Tuesday, October 29, 2019

THE MERGER AND OTHER HIGHLIGHTS OF 2019

With the World Series winding to a conclusion and the outcome hinging partly on the shoulders--the back, actually--of onetime Fort Worth (American Association) stud Max Scherzer's availability to take the mound for the Washington Nationals, everyone in both the major leagues and Independent Baseball starts diving into the next part of the calendar:  The Offseason.

The biggest Indy news is the merger of the Frontier League and the Can-Am League under the Frontier banner.  The best part of this, one can easily argue, is it keeps all but one (Ottawa) of the six Can-Am franchises active.  The league did not seem to have other ready options so some 125 players still have jobs.

While one cannot pretend that all is rosy in the Independent world (i.e. losses of such franchises as Ottawa, River City of the Frontier and New Britain of the Atlantic League being primary), the 27th season since Miles Wolff created the Northern League and the Frontier started there were any number of highs this summer, such as:

--Thirty-nine players who have Indy playing experience got part or full-time action in the majors--an increase of two over one year ago.  Nine of these players made their debut, including Nick Anderson (Frontier to Miami and Tampa Bay), Randy Dobnak (United Shore League to Minnesota) and Eric Yardley (Pecos League to San Diego) who got their initial professional opportunity outside of major league organizations.

--Anderson and Dobnak seem to have bullish futures, joining the solid major league ranks of Indy grads that already includes the likes of Scherzer, James Paxton (Grand Prairie, American Association and New York Yankees), John Brebbia (Sioux Falls and Laredo, American Association, and St. Louis) and Tanner Roark (Southern Illinois, Frontier, and Oakland).

--Those six (Roark had Oakland gotten past the American League wild card game) plus Chris Martin (Grand Prairie and Atlanta), Rich Hill (Long Island, Atlantic League and the Los Angeles Dodgers), Junior Guerra (Wichita, American Association and Milwaukee), Chaz Roe (Laredo and Tampa Bay), Jose Martinez (Rockford, Frontier and St. Louis) gave the Independent leagues an unusually strong contingent for major league postseason play.

Those Who Served

It always is heart-warming to see those who have been determined as players but perhaps a little short on lasting talent getting opportunities on the big stage of the postseason.  Such is the case of 5-foot-8 Stubby Clapp, St. Louis's first base coach.  The 46-year-old utility man only got into 23 major league games, but he seems to be a baseball lifer who played two full seasons in the Northern League (Edmonton) and wore Team Canada uniforms for years after he collected his only big-league RBI for the Cardinals way back in 2001.

Early Free Agents

A bevy of players, including some who were in the majors this season, will become free agents shortly after the World Series ends.  Right-handers Luis Garcia (Newark, Can-Am League and the Los Angeles Angels) and D. J. Johnson (Traverse City, Frontier and Colorado) have gotten a jump on others.  Johnson was let go by the Rockies so he could sign with the Hiroshima Carp in Japan.


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Tuesday, October 01, 2019

IT IS A BANNER POSTSEASON; 12 ONETIME INDY PLAYERS SET FOR PLAY

While a handful of former Independent Baseball players usually take part in major league baseball's postseason party it appears more than twice that amount and most likely an even dozen will have that opportunity this autumn.  Seven of the 12 actually played their initial professional games in an Indy league.

The American Association earns the top bragging rights with six of its grads lined up to participate while the Frontier League has four.  The Atlantic League and the United Shore League have one apiece.

The players in position for such honors although official rosters do not need to be posted until it is time for each team to play.  An asterisk (*) indicates which players started in an Indy league.

Atlanta:  *RHP Chris Martin (Grand Prairie, American Association)
Los Angeles Dodgers:  LHP Rich Hill (Long Island, Atlantic League)
Milwaukee:  RHP Junior Guerra (Wichita, American Association)
Minnesota:  *RHP Randy Dobnak (Utica, United Shore)
New York Yankees:  *LHP James Paxton (Grand Prairie)
Oakland:  *RHP Tanner Roark (Southern Illinois, Frontier League)
Tampa Bay:  *RHP Nick Anderson (Frontier Greys and Rockford, Frontier); * RHP Trevor     Richards (Gateway, Frontier); RHP Chaz Roe (Laredo, American Association)
St. Louis:  RHP John Brebbia (Laredo and Sioux Falls, American Association); 1B-OF Jose             Martinez  (Rockford)
Washington:  *RHP Max Scherzer (Fort Worth, American Association)

Houston is the only team among the 10 in postseason play without any Independent players on its roster.




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Thursday, September 26, 2019

TWINS' DOBNAK TOPS DOZEN FORMER INDY HURLERS HEADED TO POSTSEASON

Barring a collapse by the amazing Tampa Bay Rays in the final weekend of the regular season, Independent Baseball is in position to send out joyous messages bragging about no less than 12 of the non-major-league-affiliated leagues former pitchers being in line to take part in major league baseball's postseason. 

Any way it is sliced, that is a very impressive number.

The most intriguing of the dozen has to be Minnesota right-hander Randy Dobnak, who threw his first major league pitch on August 9.

Dobnak, who started his professional career in the young United Shore League only two years ago, is making news both on and off the diamond.  After his best outing yet--six innings of one-hit work as the Twins clinched the American League Central title Wednesday night--the 24-year-old is being given a rare couple of days off right before the playoffs to get married.  After all, the wedding date was set two years ago when the South Park, PA native had barely gone from the United Shore's Utica Unicorns and worked in six games in the lower ranks of the Twins' minor league system.

How could anyone have guessed he would have been able to finish at Division II Alderson-Broaddus College in Philippi, WV in the 2017 season, work six games in the United Short (Utica, MI) that same summer and zip from Class A all the way to the majors this season.

But there he was Wednesday, making the longest of his nine major league appearances--fifth start--and stifling the Detroit Tigers with a measly unearned run and six strikeouts (no walks) in the pressure of a division-clinching game.  There is talk that Dobnak not only will be on the postseason roster with his 1.59 earned run average and hard sinker but he might also get a start when division play begins.

It is stories like Dobnak's that continues to give the Indy leagues quality attention.


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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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