Saturday, March 30, 2019


         With pitchers continuing to dominate, 19 players who have played in one or more Independent leagues started the season in the major leagues, an increase of two over one year ago.  This includes southpaw Rich Hill, who is on the Los Angeles Dodgers' Injured List but likely will return to the starting rotation when he is activated.

         Only three position players are in the group, including Arizona infielder Ildemaro Vargas (Atlantic League), who was recalled from Triple-A at the last minute.

         The American Association contributed eight of the 19 with the Frontier League next with five and the Can-Am League third with a trio of pitchers.  The Frontier contingent includes Miami right-hander Nick Anderson, in the majors for the first time after starting his pro career in Rockford, IL.  He is one of six players on the list who played their first game in an Indy league.

         Thirty-seven Indy players were in the majors at some time last year.

         The entire list, including the major league team and the Independent affiliations: 

         Pitchers (15 + 1 IL)--*Nick Anderson, Miami (Frontier Greys and Rockford, Frontier League); John Brebbia, St. Louis (Sioux Falls and Laredo, American Association); Jon Edwards, Cleveland (Alpine, Pecos League, and San Angelo, North American League); Wilmer Font, Tampa Bay (Ottawa, Can-Am League); Luis Garcia, Los Angeles-AL (Newark, Can-Am); Junior Guerra, Milwaukee (Wichita, American Association); #-Rich Hill, Los Angeles-NL (Long Island, Atlantic League); D. J. Johnson, Colorado (Traverse City, Frontier); Brandon Kintzler, Chicago-NL (St. Paul, American Association, and Winnipeg, then Northern League); *Chris Martin, Texas (Grand Prairie, American Association); *James Paxton, New York-AL (Grand Prairie); *Trevor Richards, Miami (Gateway, Frontier); *Tanner Roark, Cincinnati (Southern Illinois, Frontier); Chaz Roe, Tampa Bay (Laredo); *Max Scherzer, Washington (Fort Worth, American Association); Robert Stock, San Diego (New Jersey, Can-Am).

            Position Players (3)--OF-1B Jose Martinez, St. Louis (Rockford); OF David Peralta, Arizona (Amarillo and Wichita, American Association; Rio Grande Valley, North American); INF Ildemaro Vargas, Arizona (Bridgeport, Atlantic).

            *First professional game was in an Independent league.

            #Is on the injured list.

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Tuesday, March 19, 2019


             The Frontier League may get pushed to the background at times since other Independent leagues cater more to older, more experienced players, but it is a huge mistake to overlook the oldest Indy circuit--this is Year 26--for its production of major leaguers.

            This is the case right now, barely a week before all 30 major league teams start playing for keeps, as another of the Frontier League's pitchers makes major noise with Miami with a second right-hander not far behind, also with the youthful Marlins.

            It is not easy for new faces to squeeze their way onto 25-man Opening Day rosters, but this pair among the 51 onetime Independent players in major league spring training camps may be exceptions.  Nearly a dozen of the 51 only needed to stay healthy to retain their jobs at baseball's top level while the other three dozen or so really had to impress in spring training to win a position.

            The Frontier League already has Cincinnati pitcher Tanner Roark (Southern Illinois) and St. Louis first baseman-outfielder Jose Martinez (Rockford) well established in the bigs.  Trevor Richards could easily come next with another hurler, Nick Anderson, in the mix.  Like Roark, this pair are especially meaningful to the Independent leagues since they played their very first professional games without benefit of a major league organization behind them.

            The 25-year-old Richards broke into the majors last season, only two summers after being signed out of the Frontier League (Gateway), and started 25 times for the youthful Marlins (4-9, 4.42).  He has really stepped it up in the past month.

            As veteran writer Joe Frisaro put it:  He (Richards) "has been lined up as the fifth starter.  But the way he's thrown in spring training he's making a case to move up to No. 2."         

            The masterpiece on his Florida log came last Sunday when he threw six no-hit innings against the Cardinals, bringing his spring earned run average to 1.86 with 20 strikeouts while limiting batters to eight hits and four walks in 19.1 innings.  The batting average against him is a measly .125.

            "It's been happening (for Richards) all spring," manager Don Mattingly told  "We've seen adding the (new) pitches and what it can do for him.  It's trending in the right direction."

            Richards said "we'll go mainly fastball, curveball, changeup, and we're toying with a fourth one, but we'll see how that one comes along."  The change has been his bread and butter, with a .165 average against it last season.

            Anderson learned the pitching ropes in the Frontier League between 2012 when he came out of North Dakota's Mayville State and 2015, toiling first for Rockford, then for the travel team, the Greys, and climbed the minor league ladder with Minnesota, including 88 strikeouts in only 60 Triple-A innings last season (8-2, 3.30).  He moved into the major league picture when he joined Miami and the Marlins added him to their 40-man roster, a feat achieved by zero other Independent players not already at that level during the offseason.

            He has done just fine in spring training, striking out nine without walking anyone in 6.1 innings while posting a 4.26 ERA.

            The Marlins have still two more onetime Independent hurlers in camp and doing well although it may not be good enough to make the Opening Day roster.  They are southpaws Mike Kickham (Kansas City, American Association) and Brian Moran (Bridgeport, Atlantic League).  Kickham has a 1.50 ERA after six appearances (6.0 innings) and Moran is at 2.45 after five outings, allowing only one hit in collecting eight outs.

Some Other Hopefuls

            Other former Independent players making solid bids for major league jobs include relievers Marcus Walden of Boston and Eric Yardley of San Diego and infielders Emilio Bonifacio of Tampa Bay and Ildemaro Vargas of Arizona.  Yardley spent time with Trinidad and Taos of the youth-oriented Pecos League while the others were in the Atlantic League.  Walden was at Lancaster, Vargas at Bridgeport and Bonifacio at Long Island, the latter just last season.

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