Independent A League Stars 2013-2014, Part II

Continuing on with my piece on the best players in the best of the Independent-A leagues in 2013, you can find part I of this two-part series here.

American Association

The top pitcher in the American Association in 2013 was probably San Francisco native Taylor Stanton.  He led the league with a 2.43 ERA, a little more than half a run better than the next best pitcher and one of only two qualifiers with an ERA under 3.00.  Stanton struck out 108 batters in 126 innings pitched, while allowing only 115 hits and 29 walks.  The biggest knock on Stanton is that he will 26 years old in 2014.

The best hitters in the American Association last season were 1Bman C.J. Ziegler and 3Bman Abel Nieves.  Ziegler, a former San Francisco Giants prospect and long-time Independent-A league star, led the circuit with 30 HRs, and his 1.053 OPS was second best (36 year old veteran Matt Padgett was the league leader).  Nieves, a former Angels prospect, led the American Association in batting average (.357) and on-base percentage (.446).  However, both Ziegler and Nieves will be 28 in 2014.

Relative youngster (25 last season) Dennis Raben hit .409 in 23 games before getting signed by the Royals organization.  He then batted .272/.367/.469 in 71 games for Wilmington in the Class A+ Carolina League, which is not great for a player this age in A+ ball.  Hopefully, it’s good enough for the Royals to re-sign him for 2014.

The American Association is a younger league than the Atlantic League, but most of the players are already in their mid-20’s.  The best pitching prospects look to be Dustin Loggins (age 23 in 2014; only a 4.13 ERA but 101 Ks in 104.2 IP); Patrick Mincey (24; fantastic 1.01 ERA, pitching line: 53.1 IP, 33 hits, one HR, 14 BBs, and 55 Ks); Fabian Williamson (25; 3.42 ERA, 75 Ks in 73.2 IP, but got bombed in seven late season starts for Bakersfield in the Class A+ California League after signing with the Reds’ organization); Lucas Irvine (2.96 ERA but only 94 Ks in 121.2 IP); Marshall Schuler (26; 1.48 ERA, 45 Ks in 42.2 IP); and Anthony Capra (27; unimpressive 3.96 ERA, but 122 Ks in 100 IP).  Ryan Hinson had a 1.53 ERA in ten starts in the American Association and then pitched extremely well in the Class A+ Carolina League for the Braves Organization, but he’ll be 27 in 2014.

Among position players, the best looking prospect is former Giants’ farmhand and SF Bay Area product Ryan Scoma who at age 25 batted .341 with a .443 on-base percentage, third and second best in the league in those categories respectively.

Frontier League

The Frontier League’s players are in general younger than those of the American Association or the Atlantic League and as a result has relatively more players MLB organizations would still consider prospects.  Two of the Frontier League’s top hitters in 2013 both stand out because they’ll be only 23 years old in 2014.

Catcher and NC State product Danny Canela batted a tremendous .360/.455/.582, leading the league in batting average and OBP and finishing second in slugging percentage.  He only threw out 19% of attempted base stealers, so his backstop defense likely needs a lot of work, but he can certainly hit.  Duke University product Jeff Kremer batted .357/.436/.444, good for 2nd in batting and 3rd in OBP, and his right field defense appears excellent for this level of play.

Needless to say, as former major college conference starters, Canela and Kremer should dominate the Frontier League.  The real mystery is why neither player was drafted after successful college careers.  At any rate, they both certainly deserves shots in the major league system in 2014.

The best pitcher in the Frontier League in 2013 was probably Michael Oros.  His 2.16 ERA led the circuit, and he struck out 80 batters in 87.1 innings of work.  He’ll be 24 years old in 2014.

Drew Rucinski (age 25 in 2014), Mike Recchia (25), Ryan Demmin (26) and Brandon Cunniff (25) all pitched well enough in the Frontier League early in 2013 to make it back into the MLB system.  Rucinski and Cunniff pitched extremely well at the Class A+ level; Recchia and Demmin weren’t as good, but did enough to have a shot at returning to their current major league organizations in 2014.

Other top pitching prospects include Dyllon Nuernberg (age 23 in 2014; 2.71 ERA, 71 Ks in 73 IP); Chandler Jagodzinski (23; 2.20 ERA, 49 Ks in 57.1 IP); Ben Rawding (23; 1.64 ERA, 37 Ks in 38.1 IP); Scott Weismann (24; 3.23 ERA, 73 Ks in 64 IP); Zac Treece (24; 2.13 ERA, 57 Ks in 50.2 IP); Jordan Wellander (24; 2.31 ERA, 52 Ks in 50.2 IP); Reese McGraw (24; 2.83 ERA, 44 Ks in 35 IP); Michael Click (25; 0.90 ERA, 71 Ks in 50 IP); Nick Capito (25; 0.71 ERA, 65 Ks in 63 IP); Jorge Marban (25; 2.05 ERA, 61 Ks in 44 IP); and Chase Doremus (25; 2.67 ERA, 76 Ks in 64 IP).

One thing I noticed in writing this series is just how quickly many MLB organizations give up on their late-round draft picks.  A lot of the players listed in my two-part series showed promise in the MLB low minors, but they hit one speed bump and were released.  The Independent-A leagues at least allow these guys to keep their dreams alive and allow a few to play their way back into the MLB system.

Two more Frontier League stars I have to mention are 2Bman Ryan Still and catcher Zach Aakhus.  Neither constitutes a prospect, but they are interesting players for different reasons.

Ryan Still is a 25 year old University of Houston product who has put up some numbers you’d probably only see in the Frontier League.  He’s an absolute walking machine, drawing 110 walks in 410 plate appearances in 2012 and 101 walks in 410 plate appearances in 2013.

In 2012, Still batted .301 and became the first, and I assume only, qualifier in Frontier League history to have an on-base percentage over .500.  In 2013, Still batted only .187, but still had a .411 OBP (his slash line was .187/.411/.260 in 2013; in 2012, he had a .930 OPS).  I don’t know how a player in the same league loses more than 100 basis points of batting average in one season while still being healthy enough to play every day, but Ryan Still did it.

In addition to his ability to draw walks, Still also appears to be a tremendous defensive 2Bman.  In 250 games at second over three seasons in the Frontier League, Still has turned 157 double plays, which seems like a huge number for the low minors.  He has also averaged over five chances a game at second over the three seasons.

Zach Aakhus turns 30 next June and has spent the last five seasons playing for the Windy City Thunderbolts, who play in metro Chicago (Cook County), making him the longest tenured player in team history.  He went to college at Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho and apparently didn’t graduate until he was 24, as his professional career started the year he turned 25.

Except for 2012, when he had a down year, he’s been good player in the Frontier League.  However, he has essentially no chance of ever playing professionally anywhere else, given his age and talent level.  Like a lot of guys in the Independent-A leagues, he strikes me as a guy who will and is playing baseball for essentially nothing for as long as someone will let him.   He’s not from the Chicago area, and I doubt he’s making the kind of professional contacts he might make in a small city where he’d be more of a celebrity playing for the local team.  Obviously, he just enjoys playing baseball.

CanAm League

With only five teams in 2013 (and down to four in 2014), there aren’t nearly as many players in the CanAm League as the other three Independent-A Leagues discussed above.  Also, unlike the other leagues, the CanAm League has much more of a local flavor in that a relatively high percentage of the players come from the mid-Atlantic States, New England and Eastern Canada where the teams play.

The best hitter in the CanAm League in 2013 was Bridger Hunt, a now 28 year old jack-of-all-trades who was once a 9th round draft pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Hunt batted .402 in 69 games, 83 points better than the next best qualifier, which got him signed by the Padres.  However, they sent him to the Class A+ California League, where he batted .337/.396/.458, all well and good, but still a long, long way from the majors for a player Hunt’s age.

The CanAm League is not an especially young league, and there are relatively few players still young enough to be considered prospects.  Chris Edmondson (26 years old in 2014) hit .413/.513/.738 in 36 games and got a brief trial with the Braves’ Class A Sally League team where he didn’t hit and was apparently quickly released.  Chris Duffy and Jeremy Barnes had good seasons with the bat at ages 25 and 26, respectively.

Among the pitchers, Nick Mutz (24 in 2014) was able to pitch his way back into the MLB system with the Padres organization.  Pitchers who had good seasons and are young enough to still be considered prospects include Leondy Perez (24; 4.04 ERA as a starter, 89 Ks in 111.1 IP); Nick Purdy (24; 2.31 ERA, 45 Ks in 39 IP); Alex Kreis (25; 3.10 ERA, 48 Ks in 40.2 IP); Nick Serino (25; 2.25 ERA, 45 Ks in 52 IP); Chris Cox (25; 2.81 ERA, 41 Ks in 41.2 IP); Kevin Fuqua (25; 1.71 ERA, 36 Ks in 42 IP); and Tim Adleman (26; 1.46 ERA, 62 Ks in 49.1 IP).

One final pitcher worth mentioning is Karl Gelinas, a 30 year old right-hander who has pitched for the Quebec Capitales for the last seven seasons.  Gelinas is from the Montreal area, so he can be considered something of a local boy, and he’s been one of the best starters in the CanAm league for many years.  I have no idea what he does in the off-season, but I’m sure he’s developed some good will in the Quebec City area.

I’m amazed that the CanAm League has not placed a team in Montreal.  As far as I can tell, Canada’s second largest metropolitan area is not served by professional baseball at any level.  There’s recent talk about major league baseball returning to Montreal one day, but the city would need to build a new stadium.  In the meantime, Montreal would seem to be a prime location for a CanAm team.

As a final note, after finishing this series and seeing the movement of players between Independent-A leagues and the MLB system, I’d rank the level play in the Atlantic League at about AA, the American Association/CanAm league at A/A+ and the Frontier League at A- (short season A ball).  Leagues in the MLB system have more overall talent at these levels, but the Independent A leagues have more veteran players to prop up the overall level of play.

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One Comment on “Independent A League Stars 2013-2014, Part II”

  1. Burly Says:

    Two years later: Brandon Cunniff pitched in 39 games for the Braves this past season, and Drew Rucinski pitched in seven games for the Angels in 2014-2015. Jorge Marban may well pitch in the Show in 2016, after a tremendous 2015 campaign across three levels of the Red Sox organization at age 26.

    Anthony Capra and Abel Nieves may have established themselves in the Mexican League in 2015, where the potential salary is twice as good as the Indy-A Leagues and the money to live goes a lot farther. Nieves got to play semi-regularly in the Venezuelan Winter League this off-season, where he hit .262 with a .262 batting average and .723 OPS in 44 games.

    Patrick Mincey has become an Atlantic League closer, and Michael Click was probably the Atlantic League’s best set-up man in 2015.


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