Wednesday, August 21, 2019

IT IS MAGIC TIME AS THESE INDEPENDENT GRADS REACH THE MAJORS

Could it be that this is turning into one of Independent Baseball's most magical years for getting players to the major leagues?

Thirty-seven onetime Indy players were active on major league rosters all of last season.  The count for 2019 already has climbed to 35 with several weeks to go, including the September opportunity with expanded rosters still to play out.

Even if the count does not get much bigger because of the challenge of finding open spots on 40-man rosters, the year has considerable magic.  Check out these reasons:

1.  Eight players have made their major league debut this season.
2.  Three of them are greater prizes since they started their professional career in an Independent league.
3.  Three others already have experienced the rarity of playing in an Indy circuit and then in the majors in the same season.

Oh, and it is not just the Fab Four of established leagues (Atlantic, American Association, Can-Am, Frontier) getting the thrill of seeing their players reach The Show.   The United Shore, Pacific Association and Pecos League all have contributed.

The Pecos League could smile once more today when right-handed pitcher Eric Yardley, who turned 29 only three days ago, got his first major league call to join the San Diego Padres.  Yardley came out of Seattle University in 2013, and when offers did not come along from a major league organization the Richland, WA native joined Taos and Trinidad for three and four-game stints, respectively.  The Padres made him part of their organization later that season, and the 6-foot hurler started making his way up thru the farm system where he toiled every season.  His debut Wednesday afternoon became a struggle when he was charged with three runs (only one was earned) in one-third inning of relief in which he was tabbed with the 4-2 loss to Cincinnati, but he now will be listed in every future Baseball Encyclopedia regardless of what the rest of the season involves.

Righty Randy Dobnak took a similar route from Division II Alderson-Broaddus College in West Virginia to the Utica Unicorns of the young United Shore League two seasons ago, and the 24-year-old progressed through three levels of Minnesota's farm system this season to join the postseason-likely Twins for a short time this month.  He got into only one major league game before being optioned to Triple-A Rochester, but with four scoreless innings against rival Cleveland it would seem he will be back before long.

The third--and most successful of the three who started in Independent play and debuted in the majors this season--is still another right-hander, Nick Anderson, who started with Miami before being dealt to Tampa Bay at the trade deadline.  He now ranks highly in the Rays' prized bullpen, which may well pitch them into the American League playoffs.  Anderson appeared in his 54th game Wednesday afternoon, working a scoreless inning for his ninth hold as the Rays edged Seattle by a run.  Anderson has gaudy strikeout numbers with 87 in 52.2 innings while compiling a 4-4 record and 3.25 ERA for the season.  The Frontier League was his launch site as he worked for the traveling Frontier Greys as well as for Rockford.

The others making major league debuts this season have been infielder Ryan Court and pitchers Zac Grotz, Parker Markel, Chris Mazza (San Rafael, Pacific Association, in addition to Southern Maryland of the Atlantic League) and Tayler Scott.

Court and pitchers Tim Melville and Ross Detwiler have made the climb from the Atlantic League to the majors this season.  Court was with Sugar Land, Detwiler with York and Melville joined Colorado after earlier playing for Long Island.

Melville, who has five previous major league appearances in other seasons with three other teams, appeared well on his way to his first career victory as this post was being written.  He had given up only one run and two hits in seven innings and also had driven in two runs as the Rockies were winning handily at Arizona, 7-1.


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Monday, July 01, 2019

NEW MAJOR LEAGUERS DETWILER AND MAZZA HAVE TAKEN DIFFERENT PATHS

For similarities, Ross Detwiler and Chris Mazza are pitchers who have been added to active major league rosters in the last few days after working for Independent league teams.

But the similarities end at this point, and not only because Detwiler is a southpaw and Mazza a righty.  Detwiler is a 33-year-old returning to the majors where he already had 191 career appearances, including 84 starts, spread over 12 seasons (2007-2018).  Mazza is 29 without any previous trips to the majors.

Here are some details:

For a little chuckle since baseball often produces oddities, Detwiler could not win in the Atlantic League this season, yet his first time to the mound for the Chicago White Sox--his seventh major league team--resulted in a win, his 25th in the big time although his first since '16 when he won twice for Oakland.

Detwiler held the Minnesota Twins, owners of one of the game's top offenses, to two runs and six hits over five innings to help the White Sox end a seven-game losing streak to their American League rival, 6-4, in the Windy City.

"This was awesome, especially to do it here in Chicago," Detwiler told MLB.com.  "It just feels great to be here.  Been back to the minors a little bit, Indy ball.  It's been a tough road, but we're here."

He has received a trip back to the majors for two consecutive years (Seattle in '18) after working for the York Revolution in the Atlantic League.  He was the Opening Day starter for York this season, and had made three starts (0-0, 2.81) before the White Sox purchased his contract and sent him to Triple-A Charlotte.

Mazza had pitched in the minor leagues since 2012 without getting an opportunity in the majors.  His stops included time in both the Pacific Association (San Rafael) and Atlantic League (Southern Maryland) last year, before he was taken by Seattle in the Rule 5 draft, then shuttled to the New York Mets, who gave the 6-foot-4 hurler an opportunity this season.

His first major league opportunity came against National League East-leading Atlanta last Friday, and he did not disappoint.  Mazza allowed only one run and five hits (no walks) in four innings.  What a feeling.

"To finally get here, it's like an overwhelming excitement," he told MLB.com.

Mazza, who was a combined 3-5,3.59 in a dozen starts between the Mets' top two farm clubs before his call came, and he was watching the National League team on television when Syracuse manager Tony DeFrancesco called with the long-awaited news.

"I'm trying to hold back tears as I'm trying to listen to instructions of what I've got to do", he recalled.  "That was a pretty emotional roller-coaster.  After that, I just called my dad and let it out a little bit."

Why not? Well deserved.


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Tuesday, June 11, 2019

EXCITING TIMES AS MAJORS REACH HEAVILY INTO INDEPENDENT RANKS AND FIRST SOUTH AFRICAN PITCHER DEBUTS

The highlight so far in the relatively young Independent season has to be the run by major league organizations to grab an abundance of talent, especially from the Atlantic League and the American Association.  It reinforces--if that is needed--just how much the majors look these days to the non-affiliated leagues for players who have escaped their watchful eyes or need a renewed opportunity to prove that they can play at a high level.

But I must admit another of the joys of doing this blog and writing about Indy players is seeing new barriers reached.

This happened again in this month of June when 27-year-old right-handed pitcher Tayler Scott became the very first native of South Africa to pitch in a major league game.

Scott, who spent a sizeable part of 2016 pitching for the Sioux City Explorers, did not have much upper level impact in the major league system until he had been in the American Association.  One season after he turned in his tidiest earned run average (1.88) in his 23 games for Steve Montgomery's club he reached Triple-A for the first time for the Texas Rangers.

Now, two years later the 6-foot-3 Johannesburg native has "major leaguer" by his name, even though the baptism for Seattle saw him give up three earned runs in 2.2 relief innings against the Los Angeles Angels.

"It's been a big accomplishment to be the first pitcher from South Africa (in the majors)", he told that country's The South African newspaper.  "It's pretty amazing".

Infielder Gift Ngoepe is the only other South Africa native to make it to the majors, playing for both Pittsburgh and Toronto and a current Philadelphia minor leaguer. 

"When he first signed, he (Ngoepe) was 16 so I was (two years) younger", Scott told the newspaper.  "It kind of opened my eyes that you were able to do that and go play baseball in America.  We came up to a baseball camp when I was 15, and from then on, I realized that's what I wanted to do".

Three players from the Independent ranks have played in the majors for the first time so far this season with another Sioux City pitcher, Parker Markel, also debuting with the Mariners.  A third right-hander, Nick Anderson, who broke into pro baseball in the Frontier League (Rockford and the traveling Frontier Greys), has been with Miami all season.  He is 2-2, 4.39 for 27 appearances.

Hectic Pace of Signings by Majors

An unofficial count shows 21 players with time in the Atlantic League and 13 with American Association experience have had their contracts purchased by major league organizations since the end of March with the Frontier and Can-Am Leagues also contributing to the impressive list.




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Saturday, March 30, 2019

NINETEEN FORMER INDEPENDENT PLAYERS START SEASON IN MAJORS

         With pitchers continuing to dominate, 19 players who have played in one or more Independent leagues started the season in the major leagues, an increase of two over one year ago.  This includes southpaw Rich Hill, who is on the Los Angeles Dodgers' Injured List but likely will return to the starting rotation when he is activated.

         Only three position players are in the group, including Arizona infielder Ildemaro Vargas (Atlantic League), who was recalled from Triple-A at the last minute.

         The American Association contributed eight of the 19 with the Frontier League next with five and the Can-Am League third with a trio of pitchers.  The Frontier contingent includes Miami right-hander Nick Anderson, in the majors for the first time after starting his pro career in Rockford, IL.  He is one of six players on the list who played their first game in an Indy league.

         Thirty-seven Indy players were in the majors at some time last year.

         The entire list, including the major league team and the Independent affiliations: 

         Pitchers (15 + 1 IL)--*Nick Anderson, Miami (Frontier Greys and Rockford, Frontier League); John Brebbia, St. Louis (Sioux Falls and Laredo, American Association); Jon Edwards, Cleveland (Alpine, Pecos League, and San Angelo, North American League); Wilmer Font, Tampa Bay (Ottawa, Can-Am League); Luis Garcia, Los Angeles-AL (Newark, Can-Am); Junior Guerra, Milwaukee (Wichita, American Association); #-Rich Hill, Los Angeles-NL (Long Island, Atlantic League); D. J. Johnson, Colorado (Traverse City, Frontier); Brandon Kintzler, Chicago-NL (St. Paul, American Association, and Winnipeg, then Northern League); *Chris Martin, Texas (Grand Prairie, American Association); *James Paxton, New York-AL (Grand Prairie); *Trevor Richards, Miami (Gateway, Frontier); *Tanner Roark, Cincinnati (Southern Illinois, Frontier); Chaz Roe, Tampa Bay (Laredo); *Max Scherzer, Washington (Fort Worth, American Association); Robert Stock, San Diego (New Jersey, Can-Am).

            Position Players (3)--OF-1B Jose Martinez, St. Louis (Rockford); OF David Peralta, Arizona (Amarillo and Wichita, American Association; Rio Grande Valley, North American); INF Ildemaro Vargas, Arizona (Bridgeport, Atlantic).

            *First professional game was in an Independent league.

            #Is on the injured list.

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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

FRONTIER LEAGUE FIND TREVOR RICHARDS HAS HOT HAND WITH MARLINS

             The Frontier League may get pushed to the background at times since other Independent leagues cater more to older, more experienced players, but it is a huge mistake to overlook the oldest Indy circuit--this is Year 26--for its production of major leaguers.

            This is the case right now, barely a week before all 30 major league teams start playing for keeps, as another of the Frontier League's pitchers makes major noise with Miami with a second right-hander not far behind, also with the youthful Marlins.

            It is not easy for new faces to squeeze their way onto 25-man Opening Day rosters, but this pair among the 51 onetime Independent players in major league spring training camps may be exceptions.  Nearly a dozen of the 51 only needed to stay healthy to retain their jobs at baseball's top level while the other three dozen or so really had to impress in spring training to win a position.

            The Frontier League already has Cincinnati pitcher Tanner Roark (Southern Illinois) and St. Louis first baseman-outfielder Jose Martinez (Rockford) well established in the bigs.  Trevor Richards could easily come next with another hurler, Nick Anderson, in the mix.  Like Roark, this pair are especially meaningful to the Independent leagues since they played their very first professional games without benefit of a major league organization behind them.

            The 25-year-old Richards broke into the majors last season, only two summers after being signed out of the Frontier League (Gateway), and started 25 times for the youthful Marlins (4-9, 4.42).  He has really stepped it up in the past month.

            As veteran MLB.com writer Joe Frisaro put it:  He (Richards) "has been lined up as the fifth starter.  But the way he's thrown in spring training he's making a case to move up to No. 2."         

            The masterpiece on his Florida log came last Sunday when he threw six no-hit innings against the Cardinals, bringing his spring earned run average to 1.86 with 20 strikeouts while limiting batters to eight hits and four walks in 19.1 innings.  The batting average against him is a measly .125.

            "It's been happening (for Richards) all spring," manager Don Mattingly told MLB.com.  "We've seen adding the (new) pitches and what it can do for him.  It's trending in the right direction."

            Richards said "we'll go mainly fastball, curveball, changeup, and we're toying with a fourth one, but we'll see how that one comes along."  The change has been his bread and butter, with a .165 average against it last season.

            Anderson learned the pitching ropes in the Frontier League between 2012 when he came out of North Dakota's Mayville State and 2015, toiling first for Rockford, then for the travel team, the Greys, and climbed the minor league ladder with Minnesota, including 88 strikeouts in only 60 Triple-A innings last season (8-2, 3.30).  He moved into the major league picture when he joined Miami and the Marlins added him to their 40-man roster, a feat achieved by zero other Independent players not already at that level during the offseason.

            He has done just fine in spring training, striking out nine without walking anyone in 6.1 innings while posting a 4.26 ERA.

            The Marlins have still two more onetime Independent hurlers in camp and doing well although it may not be good enough to make the Opening Day roster.  They are southpaws Mike Kickham (Kansas City, American Association) and Brian Moran (Bridgeport, Atlantic League).  Kickham has a 1.50 ERA after six appearances (6.0 innings) and Moran is at 2.45 after five outings, allowing only one hit in collecting eight outs.

Some Other Hopefuls


            Other former Independent players making solid bids for major league jobs include relievers Marcus Walden of Boston and Eric Yardley of San Diego and infielders Emilio Bonifacio of Tampa Bay and Ildemaro Vargas of Arizona.  Yardley spent time with Trinidad and Taos of the youth-oriented Pecos League while the others were in the Atlantic League.  Walden was at Lancaster, Vargas at Bridgeport and Bonifacio at Long Island, the latter just last season.


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