Saturday, March 31, 2007


I close shop on my four weeks in Florida with one final baseball stop today, then it is on to cheer the major league opener from a distance Sunday night and the countdown to the Independent league season. It has been enjoyable duty, except for the few days my wife was under the weather and the sad sidetrack with Bowie Kuhn's death.

The final baseball event should be enjoyable, too, as I look in on the South Coast League tryout camp in Bradenton and shake hands with the likes of Cecil Fielder, Wally Backman, Kash Beauchamp and my old buddy Jackie Hernandez. I'm sure there will be more to say in this space or in my Independent Baseball Insider column, which now becomes weekly through September.

Here are just a few of the memories I leave behind from a trip that saw me criss-cross the Sunshine State more than I like to remember:

HEARING MAL FICHMAN talk about his new law firm of Willey and Wylie. Philadelphia's new Independent Baseball scout was referring to lefty Cory Willey, who signed out of a Phillies tryout camp this winter after working out of the New Haven County (CT) Cutters' (Can-Am League) bullpen last summer, and righty Jason Wylie, who emerged from the same camp. Wylie got a new lease on his pitching life which he said "I thought was pretty much over" after the Cubs released him. He split '06 between Brockton, MA and the New Jersey Jackals in the Can-Am. Incidentally, both of these talented hurlers top 90 on the radar gun, which speaks well of the Indy game.

LISTENING TO JAY REYNOLDS say "I'm still in shock", after inking his first professional contract with Sussex, NJ of the Can-Am League. "I came in here with a dream", the 24-year-old outfielder out of Oauchita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, AR told me. He was a typical non-drafted player with a dream, who only learned about the International Performance Baseball World Free Agent camp in Cocoa, FL after his sister read about it on the internet. Obviously, he is hoping to be the next Kevin Millar or Matt Miller to climb all the way to the majors from an Indy start.

GETTING UP EACH MORNING and hustling to find the spring training boxscores to see if the various Independent grads had gotten into major league games. I was thrilled when I read that Tagg Bozied of the St. Louis Cardinals (Sioux Falls, SD, then in the Northern League) and Mike Cervanek of the Baltimore Orioles (Chillicothe, OH, Frontier League) had homered. Both players got a long look although neither will be in the majors at season's start.

HAVING LES LANCASTER, who manages at Reno, NV in the Golden League, tick off the names of some of what he considers the better major league prospects to emerge from that third year circuit. He mentioned such names as pitcher Adam Pettyjohn in the Milwaukee farm system (out of Long Beach, CA), pitcher Manny Ayala of San Diego (Mesa, AZ), his own centerfielder, Victor Hall, who will play at Clearwater, FL for Philadelphia, recent Reno signee Kennard Jones, an outfielder in the Baltimore system, and righthander Adam Thomas, who came from Long Beach and is with the Dodgers. Thomas also prepped in the Northern League (Winnipeg), Northeast League (Bangor, ME), Central League (Amarillo, TX) and with the Road Warriors in the Atlantic League, but keeps his big-league hopes alive.

The memories from this trip go on and on, but it is time to head out to that one, last tryout camp before starting north.

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Sunday, March 25, 2007


How about going out on the limb with exactly one week to go before the 2007 season opens.

Jason Simontacchi (Bridgeport, Atlantic League; Springfield, Frontier League) is not going to be ready for a spot in the Washington Nationals' rotation until at least mid-April because of a groin injury, but if my reading of several rosters is correct I give at least six of the Independent Baseball products who were non-roster invitees to spring training a chance of opening the season in the major leagues.

I am not predicting six will make it, but I believe any of this group could get the call. (Independent teams, leagues in parenthesis, and some spring stats, in certain cases.)

D. J. Carrasco, Arizona (Johnstown, Frontier), 11 strikeouts, two walks in 10.0 innings, 4.50 ERA

Tim Byrdak, Detroit (Joliet and Gary, Northern League), 6.75, but in 8 games and a lefty

Nate Field, Florida (Sioux City, Northern), 3.12 in a busy eight games with eight K's and only one walk

Position Players:
Shortstop Rey Ordonez, Seattle, (St. Paul, Northern), in a nice comeback

Infielder Tomas DeLaRosa, San Francisco, (Nashua, Atlantic League), as a backup infielder

First baseman Tagg Bozied, St. Louis, (Sioux Falls, Northern), as a righthanded bat off the bench

Others have an opportunity, of course, but this is the group I give the best chance.

Of 40-man roster players who haven't been major league regulars, I give Ken Ray a nice chance of being on the Kansas City mound staff. He has been busy with eight appearances (6.23), and it is key for a reliever that he has only walked two. Ray has Indy experience in the Can-Am League (North Shore), Atlantic (Long Island) and Western League (Yuba-Sutter), and got some big league time at Atlanta last year.

We will find out all the answers soon. Stay tuned.

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Saturday, March 17, 2007


How often do we hear of a player being promoted during spring training? Not often.

But that is exactly what happened to onetime Frontier League hurler Joe Thatcher. Milwaukee elevated the former River City Rascals (O'Fallon, MO) lefthander to their major league spring training roster virtually simultaneously with the writing of our latest Independent Baseball Insider column, which was singing his praises as perhaps second in line behind incumbent southpaw specialist Brian Shouse.

The promotion doesn't mean Thatcher will be on the Opening Day roster, of course, but it is further proof of how much they like the soon-to-be 26-year-old who Brad Del Barba signed the day after seeing him in the 2005 Frontier League All-Star Game. His future seems bright.

"Anybody who wears a uniform over here (major league camp) has a chance to make the club," General Manager Doug Melvin told The Milwaukee Sentinel-Journal.

And, it gives fans of Independent Baseball one more player to cheer.

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Friday, March 09, 2007


I was all excited to report on the fact Philadelphia started an all-Independent Baseball battery yesterday for its Grapefruit League game against Cleveland in Winter Haven, FL, then the tough news came in that Frontier League grad Josh Kinney has been lost to the St. Louis Cardinals, probably for the season.

Kinney had that meteoric climb that started with River City (O'Fallon, MO) and ended up in the bullpen of the eventual World Champion Redbirds, including some key postseason appearances last October, and now needs Tommy John (elbow) surgery. I knew he had suffered a couple of tough spring training outings, but the verdict that he needs surgery has to be a major blow to the young man who spent his winter hunting as well as to the St. Louis bullpen.

The brighter side for Independent fans is that lefty Brian Mazone (Joliet, IL, Northern League and Zion, UT, Western League) and catcher Chris Coste (Fargo, ND, Northern, and Brandon, Prairie League) made up the Phils' battery for the first three innings Thursday.

Mazone, off that exceptional season in Triple-A, had a decent outing except for one pitch which Cleveland catcher Victor Martinez swatted for a three-run first inning homer. The Indians did not score off Mazone again, while Coste, the .328-hitting surprise of 2006 as a 33-year-old rookie, had a double and scored the tying run (3-3)in the fifth. Coste reportedly needs to keep his bat working well to stick with the Phils, even though he was catching at least two of every five days at the end of last season.

Curtis Pride, Luther Hackman, Jason Simontacchi, Jason Shiell, Tagg Bozied and all of the other Independent Baseball grads getting a look in spring training make scouring the boxscores daily fun. I will be doing more reporting on my findings, both here and in my Independent Baseball Insider column, the next of which will reach subscribers on Thursday.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007


I seem to have fallen behind as I travel south for a few weeks of visiting spring training sites--and doing some loafing--in Florida. It certainly isn't that I have forgotten baseball. I took part in a SABR program at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center in Little Falls, NJ, Saturday, my XM radio is almost constantly tuned in to spring training games where I keep one ear tuned to hear how our Independent Baseball grads are doing and I pour over the boxscores at every opportunity for the same reason. I'm just not finding enough time to write in this space.

I spent some time with Miles Wolff and Dan Moushon, the commissioner and president, respectively, of the Can-Am League and American Association, Monday at their Durham, NC office.

It was while I was there that I learned some sobering news which had eluded me. It was the fact former Allentown (PA) Ambassadors Owner Pete Karoly and his dentist wife Lauren perished recently when their airplane went down near New Bedford, MA. Fog may well have been an issue.

I spent several enjoyable evenings with Pete--and usually Lauren--watching the Ambassadors and our Waterbury (CT) Spirit battle it out in the Northeast League. While Karoly made some bitter enemies when he pulled Allentown out merely weeks (three, I believe) before a season was to begin forcing the Northeast League to create a traveling team, there was a time when he had what seemed to be one of the better franchises in the league.

Thankfully, the Can-Am League, which replaced the Northeast three seasons ago, is a much stronger unit today, and appears ready to grow from its current 10-team lineup, which again will have a travel team in 2007.

The Can-Am is openly courting both Montreal and Ottawa to join over the next year or two. Two Montreal groups in opposite areas of that French-speaking city want to build stadiums. Whoever succeeds--it wouldn't be impossible for both to come in along with Ottawa, which is losing its Triple-A team after this season--will join Quebec to add a much greater Canadian influence in the league. All the other franchises are in the United States.

Wolff had just returned from the announcement that Grand Prairie, TX, a Dallas suburb which could build a stadium within four miles of the Texas Rangers, will join the American Association next season, presuming there is no stumbling when a referendum is voted on in May.

Wolff called the potential 4,000-seat, $15 million stadium a "gorgeous design", and lauds the fact it will be in a complex which also houses a horse-racing track where the Breeder's Cup was run a year or so ago.

If the American Association wins the Wichita, KS, territory, where the Northern League likely will be the primary rival, it will be a 12-team league in 2008.

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