Friday, January 23, 2015


It never ceases to surprise this writer how many uniformed personnel (players, coaches, managers) are getting fresh opportunities with major league organizations after being in Independent leagues.

These are only a few of the recent moves we have seen:

**Longtime Indy infielder Iggy Suarez after failing to reach the majors as a player, is now the hitting coach for Lowell, MA in the Boston system. He did play in the Red Sox chain from the time he was 22 until he reached 28, then spent four seasons in the Atlantic League (Somerset, NJ, Lancaster, PA, Southern Maryland (Waldorf), Sugar Land, TX and Bridgeport, CT, the latter in 2013. He is only 33.

**In a similar path, 19-year minor leaguer Liu Rodriguez is getting an opportunity at 38 as a minor league coach for Milwaukee. He played in Independent leagues from ’06 to ’12, with Atlantic League stops at Newark, NJ and five years between Southern Maryland and York, PA. He also spent time in the Golden League.

**A newcomer in the Los Angeles Dodgers system at Ogden, UT is noted slugger Darryl Brinkley, who started his pro journey at 25 in Winnipeg (then Northern League, now American Association). Brinkley hit .399 at Calgary (Northern League) in ’07, and also made Indy stops at Saskatoon (Prairie League), New Jersey (Little Falls) in the Northeast and Can-Am Leagues plus Bridgeport, CT in the Atlantic and Edmonton in the Golden. He was in some of those cities more than once.

**Joe Espada, who once played in the Central League (Pensacola, FL), is the New York Yankees’ new third base coach. Only 39, he had the same job for four seasons with Miami.

**Butch Henry, who managed El Paso, TX in the American Association for several seasons, has been hired as pitching coach for the Yankees’ short season team at Staten Island, NY.

Then there is the case of former pitcher Jason Simontacchi, recently promoted to Double-A pitching coach for St. Louis. He was in Joplin, MO where the American Association has a new team this season (Blasters) as part of the Cardinals’ winter caravan and talked about how playing Independent Baseball years ago helped him:

“I needed to develop a little more, develop my pitches and get back some of my confidence that I lost in the two years prior to that (affiliated leagues) because I wasn’t pitching very well,” he told The Joplin Globe. “I went there (Springfield, IL., Frontier League) and pitched better and it kind of got me on a roll a little bit.” That was pretty modest. Simontacchi went 10-2 that season, was named Pitcher of the Year, and helped Springfield to the league title.

He was in the majors four years later, starting out 7-1, 2.82 in his first 13 starts for St. Louis. Simontacchi finished his pitching career in the Atlantic League (Long Island, NY) and Lancaster.


The newest trio of Indy invitees to major league spring training all have Atlantic League experience. Outfielder Ben Francisco (Lancaster) will be with Arizona, Logan Kensing (Bridgeport) with the Chicago White Sox and longtime veteran Dontrelle Willis (Bridgeport and Long Island) with Milwaukee.

Yoslan Herrera (Lancaster) was scheduled to be back in camp with the Los Angeles Angels for whom he had a 2.70 ERA in 20 appearances last season, but a deal was worked out whereby Herrera would get his release in order to play in Japan (Yokohama), presumably for more guaranteed money.

THE INDEPENDENT BASEBALL INSIDER will resume in March. Request a free sample column from December in order to be automatically reminded when the column starts for 2015.

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