My Favorite Minor League Stars 2017

Those few who have followed my blog over the years know that I love to write about players who have used the Independent A and Mexican 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 few seasons as they work their ways through interesting baseball careers.

Josh Lowey.  One of the Atlantic League’s best pitchers in 2013, Lowey had a terrific first half in the Mexican League (summer) in 2016.  That earned him a shot in South Korea’s KBO on a reported $200,ooo contract for the second half.  I don’t know if the 200 grand was pro-rated for the half season he played, but either way it was the first time in his professional baseball career he had made any real money.

Unfortunately, it didn’t go well for Josh.  Although he struck out 68 batters in 60 innings pitched, he also gave up 74 hits, six dingers and 37 walks, leaving him with an ugly, even for the sluggin’ KBO, ERA of 6.30.  Needless to say, he did not return to the KBO this season.

Instead, Lowey is back in the Mexican League, where’s he pitching well, but perhaps not good enough to get a shot to make more money in Taiwan’s CPBL in the second half.  He has the best strikeout rate of any Mexican League starter so far, but his ERA 4.06 ERA is only 22nd best in the 16-team circuit.  He’s also 32 years old this season, which does not help his future prospects.

Mike Loree.  As I wrote a year ago, Mike Loree remains the best starting pitcher in Taiwan’s four-team CPBL.  Minor injuries have limited him to seven starts so far this season, and his 1.60 ERA so far was the league’s best a day or so, but he’s now one inning short of qualifying.

This is Mike’s fifth season in the CPBL, and given the fact that he was the league’s best starter in 2015 and 2016, I would guess he’s probably making somewhere from $100,00 to $125,000 this season.

Loree got a raw deal from the KBO’s KT Wiz back in 2014.  The Wiz had signed both Loree and former major leaguer Andy Sisco to play for the Wiz’s minor league club the season before the Wiz started play in the KBO’s major league.  Although the limited information I was able to obtain indicated that Loree pitched better than Sisco in 2014, the Wiz brought Sisco back in 2015 but not Loree, almost certainly because of Sisco’s better MLB pedigree.

Sisco got bombed for the expansion Wiz and was quickly released, while Loree had to go back to being the Ace of the CPBL for less money. Sisco subsequently pitched in the CPBL also, but nowhere near as effectively as Loree.

Cyle Hankerd and Blake Gailen.  A pair of now 32 year old outfielders, both Hankerd and Gailen are still playing and still hitting.  Unfortunately, neither looks to have much chance to move up at this point to a real money league.

Gailen played for Israel’s surprisingly successful World Baseball Classic team this Spring, but didn’t play especially well, and he’s back in the Indy-A Atlantic League.  His .336 batting average is currently fifth best in the eight-team circuit.

Hankerd is back in the Mexican League for a fourth season.  His .976 OPS is currently 8th in a 16-team circuit known for its hitting.

The obvious place of advancement for players of Hankerd’s and Gailen’s proven talent level is Taiwan’s CPBL.  However, that league has only 12 slots for foreign players (three each for the league’s four teams), and, as far as I am aware, all twelve of those slots are currently held by pitchers.  Like the KBO, the CPBL wants mainly foreign pitchers.

Both the Atlantic League and the Mexican League remain loaded with former major leaguers well over 30 who can still excel at this level.  Sean Burroughs (age 36) and Alberto Callaspo (34) are first and third in the Atlantic League in hitting presently, and Lew Ford (40) played in a few games this year before likely getting hurt.  Chris Roberson (37) and Corey Brown (31) are respectively 4th and 5th in OPS in the Mexican League as of today.  I don’t have nearly as much sympathy for any of these guys, however, because all appear to have enough MLB service time to have earned a pension which presently starts at $34,000 a year at retirement age.

Players I am keeping an eye on in these leagues right now are Yadir Drake, K.C. Hobson and Ramon Urias.  Drake is a 27 year old Cuban right fielder who played pretty well at AA Tulsa in the Dodgers’s system in 2015, but started the 2016 in a terrible slump and was cut after only 19 games.  He’s currently the top hitter in the Mexican League slashing .406/.454/.703.  Hobson is a big 26 year old 1Bman, whose .959 OPS is currently 4th best in the Atlantic League.

Ramon Urias is the only real prospect, however.  He is a Mexican middle infielder who turns 23 tomorrow.  He played two seasons for the Texas Rangers’ Dominican Summer League team in 2011 and 2012 and played well enough for his age for me to wonder why the Rangers apparently released him or sold his rights to the Mexico City Red Devils.  It’s possible that the Red Devils had a more experienced player the Rangers wanted and traded Urias’ rights for that player.

At any rate, Urias had a strong age 21 season in 2015 in both the Mexican summer and winter leagues.  He apparently had some injuries in 2016, but this year his .998 OPS is currently his league’s 7th best.  Urias’ raw defensive numbers at 2B, SS and 3B look good enough that it’s surprising some major league team hasn’t already shelled out the $1M to $3M the Red Devils probably began asking for him after his 2015 campaigns.

Karl Gelinas has started his 11th consecutive season with the Quebec Capitals of the Can-Am League.  Unfortunately, at age 33 now, he doesn’t look to have a whole lot left.  2016 was his least successful campaign for the Capitals since 2009, and he’s started his season slow with a 6.55 ERA after three starts.  He started 2016 slow too, though, and finished up with what was still a solid season for this level.  Although his success for one minor league team no longer shows up in the career totals the way it once did, he remains this generation’s Lefty George.

It appears that Jose Contreras‘ professional baseball career is finally over.  At age 44 (at least), he made 10 starts in the Mexican League early in the 2016 season.  He pitched pretty well, and it is surprising that his pro career seams to have ended then.  I think his hope was to pitch again in the CPBL in the second half of 2016, as he had done the year before, but probably no Taiwanese team came calling.  He pitched in a Florida senior league this winter, and this recent article states that he is volunteering his time to the Ft. Myers Little League, teaching 8 to 12 year olds how to pitch.  The man clearly loves baseball with passion.

The above referenced article concludes with a great quote from Contreras about his pro career: “I had 28 great years: 14 in Cuba and 14 here.”

Jon Velasquez, Paul Oseguera and Brock Bond also appear to be done.  I will always feel that MLB in general and the San Francisco Giants in particular didn’t give Brock Bond a fair shake.

I’m still keeping an eye out for two guys I wrote about last year: Telvin Nash and Jack Snodgrass.  Snodgrass, formerly of the Giants’ system, pitched well enough in the Atlantic League early last year to get a shot from the Rangers.  He was hit hard in four appearances in AAA, and then got sent down to AA, where he pitched well in six starts.  Not well enough, however, to stay in organized baseball.  He’s back in the Atlantic League this year at age 29, where he appears to have quickly injured himself.

Nash (26) was signed by the White Sox last season after a strong Atlantic League start and hit well in the Class A+ Carolina League.  This year, he’s mostly been hurt.  His season didn’t start until May 12th, and he quickly hit his way up to AA, but after three games for Birmingham, he hasn’t played since May 21st.  Injuries are a great way to ruin what may be Nash’s last real shot at a major league career.

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9 Comments on “My Favorite Minor League Stars 2017”

  1. Burly Says:

    Orlando Roman is a pitcher who should have been included in this article, but he made his move to Asian baseball before I started watching the Atlantic and Mexican Leagues for prospects. Although he never reached MLB, he’s now pitching in his fourth season (at age 37) in the CPBL, between which he sandwiched four seasons in Japan’s NPB. He’s had an tremendous major league career for a guy who never pitched even one inning in the MLB majors.

  2. Burly Says:

    27 year old Dave Kubiak is another Atlantic League pitcher I’m going to have to keep my eye on. He’s 6’7″ and 230 lbs and has the kind of ratios you want to see from a pitching prospect.

  3. Burly Says:

    K.C. Hobson is now the best hitter in the Atlantic League in terms of OPS, now that both Jerry Sands and Andy Wilkins have both been signed by MLB organizations and sent to AA ball. He’s the youngest of the three at 26, and there’s a good chance he’ll get signed the next time a team promotes it’s AA 1Bman to AAA and doesn’t have a bat to promote from A+..

  4. Burly Says:

    I’m also going to keep an eye on 24 year old Ryan Flores, an under-sized RHP (6’0″, 175 lbs) who is currently pitching well in the American Association, the second best of the Indy-A Leagues. He pitched in the Desert League of Professional Baseball, what I would call one of the fly-by-night Indy-A Leagues, last year.

  5. Burly Says:

    Brian Burgamy who turns 36 in 12 days, is playing in his 16th professional year without ever reaching the majors. He’s playing in the Can-Am League this year. He’s spent six seasons in the Atlantic League, and he’s also played in the Mexican League. He’s played winter ball in Mexico, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Australia.

    You have to think somebody who loves the game this much will go into coaching when his playing career finally ends.

  6. Burly Says:

    25 year old former Cal Bear Devon Rodriguez has worked his way up from the Frontier League to the American Association to the Atlantic League by his third season of professional baseball. He’s currently leading the Atlantic League among active players with at least 150 plate appearances, following the return to the MLB system of Jerry Sands and Andy Wilkins. Rodriguez doesn’t have great power, but he sure looks like he can hit.

  7. Burly Says:

    Yadir Drake just signed a contract with the Nippon Ham Fighters of NPB that will pay him $134,000 for the rest of the 2017 season, plus incentives. He’ll start play in NPB’s minor league.

  8. Burly Says:

    I just discovered Isaac Pavlic, a small lefty who is pitching in his 13th season for the New Jersey Jackals of the Can-Am League. He’s got an even better claim to being this generation’s Lefty George than Karl Galinas does.

  9. Burly Says:

    Blake Gailen was signed about a month ago by the Dodgers’ organization and assigned to AA Tulsa. After 27 games there, he’s batting .298 with an .895 OPS. At age 32, though, it’s tough seeing him earning his first major league shot.


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