This has been an incredible year for Independent Baseball in that a record number of players--record by far, we should say--have had the distinction of wearing major league uniforms.
The jubilation continues right into the World Series with two of these bright lights as key members of the Atlanta Braves bullpen. Lefty Tyler Matzek has been brilliant, and 6-foot-8 right-hander Chris Martin brings a separate distinction for the Indy crowd in that he played his very first professional games in a non-affiliated league, an accomplishment matched by only 56 others since this brand of baseball emerged in 1993.
The American Association can take a separate bow in that this was the league where both pitchers got their Independent training. Martin was with the Grand Prairie AirHogs in 2010 and Matzek toiled for the Texas AirHogs--yes, same nickname but separate organization-- for all of 2018 and most of the next season trying to regain his control and confidence after flaming out as a member of the Colorado Rockies when he walked 19 hitters in 22 innings in 2015.
Matzek, who turned 31 one week ago, spent the final couple of weeks in the Atlanta farm system after the Braves purchased his contract late in the '19 season and has been a new pitcher for the National League champions the last two years.
He was nothing short of brilliant in the National League Championship Series, capped by striking out the side of Los Angeles Dodgers in the deciding Game 6. He entered the game with runners at second and third and no one out with Atlanta leading 4-2 in the top of the seventh innings and whiffed future first ballot Hall of Famer Albert Pujols followed by Steven Souza Jr. and onetime American League MVP Mookie Betts.
Matzek struck out Corey Seager, then got two grounders in the eighth, needing only 17 pitches (15 strikes) to record the six critical outs. He worked in nine postseason games leading into the World Series with 17 strikeouts in 10.1 innings, following an equally impressive regular season.
Martin, now 35, had to overcome injuries to be activated during the NLCS. He was 4-0, 1.96 as a 24-year-old when he started at Grand Prairie, then spent three seasons in the Boston farm system before first reaching the majors with Colorado in 2014. He also pitched for the New York Yankees and Texas before joining the Braves for the last two months of '19.
Major League Count Reached 58
The final count, as researched by IndyBaseballChatter.com, of onetime Independent players who played in the major leagues during 2021 was a whopping 58, 13 more than the previous record set in 2016 and tied one year later.
Six of the 58 were on postseason rosters, including pitchers Max Scherzer (Fort Worth, American Association) with the Dodgers, David Robertson of Tampa Bay (High Point, Atlantic League), Jake Cousins of Milwaukee (Schaumburg, Frontier League, and Chicago, American Association) and Luis Garcia of St. Louis (Newark, Can-Am League).