Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Perhaps Not Another Mercedes, But Anthony Bender a New Major Leaguer

            While it seems totally safe to say nothing is going to top Yermin Mercedes's amazing production for the Chicago White Sox in terms of contributions from Independent Baseball graduates during the 2021 season, it always will be a Red Letter Day when another name is added for the very first time to an active major league roster.

            Anthony Bender became the 274th Independent player since 1993 (Source: IndyBaseballChatter) to pull on a major league uniform this week.  The right-handed pitcher, whose sinker averaged more than 97 miles per hour during spring training according to Statcast, joined the Miami Marlins.  At the age of 24, Bender pitched two games for Sioux City in the American Association in 2019 after four years in the Kansas City and Milwaukee farm systems, then spent two months last summer with that league's Milwaukee Milkmen (2-1, 5.48 for 22 appearances).

            Twenty-five other players with Independent experience have experienced major league time (or been on injured lists) so far this young season, but Bender is the first to get his initial opportunity at baseball's top level.

            Meanwhile, Mercedes, the catcher-DH who came out of the unheralded Pecos League (Douglas and White Sands) and the onetime United League (San Angelo) and became the American League's Rookie Position Player of the Month for April, saw his imposing season average drop to .386--roughly 150 points above the major league average--when he pinch hit Wednesday afternoon in Chicago's 10-inning, 1-0 loss at Cincinnati.

            Mercedes started the season with hits in his first eight times at bat, a feat the Elias Sports Bureau reported has not been accomplished in the majors since at least 1900.  He made his major league debut with a single at bat last season.

            "I think he was upset when he made the out (ninth at bat),” said White Sox manager Tony La Russa, who has been in the game for 60 years, told at the time.  “And it’s clutch. That’s the thing, it’s not just for show. He’s putting us in a great position to win."

            Two other Indy grads who have been called back up to the majors recently are righty James Hoyt (American Association and North American League) by the Los Angeles Angels and infielder Ildemaro Vargas (Atlantic League) by the Chicago Cubs.

Other Moves

            One of the Independent game's best recent finds, hurler Tanner Roark (Southern Illinois, Frontier League), is a free agent after being let go by Toronto.  He has won 10 or more games five times since his major league debut nine years ago, compiling a 76-68, 3.85 record mostly in starting roles for the Blue Jays and three other teams. 

            Former major league pitcher Tim Adleman (Lincoln and El Paso, American Association; New Jersey, Can-Am League; Long Island, Atlantic) came off the free agent roles and is listed in Cincinnati's alternate training site.  Shortstop Peter Mooney, another New Jersey Jackals product, has a new minor league contract from Miami.