Friday, January 07, 2022

SOME PLAYERS ARE MAKING NEWS DESPITE THE LOCKOUT

News about established major league baseball players is not easy to find these days because of the lockout, but when one digs, especially in the ranks of former Independent players, stories are plentiful.  Transactions at the Indy level are not taboo, as IndyBaseballChatter will prove with this writing.

Promotions to major league rosters, spring training invitations, free agent signings and departures for such destinations as Japan and Korea all have transpired in recent times.

Nothing can be much more exciting for a onetime Independent player than being notified his contract has been added to the parent club's 40-man roster.  It sends a clear signal the player is considered a legitimate future major league talent, as well as guaranteeing a spot in a major league spring training camp. 

This action took place for two former Indy stars recently.  All they need now is for the labor issues between ownership and Players Association to be settled, thereby certifying there will be spring training in both Arizona and Florida.

The fortunate duo is second baseman Kody Clemens, yes, the son of former major league standout Roger, and right-handed pitcher Adam Oller.  Clemens's non-affiliated time was in the Constellation Energy League which was created two summers ago after COVID-19 first reared its ugly head and shut down all of the regular professional leagues.  Clemens is with the Detroit Tigers while Oller, who came out of Windy City in the Frontier League, will get his shot with another newly-energized franchise, the New York Mets.

Precious Non-Roster Invitations

While we probably won't see a great many non-roster invitations identified until the lockout ends, we can pass along a few of these cherished opportunities to be a part of major league spring training and prove a player is on his organization's radar for a possible major league job at some point during the season.

Righty Andrew Balletti (Sugar Land, Atlantic League), who got some time with Miami last season, was signed off the free agent list and invited to spring training with Philadelphia.  The Phils also have issued an invitation to another right-hander, Michael Kelly, who played in the Atlantic for Southern Maryland.  Outfielder Dillon Thomas (Texas, American Association), who got some playing time with Seattle, has a new opportunity with the Los Angeles Angels including a spring training invitation.

It seems logical first baseman John Nogowski (Sioux City, American Association) will get an invitation after signing with the World Champion Braves.  The same for infielder Ildemaro Vargas (Bridgeport, Atlantic) who is back with the Chicago Cubs.

Back in the Bigs

Numerous onetime Independent players, including several with extensive major league time, remain unsigned during the work stoppage, but Boston hopes to get value out of free agent starters Rich Hill (Long Island, Atlantic) and James Paxton (Grand Prairie, American Association).  Veteran reliever Luis Garcia (Newark, Can-Am League) signed as a free agent with San Diego.

New Minor League Pacts

Among minor league free agents who have signed new agreements are RHP Zack Weiss (Kansas City, American Association, and Long Island and Sugar Land) who is now with the Angels as is lefty Brian Moran (Bridgeport) while first baseman Ryan Casteel (Lancaster, Atlantic) is in the Atlanta system.

Making Money Abroad

A trio of right-handers with some major league experience have landed jobs overseas, where the pay is better for them than the uncertainty of opportunities at home.  Drew Rucinski is wonderful example.

He threw his first professional pitch in the Frontier League, and spent the equivalent of two full seasons with the Rockford (IL) RiverHawks before landing a regular opportunity with a major league organization.  That led to 54 innings and one start in the majors spread among three teams.  He will be starting his fourth season in Korea (NC Dinos) where he has won 43 games (43-24), and now has a $1.9 million deal plus incentives for 2022.

Jee-ho Yoo of South Korea's Yonhap News Agency says the guaranteed deal ties Rucinski for the second largest salary of any foreign player in the KBO and brings his four-year take in the league to $5.7 million, not including any incentive payouts.

 Robert Stock (Normal, Frontier, and New Jersey, Can-Am) is headed to Korea (Doosan Bears) where he is said to be receiving $500,000 plus incentives.  Aaron Wilkerson (Grand Prairie plus Florence of the Frontier and Fort Worth of the United League) will get his first experience abroad in Japan (Hanshin).

Bob Wirz, onetime chief spokesman for Baseball Commissioners Bowie Kuhn and Peter Ueberroth, has been writing about Independent Baseball since 2003.  This post is from his blog, www.IndyBaseballChatter.com.  He has published a book ("The Passion of Baseball") about his life.  It is available at www.Amazon.com or with an autographed from www.WirzandAssociates.com.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

AMAZING MATZEK, MARTIN GIVE INDEPENDENTS BRAGGING RIGHTS IN WORLD SERIES

This has been an incredible year for Independent Baseball in that a record number of players--record by far, we should say--have had the distinction of wearing major league uniforms.

The jubilation continues right into the World Series with two of these bright lights as key members of the Atlanta Braves bullpen.  Lefty Tyler Matzek has been brilliant, and 6-foot-8 right-hander Chris Martin brings a separate distinction for the Indy crowd in that he played his very first professional games in a non-affiliated league, an accomplishment matched by only 56 others since this brand of baseball emerged in 1993.

The American Association can take a separate bow in that this was the league where both pitchers got their Independent training.  Martin was with the Grand Prairie AirHogs in 2010 and Matzek toiled for the Texas AirHogs--yes, same nickname but separate organization-- for all of 2018 and most of the next season trying to regain his control and confidence after flaming out as a member of the Colorado Rockies when he walked 19 hitters in 22 innings in 2015.

Matzek, who turned 31 one week ago, spent the final couple of weeks in the Atlanta farm system after the Braves purchased his contract late in the '19 season and has been a new pitcher for the National League champions the last two years.

He was nothing short of brilliant in the National League Championship Series, capped by striking out the side of Los Angeles Dodgers in the deciding Game 6.  He entered the game with runners at second and third and no one out with Atlanta leading 4-2 in the top of the seventh innings and whiffed future first ballot Hall of Famer Albert Pujols followed by Steven Souza Jr. and onetime American League MVP Mookie Betts.

Matzek struck out Corey Seager, then got two grounders in the eighth, needing only 17 pitches (15 strikes) to record the six critical outs.  He worked in nine postseason games leading into the World Series with 17 strikeouts in 10.1 innings, following an equally impressive regular season.

Martin, now 35, had to overcome injuries to be activated during the NLCS.  He was 4-0, 1.96 as a 24-year-old when he started at Grand Prairie, then spent three seasons in the Boston farm system before first reaching the majors with Colorado in 2014.  He also pitched for the New York Yankees and Texas before joining the Braves for the last two months of '19.

Major League Count Reached 58

The final count, as researched by IndyBaseballChatter.com, of onetime Independent players who played in the major leagues during 2021 was a whopping 58, 13 more than the previous record set in 2016 and tied one year later.

Six of the 58 were on postseason rosters, including pitchers Max Scherzer (Fort Worth, American Association) with the Dodgers, David Robertson of Tampa Bay (High Point, Atlantic League), Jake Cousins of Milwaukee (Schaumburg, Frontier League, and Chicago, American Association) and Luis Garcia of St. Louis (Newark, Can-Am League). 


Tuesday, September 28, 2021

CAN YOU BELIEVE? RECORD 54 INDEPENDENT PLAYERS IN MAJORS IN 2021

 The 2021 season is going down in history with regard to the involvement of players who have played in at least one Independent league during their career and have later earned major league time.  

In both 2016 and 2017 an all-time high 45 Indy players appeared with one of the 30 major league teams.  The total was obliterated--destroyed or wiped out also would work--in the season ending this week.  In records compiled exclusively by IndyBaseballChatter.com, a whopping 54 players made it to the majors.

Some of them will be in the post-season starting next week.

The count jumped somewhat this year because a strange sequence of events during COVID-19-infested 2020 when some one-time-only Independent leagues sprung to life.  Otherwise, the depth of talent in Independent circuits today and the current MLB mindset of constantly shuffling of roster spots between the majors and handy Triple-A teams both contributed to the growth.

Regardless of the reasons, for 54 players from non-affiliated leagues to play in the major leagues in one summer shows just how far the Indy circuits have come from their early days in the 1990s when the leagues were often put down or made fun of by those in baseball's top tier operations.

Thirteen of the 54 made their major league debut this season, with pitchers Tommy Nance of the Chicago Cubs and Kaleb Ort of the Boston Red Sox perhaps the most prized duo since their first professional games were in Independent leagues.  Both emerged from the Frontier League.  Nance played at Windy City, not far from Wrigley Field, and gave up only two hits and no runs in his first 12 big league appearances covering 11.1 innings.  It has not been as easy of late and Nance has a 1-0 record and a 7.07 earned run average heading into the final week.  Ort, also starting near Chicago at Joliet, got only a brief look for the contending Red Sox.

Thirty-five onetime Indy players were on major league rosters as of September 28 although 10 of them were on the injured list.  This includes veteran first baseman-outfielder Jose Martinez who has been on the New York Mets' IL the entire season, which kept him from increasing the season's active count to 55.     

 

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.