An Independent Path to Professional Baseball Success, an Update
Last June I wrote a post about how the Independent-A Leagues and foreign professional baseball leagues have created a path to professional baseball stardom and riches for a very select group of players who washed out of the MLB system early in their professional careers or were never drafted by an MLB organization in the first place. I thought it would be fun do an update on some players I’ve been following as they try to use the Independent-A Leagues as a springboard to professional baseball success somewhere.
Paul Oseguera. Paul was the best pitcher in the Atlantic League, the undisputed acme of the Independent-A Leagues, back in 2012. He followed that fine season with an equally great season in the Mexican League in 2013, which got him a shot at the big money with the SoftBank Hawks of Japan’s NPB late in the 2013 season.
He went 3-1 with a 2.00 ERA in six starts from the Hawks late in the 2013 season, which earned him another year in NPB. Unfortunately, his 2014 campaign was basically a disaster. He went 0-2 with a 9.75 ERA in only three starts and 12 IP. He pitched better in NPB’s minor league, going 4-3 with a 3.74 ERA in 67.1 IP. However, NPB teams don’t pay American players to be better-than-average minor league pitchers.
The good news for Oseguera, if he wants to keep the dream alive, is that he’s still be only 31 in 2015. A successful return to the Mexican League in 2015, and he could be pitching in South Korea’s KBO or, more likely, Taiwan’s CPBL in 2016. I’ll always have a particular soft spot for Oseguera in part because the San Francisco Giants drafted him in the 16th round back in 2006.
Mike Loree. Loree was the best pitcher in the Atlantic League in 2011. Despite a poor season in the same league in 2012, he was able to hook on with a team in Taiwan’s CPBL, and he had a fine 2013 season there.
For 2014, Loree signed with the KT Wiz, an expansion team that will begin play in South Korea’s KBO Champions League in 2015. In 2014, the team played in KBO’s minor league (like NPB, KBO has a single minor league). Apparently, the Wiz signed Loree with the hope that he’d pitch well in the minors in 2014 and would move up with the rest of the team to the top league in 2015.
Loree got off to a hot start and pitched well for the Wiz in 2014, but appears to have been injured at some time during the 2014 season. He went 7-0 in 16 games with a 3.63 ERA, which led all Wiz starters, but he appears to have missed as many as seven or eight starts, I presume due to injury. If Loree is healthy by the start of the 2015 season, he certainly deserves a shot at pitching for the Wiz in the Champions League.
Josh Lowey and Jon Velazquez. Two of the best pitchers in the Atlantic League in 2013, Lowey went on to pitch in the Mexican League in 2014, and Velazquez returned to the MLB system, pitching for the Mets’ AA club in Binghamton, New York.
The Atlantic League’s top starter in 2013, Lowey made five starts in the Atlantic League in 2014 before moving on to the Mexican League, where he pitched pretty well. His 4.11 ERA was only 20th best in the 16-team circuit, but his 100 Ks was tied for 9th best. Lowey will be 30 in 2015, and if he can improve his performance in a second season in the Mexican League, he could move on to Asia and the real money.
Jon Velazquez had a 3.62 ERA in 44 relief appearances for the Binghampton Mets, but with only 45 hits and 13 walks allowed while striking out 49 batters in 54.1 innings pitched, he certainly deserves a promotion to AAA next season, when he’ll be 29 years old. His chances of reaching the majors at his age aren’t fantastic, but at least the dream should still be alive in 2015.
Blake Gailen and Cyle Hankerd. Two of the top hitters in the Atlantic League in 2013, both Gailen and Hankerd split the 2014 season between the Atlantic League and the Mexican League, as Josh Lowey did. This is not at all uncommon, as the Atlantic League plays a longer season than the Mexican League by about 28 regular season games. Thus, it’s not uncommon for players to start the season in the Atlantic League, go to the Mexican League and its slightly higher salaries when that season starts and then return to the Atlantic League for the last 15 or so games of the Atlantic League season.
At any rate, both Gailen and Hankerd played at least 115 games in 2014 at age 29. Gailen was more successful, batting .350 with an 1.1o7 OPS in 66 Atlantic League games and .271 with a .922 OPS in 51 Mexican League games. Hankerd hit .283 with an .832 OPS in 66 Atlantic League games and .286 with an .815 OPS in 49 Mexican League games. I’m more excited by Gailen as a hitter than Hankerd; and Gailen, if not both, should get another shot at the Mexican League in 2015. Again, a big season there could propel them to a shot at playing in Asia.
Drew Rucinski, Mike Recchia and Brandon Cunniff all had big seasons in AA ball at age 25 after starting the 2013 season in the Independent-A Frontier League. Karl Galinas completed his eighth consecutive season as the ace of the Quebec Capitals of the Can-Am League. He went 8-6 with a 3.48 ERA and led his league in strikeouts with 123.
Brock Bond. One of my favorite minor league players, whom I feel the SF Giants didn’t give a fair shake when he was in their system, Bond continued his professional career with the Winnipeg Goldeyes, the strongest team of the Independent-A American Association who again led Indy-A baseball with average attendance of more than 5,600 per game. Bond hit .326 with a .448 on-base percentage in 64 games, leading the league in the latter category. He also hit .381 in five play-off games, although the Goldeyes lost in the first round the league’s two-round play-off system.
Bond will be 29 in 2015, but if he still wants to play, he should be able to move up to the Atlantic League, where I think his chances of leading the league in OBP again would be good. Bond’s ability to get on base is at a major league level, but I doubt he has any other major league skills.