Archive for the ‘Independent-A Leagues’ category

Daniel Nava Sighting

August 9, 2019

Boy, I thought Daniel Nava had retired.  I was wrong.

Nava didn’t play in 2018, so imagine my surprise to see that he’s back in the Indy-A Leagues at age 36.  He’s currently slashing .269/.377/.418 as mainly a 1Bman for the Kansas City T-Bones of the American Association.  He’s played in 55 games, and has filled in an emergency in the corner outfield positions, as well as 1B.

I always liked Nava because he was a SF Bay Area guy, and he made his way up to the majors and really amounted to something after playing in an Indy-A League to start his pro career.  That’s really an accomplishment, in terms of the few players who actually do it.  Glad to see him staying true to his roots.

If he’s willing to play in an Indy-A League at age 36, one would have to think he’ll go into coaching as soon as they tell him he can’t play anymore.

Carter Stewart Pitches in First Japanese Game Action

July 11, 2019

MLB Draft buster Carter Stewart made his first game-action pitching appearance for the SoftBank Hawk’s third team against Mitsubishi Motors’ industrial league team based in Kyushu.  He threw two shutout innings after surrendering a lead-off double, and hit 93.8 miles per hour on the radar gun, throwing at what Stewart described as “90%”.

NPB teams maintain a second team which plays at NPB sole minor league level, while the third team of players, whom I assume are mostly young players just getting started in professional baseball, play mainly against independent minor league teams, industrial league teams and university teams, at least according to jballallen.com.

As I understand it, there are several independent minor leagues in Japan, including the Baseball Challenge (BC) League, in which Eri Yoshida famously pitched, and the Shikoku Island League, which has sent All-Stars teams to play against teams in the Indy-A Can-Am League for at least several of the last five seasons.  There are urban areas in Japan not big enough for the 24 major and minor league NPB teams which are likely good homes for independent minor league teams, particularly with so many NPB teams centered around Japan’s three largest metropolitan areas.  Indeed, my review of wikipedia indicates that the vast majority of Japanese independent minor league teams play in prefectures underserved by NPB.

NC Dinos Add a Couple of New Foreign Players

July 3, 2019

I was interested to see yesterday that the NC Dinos of South Korea’s KBO have swapped out two of their three foreign players for new ones.  Christian Bethancourt and Eddie Butler got the ax, and Jake Smolinski and Christian Friedrich got the opportunity.

Bethancourt hadn’t hit the way the Dinos had hoped, and I’m not sure how much use the Dinos got out of him at his principal position (catcher) because of the language barrier.  Butler wasn’t terrible, but he wasn’t good in KBO either (at least relative to his salary), and he was experiencing shoulder problems.

One thing is certain: Smolinski and Friedrich will be making a helluva lot less for the Dinos’ final 62 games than Bethancourt and Butler made for the Dino’s first approximately 82 games.  As an expansion team, the Dinos probably play in a secondary South Korean market, and the big contracts go to the players brought in at the beginning of the season.  Both Betancourt and Butler received $200,000 signing bonuses to come to South Korea at the start of 2019 and earned more than half of the total $1.3 million in salaries they had been promised before getting cut.  I very much doubt that either Smolinski or Friedrich will be earning more than $150,000 for the remainder of the 2019 KBO season, and each could be earning as little as about $90,000.

The small replacement salaries are in line with the players selected.  Smolinski was hitting fairly well in the AAA International League, but with newly introduced baseballs adding more power-hitting to what had been a pitchers’ league, his .864 OPS wasn’t quite in the top 20 among players with at least 200 IL plate appearances this year.

Christian Friedrich was pitching in the Independent-A Atlantic League for what I would guess was $2,500 a month, after missing most of 2017 and all of 2018 with elbow problems.  He was pitching well in the Atlantic League, but I can’t remember the last Atlantic League player signed by a KBO team.  Friedrich does have 296.2 career major league innings pitched, so that and his likely very cheap cost were presumably the main attractions for the Dinos.

In recent years, numerous foreign players have had success in the KBO in spite of being brought in as cheap, late-season replacements.  Jamie Romak, Michael Choice and Jerry Sands have all taken advantage of the opportunity as mid-season replacements to stick around and make some real money for at least one more season after the ones in which they were brought over.  The quality of KBO play is close enough to AAA that any successful AAA player has a shot at making in the KBO if he can get off to a hot start.

It’s worth noting that in the KBO’s salary scale, if your first contract amount is small, it tends to stay smaller even after a few months of successful performance have been established.  Even so, coming back the next season for a $500,000 salary sure beats AAA pay, and a full season’s strong performance in Year 2 can mean a $1 million salary for a third KBO season.  None too shabby for playing baseball.

ChinaTrust Brothers Sign Casey Harman

June 27, 2019

The ChinaTrust Brothers of Taiwan’s CPBL have apparently reached a deal to sign Casey Harman, who is currently pitching for the Pericos de Puebla (Puebla Parrots) of the Mexican League (“LMB”).  Foreign pitchers playing in the CPBL come and go like minor-hit pop songs and their performers, and what I’m more interested in his how Casey Harmon got to this point in his professional career.

Originally a 29th round draft pick out of Clemson by the Chicago Cubs in 2010, Harman didn’t start pitching professionally until the 2011 season.  He reached AA ball in 2012 at age 23.  While he wasn’t terrible there, he wasn’t very good either and found himself pitching in the Indy-A Can-Am League and American Association in 2013 and 2014.

Then he appears to have had a three-year absence from professional baseball.  If I had to, I’d guess he tore and replaced his elbow tendon and/or tried to get a real job for a while before deciding to give pro ball another try.  He caught on with the Wichita Wingnuts back in the American Association in 2018, pitched reasonably well (although not in a brief two game trial in the better Indy-A Atlantic League), and parlayed that into a winter assignment starting in the Mexican Pacific League.

Harman pitched well in seven Mexican Winter League (“LMP”) starts and landed a job with the Pericos this summer, where he is 8-1 with a 4.57 ERA and 54 Ks in 69 innings pitched so far.  While the ERA doesn’t look impressive, it’s currently 17th best among qualifying starters in LMB’s 16-team hit-happy circuit.  So the Brothers came calling.

I’m always interested in figuring out how and for how much players end up moving between leagues throughout the world of professional baseball.  The Atlantic League is the best of the Indy-A leagues.  However, every Indy-A League has caps on how many “veteran” players each franchise can carry at any given time.  Thus, some good players (relatively speaking) filter down to the second- and third-tier Indy-A leagues.  This both keeps team salaries low, and allows teams in the second- and third-tier leagues to develop and hold onto their own local “stars.”

Anyway, the LMP seems to have some kind of relationship with the American Association whereby the best AA starters each season in each of the last few years have ended up pitching in the LMP the following winter.  A good winter in the LMP can lead directly to a job in the LMB the next summer, where salaries are better than in the Atlantic League ($10,000/month salary cap v. $3,000/month).  It certainly gives veteran pitchers a round-about incentive to pitch in the American Association if they can’t secure a job in the Atlantic League.

I was surprised to see the Pericos were willing to let Harman leave for Taiwan mid-season, since the Pericos are a contending team this year, and Harman had been well more than adequate as a starter for them.  CPBL teams can and do pay foreign players more than LMB teams, but CPBL teams can’t afford to pay high purchase fees of the kind that LMB teams typically charge for players they sell directly to MLB, NPB or KBO teams.

One thing I’ve noticed is that throughout pro baseball, teams generally don’t charge big (or at least market-rate) transfer fees when transferring a player to a league that isn’t much better, or is worse, but which will pay the player better.  MLB organizations do sometimes charge KBO and NPB teams meaningful transfer fees in the $500,000 to $1M range, but it’s usually less than what the player is actually worth either to the MLB or the KBO/NPB team.

Obviously, players sometimes negotiate contract terms that let them leave for a better paying opportunity in a different league for nominal or no transfer fees.  However, I also think that MLB organizations are willing to let their 4-A players go to Asia for less than market value, because of the good will it generates among the MLB organization’s minor league players by letting players who can’t establish themselves as regular major league roster-holders go to Asia where they’ll make a lot more money.

The same thing may be going between LMB and the CPBL.  MLB, NPB and KBO teams only seek to acquire the very best LMB players, who are naturally worth the most money, and LMB teams try to sell these players for market value or something close.  A player like Harman, while playing well in LMB, is more readily replaceable by signing the best current pitcher in the Atlantic League willing to play in LMB.  Meanwhile, Harman might not make it in the CPBL, in which case the Pericos could always bring him back and probably for a contract amount significantly lower than the $10,000 cap, since both player and team know that even $5,000 or $6,000 a month is lot better than the $3,000 a month Atlantic League cap, assuming Harmon could even get a max Atlantic League salary after washing out in Taiwan.

Earlier this season, the Fubon Guardians signed former KBO foreign Ace Henry Sosa, after tax law changes forced Sosa out of South Korea.  Given that Sosa had been one of the KBO’s top five or six starters in 2018, the Guardians likely had to pay Sosa a hefty-for-CPBL $25,000 or $30,000 per month (although probably with only a three-month guarantee) to start the 2019 season for them.  Sosa pitched like gang-busters in Taiwan, and after only 12 starts the Guardians sold him to the KBO’s SK Wyverns (all of Sosa’s signing bonus will reportedly be paid to the South Korean government as part of Sosa’s back-taxes).

Because the Guardians were still well in the hunt for the CPBL’s first-half pennant, I assumed that the Wyverns had had to pay the Guardians $150,000 to $200,000 for Sosa’s rights, in line with what the KBO’s KT Wiz had reportedly had to pay LMB’s Acereros de Monclava for LMB Ace Josh Lowey‘s rights mid-season in 2016.  However, Rob over at CPBL Stats guestimated that the buyout for Sosa’s rights was more likely in the $50,000 to $100,000 range.

Now, it’s possible that at the CPBL season’s half-way point, Sosa could have signed with a KBO or NPB team with no money payable to the Guardians, which would have greatly weakened Fubon’s ability to demand a big buy-out price.  It’s also possible that because CPBL teams make the biggest chunk of their revenues during the post-season, which is still a long way off, the Guardians were willing to get out from under whatever relatively high salary was being paid to Sosa.  The Atlantic League is full of much less expensive, although also much less effective, pitchers to replace Sosa.

However, it’s also possible that the Guardians figure that by letting Sosa return to the KBO, where he’ll make a lot more money, it will be easier for the Guardians in the future to lure in other foreign pitchers who are trying to work their way back to the KBO or NPB after a down season.  Unfortunately, unless you know all of the contract terms and what each organization’s and league’s unwritten rules are on these matters, it simply isn’t possible to know for sure.

Trey Hair and Garrett Harris

June 23, 2019

Trey Hair and Garrett Harris are a couple of still young players playing extremely well in the Indy-A Can-Am League.  Major League organizations should sign them.

Trey Hair is a 2B/3B who is still only 24 years old.  He was drafted in the 34th round by the Rays out of the University of Evansville in 2017.  He slashed an impressive .290/.362/.438 in 2018 in 243 plate appearances at full season Class A ball, but got cut nevertheless.

Hair is currently slashing .362/.431/.569 after 139 plate appearances for the Sussex County Miners.  He currently leads the Can-Am League in both batting average and OPS.

Garrett Harris, now age 25, was an undrafted pitcher out of Texas A&M Corpus Christi who signed with the Royals and spent 2016 and 2017 making a total of 27 appearances for two Royals’ rookie league teams.  His strikeout rates were better than one per inning, but his command wasn’t good, and he was hit hard.  He pitched in the Indy-A Frontier League last year, and while his strikeout rates were again good, his ERA and run average didn’t impress.

This year, Harris has become a starter for the Trois-Rivieres Aigles, and he’s been great.  He’s currently tied for the league lead with five wins, and his 58 K’s leads the circuit free and clear.  His 2.54 ERA is currently the league’s fourth best.  His command appears to have improved markedly, and he’s been hard to hit.

Hair and Harris are young enough that it’s a little surprising that major league organizations haven’t already bought their rights.  If they keep performing in the Can-Am, I would expect they’ll return to the MLB system before the end of July.  Here’s wishing them luck.

Houston Astros Sign Felipe Paulino

June 18, 2019

Remember Felipe Paulino?  He had a six year major league career with his last appearances for the White Sox back in 2014, and it wasn’t particularly memorable.  Paulino was mostly an ineffective major league starter with a career record of 13-34 with a 5.22 ERA.

He’s 35 now and has been effective closer in the Indy-A Atlantic League for much of the past three summers.  The Astros just signed him to a minor league contract which is notable solely because major league teams almost never sign players this old with such spotty past major league records out of the Independent-A leagues.  A pitcher who once an effective major league closer or legitimate No. 2 or 3 starter, maybe, not someone like Paulino who was never very good even at this best.

Paulino really has been good in what amounts to two full seasons played over the last three summers in the Atlantic League.  His ERA has been consistently under 2.00, he’s recorded 63 saves and 154Ks in 116.1 IP.  On its face, that would suggest he deserves another look at AAA from a team with a major league bullpen need.

However, Paulino was brutally bad in half a season in the Mexican League in 2017 and pitched poorly in the Venezuelan Winter League last off-season.  Neither league is significantly better than the Atlantic League or as good as other AAA leagues (the Mexican League is labeled a AAA league by MLB, but is really closer to a AA level of play).

It’s a rare thing indeed for a player like Paulino to get another MLB-system shot at age 35, so it’s worth taking notice of it, and I’ll certainly be rooting for him, even if I’m doubtful he can cut the mustard in the heavy-hitting Pacific Coast League.

My Favorite Minor League Stars 2019

June 8, 2019

Every year I like to write about current or former minor league stars who have particularly captured my attention and/or imagination.  Here is this season’s edition:

Mike Loree and Josh Lowey.  Two pitchers who never reached the major leagues (or even got close), but have carved out professional success because they can pitch.  Both are 34 this year.

Mike Loree is currently in his seventh CPBL season and continues to be the best pitcher in Taiwan, although another former SF Giants farm hand, Henry Sosa, gave Loree a run for his money this season until having his contract purchased for a return to South Korea’s KBO last week.  I wrote about Mike Loree yesterday.

Josh Lowey is in his sixth season in LMB and he is to the Mexican League what Loree is to the CPBL.  Lowey is also 33.  Lowey has started the 2019 LMB season 8-0, and his 3.91, while on its face high, is actually the ninth best in a 16-team circuit known for its offense.  Lowey is now an incredible 63-24 in LMB play, a .724 winning percentage.  Unfortunately, Lowey has missed his last two starts.  He’s on the reserved list, rather than the Injured List, so maybe he’s dealing with a family emergency.

Cyle Hankerd and Blake Gailen.  Two more 34 year oldss who have never reached the MLB majors (or come particularly close) but who can play.  Hankerd, who was once a 3rd Round draft pick out of USC, is in his sixth season in LMB.  He has a 1.011 OPS so far in 2019, although he’s only played in 30 games.

A strong season in the Atlantic League last year got Blake Gailen a job playing for the Dodger’s AAA team in Oklahoma City.  I suspect he’s doing double duty as a coach, whether officially or not, based on the fact that he’s spent a lot of time on the Injured List and is only 3 for 19 when he’s played.  He won’t last much longer on the roster hitting like that, but I expect he’ll go into coaching when they tell him he can’t play any more.

Chris Roberson.  Now in his age 39 season, he’s still the undisputed American King of Mexican baseball.  He’s played nine seasons in LMB and at least 14 seasons in Mexico’s even better winter league (MXPW or LMP).  However, his current .893 OPS isn’t even in the LMB’s top 40 in what has been a great season for hitters south of the border.  If any American is making a good living playing baseball in Mexico, it’s Chris Roberson.

Another Mexican Leaguer who has captured my attention in the last year is Jose Vargas.  Once a 22nd round draft pick out of Ventura College, a JC in Ventura, California, Vargas quickly washed out of the White Sox’ system, after which he spent six (!) playing for the Traverse City Beach Bums of the Indy-A Frontier League.  Traverse City is by most accounts a great place to spend one’s summers; however, it’s hard to imagine being able to have a whole lot of fun on $1,600 a month, which is about where Frontier League salaries max out.

Vargas is big, has power and is able to play 3B, 1B and LF.  After paying his dues in the Frontier League, he was able to catch on with an LMB team in 2017, possibly due to the fact that LMB began treating Mexican American players as “domestic,” rather than “foreign” players for roster purposes around that time.

In his age 31 season, he’s leading LMB with 27 HRs in only 222 plate appearances, and his 1.220 OPS is third best in the league in spite of the fact that he doesn’t walk much.  I’m somewhat doubtful that Vargas is currently making the LMB’s $10,000 salary cap, because his team’s attendance is terrible (just below 2,200 per game), but the odds are good that if he isn’t earning it this year, he’ll get it next year in light of how well he’s now playing.

Karl Galinas .  A 35 year old Can-Am League pitcher, Galinas is the modern day equivalent of Lefty George.  George was a marginal major leaguer who pitched nearly forever in his adopted home town of York, Pennsylvania, where he also ran a bar.

Orlando Roman‘s baseball odyssey may not yet be over.  He’s made nine starts in the Puerto Rico Winter League over the last three winter seasons, so you can’t completely count him from making one or more in 2019-2020.  He pitched professionally for about 20 years in just about every league except the MLB majors.  He’s another pitcher like Mike Loree and Josh Lowey who has leveraged a not quite major league talent into the most successful professional career possible.

A couple of guys in the MLB minors I’m following are Tyler Alexander and John Nogowski.  Tyler Alexander got his start in Brewers’ system but was effectively banished from MLB after testing positive for pot a couple of times while he was having some personal problems.  He spent three years pitching great for Fargo-Moorhead in the American Association and wintering a couple of season in the LMP.

Last year, Alexander pitched effectively in LMB in the summer and in the Dominican League in the winter.  That got him a minor league contract with the A’s, who sent him to AAA Las Vegas.  So far, the results have not been encouraging.  Alexander has a 6.85 ERA after 11 start.  Although he’s struck out 46 batters in 47.1 innings pitched, the long ball has killed him.  I suspect the A’s haven’t yet moved him to the bullpen because they don’t have anyone they reasonably expect to pitch better as a starter in what is probably a terrific hitters’ park.

Last off-season, I thought that Alexander would be a great prospect for Taiwan’s CPBL.  It could still happen, since Alexander will be 28 next season, and isn’t going to last long with a 6.85 ERA at AAA, even in a hitters’ park.

I wrote about John Nogowski two years ago when, after getting bounced out of the A’s system, I noticed he was batting over .400 in the American Association at the still young age of 24.  I “predicted” he’d get signed by another MLB organization soon, and he was within about a week by the Cardinals’ organization.  More importantly, John wrote a comment on my article, becoming the first and so far only active professional player ever to comment on one of my articles.  Needless to say, I’ll be a fan of John’s for life.

Nogowski played well at AA Springfield in in 2018 and is playing fairly well this season at AAA Memphis at age 26.  He’s currently slashing .267/.402/.400.  He’s got major league get-on-base skills, but doesn’t have the power he needs for the position he plays (1B).  His talents might be more suited to Japan’s NPB, where the outfield fences are a little shorter.

At any rate, there’s still a chance that Nogowski could get a major league look this year, if things break right for him.  Unfortunately, he’s not currently on the Cards’ 40-man roster, which means he’ll have to get truly hot at AAA Memphis to bump somebody else off.