Tuesday, May 29, 2007


Add Nathan Haynes to the lengthy list of players--we now show 105--who have spent time in an Independent league then played in the major leagues. And, he is batting 1.000.

Haynes is the first Indy grad to make his major league debut this season.

The 5-foot-9, left-handed Haynes was called up by the division-leading Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Monday, and promptly collected a single to center in his major league debut that night. It was a broken-bat hit in the bottom of the ninth inning of a loss to Seattle, but it did not deter the 27-year-old from the excitement of the experience.

"My heart was racing," Haynes told MLB.com. "I was just excited and glad that my dad was here to see it and my mom was watching on TV. Today has been everything I dreamed of."

Haynes had been toiling in the minor leagues ever since his hometown Oakland Athletics drafted him as a 17-year-old out of Pinole Valley High School in Pinole, CA in 1997, but he needed 31 games in the Northern League (Gary, IN) last May and June to get a renewed opportunity in affiliated baseball. He had been released by San Francisco, and no major league organization had signed him.

The interesting thing is Haynes only hit .263 with five home runs and 17 RBI for the SouthShore Railcats, and this season he was leading the Pacific Coast League with a .391 average (four homers, 32 RBI) for Salt Lake City at the time the Angels purchased his contract.

Just one more happy story courtesy of Independent Baseball.

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Saturday, May 26, 2007


Barring an unforeseen change in his availability, 22-year-old phenom Max Scherzer will make his fourth—and likely his last—regular season American Association start for the Fort Worth Cats Monday night, and the pack of adoring scouts won’t be the only people with their eyes focused in this top draft prospect’s direction.

Last year’s draft darling, Luke Hochevar, who touted Scherzer on the virtues of playing Independent Baseball in Fort Worth while awaiting a new draft which promises great riches, has the night off from Kansas City’s Class AA Wichita farm club to attend.

All of this came to focus for yours truly when I had the chance to visit handsome Haymarket Park in Lincoln, NE, where Scherzer and the defending champion Cats were opening up a weekend series against the pennant-minded Saltdogs Friday.

Hochevar wanted to be at LeGrave Field on Monday anyway because the Cats will be handing out 2006 championship rings, and one can only imagine he will relish the chance of seeing firsthand the man in the center ring a mere 10 days before the June 7 draft.

Hochevar was the center of all this focus 12 months ago.

And just who might the personable Scherzer, a University of Missouri product, resemble? After hesitating just a bit, Fort Worth Manager Stan Hough said Roy Oswalt. Perennial Lincoln hit artist and hitting coach Bryan Warner, who faced the fireballer earlier this season, mentioned Josh Beckett. Lincoln Manager Tim Johnson, whose credentials include leading the Toronto Bluejays, cited Steve Trachsel.

Johnson was definitive in another way: “He is one of those no doubters”. A can’t miss prospect in a baseball world filled with uncertainties.

I couldn’t resist asking Scherzer if he had pitched in Haymarket Park previously since the stadium is shared by the Saltdogs and Nebraska Cornhuskers, a Big 12 rival to his Missouri Tigers. Yes, he had pitched in the beautiful facility, one of the best in either college or Independent Baseball.

And what about facing Alex Gordon, the Huskers’ star now a highly-touted but struggling rookie third baseman for the major league Royals?

“0 for three,” was the smiling answer. Nothing else. “0 for three” said it all. No doubt from this “no doubt” prospect.

It was a fun evening, and I didn’t even get to the righthander throw any of his 98-mile per hour fastballs that soon seem certain to earn him millions.

By the way, I plan to say more about what was on Scherzer’s mind in next Thursday’s Independent Baseball Insider column.

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Friday, May 18, 2007


It has been an upbeat Friday morning, and not just because I am relaxed with another Independent Baseball Insider column put to bed last night. I trust you all know that is a bit of journalism speak.

I was anxious to see how last night's launch of the very first South Coast League season went along with the Northern League's start to its 15th campaign. More on those things in a minute.

First came an instant message from Brewers pro scout Brad Del Barba that one of his finds, lefthander Joe Thatcher, had been promoted from Double-A Huntsville to Triple-A Nashville yesterday. Thatcher is one who may well be in the running all summer for Independent Baseball Grad of the Year.

Del Barba signed Thatcher out of the River City (O'Fallon, MO) of the Frontier League in 2005, which was his second season with the Rascals. He has turned into a real prospect as a left-handed specialist for the front-running and impressive Milwaukee club of the National League Central.

At 26, the 6-foot-2 Thatcher allowed only one run to be charged against him in his 14 Southern League appearances this season, and that came in his very first game. An 0.55 earned run average plus only two walks and 20 strikeouts in 16.1 innings was certain to get an organization's attention.

But what about the story from the South Coast League's first game last night at upgraded Luther Williams Field in Macon. This older stadium holds 3,500 fans, but a reported 5,033 crammed in last night and others were turned away as the Macon Music turned back Bradenton, FL, 5-3.

There is no question the turnout was impressive, and so is the attention the new league is getting from The Macon Telegraph and its companion Macon.com. The Telegraph gave the story front page play on both the main news section and in sports. In addition, fans who did not attend can get some of the flavor through both a slide show and video that were promoted on Page 1.

If only every team got that type of support.

Three of the four visiting teams won in the Northern League openers, which drew reasonably well (I did not check on the weather), with crowds ranging from 2,843 up to 5,614 for the Kansas City (KS) T-Bones.

Good news all around with much more to come this weekend now that half of the 10 Independent leagues are under way.

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Monday, May 14, 2007


It certainly helps to have a previous track record to get the majors to call.

Jason Simontacchi and Chris Coste undoubtedly benefitted from what they had done during previous time in the major leagues when they were called up by Washington and Philadelphia, respectively, in recent days.

I can make this comment since neither of these former Independent Baseball players was blazing a hot trail in the International League when called up. Simontacchi gives the Atlantic League a nice talking point since he pitched for the league's Bridgeport (CT) Bluefish last August and September. As an up-and-comer in 1998, he had gone 10-2 for Springfield, IL of the Frontier League. It is well documented that Coste started his professional career in the defunct Independent circuit known as the Prairie League, then developed his skills during four seasons for his hometown Fargo-Moorhead Redhawks in the Northern League before getting his first affiliated opportunity.

Simontacchi got his first major league victory since September 20, 2003 Sunday when he worked the first 5.1 innings of Washington's 6-4 home win against Florida. In fact, he was cruising with a 5-0 lead into the sixth. But he had a nice reputation because of a 20-10 record posted during the 2002 and 2003 seasons for the St. Louis Cardinals, then disappeared from the major league scene part way into 2004.

He is 1-1, 5.56 in his first two Washington starts, better than the 0-1, 5.91 he had compiled in two Triple-A starts for Columbus, OH. International League hitters had hit .386 against him as he worked off effects of a sore groin that kept him from being in the Nationals' rotation when the season opened.

Coste is back in Philadelphia, where he deserved to be after hitting .328 in 65 games as a 33-year-old major league rookie last summer, but it took an injury to '06 National League MVP Ryan Howard for the catcher-first baseman to get recalled from Ottawa.

Last year's performance and his hustle had to be the determining factors since Coste was hitting only .233 in 26 games for the Lynx and was without a home run (10 RBI). He had picked it up by going 10-for-28 (.357) in his last seven games. Coste probably will have to battle for time at first base with Wes Helms and Greg Dobbs.

Meanwhile, the effective left arm of Coste's Ottawa teammate, Brian Mazone, will be on display in Korea the balance of the season. He was granted his release by the parent Phillies despite a 3-2, 2.21 record in six starts this season. It was Mazone who put up a dazzling 13-3 record with a 2.03 ERA at Scranton/Wilkes Barre (the Phils' top farm club until this year) in 2006, but the 30-year-old's soft deliveries couldn't have impressed the top brass much to let him get away with pitching at such a premium everywhere.

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Monday, May 07, 2007


My wife has a little pillow on our couch that reads: "We interrupt this marriage to bring you a baseball season". I hope it is because she has a sense of humor.

Julie Corliss of Tampa, FL must have an even greater sense of humor.

While it is not exactly new for a wedding to take place at home plate prior to a baseball game, Ms. Corliss is the first I can recall who is going to marry the home team manager in a ceremony minutes before his team launches a new season.

This ceremony will occur at Harlingen Field in Harlingen, TX Tuesday evening before bridegroom Eddie Dennis's Rio Grande Valley WhiteWings take the field against Amarillo, TX in one of the three games inaugurating the United League's second season.

I cannot help but think the visiting team manager, former major league shortstop Buddy Biancalana, will be the most relaxed of the two skippers at game time.

By the way, Julie, I suggest you wait for a honeymoon. The same two teams meet in a Kid's Day game the next morning at 11:05 a.m.


The newly-formed American Association starts its second season on Thursday, but as far as I know the opening day jitters will be because of baseball, not because of anyone saying "I do" before the first batter steps up to the plate.

Good luck to everyone. Most of all to Julie and Eddie.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007


One cannot help but be impressed with the recent offensive production of St. Louis farmhand Tagg Bozied and Dodgers minor leaguer John Lindsey.

The only question is how easy is it going to be for these former Independent Baseball stars to grab the attention of their major league bosses since both play primarily at first base defensively where the Cardinals have Albert Pujols and Los Angeles has Nomar Garciaparra. Ugh!

Bozied got his professional start in his hometown of Sioux Falls, SD, which now plays in the American Association. After getting a long look with the parent club during spring training, Bozied started slowly at Triple-A Memphis, hitting only .135 after his 11th game. He has been hitless only once in 14 games since, and that was in a pinch-hitting role. The 6-foot-3 Bozied has been at a blistering .391 (18-for-46) during the hot streak to lift his average to .277.

The 27-year-old, who could add some punch which St. Louis has been lacking, also has cut way down on his strikeouts, fanning just one time in his last nine games. Bozied has driven in 19 runs in 25 games along with six doubles, two triples and three home runs.

Lindsay, who turned 30 recently, is back in Double-A for the first time since 2004 after looking at Can-Am League pitching while playing for the New Jersey Jackals the last two years. His .212 average (14-for-66) at Jacksonville won't blow anyone away, but the fact half of his hits have been home runs might impress the Dodgers. Those seven home runs have accounted for many of his 17 RBI in only 21 games.

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