It is challenging, but fun to try keeping up with every former Independent Baseball player who gets even one day in a major league spring training camp. With 30 teams and split-squad games plus those one-day additions from minor league camps that have become more common in recent years, I have to admit someone may slip through the cracks.
Of the four players I have seen who have had the "one-day pass" in the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues, the most interesting may be Oakland farmhand Mike Benacka.
Benacka's stock has been climbing from the day the Athletics purchased his contract midway in 2008, which was his second season as a professional. The right-hander was about to turn 25 when River City (O'Fallon, MO) inked the onetime Lindenwood University product to a Frontier League contract. Lindenwood is in St. Charles, MO, a neighbor to O'Fallon.
The 6-foot-2 Benacka's rookie numbers were not outstanding (2-5, 5.01) although he did save 20 games for the Rascals, who already have produced relievers Josh Kinney and Joe Thatcher, both of whom have made it to the majors. Thatcher still is with San Diego.
Benacka was lights out at the start of 2008, with wins in all three decisions, 13 saves and an eye-popping 0.35 ERA (one run in 26 innings spread over 22 games). That is when Oakland stepped in right after the Frontier League All-Star Game. Benacka has not been closing games on a regular basis for the Athletics, but he has progressed from Class A Stockton, CA to Double-A Midland, TX and Triple-A Sacramento in a year and a half, limiting Pacific Coast League hitters to a .133 average while posting a 1.98 ERA in 10 appearances late last season. He struck out 18 hitters in his 13.2 innings, and allowed a mere six hits. He has fanned 238 hitters in only 173pro innings.
It is no wonder A's brass wanted to see Benacka in a Cactus League game. He faced Cincinnati for a scoreless inning of work, giving up one hit, a walk and striking out one hitter.
To say Benacka bears watching this season seems like an understatement.
WHO WILL MAKE IT TO OPENING DAY
The latest projection from this corner is that no less than 15 former Indy players will be wearing major league uniforms when the regular season starts Sunday and Monday, with at least half a dozen others still trying to nail down jobs.
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
MIKE BENACKA'S IMPRESSIVE CLIMB WITH OAKLAND INCLUDES ONE SCORELESS CACTUS LEAGUE INNING
Former chief spokesman for Major League Baseball Commissioners Bowie Kuhn and Peter Ueberroth. Six years as publicity director for the Kansas City Royals, and a background in newspaper, radio and television. Started Wirz & Associates, a sports PR and consulting firm, in 1985. Has written extensively on Independent Baseball since 2003.