My Favorite Minor League Stars: An Update
Everyone who reads my blog regularly knows that I love to write about players who have used the Independent A leagues as a spring board to professional baseball success after their careers in the MLB system looked over. Here are a few players I’ve been following for the last couple of seasons as they work their ways through interesting baseball careers
Paul Oseguera. After two years pitching in Japan, Paul Oseguera is back in the Mexican League this season. He is presently 3-2 with a 3.67 ERA and 40 Ks for the Broncos de Tamaulipas. His ERA and strikeout total are 17th best and tied for 14th best respectively, which makes him a good Mexican League starter but not good enough to move on to a better paying Asian league gig this season. I’ve been following Paul’s career since 2012, when he was the best pitcher in the Independent-A Atlantic League, the clear top of the Independent-A leagues.
Oseguera is 31 this season, so his professional future may be limited to the Mexican League, where he likely makes somewhere between $4,000 and $8,000 a month for a five-month season.
Jose Contreras is at least 43 this year, but still one of the Mexican League’s best starters. He is currently 2-3 for the Tijuana Toros, but his 3.35 ERA and 52Ks are 11th and 3rd best in the 16-team circuit.
Josh Lowey. One of the Atlantic League’s best pitchers in 2013, Lowey is probably the best pitcher in the Mexican League so far this season (although a case could be made for Cesar Valdez). He is currently 8-2 with a 2.27 ERA and 64 Ks, leading the Mexican League in wins and strikeouts and fifth in ERA. Lowey is 30 this season, and if he keeps pitching the way he has so far, he should be pitching in Asia by August.
Mike Loree. Loree was the best pitcher in the Atlantic League in 2011. He pitched for the KT Wiz in South Korea last year while the Wiz were still playing in the KBO’s Futures (minor) league. Although he appears to have pitched pretty well for the Wiz, they decided not to bring him back for their first season in the KBO Champions (major) league this year, instead opting for Andy Sisco, who didn’t pitch as well last year and has already been cut by the Wiz this year after a rough start.
Anyway, Mike Loree is back in Taiwan this season, where he pitched in 2012 and 2013. He currently leads the Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) with seven wins (against only one loss) and a 2.58 ERA and his 46 strikeouts are third best in the four-team circuit.
Jon Velasquez. The other top starter in the Atlantic League in 2013, he pitched well enough at AA Binghamton (the Mets signed him after his big 2013 season) this spring to earn a promotion to AAA Las Vegas, where he has a 3.18 ERA after six relief appearances. Velasquez is 29 this season, but pitching well in AAA ball is a great place to be in terms of keeping a major league dream alive.
Blake Gailen and Cyle Hankerd. Two of the top hitters in the Atlantic League in 2013 and 2014, 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 1.107 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.
Both are back in the Atlantic League this season with Hankerd putting up the better numbers so far. After about 30 games, he’s slashing .385/.487/.656, while Gailen is slashing only .250/.376/.474. While I liked Gailen better at the end of the 2014 season, you have to go with the hot hand in baseball, and Hankerd looks like the player more likely at this moment to go on to something better.
Karl Galinas has commenced his ninth consecutive season as the ace of the Quebec Capitals of the Can-Am League. He is 2-0 after winning his first two starts.
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 played well enough with the Winnipeg Goldeyes, the strongest team of the Independent-A American Association, in 2014 to get another shot in the MLB system. Unfortunately, he’s presently hitting so poorly (.179/.273/.179) for Arkansas in the AA Texas League so far this season, he’s going to be cut very soon unless he gets hot immediately. Then, it’s back to the American Association, or getting on with the rest of his life at age 29.