Wednesday, July 21, 2021

INDEPENDENT LEAGUES WELL REPRESENTED IN OLYMPICS

Travel anywhere that baseball is played at a high level, and the Independent leagues will be represented.

This includes the resumption of the sport in the Japan Olympics starting this week.  Our list most likely is incomplete, yet 11 Indy vets, some from this season, have been identified on Olympic rosters.  Israel and the Dominican Republic have the heaviest representation.  The United States and Mexico also have former Independent players.  Japan and Korean rosters have not been reviewed.

Israel has three infielders and an outfielder who played in non-affiliated leagues this season.  The outfielder is Blake Gailen, who started his extensive minor league career at Anderson in the South Coast League in 2007.  He was in 47 games for Lancaster of the Atlantic League this season (.273-9-47) before joining his Olympic teammates.  Gailen hit a robust .406 in 69 American Association games (Lincoln) in 2011 after also being at Chico of the former Golden League the two previous years.  He is well known in Lancaster, also playing there at least part of every season from '12-'18.

Israel's infielders include Mitch Glasser of Sioux Falls, who hit .345 while playing five different positions in 39 games in the American Association this campaign; Zach Penprase (.254-1-15, 14 stolen bases in 21 contests for New York of the Frontier League and major league veteran Danny Valencia, who went 3-for-18 in six games for Long Island of the Atlantic League.  Glasser's other Indy stops have included Joplin '15-'16, Cleburne '17, Gary '18, Sioux Falls '18-'19 all in the American Association and Joliet of the City of Champions Cup one year ago.  Penprase was a fixture at Fargo-Moorhead of the American Association for eight years ('08-'15).  Israel's Jeremy Bleich pitched in the Atlantic League (Somerset) in both '16 and '17.

The Dominican team includes catcher Charlie Valerio, who hit .263 in 11 games at Sioux Falls this season.  A career minor leaguer, Valerio also played at Fargo-Moorhead from '15-'18 and at Southern Maryland of the Atlantic League two years ago.  Infielder-outfielder Emilio Bonifacio, a longtime major leaguer, hit .348 in 70 games at Long Island in '18.  Southpaw Raul Valdes, now 43, won nine of 13 decisions combined between Nashua and New Jersey of the Can-Am League back in 2006. 

Mexico is represented by outfielder Jonathan Jones, who played in the American Association (Gary) in 2015 and the Atlantic League (New Britain) one year later.

The United States players with Independent time are veteran major league pitchers Scott Kazmir and David Robertson.  Kazmir, who was in three games with San Francisco this year, was at Sugar Land (Atlantic League) in '12 and spent some time with Eastern of the Constellation Energy League last season.

Newest Major Leaguers

Lefty Zac Rosscup, who was with the Lighning of the CEL for a time last season, is the newest name among Indy players to don a major league uniform.  He is with Colorado.

Outfielder Dillon Thomas (Texas, American Association) is enjoying a second stint of his rookie major league career with Seattle while hurlers Chris Mazza (Southern Maryland and San Rafael, Pacific Association) and Robert Stock (New Jersey, Can-Am, and Normal, Frontier League) are back up with Tampa Bay and the New York Mets, respectively.

     


Friday, July 09, 2021

Seven make majors after indy time, led by Cubs' Tommy Nance

Major league roster changes are made at such a furious pace these days if one blinks someone else is in the news.

One thing is certain, especially in these times when the big-league guys have trimmed their farm systems:  The majors need the Independent Leagues more than ever as proven by the fact more than 100 players have been purchased--many at escalated prices--already in 2021.  It also appears more of these onetime non-affiliated players are getting opportunities at baseball's highest level.

No less than seven Independent grads have made their major league debut already in 2021, only two below the final count in 2019, baseball's last full season.

The biggest story probably belongs to right-handed pitcher Tommy Nance even though the Chicago Cubs have sent the 30-year-old back to Triple-A Iowa for the time being.  Nance began his professional career in the Frontier League in 2015.  Ironically, it was at Windy City in Crestwood, IL which is not far from Wrigley Field.

The Santa Clara University product was exceptional for the major league Cubs when he appeared out of the bullpen 13 times without being charged with an earned run.  Nance had a 40-day stint with the Northsiders, then a brief recall and has a season log for 20 games of one victory, 23 strikeouts in 21.1 innings and a 5.06 earned run average which would be much lower except for a five-run outburst against him in only 1.2 innings at Milwaukee.

It seems likely he will be back.

THE OTHER SIX

Joining Tommy Nance with their major league debut this season are pitchers Anthony Bender (Sioux City and Milwaukee, American Association) with Miami, Mickey Jannis (Long Island, Southern Maryland and Bridgeport of the Atlantic League and Lake Erie in the Frontier) and Konner Wade (Sugar Land, Atlantic) with Baltimore, Vinny Nittoli (St. Paul, American Association) with Seattle, and Jack Cousins (Schaumburg, Frontier, and Chicago, American Association) with Milwaukee plus outfielder Dillon Thomas (Texas, American Association) with the Mariners.

Bender and Cousins still are in the majors.

PAIR OF PIRATES

Some of the best new opportunities this season for former Indy players belong to pitcher Chase DeJong and first baseman John Nogowski.

Nogowski is making the most of his new opportunity since St. Louis sent him to Pittsburgh days ago.  After facing a backlog at first base with the Cardinals, the onetime Sioux City (American Association) slugger has gone 7-for-12 (.583) with an RBI and three runs scored in his first three games for the Bucs.  He had one four-hit game.

DeJong (Sugar Land, Atlantic League, and Team Skeeters, Constellation Energy League) is taking a regular turn in the Pittsburgh rotation with a 1-3 record and 5.08 ERA for seven starts.

15 IN MAJORS PLUS 7 ON INJURED LIST

Other recent additions to major league rosters are hurlers D. J. Johnson (Traverse City, Frontier) with Cleveland and Ian Krol (Nerds Herd, City of Champions Cup League) with Detroit.  Righty Trevor Richards (Gateway, Frontier) has changed uniforms, going from Tampa Bay to Toronto.

Thirty-one former Independent players have had time in the majors or on injured lists this season with 15 active heading into the weekend before the All-Star Game and another seven out with injuries.



Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Perhaps Not Another Mercedes, But Anthony Bender a New Major Leaguer

            While it seems totally safe to say nothing is going to top Yermin Mercedes's amazing production for the Chicago White Sox in terms of contributions from Independent Baseball graduates during the 2021 season, it always will be a Red Letter Day when another name is added for the very first time to an active major league roster.

            Anthony Bender became the 274th Independent player since 1993 (Source: IndyBaseballChatter) to pull on a major league uniform this week.  The right-handed pitcher, whose sinker averaged more than 97 miles per hour during spring training according to Statcast, joined the Miami Marlins.  At the age of 24, Bender pitched two games for Sioux City in the American Association in 2019 after four years in the Kansas City and Milwaukee farm systems, then spent two months last summer with that league's Milwaukee Milkmen (2-1, 5.48 for 22 appearances).

            Twenty-five other players with Independent experience have experienced major league time (or been on injured lists) so far this young season, but Bender is the first to get his initial opportunity at baseball's top level.

            Meanwhile, Mercedes, the catcher-DH who came out of the unheralded Pecos League (Douglas and White Sands) and the onetime United League (San Angelo) and became the American League's Rookie Position Player of the Month for April, saw his imposing season average drop to .386--roughly 150 points above the major league average--when he pinch hit Wednesday afternoon in Chicago's 10-inning, 1-0 loss at Cincinnati.

            Mercedes started the season with hits in his first eight times at bat, a feat the Elias Sports Bureau reported has not been accomplished in the majors since at least 1900.  He made his major league debut with a single at bat last season.

            "I think he was upset when he made the out (ninth at bat),” said White Sox manager Tony La Russa, who has been in the game for 60 years, told MLB.com at the time.  “And it’s clutch. That’s the thing, it’s not just for show. He’s putting us in a great position to win."

            Two other Indy grads who have been called back up to the majors recently are righty James Hoyt (American Association and North American League) by the Los Angeles Angels and infielder Ildemaro Vargas (Atlantic League) by the Chicago Cubs.

Other Moves

            One of the Independent game's best recent finds, hurler Tanner Roark (Southern Illinois, Frontier League), is a free agent after being let go by Toronto.  He has won 10 or more games five times since his major league debut nine years ago, compiling a 76-68, 3.85 record mostly in starting roles for the Blue Jays and three other teams. 

            Former major league pitcher Tim Adleman (Lincoln and El Paso, American Association; New Jersey, Can-Am League; Long Island, Atlantic) came off the free agent roles and is listed in Cincinnati's alternate training site.  Shortstop Peter Mooney, another New Jersey Jackals product, has a new minor league contract from Miami.   

Friday, April 02, 2021

INDEPENDENT BASEBALL CLAIMS 16 SPOTS ON MAJOR LEAGUE ROSTERS; 4 OTHERS INJURED

            Two players with a single game of major league experience are among the 16 onetime Independent Baseball graduates who have opened the regular season with big-league jobs, the annual review by IndyBaseballChatter.com has revealed.  Another four are on the injured list.

            First baseman John Nogowski, who played at Sioux City in the American Association in 2017, hit a robust .333 (11-for-33) with a .477 on-base percentage this spring to land a bench job with St. Louis.  Yermin Mercedes is one of the trio of catchers on the Chicago White Sox 26-man active list after he hit .277 (13-for-51) in spring training.  Mercedes spent all of 2014 in the Pecos (Douglas and White Sands) and United (San Angelo) Leagues for a renewed start on his pro career after three seasons in the Dominican Summer League under the Washington Nationals banner.

            Nogowski went 1-for-4 in his only game with the Cardinals last season while Mercedes got a single at bat (0-for-1) in his initial major league contest.

            Thirteen of the 16 major leaguers are pitchers, and the American Association dominates with 10 players out of its circuit, eight more than from any other league.

            Pitchers (13)--Ross Detwiler, Miami (York, Atlantic League);  *Randy Dobnak, Minnesota (Utica, United Shore League);  Junior Guerra, Los Angeles-AL (Wichita, American Association);  Rich Hill, Tampa Bay  (Long Island, Atlantic);   Brandon Kintzler, Philadelphia (St. Paul, American Association, and Winnipeg, when in the Northern League); *Chris Martin, Atlanta (Grand Prairie, American Association); Tyler Matzek, Atlanta (Texas, American Association);   *James Paxton, Seattle (Grand Prairie);  *Tanner Roark, Toronto (Southern Illinois, Frontier League);  Chaz Roe, Tampa Bay (Laredo, American Association);  *Max Scherzer, Washington (Fort Worth, American Association);  Caleb Thielbar, Minnesota (St. Paul);  *Eric Yardley, Milwaukee (Trinidad and Taos, Pecos League).

                Position Players (3)--C Yermin Mercedes, Chicago-AL (Douglas and White Sands, Pecos, and San Angelo, United League);  1B John Nogowski, St. Louis (Sioux City, American Association);  OF David Peralta, Arizona (Amarillo and Wichita, American Association, and Rio Grande Valley, North American League).         

                Injured List (4)--RHP*Nick Anderson, Tampa Bay (Rockford and Frontier Greys, Frontier); RHP John Brebbia, San Francisco (Sioux Falls and Laredo, American Association);  OF Jose Martinez, New York-NL (Rockford, Frontier);  RHP Justin Topa, Milwaukee (Rockland, Can-Am League).

                *Started career in an Independent league

Monday, March 29, 2021

Nogowski, Dobnak, Thielbar Have Majors Jobs, Others Still Hopeful

        It is still about 72 hours until the cry of Play Ball becomes real so much can happen as major league teams juggle their rosters to get to the 26-man Opening Day limit.

        But considerable positive news already is known for some of the former Independent Baseball players who started spring training last month hoping to survive all of the painful cuts before April 1.

        --Onetime Sioux City (American Association) first baseman John Nogowski has officially landed a bench job with St. Louis after a terrific spring.  He will be a pinch hitter as well as a backup at first base and the corner outfield positions.

       --The United Shore League's No. 1 find, right-hander Randy Dobnak, has given the Independent ranks another bragging point by not only sticking with Minnesota but garnering a five-year contract extension that reportedly could amount to nearly $30 million.  He pitched for Utica in the Michigan-based league.

            --Southpaw Caleb Thielbar's persistence has paid off with a second consecutive time in the Twins' bullpen at age 34, but only after he returned to St. Paul (American Association) for two seasons (2016-17) after his first stint of two-plus years with the American Association team had ended.  He tried to make it with two other organizations after his second time in St. Paul.

       --All signs point to veteran reliever Brandon Kintzler (St. Paul plus Winnipeg when it was still in the Northern League) being in Philadelphia's bullpen although the team has not officially promoted him from his non-roster status in spring training.

       Some of the decisions still to be made are whether righty Chase DeJong (Sugar Land, Atlantic League) will stick with Pittsburgh despite a solid spring, will lefty Scott Kazmir (Sugar Land) land a comeback role with San Francisco and can veteran Luis Garcia (Newark, Can-Am League) squeeze his way onto the New York Yankees bullpen.  Miami seems ready to keep both James Hoyt and Ross Detwiler in the bullpen with first-timer Anthony Bender, another Sioux City product, still in the picture.

       There have been disappointments, of course, with No. 1 probably being Tampa Bay's shelving Indy native Nick Anderson (Rockford and Frontier Greys, Frontier League) for at least 60 days because of elbow problems.  Marcus Walden of Boston, Andrew Albers of Minnesota and Mike Kickham of the Los Angeles Dodgers had some excellent outings this spring, but could not nail down jobs, at least to start the season.

       Still others decisions loom prior to Thursday's openers, and IndyBaseballChatter.com will track those as part of our annual list of all Independent players who will open in the majors.