Archive for the ‘Independent-A Leagues’ category

This Year in the Australian Baseball League

January 4, 2019

With this off-season’s MLB free agent signing period slow going indeed, this baseball blogger has been somewhat hard-pressed to come up with topics to write about.  Thus, you, gentle reader, have been subjected to numerous posts about Asian baseball, where the signings of foreign players have been more forthcoming.  Besides, the fringes of the professional baseball world interest me and seem like a ripe topic that few other baseball blogs cover.

Thus, it feels like a good time for a post on the action in this year’s Australian Baseball League.  The ABL isn’t in the same class as the big four Caribbean Winter Leagues (Mexico, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Venezuela), but is probably better than the Winter Leagues in any of Panama, Nicaragua or Colombia.  It plays a short season, even by Winter League standards, of about 40 games.

The ABL is heavily subsidized by MLB as a way to develop interest in baseball in Australia and to help generate a continuing supply of Aussie prospects for MLB.  I could not help but notice earlier today that, while the ABL’s website provides very detailed box scores, including game temperatures and wind speeds, it does not report attendance numbers, a sure sign that the games are not well attended by the standards of even this level of professional baseball and must be subsidized by someone to keep the league afloat.

The ABL draws an interesting mix of Australian players and Independent-A American players not quite good enough during the summer to secure work in the Big Four Caribbean Winter Leagues.  The Circuit also draws a smattering of pro players from Taiwan, South Korea and Japan.

The top pitcher in the ABL this season is Shota Imanaga.  Imanaga is a potentially a world class NPB pitcher, who is coming off a brutal 2018 summer season and apparently pitching in the ABL this winter to get himself back on track.

After the 2017 season, Imanaga looked like a potential future MLB prospect, as I mentioned that off-season.  In 2018, however, he went 4-11 in NPB with a brutal 6.80 ERA.  His command deteriorated significantly from the prior two seasons, and he seems to have hurt by the rise in NPB home-running hitting this past season.  He still managed to strike out 80 batters in 84.2 innings pitched, and his performance in the ABL this winter suggests there is nothing fundamentally wrong with his pitching arm, always a concern for a pitcher listed under 5’10” and 180 lbs.

Against a much lower level of competition, and limited so far to six starts and 35 IP, Imanaga has posted a 0.51 ERA and 57 strikeouts while allowing only 14 hits, one home run and one walk.  If nothing else, Imanaga’s foray to the ABL should certainly boost his confidence going into the 2019 NPB season.

Frank Gailey, Ryan Bollinger, Mikey Reynolds and Zach Wilson are examples of typical North American players playing in the ABL this winter.  Ryan Bollinger pitched pretty well in the Yankees’ system last summer, mostly at the AA level, and he struck out 97 batters and 111.2 IP.  He has been signed by the Padres this off-season with an invitation to Spring Training, but will most likely start the 2019 season at AAA El Paso.

Needless to say, the ABL is a refuge for Australian players who just can’t give up the enjoyment they get from playing professional baseball.  Former major leaguer Travis Blackly, for example, is still around at age 36 pitching effectively Down Under (and in the very low Indy-A Pacific Association during the Northern Hemisphere summer).  He’s now pitched professionally in at least seven countries (U.S., Canada, Mexico, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Australia).

Steve Kent and Luke Hughes are a couple of old Aussie war horses who have played in the MLB system and the ABL for many years.  Hughes played in the majors for the Twins and the A’s from 2010-2012.

More recent major leaguer Gift Ngoepe, originally of South Africa, is playing well in the ABL this season.  After a brutally bad 2018 season mostly for the Blue Jays’ AAA team in Buffalo, which caused him to get released in mid-August, Ngoepe is obviously hoping a strong winter in Oz will get him contract to play baseball somewhere next summer.

Pete Kozma and Josh Collmenter, two other familiar major league names, are in basically the same boat as Ngoepe — Kozma is trying to resuscitate his career after a rough year in the Tigers’ organization, and Collmenter is trying to come back from injuries that kept him out of action throughout the 2018 regular season.  Kozma, at least, has signed an minor league contract to return to the Tigers’ organization with invitation to spring training in 2019.

 

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Bits And Pieces

December 2, 2018

I’m glad the San Francisco Giants re-signed Joe Panik.  He was worth one more year going into his age 28 season, and the Gints signed him for $3.8M, which was less than the $4.2M mlbtraderumors.com predicted.  I have to assume that Panik wanted to stay with the Giants.  He’s a fine player if he can just stay healthy.

With the Brewers having non-tendered Jonathan Schoop (projected to get $10.1M by mlbtraderumors), the future Schoop signing could be the best bargain signing of the 2018-2019 off-season.  Schoop could be a bust in 2019, but his up-side is extremely high.  I hope the Baltimore Orioles try to re-sign him at what I believe will be (potentially) a bargain price — to me, that seems like the ideal place for Schoop to bounce back — and the O’s need any talent at the right price they can get (and then some).

The Giants non-tendered Hunter Strickland, who was only projected to get $2.5M in arbitration.  He didn’t pitch nearly as well when he came back from his dumb-ass, punching a wall with his pitching hand injury (this is a more common injury than you might think throughout MLB history — so much so that pitchers have been advised since long ago to punch out immovable objects with their catching hands).

The Giants realize that they can get right-handed short-men who will pitch well in the City by the Bay for bargain prices every off-season.  There are always plenty of such pitchers whom other teams have non-tendered come this time of the year, and it’s one of the reasons I think the Giants should make a run at Billy Hamilton.  Plug up the gap in Death Valley, and AT&T Park is a double-plus good park for right-handed pitchers.

Pitchers’ League: almost 40 games into the 2018 Dominican Winter League season, Jordany Valdespin is leading the league with an .838 OPS, and only eight batters have an OPS over .700.  For what it’s worth, in the three major winter leagues which have played roughly 40 games, only Mexico’s Ramon Urias and Colombian in Venezuela Harold Ramirez have OPS’s (slightly) over 1.000.  I have no idea why there hasn’t been more offense in the Caribbean this winter in light of the fact that balmy weather tends to favor hitters.

One of the things I enjoy about following the major Winter Leagues, the Atlantic League and the summer Mexican League is that there are a lot of terrific professional ballplayers out there, in an objective sense, who aren’t good enough to play in the major leagues, or at least have memorable major league careers.  How good does that make major league stars?

As a baseball junkie, I also have to admit that I enjoy the fact that some pretty good ballplayers get non-tendered every year because their respective teams feel they’ll get more than they’re worth through the arbitration process.  Some of these teams are right, and some of these teams are wrong — that means more major league players out there for all the other MLB teams to sign.  More chances for your team to strike it rich — Wahoo!

David Harris and Other Winter League Batting Leaders

November 12, 2018

A player who has caught my eye this year is David Harris.  He turned 27 last August and was the best hitter in the Indy-A Can-Am League this past summer, slashing .331/.435/.590 in more than 400 plate appearances.  Although he’s still reasonably young, no major league organization was willing to sign him, even to fill in for late season injureds.

After 25 games in the Mexican Pacific League (LMP) this Fall, Harris is leading LMP with a 1.066 OPS.  Sure, it’s only a 25 game sample, but if Harris manages to stay hot and finish in the LMP’s top five in OPS, it will be a distinctly more impressive feat than leading the Can-Am League, particularly for a non-Mexican player.

Harris washed out of the Blue Jays’ system after two 100+ plate appearance trials at Class A+ Dunedin a few years back, and he may already be too old to seriously tempt MLB organizations.  Where does a player like Harris go from here?

The most likely answer is that Harris will be playing in the Atlantic League or Mexico’s summer league (LMB) next summer.  A really hot first half in LMB in 2019 could get him a contract to play in Japan’s NPB, but the odds of him being LMB’s OPS leader (or at least in the top three) in the first half of 2019 are probably slim.  It takes a lot of luck to be a consistent league leader even at the LMB/LMP level if MLB has already made a judgment that you don’t have the talent to merit another contract even though you haven’t yet reached age 28.

Ramon Urias, Saul Soto and Japhet Amador are other top hitters in the LMP this winter.  Ramon Urias had some big seasons in LMB until the Cardinals finally purchased his rights, and he’s still young enough to have some kind of an MLB major league career in the future.

Saul Soto is one of the best LMB players of his generation.  Soto slashed .262/.366/.401 as a 22 year old C/1B in nearly 300 Class A Sally League plate appearances, but was returned to LMB the next summer season.  Playing summers in LMB and winters in LMP mostly as a catcher, which equates to about the same number of games as a full MLB major league season, Soto has slugged well more than 350 career home runs south of the border.  At age 40 now, he’s been exclusively a 1Bman since the start of the 2016 winter season.

Japhet Amador had a nice little NPB career going until a positive steroids test this summer likely sent him back to LMB/LMP for good.  He’ll hit a lot more home runs in Mexico until his 300+ lbs body breaks down for good.

Soon to be 26 year old middle infielder Hanser Alberto is currently leading the Dominican Winter League with a .911 OPS.  Alberto has already received MLB major league playing time in three different seasons, but has batted dreadfully because he has no strike zone judgment.  Alberto appears to have the raw batting abilities of a major leaguer, particularly when you take into account his defense, but he may have to go to Asia to become a major league star.

Delmon Young is currently tied for the Venezuelan Winter League lead with five home runs.  Young played pretty well in LMB this past summer, and I’m not particularly surprised.  He only turned 33 in mid-September, and he had the raw athletic and batting abilities to be a No. 1 overall MLB draft pick once upon a time.

However, I don’t see Young returning to MLB.  He’s the same player now he was as an MLBer, meaning he won’t walk enough to be successful at the MLB major league level.  If he can lead the VWL in home runs, though, he might be able to catch on with an NPB team in search of right-handed power.

Winter League Notes

November 9, 2018

With the free agent market yet to heat up (CC Sabathia re-signed with the Yankees for $8M, but that’s about it), I’ve been following players in the Caribbean Winter Leagues.  Here are a few I want to note.

The Nationals’ Victor Robles is lighting it up in the Dominican Winter League.  Youngsters of Robles’ talent and closeness to the majors usually don’t get to play in the Caribbean Winter Leagues unless they were hurt during the summer season, which Robles was.  He played in only 73 summer season games, so the Nats are letting him get some live game reps in the the Dominican Republic this winter.

Robles’ winter season may well end after only 20 or 25, like Eloy Jiminez last winter, because his MLB team doesn’t want to risk injury.  However, the Nats may want to give him reps since he’s definitely a candidate to make the Nationals’ roster out of Spring Training if/when Bryce Harper leaves for the big money.

Every baseball blogger, I suspect, is looking for players who are much better than anyone else seems to realize.  One of the players I’ve been watching in this regard is left-handed starter Tyler J. Alexander.  For several years he pitched his summers for Fargo-Moorhead in the Indy-A American Association and winters in the Mexican Pacific League.  He was consistently good with high strikeout rates, but couldn’t seem to catch anyone’s attention.

Alexander shook things up in 2018, starting the season with the Sussex County (New Jersey) Miners of the Can-Am League.  The Can-Am League isn’t any better than the American Association, but it probably gets more scouting because it’s on the East Coast.  He pitched well enough there to finally get a contract to pitch in the second half of the Mexican League (Summer) season.

This winter Alexander has elected to pitch in the Dominican Winter League, rather than the Mexican Pacific League, I think because he’s hoping to finally get someone’s attention in a league that pays a real wage.  He’s been great through his first five starts with a 2.13 ERA and 25 Ks in 25.1 IP.  If he can keep it up the rest of the winter, maybe somebody (besides me) will finally take notice.

Two Dominican Winter League pitchers who have done a lot to keep their high-paying summer league dreams alive are Esmil Rogers and Tommy Milone.

Esmil Rogers had a more than $1M contract to pitch in the KBO in 2018, but he broke his hand about half-way through the season and got cut, probably losing roughly the second half of his $1M+ contract.  He currently has a 2.53 ERA after five DWL starts.  If he can keep it up, a KBO team will play him at least $500,000 to pitch in South Korea in 2019.

Tommy Milone was a marginal major leaguer in 2018, his age 31 season.  He’s pitching in the DWL to prove that he’s worth a split AAA/major league contract in 2019.  So far, so good — Milone hasn’t allowed an earned run or a walk in his first four starts, while striking out 19 in 22 IP.  That’s what a soon to be 32 year old player of Milone’s caliber needs to do to show MLB teams he’s worth bringing back for another season as AAA insurance.

 

Winter League Baseball

October 18, 2018

The Winter League seasons in Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela started a few days ago, and I’m excited!

I got interested in the Winter Leagues last year, in part because I’ve gradually become more interested in Taiwan’s CPBL.  As far as I can tell, CPBL teams currently base their decisions on which foreign players to sign (each CPBL team can sign three players, all pitchers in recent years, to play at the major league level and a majority of CPBL teams sign a fourth pitcher in case a major leaguer gets hurt or is ineffective), on summer performance, which makes sense.  But they still value Winter League performance, which shows both that the pitcher is healthy enough to at the end of the summer season and that the pitcher is willing to pitch in a foreign league and perform there.

The ability to perform in a foreign league is a bigger factor in pro baseball than most people realize.  Some players can do it, some players can’t, and it matters a great deal if you are trying find the best possible players at your league’s pay scale.

The Winter Leagues are the best pro baseball that people in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and (probably) Mexico get to see, and the best teams in each of these leagues then play in the Caribbean Series, which is major event (and attended and paid for in ticket prices as such) for Latin American baseball fans.  In an era where MLB major league players are enormously compensated, the Winter Leagues aren’t what they once were, since major league players (and top AA and AAA prospects) no longer are allowed to play there, lest they get hurt.  Even so, the Winter Leagues mean a lot to local fan bases, and the baseball played is worth watching.

Players play in the Winter Leagues for a number of reasons, which, aside from domestic players who get to be big stars in their home countries, mostly relate to salaries and a possibility that good performance will be rewarded with a promotion to a better summer league.   For MLB minor league players who have not yet played in the major leagues, the Winter Leagues offer a chance at a living wage playing baseball (at least for the 2.5 months of the Winter League season).  For MLB minor league players over the age of 28 or 29, the Winter Leagues provide a chance to prove the player is still good enough to play in AAA another season and thus be one only step away from the MLB majors.

For native players from the Winter League countries, they can potentially earn enough money in the 2.5 month Winter League season (at least in the Dominican Republic and Venezuala) to support themselves and their families for the whole year.  The Indy-A Atlantic League’s 2018 batting average leaders were dominated by over age 29 Dominican players who, in my opinion, were trying to keep their skills sharp for the Dominican Winter League.

Ayami Sato — World’s Best Female Pitcher?

August 31, 2018

I saw this article linked on japanball.com today describing Ayami Sato, a Japanese female pitcher who has been dominating in international play since 2010.  She stands only 5’5″ and has a fastball that at its best touches about 80 mph, but she has a great curveball.

Sato has played in Japan’s Women’s League, about which I know next to nothing, since 2009.  As far as I am aware, she has not pitched in a men’s pro league, such as Japan’s independent Baseball Challenge (BC) League, where Eri Yoshida played without much on-field success for several seasons in recent years.

Stacy Piagno in 2017 became the first woman to win a professional game in North American men’s professional baseball since Yoshida.  She pitched in 16 games over two seasons for the Sonoma Stompers of the Indy-A Pacific Association, but her career 7.67 ERA suggests Piagno was mainly an Indy-A novelty act.

Independent-A Run-Down

August 21, 2018

Here are some comments on the top prospects at this moment in the Indy-A Leagues.

27 year old Bennett Parry signed with the CPBL’s ChinaTrust Brothers as their back-up foreigner more than two weeks ago.  He still leads the Atlantic League in strikeouts as I write this.

Dave Kubiak also escaped the Atlantic League for the warmer climbs of Mexico.  Alas, his brains have been beaten out his first two Mexican League starts.

Blake Gailen is the Atlantic League’s best hitter for the umpteenth time, but at age 33 this year, there is nowhere for him to go except Mexico, where he has played successfully before and thus may not be interested in playing there again.  Otherwise, go to Mexico, Blake.

Former major leaguer David Rollins pitched his way out of the Can-Am League to the AAA Tacoma Rainiers, but, alas, he got bombed in his first Pacific Coast League start.

Just turned 27 year old outfielder David Harris deserves another shot with an MLB organization.  Still 22 year old Martin Figuero also deserves another shot with an MLB organization, although he’s come down to earth since I wrote about him six weeks ago.

In the American Association, 25 year old Dillon Thomas did not go gentle into the good night of his career after the Rockies released him.  He’s leading the AA in with a 1.021 OPS.

Also 25 year old Dylan Tice earned his way back into the Mets’ organization.  Just turned 28 year old Jay Austin has earned his way up to the Mexican League, where so far so good.

28 year old Tommy Collier needs to pitch in the winter leagues this off-season to boost a move up to a better league, but I sure wouldn’t want to pitch in Venezuela again this winter.

The Wichita Wingnuts’ Travis Banwart, now 32, might more properly be pitching in the CPBL for a lot more money, what with his three seasons of KBO experience, but he’s actually from Wichita, which complicates the matter.  Banwart is one of the best American pitchers not to have pitched at all in the majors.

If you want to read more about Indy-A players who recently signed with major league organizations, go to the Atlantic League’s, the Can-Am League’s and the American Association‘s respective websites.  The Indy-A Leagues scream from the rooftops every time one of their boys signs with a major league organization — that’s what gets most of their boys to play for peanuts.