Monday, March 29, 2021

Nogowski, Dobnak, Thielbar Have Majors Jobs, Others Still Hopeful

        It is still about 72 hours until the cry of Play Ball becomes real so much can happen as major league teams juggle their rosters to get to the 26-man Opening Day limit.

        But considerable positive news already is known for some of the former Independent Baseball players who started spring training last month hoping to survive all of the painful cuts before April 1.

        --Onetime Sioux City (American Association) first baseman John Nogowski has officially landed a bench job with St. Louis after a terrific spring.  He will be a pinch hitter as well as a backup at first base and the corner outfield positions.

       --The United Shore League's No. 1 find, right-hander Randy Dobnak, has given the Independent ranks another bragging point by not only sticking with Minnesota but garnering a five-year contract extension that reportedly could amount to nearly $30 million.  He pitched for Utica in the Michigan-based league.

            --Southpaw Caleb Thielbar's persistence has paid off with a second consecutive time in the Twins' bullpen at age 34, but only after he returned to St. Paul (American Association) for two seasons (2016-17) after his first stint of two-plus years with the American Association team had ended.  He tried to make it with two other organizations after his second time in St. Paul.

       --All signs point to veteran reliever Brandon Kintzler (St. Paul plus Winnipeg when it was still in the Northern League) being in Philadelphia's bullpen although the team has not officially promoted him from his non-roster status in spring training.

       Some of the decisions still to be made are whether righty Chase DeJong (Sugar Land, Atlantic League) will stick with Pittsburgh despite a solid spring, will lefty Scott Kazmir (Sugar Land) land a comeback role with San Francisco and can veteran Luis Garcia (Newark, Can-Am League) squeeze his way onto the New York Yankees bullpen.  Miami seems ready to keep both James Hoyt and Ross Detwiler in the bullpen with first-timer Anthony Bender, another Sioux City product, still in the picture.

       There have been disappointments, of course, with No. 1 probably being Tampa Bay's shelving Indy native Nick Anderson (Rockford and Frontier Greys, Frontier League) for at least 60 days because of elbow problems.  Marcus Walden of Boston, Andrew Albers of Minnesota and Mike Kickham of the Los Angeles Dodgers had some excellent outings this spring, but could not nail down jobs, at least to start the season.

       Still others decisions loom prior to Thursday's openers, and will track those as part of our annual list of all Independent players who will open in the majors.


Wednesday, March 17, 2021


             The first sure thing--if there is such a thing for non-poster boys in spring training--is that veteran right-hander Junior Guerra, a onetime starting pitcher in the American Association, will open the season in the major leagues with the Los Angeles Angels.

            Although a regular on major league pitching staffs since 2017, the 36-year-old, who went 18-7 in two seasons at Wichita ('11, '13), entered the Angels' camp this spring as a non-roster player.  The native Venezuelan won a promotion to the 40-man roster this week, and seems certain to be on Joe Maddon's 26-man opening day roster.

            While Guerra's immediate future seems settled, the intrigue remains for many of the 30 non-roster players as well as a few of the other former Independent Baseball players with 40-man roster status who started the spring in major league camps.  Opening day is little more than two weeks away so the palms are likely to be sweating each time one of these players gets into an exhibition game.

            Prime examples can be found in the Chicago White Sox camp in Arizona and at Tampa Bay's base in Florida.

            Pecos and United League grad Yermin Mercedes, who got into his only major league game last season, could be the second or third catcher for the Chisox, or he could be back in the minor leagues if Tony LaRussa and company decide two backstops are sufficient.

            The debate between two and three has heightened by the fact vet Yasmani Grandal has been slowed by a knee injury.  Mercedes and Zach Collins seem to be next in the picture.

            “Competition is good right now,” Mercedes told “Just working hard here with the coaches.  They are giving their support for everybody here.  Just believe in everybody and give them the chance.  Doing the best we can do.  We are feeling good with the coaches and Tony.” The 28-year-old has hit .273 (6-for-22) in 11 Cactus League appearances with three doubles and six runs batted.

            The Tampa Bay competition is heightened by the fact the defending American League champions had 15 members of its extremely deep pitching staff with 0.00 earned run averages this spring entering Grapefruit League play Wednesday.  That group included Indy grads Chris Mazza (Southern Maryland, Atlantic League, and San Rafael, Pacific Association) and non-roster Brian Moran (Bridgeport, Atlantic).  Both have made three appearances.  Also seemingly in the picture are Dietrich Enns (2.70 ERA) and returning free agent Chaz Roe.  Enns worked in the City of Champions Cup league in Joliet, IL last summer while Roe has spent time in the American Association.  Nick Anderson, who started his career in the Frontier League (Rockford and Frontier Greys), is anchored in a relief job, likely as a closer.

            This 'n That--Sioux City product (American Association) John Nogowski is making a stiff bid to stick on St. Louis's bench by hitting .333 (6-for-18) with a homer and eight RBI.  The first baseman had one four-hit contest...It may be too much of an uphill battle this spring, but onetime Fargo (American Association) catcher Nick Kahle has a double and homer among three hits and only five official plate appearances.  He also has four RBI in four games for Milwaukee...lefty Zac Rosscup, re-signed by Colorado and a product of the Constellation Energy League in Sugar Land, TX last summer, has made two scoreless appearances (1.1 IP) for the Rockies...Tim Dillard has called it quits after 18 pro seasons, including several major league stints and Indy time with Lancaster (Atlantic League) and Milwaukee (American Association)...Toronto signed free agent right-hander James Dykstra once again.  His Independent experience was in the Atlantic League (Southern Maryland and Sugar Land) as well as with Sioux City.