintzler, Washington (St. Paul, American Association and Winnipeg, Northern League), Chris Martin, Texas (Grand Prairie, Association), James Paxton, Seattle (Grand Prairie), Tanner Roark, Washington (Southern Illinois, Frontier League), Chaz Roe, Tampa Bay (Laredo, Association), Max Scherzer, Washington (Fort Worth, Association), Josh Smoker, Pittsburgh (Rockford, Frontier), Marcus Walden, Boston (Lancaster, Atlantic) and Brad Ziegler, Miami (Schaumburg, Frontier).

Position Players (4):  C Raffy Lopez, San Diego (Bridgeport, Atlantic), 1B-OF Jose Martinez, St. Louis (Rockford), OF David Peralta, Arizona (Wichita and Amarillo, Association, and Rio Grande Valley, North American League) and C Rene Rivera, Los Angeles-AL (Camden, Atlantic).

Hoyt pitched for Wichita plus the North American cities of Edinburg and Yuma.



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Monday, March 12, 2018

FROM AN INDEPENDENT LEAGUE TO THE MAJORS IN LESS THAN A YEAR

The toughest break among the 58 onetime Independent Baseball players in major league camps this spring probably belongs to veteran Daniel Nava since the very first day of spring training the gritty outfielder by way of Chico, CA of the Golden League had to shut it down and have back surgery.

He had signed with Pittsburgh, and was considered a likely fourth outfielder--possibly even part of a leftfield platoon--with his sixth major league team since the days when he barely made an Independent roster.

"Not what I was hoping for, but I've got to look at it from the positive perspective," he told MLB.com after returning to the Pirates' camp in Bradenton, FL.  "The pain's gone, and it explains a lot of things that have happened the past couple years with my body.  Hopefully, I'm 35 years young rather than 35 years old."

Typical recovery time from similar surgery is said to be 10-12 weeks.  Nava hit .301 in 214 plate appearances with Philadelphia last year before going down with what was described as a lower back strain.

Less Than a Year to Majors

If anyone needs convincing of the talent in the Indy leagues, consider this fact:  Six of those in major league camps this month played non-affiliated baseball as recently as last season.  Numerous other former Independent players have worn a major league uniform for at least a day after getting the call from minor league camps.

The six who have been vying for major league jobs, with their current team and former Independent affiliation, are:  Pitchers Henderson Alvarez, Philadelphia (Long Island, Atlantic League);  Tyler Cloyd, Miami (Somerset, Atlantic); Kevin Lenik, Kansas City (Windy City, Frontier League); Tim Melville, Baltimore (Long Island) and James Needy, Miami (Sioux City, American Association) and catcher Shawn Zarraga, Los Angeles Dodgers (Cleburne, American Association).

They May Make It to Opening Day

One new face said to be in line to start the season in the Dodgers' bullpen is Can-Am League (Ottawa) product Wilmer Font.  He was Pitcher of the Year in the Pacific Coast League last year. 

Two versatile non-roster infielders are making strong bids for their first major league action.  The Can-Am (New Jersey) provided Peter Mooney for Miami and the Chicago Cubs are looking at Ryan Court (Sioux City).  Both have been in virtually every spring training game their team has played while hitting above .300.  


"Playing for your hometown team and getting that dream to play in Wrigley (Field), it's an honor to put on the Cubs uniform every day," Court told The Northwest Herald.  "It keeps me going.  I come to the ballpark with a smile every day."

Court makes it clear his time in Sioux City (2015) also was great for him.  "I had a lot of fun playing Indy ball," he told the newspaper, "and I think it's because a lot of guys are in the same situation.  "They've been out of pro (affiliated) ball, trying to fight to get back, so everyone was pulling for each other.  Indy ball was great, and now being with these guys, that seems like it's the Cubs culture, to pull for your team.  The motto this year is 'everybody in'.  It couldn't be more true with this group."


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Thursday, February 22, 2018

INDY HURLER CREDITED WITH VICTORY IN VERY FIRST GAME OF '18

Well, that did not take long.

The very first game played by a major league team in 2018--well, sort of--is history, and the winning pitcher was in the Atlantic League most of the last two seasons.

Arizona did not use any of its regulars in the 7-2 triumph over Arizona State University Wednesday, choosing to rely mostly on players from their farm system.  As a result and with the Diamondbacks frequently reaching into the Independent Baseball ranks for talent, three former Indy players were called upon, and each one contributed.

David Carpenter, a catcher when his professional career started in 2006 and an experienced major leaguer, was credited with the victory when he struck out three ASU hitters (one walk) in a scoreless fifth inning, half an inning before the D-Backs took the lead for good.

Carpenter, who has not been in the majors since 2015, spent much of the last two years with Bridgeport, CT of the Atlantic League, becoming a full-time closer in '17 when he saved 30 games in 39 appearances with a 1-3 record and 1.91 earned run average.  He only allowed 27 hits in 37.2 innings while striking out 45.

Two innings ahead of Carpenter (third inning) Arizona gave the ball to Ryan Atkinson, a 24-year-old righty who stepped off the University of Cincinnati campus undrafted in '15 and started his pro career in the Frontier League (Evansville, IN) before being gobbled up by the Diamondbacks.  He struck out two Wildcats during an unblemished inning.

Promising infielder Ildemaro Vargas, who is on the 40-man roster after playing briefly in the majors last season, was Arizona's leadoff hitter.  The second baseman went 1-for-2 and scored a run.

Indy Total in Majors Climbs to 58

When veteran left-hander Craig Breslow (New Jersey Jackals) signed a minor league pact with Toronto and accepted a camp invitation the total of players with Independent league experience who are in major league camps climbed to 58.  That is one more than last season.

Forty-five of the 58 are pitchers, five more than one year ago.


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Friday, February 09, 2018

INDEPENDENT LEAGUES BIG CONTRIBUTORS (AGAIN) WITH 57 PLAYERS DUE IN MAJOR LEAGUE CAMPS

Another couple of names likely will be added, but IndyBaseballChatter.com has compiled another impressive list of 56 players who have toiled in Independent leagues and are due in major league spring training camps.  Twenty-six of them are on 40-man rosters while the other 31 are non-roster invitees, a count that has swelled the last few days as veteran outfielder Daniel Nava (Pittsburgh) and established reliever Tom Wilhelmsen (San Diego) have reached agreements that include spring training opportunities.

Forty-four pitchers--four more than one year ago--are included along with four catchers, five infielders and four outfielders.

The four primary Independent leagues (American Association, Atlantic, Can-Am and Frontier) have given most of these players their opportunities although the smaller Pecos League and former circuits such as the Golden, Northern, North American and United continue to have players at this level.

Two unsigned veterans (infielder Stephen Drew and reliever Craig Breslow) could increase the total count and some major league organizations may add to their non-roster invitations.  The modern day trend of bringing players up from minor league camps for one or more exhibition games will give still more Indy players exposure to the major league brass.

The list of onetime Independent players expected in the 30 camps, by position, with the major league team and where each person played in the Independent ranks:

         Pitchers (44)--Henderson Alvarez, Philadelphia (Long Island, Atlantic League); NR*Ryan Atkinson, Arizona (Evansville, Frontier League); NR-Austin Bibens-Dirkx, Texas (Lancaster, Atlantic, and Victoria, Golden League); Buddy Boshers, Houston (Somerset, Atlantic); John Brebbia, St. Louis (Sioux Falls and Laredo, American Association);  NR-Tyler Cloyd, Miami (Somerset, Atlantic);  NR-Steve Delabar, Texas (Brockton, Can-Am League, and Florence, Frontier); NR-Jose Flores, San Francisco (Sioux City, American Association); Wilmer Font, Los Angeles-NL (Ottawa, Can-Am); Luis Garcia, Philadelphia (Newark, Can-Am); Junior Guerra, Milwaukee (Wichita, American Association); NR-Cody Hall, Tampa Bay (Lancaster); Ariel Hernandez, Cincinnati (Frontier Greys, Frontier); Rich Hill, Los Angeles-NL (Long Island); James Hoyt, Houston (Wichita; Edinburg and Yuma, North American League); Scott Kazmir, Atlanta (Sugar Land, Atlantic); NR-Mike Kickham, Miami (Kansas City, American Association); Brandon Kintzler, Washington (St. Paul, American Association, and Winnipeg, Northern League);  NR-Kevin Lenik, Kansas City (Windy City, Frontier); NR-Brandon Mann, Texas (Fargo, American Association, and Lancaster); *Chris Martin, Texas (Grand Prairie, American Association); NR-Jarret Martin, Oakland (Sussex County, Rockland and Ottawa, Can-Am League, and York, Atlantic); NR-Tim Melville, Baltimore (Long Island); NR-Brian Moran, Los Angeles-NL (Bridgeport, Atlantic); James Needy, Miami (Sioux City, American Association); NR-Vidal Nuno, Tampa Bay (Washington, Frontier); Edward Paredes, Los Angeles-NL (York, Atlantic); *James Paxton, Seattle (Grand Prairie); NR*Trevor Richards, Miami (Gateway, Frontier); *Tanner Roark, Washington (Southern Illinois, Frontier); Chaz Roe, Tampa Bay (Laredo, American Association); NR-Drew Rucinski, Miami (Rockford, Frontier); *Max Scherzer, Washington (Fort Worth, American Association);  NR-Bo Schultz, Pittsburgh (Grand Prairie, American Association); Robby Scott, Boston (Yuma);  NR-Tayler Scott, Texas (Sioux City); NR-Chris Smith, Washington (Lake Erie, Traverse City and Washington, Frontier; White Sands, Pecos League); Josh Smoker, Pittsburgh (Rockford);  NR-Robert Stock, San Diego (New Jersey and Sussex County, Can-Am); NR-Marcus Walden, Boston (Lancaster); NR-Tom Wilhelmsen, San Diego (Tucson, Golden); *Aaron Wilkerson, Milwaukee (Grand Prairie; Florence, Frontier; Fort Worth, United League); NR*Eric Yardley, San Diego (Trinidad and Taos, Pecos); Brad Ziegler, Miami (Schaumburg, Northern).

            Catchers (4)--NR-Rafael Lopez, San Diego (Bridgeport,  Atlantic); Rene Rivera, Los Angeles-AL (Camden, Atlantic);  NR-Jan Vasquez, Colorado (Long Island); NR (Also plays 1B)-Shawn Zarraga, Los Angeles-NL (Cleburne, American Association).

            Infielders (5)--NR-Ryan Court, Chicago-NL (Sioux City); NR-Steve Lombardozzi, Oakland (Southern Maryland, Atlantic); NR-SS Peter Mooney, Miami (New Jersey); NR-1B Brandon Snyder, Tampa Bay (Southern Maryland); Ildemaro Vargas, Arizona (Bridgeport, Atlantic).

            Outfielders (4)--NR-Jeremy Barfield, Boston (Sugar Land and Camden, Atlantic); Jose Martinez, St. Louis (Rockford); NR*Daniel Nava, Pittsburgh (Chico, Golden); David Peralta, Arizona (Amarillo and Wichita, American Association; Rio Grande Valley, North American).

            *First professional game was in an Independent league.
            NR-Non-roster invitee.



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Monday, January 22, 2018

FOREIGN OPPORTUNITIES APPEALING AND NON-ROSTER INVITATIONS KEEP COMING


This Week in Independent Baseball

Foreign Money Is Intriguing

Veteran Tanner Scheppers has become the second American Association grad and at least the third former Independent Baseball hurler to leave the majors during this offseason in favor of a better opportunity overseas.  Scheppers, who recently turned 31, will make $800,000 to pitch for the Chiba Lotte Marines in Japan.  The Dallas Morning News first reported the news.

Scheppers, who started his professional career with four starts at St. Paul in 2009, had his best major league season in '13 when he won six of eight decisions and earned one save while posting a 1.88 earned run average in 76 appearances for the Texas Rangers, who drafted him out of Fresno State.  He has struggled to stay healthy in recent years, pitching in only 15 major league games the last two seasons.


Right-hander Tim Adleman (Lincoln and El Paso of the American Association and New Jersey of the Can-Am League) left his job with Cincinnati to pitch in Korea for the Samsung Lions and southpaw  Andrew Albers, who finished last season with Seattle, has gone to the Orix Buffaloes in Japan. 

The Latest Non-Roster Invitations

Pitchers dominate, as usual, as non-roster invitations continue to pile up for former Independent players to major league spring training camps.  Twelve of the 15 invitations we have seen are to hurlers.  This number will continue to grow as we head toward the opening of camps next month with less than half of the 30 teams making all of their announcements.  

The list so far as compiled by IndyBaseballChatter.com, with the major league team and the previous Indy affiliations:

Pitchers (12)--*Ryan Atkinson, Arizona (Evansville, Frontier League); Austin Bibens-Dirkx, Texas (Lancaster, Atlantic League, and Victoria, Golden League); Tyler Cloyd, Miami (Somerset, Atlantic);  Steve Delabar, Texas (Brockton, Can-Am League, and Florence, Frontier); Cody Hall, Tampa Bay (Lancaster); Mike Kickham, Miami (Kansas City, American Association);  Kevin Lenik, Kansas City (Windy City, Frontier); Brandon Mann, Texas (Fargo, American Association, and Lancaster); Jarret Martin, Oakland (Sussex County, Rockland and Ottawa, Can-Am League, and York, Atlantic); Vidal Nuno, Tampa Bay (Washington, Frontier); Marcus Walden, Boston (Lancaster); *Eric Yardley, San Diego (Trinidad and Taos, Pecos League).

            Infielders (2)--Steve Lombardozzi, Oakland (Southern Maryland, Atlantic); 1B Brandon Snyder, Tampa Bay (Southern Maryland).

            Outfielders (1)--Jeremy Barfield, Boston (Sugar Land and Camden, Atlantic).

            *First professional game was in an Independent league.



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Thursday, January 04, 2018

RIVERA A FREE AGENT, BUT A HERO IN PUERTO RICO

This Week in Independent Baseball

Heroism in Puerto Rico--Veteran catcher Rene Rivera (Camden, Atlantic League) is a free agent this winter after splitting his ninth major league season between the Mets and Cubs, but he has been a giant figure in his homeland of Puerto Rico, where even the regular baseball season could not be salvaged after the devastating hurricane that still has many people without power.  He made good on a promise to spread goodwill by delivering $25,000 worth of toys collected in the U.S. to some 100 communities.  "It has been a week full of beautiful & humbling experiences", the 34-year-old tweeted, explaining "we were able to do 12 towns, 60 schools, 100 communities & over 25,000 kids." By the way, the Puerto Rican League is playing an abbreviated schedule this month without imports leading up to defending its Caribbean Series title the first week of February.

More Spring Training Invitations--The latest players with Indy time to receive non-roster invitations to major league camps are lefty Jarret Martin (Sussex County, Rockland and Ottawa, all in the Can-Am League, and York of the Atlantic League) with Oakland and first baseman Brandon Snyder (Southern Maryland, Atlantic) with Tampa Bay.

Byrdak Gets a Degree, Finally--Tim Byrdak pitched for five major league teams before retiring a few years ago, now the southpaw reliever has taken advantage of his educational fund to earn a degree from Robert Morris University.  "Twenty years in the making," the 44-year-old told the Daily Southtown newspaper.  "Now I have to find a job."  He has a plan:  "During the course of my career I had injuries here and there and rehab processes and that type of deal trying to survive.  I want to work with kids and teach them proper mechanics and teach them to the best of my ability to keep them off the operating table." His career was not too shabby, either.  Byrdak appeared in 479 major league games, winning 13 times and saving four other contests.


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