Wednesday, October 07, 2020

OH, THOSE (INDEPENDENT) RELIEVERS DAZZLING IN MLB POSTSEASON

Both the NL Division Series between Atlanta and Miami and the ALDS tussle featuring Tampa Bay and the New York Yankees are terrific showcases for the type of relief pitchers Independent Baseball can brag about these days. 

The Braves and Marlins both have a pair of bullpen stars with Indy experience. With Atlanta holding the upper hand entering play Wednesday, southpaw Tyler Matzek and righty Chris Martin are key pieces for getting crucial outs. Matzek was with the Texas AirHogs in the American Association as recently as last season, harnessing his control and preparing for a comeback in the majors after a five-year absence. He struck out three in a row in a key spot for Atlanta in its Game 1 win after being among baseball's busiest relievers during the regular season. 

The same is true for the 6-foot-8 Martin, who started his professional career in the same location although the team was known in those days as the Grand Prairie AirHogs. 

On the suddenly impressive Marlins, Brandon Kintzler (St. Paul, American Association, and Winnipeg when the Goldeyes still were in the Northern League) is the closer. Another right-hander, James Hoyt, has finally started earning important innings after previously struggling to get enough outings during stints with Houston and Cleveland. He also pitched in the American Association (Wichita) although his pro career started in another Indy circuit, the North American League. 

The third reliever in the postseason who got his very first professional opportunity in a non-major league-affiliated league is looking like he could become the best of the group. Right-hander Nick Anderson is being called on whenever the Tampa Bay Rays face their toughest challenges regardless of the inning. Such was the case in Tuesday's second game against the Yankees when the Rays virtually had to win. 

Anderson entered the game with the tying run at the plate in the top of the seventh and promptly struck out Gary Sanchez, DJ LeMahieu and Aaron Judge. He also pitched a 1-2-3 eighth in the 7-4 victory. 

He was a Frontier League find, pitching for the road-only Frontier Greys as well as Rockford, IL.  

Umpire, Broadcaster Also Step Up 

The Independent Leagues have contributed others to the postseason including umpire Will Little and TV broadcaster Adam Amin. The latter, who gets important play-by-play roles regularly in both football and basketball for ESPN, spent years learning his trade with the Somerset (NJ) Patriots of the Atlantic League. He called Game 1 between Atlanta and Miami.

Friday, September 25, 2020

AT LEAST 9 ONETIME INDEPENDENT LEAGUE PLAYERS APPEAR HEADED TO THE POSTSEASON

This is truly a moving target because several teams are on the edge toward earning major league baseball postseason berths and roster changes are still being made daily. But as of late Friday, IndyBaseballChatteris tabbing nine former Independent Baseball players as likely eligibles for next week's first round of the 16-team playoffs. Here are those most likely participants by team with the Independent connections in parenthesis: 

ATLANTA--RHP Chris Martin (Grand Prairie, American Association) and LHP Tyler Matzek (Texas, American Association). Note: Matzek was in the American Association last season. 

MIAMI--RHPs Brandon Kintzler (St. Paul, American Association, and Winnipeg, when it was in the Northern League) and James Hoyt (Yuma and Edinburg, North American League, and Wichita, American Association. RHP Brett Eibner was designated for assignment earlier this week. 

MINNESOTA--LHP Rich Hill (Long Island, Atlantic League) and Caleb Thielbar (St. Paul). RHP Randy Dobnak (Utica, United Shore League) has been a starter most of the season, but currently is in the alternate training site. 

TAMPA BAY--RHP Nick Anderson (Frontier Greys and Rockford, Frontier League). RHP Trevor Richards (Gateway, Frontier League) has been shuttling between the Rays and their alternate training site, where he is at present. RHP Chaz Roe is on the disabled list. 

CHICAGO-NL--1B Jose Martinez (Rockford). INF Ildemaro Vargas is on the injured list, but could return. 

 TORONTO--RHP Tanner Roark (Southern Illinois, Frontier League). RHP Wilmer Font was designated for assignment earlier this week.   

Other Possibilities--RHP Chase DeLong (Sugar Land, Atlantic League, and Team Skeeters, Constellation Energy League, was returned to Houston's alternate training site recently. If Milwaukee slips into the playoffs, it should bring RHPs Eric Yardley (Trinidad and Taos, Pecos League) and Justin Topa (Rockland, Can-Am League) into action. 

The Chicago White Sox designated LHP Ross Detwiler for assignment this week after being with the team all season. Another lefty, James Paxton, is on the New York Yankees' 60-day injured list. 

Anderson, Hoyt, Martin, Paxton, Roark, Richards and Yardley all started their professional career in Indy leagues. 

Among the nine most likely postseason eligibles five played in the American Association and three in the Frontier League.

Monday, August 17, 2020

JOHN NOGOWSKI JOINS ST. LOUIS, EARNS SOME ATTENTION FOR INDEPENDENT LEAGUE POSITION PLAYERS

Pitchers almost always seem to dominate when discussing the former Independent Baseball players who have made it to the major leagues.  That could easily be the case today, too, but the hurlers must step aside for moment because the newest player to reach baseball's pinnacle is a hitter.

The new man in the spotlight--the 266th on the distinguished list maintained by IndyBaseballChatter--is St. Louis Cardinals first baseman John Nogowski.  The 27-year-old, a combo who throws left but hits right-handed and debuted with a 1-for-4 game in the Cards' 7-2 loss to the Chicago White Sox Sunday, dominated the American Association (Sioux City) in May and June of 2017 to get St. Louis's attention.  He hit .402 and had a .482 on-base percentage in 34 games for the Explorers, driving in 28 runs in that span.

Nogowski, who played in college at Florida State, hit .295 in Double-A the rest of '17 season, .309 one year later and .295 for Triple-A Memphis one year ago.

In the meantime, Indy grads have been posting some very imposing numbers on the mound in the majors.  Randy Dobnak broke into the pro ranks in the United Shore League (Utica), and he has won four of five decisions for Minnesota with a 1.42 earned run average for his first five starts of the season.  Among relievers, Ross Detwiler (York, Atlantic League) has not allowed an earned run in 11.1 innings for the Chicago White Sox (1-0, only 4 hits), the Pecos League's Eric Yardley (Trinidad and Taos) has a win and a 0.96 ERA in 9.1 innings for Milwaukee and Tyler Matzek (Texas, American Association) has won 2 of 3 decisions for Atlanta and had not given up any runs in spring training or the regular season until the New York Yankees got him for two tallies last week.  His ERA is 1.64. 

Detwiler and Matzek were in their Independent leagues for part of the last two seasons.

Recent Promotions

Three pitchers were promoted back to the majors in recent days.  Chris Mazza (Southern Maryland, Atlantic League) started for Boston Sunday night at Yankee Stadium, Brian Moran (Bridgeport, Atlantic) is with Miami and Trevor Richards (Gateway, Frontier League) is with Tampa Bay.

Summer League Signees

The newly-created leagues that are filling gaps during this COVID-19 time period while some of the regular Independent leagues are not operating are producing new opportunities with major league organizations.

The most recent of at least five players who have gotten fresh opportunities is former major league hurler Dietrich Enns.  Tampa Bay inked Enns Sunday and sent him directly to the Rays' alternate training team, from which he could be promoted to the American League team.

Emms had gone 2-0 with a 0.72 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 25 innings while doubling as pitching coach for the Tully Monster team managed by onetime major leaguer Scott Spiezio in the City of Champions Cup organized by the Frontier League's Joliet (IL) Slammers.

For more baseball chatter take a look at https://sportsdomainlab.com or the site's Twitter or Facebook pages of the same name.

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

INDY GRADS BENEFIT FROM MARLINS' VIRUS ISSUES


While the COVID-19 surge that shut down the Miami Marlins for more than a week was a devastating blow for Don Mattingly's young team it has proven to be a fortunate break for two former Independent Baseball pitchers and could help still others.

Hard-throwing James Hoyt and southpaw Brian Moran have new baseball lives with the Marlins organization that may well not have happened without the pandemic which stopped nearly 20 Miami players in their tracks.
In these fluid times in the major leagues hardly a day goes by without transactions that involve those who have been in Indy leagues at some time, with intriguing recent stories involving Caleb Thielbar's first major league opportunity in five years and United League/Pecos League find Yermin Mercedes debut, if only for a day.

Hoyt, who started his professional career in the North American League and American Association back in 2012, did not make Cleveland's Opening Day roster and shortly after was designated for assignment by the Indians.  He seems to have gotten a break in that he was sold to Miami and is on the Marlins' active roster.  Moran, who has pitched in the Atlantic League (Bridgeport), had a similar fate after opening the season with Toronto.  He has not been added to Miami's active roster as yet, but he is on the team's 40-man roster and at the alternate training site and seems likely to get the opportunity.

Thielbar, now 33, has had a long career jumping back and forth between the American Association's St. Paul Saints and the Minnesota Twins, and the left-hander was promoted from the American League team's alternate training site team to the parent club Monday.  He appeared in 109 games for Minnesota during the period 2013-15 (5-3, 2.74), but has been back with the Saints since ('16-'17) as well as spending time in the Detroit and Atlanta farm systems.

The Mercedes story is one of the rare ones in that the catcher started out with three seasons in the Dominican Summer League followed by 2014 in lower level Independent leagues (United and Pecos).  He earned three seasons in the Baltimore farm system and joined the Chicago White Sox chain in '18, but he did not even reach Triple-A until last season.  The White Sox had him on the 40-man roster and with their alternate training team until Sunday when the 5-foot-11, 235-pound hopeful finally got a call to the majors.  Mercedes got one time at bat, then was sent back to the alternate group.  Hopefully, more opportunities will come along.

Some Other Moves

Boston called up Chris Mazza (Southern Maryland, Atlantic League, and San Rafael, Pacific Association) to join its struggling mound corps and another right-hander, Justin Topa (Rockland, Can-Am League), has been promoted to Milwaukee's alternate training team.  Pitcher Wilmer Font (Ottawa, Can-Am) has been activated from the injured list by Toronto while catcher Rene Rivera (Camden, Atlantic) and lefty Rich Hill (Long Island, Atlantic) have gone on 10-day lists of the New York Mets and Minnesota, respectively.

Two players who were in the newly-created Constellation Energy League in Sugar Land, TX, have been obtained by major league organizations. Veteran major league reliever Fernando Rodney has joined Houston's alternate training team and pitcher-outfielder Brett Eibner has done the same with Miami.  Eibner, who has played the outfield for three major league teams, was a two-way player for Texas of the American Association and the Sugar Land Skeeters of the Atlantic League last season.

Tampa Bay dropped hurler Trevor Richards (Gateway, Frontier League) from its active roster, sending him to the alternate training squad.

Stay tuned.  More moves are inevitable. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

MAJOR LEAGUE COUNT CLIMBS TO 24 AND 4 ADDED TO ALTERNATE TRAINING SITE

Only five days into the major league season and the tally of former Independent players on active major league rosters has improved to 24, with four new additions to the Alternate Training Site rosters including one player who started his professional career in an unaffiliated league.

One of the additions to active duty was an oversight in our Opening Day report in that we overlooked veteran utilityman Emilio Bonifacio, who is with the 2019 World Series champion Washington Nationals.  The 35-year-old Bonifacio, who plays both the infield and outfield, is a longtime major leaguer although he played 70 games with the Long Island Ducks of the Atlantic League two years ago.  The switch-hitter was leading the Atlantic League when his contract was sold to Milwaukee, hitting a robust .348 with 95 hits and 34 runs batted in.

Toronto has added its third pitcher with Indy experience, activating right-hander Wilmer Font (Ottawa, Can-Am League) off the 10-day injured list.

The count of Independent players in the Alternate Training Camps is up to 18 with Boston adding hurler Robert Stock (New Jersey, Can-Am League, and Normal, Frontier League) after he was designated for assignment by Philadelphia.  He is on the Red Sox's 40-man roster.

Oakland added righty Ben Bracewell (River City, Frontier), southpaw Fernando Abad (Long Island) is now in the New York Yankees second tier camp after being released by Washington and veteran free agent outfielder Travis Snider (another former Long Island player) signed with Miami and was invited to the Marlins' camp.  Snider was a non-roster invitee with Arizona during spring training.

Bracewell deserves special credit in that he broke into the professional game with River City in '14, the same season he finished a two-year stint at Mississippi State.  The 29-year-old native of Alabama made four starts (1-0, 7.56) with the Rascals before joining the Oakland farm system where he has been ever since.  At 6-foot, Bracewell spent most of last season at Triple-A Las Vegas, posting a 3.13 ERA (1-3 record, two saves) in the often offensive-minded Pacific Coast League.  All but one of his 41 appearances were in relief and he struck out 70 PCL hitters in 72 innings.  He was a non-roster invitee to the Athletics' major league spring training camp.

Congratulations to the Atlantic League

It was announced today (Tuesday) that Gastonia, NC, which previously had an affiliated minor league team, will become part of the Atlantic League next season when the city opens a new 5,000-seat stadium.  The league already has another North Carolina-based team (High Point).