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). 

Friday, July 24, 2020

2019 AMERICAN ASSOCIATION HURLER AMONG 5 INDY GRADS WHO MAKE JUMP TO MAJORS

The major leagues' so-called Summer Camp turned out to be a bonanza for at least five players with Independent Baseball playing experience, with the American Association's bounce-back lefty Tyler Matzek topping the list.

Matzek, who pitched for the Texas AirHogs for significant time each of the last two years in his quest to overcome wildness and other issues and return to the majors for the first time since the '15 season, backed up his terrific spring training during Summer Camp to earn a spot on the Atlanta Braves' 30-man Opening Day roster.

Matzek was one of five onetime Indy players who began the re-start of training without a spot on the coveted 40-man roster who is on an active major league roster for the official start to the 2020 season.  The others making the grade are pitchers Ross Detwiler with the Chicago White Sox, Brian Moran with Toronto, Pittsburgh's Nik Turley and catcher Rene Rivera with the New York Mets.  All four of the hurlers throws left-handed and the entire group has at least a little major league experience.

Another 17 Indy grads also are on active rosters while right-handers John Brebbia of St. Louis and Wilmer Font of Toronto are on the injured list.  An additional 15 players with non-affiliated experience, including injured hurler Parker Markel of the Los Angeles Angels, remain on the alternate list and could get promoted as needed.

The complete list of 22 players active in the majors with their current affiliation and their Independent teams and leagues follows:

PITCHERS (18):  *Nick Anderson, Tampa Bay (Rockford and Frontier Grays, Frontier League); Ross Detwiler, Chicago-AL (York, Atlantic League); *Randy Dobnak, Minnesota (Utica, United Shore League); *Zac Grotz, Seattle (Bridgeport and York, Atlantic League, and Washington, Frontier); Junior Guerra, Arizona (Wichita, American Association); Rich Hill, Minnesota (Long Island, Atlantic); Brandon Kintzler, Miami (St. Paul, American Association, and Winnipeg, then in Northern League); *Chris Martin, Atlanta (Grand Prairie, American Association); Tyler Matzek, Atlanta (Texas, American Association); Brian Moran, Toronto (Bridgeport); *James Paxton, New York-AL (Grand Prairie); Trevor Richards, Tampa Bay (Gateway, Frontier); *Tanner Roark, Toronto (Southern Illinois, Frontier); Chaz Roe, Tampa Bay (Laredo, American Association); *Max Scherzer, Washington (Fort Worth, American Association); Nik Turley, Pittsburgh (Somerset, Atlantic); Marcus Walden, Boston (Lancaster, Atlantic); Eric Yardley, Milwaukee (Trinidad and Taos, Pecos League).

POSITION PLAYERS (4): 1B-OF Jose Martinez, Tampa Bay (Rockford); OF David Peralta, Arizona (Amarillo and Wichita, American Association, and, Rio Grande Valley, North American League); C Rene Rivera, New York-NL (Camden, Atlantic); INF Ildemaro Vargas, Arizona (Bridgeport). 

*First professional game was in an Independent league

ON Deck

Yermin Mercedes did not make the Chicago White Sox Opening Day roster, but the rookie catcher, who matured largely while in the Pecos (Douglas and White Sands) and United Leagues (San Angelo), seems to have the respect of General Manager Rick Hahn, who told MLB.com "the debate (between Zack Collins or Mercedes for the third catcher on the team) was we were probably going to be fine either way, but in the end, we felt Zack's left-handed bat and a little bit more experience and familiarity with the arms in the big leagues gave him the advantage.  If in the end, for whatever reason, we had to get Yermin active on the big league level, we feel real good with where he's at right now.  Certainly, an impressive bat."

Veteran southpaw Caleb Thielbar (St. Paul) seems to have barely missed his first major league opportunity since 2015.  Minnesota lists the 33-year-old as one of two pitchers on their "taxi squad".

Not Such Good News

Philadelphia has designated for assignment righty Robert Stock (New Jersey, Can-Am, and Normal, Frontier).  He entered camp on the Phils' 40-man roster.  Baltimore released southpaw Hunter Cervenka (Sugar Land, Atlantic).  He had been in camp as a non-roster invitee in February.



Wednesday, July 22, 2020

DURABLE RENE RIVERA JOINS 40-MAN; HOW MANY OTHERS WILL FOLLOW?

With the so-called Summer Camp about over, we should know by Friday how many of the 41 players with Independent league experience will be on the expanded 30-man active rosters of major league teams when the season begins.

Durable Rene Rivera appears to have become the first player who did not start Summer Camp on a 40-man roster to earn an Opening Day job.  The well-traveled catcher was awarded a 40-man slot with the New York Mets, somewhat of an early birthday present for Rivera, who turns 37 July 31.

Rivera is in his second stint with the Mets ('16-'17), and has played for eight other major league teams during his professional career which started back in 2001.  He played 22 games for Camden, NJ in the Atlantic League a decade ago (7-19-.280) before returning to a major league organization.  A backup with strong defensive credentials for most of his career, Rivera has a lifetime major league average of .221 with 41 home runs in his 515 appearances.

Lefty Fernando Abad (Long Island, Atlantic League) has not been so fortunate, being released by reigning World Series champion Washington.  Three other pitchers are on the Injured List, St. Louis veteran John Brebbia (Sioux Falls and Laredo, American Association), Toronto's Wilmer Font (Ottawa, Can-Am League) and the Los Angeles Angels' Parker Markel (Sioux City, American Association).

Nunn Loses Job

Southpaw Chris Nunn, who was a spring training non-roster invitee with Atlanta in February, has been released by the Braves.  He had pitched for St. Paul (American Association) and Evansville (Frontier League).  The 29-year-old has topped out at Triple-A so far.