Independent Map Seems Set With 50 Teams, But North American Is Without Its CEO
It now seems pretty certain the 20th season of Independent Baseball, which started with two leagues in 1993, will consist of 50 teams, not counting any late-developing circuits or pay-to-play leagues.
The final tally includes the return of Orange County (Fullerton, CA) to become the fourth team in the second-year North American League’s Northern Division. That portion of the NAL will play a 72-game schedule from June 4-August 26. The six-team Southern Division, all based in Texas, will play 96 games apiece.
The Frontier League is senior in service time to all other circuits since it started in ’93, and it also is the largest with 14 teams spread from Missouri to Pennsylvania and into the upper Midwest. The American Association has 13 teams, the Atlantic League eight, including its first voyage west (Sugar Land, TX) and the Can-Am League has five teams.
Missing from the North American scene is CEO Kevin Outcalt, who also was commissioner of the Golden League from its start until it was folded into the new league. “I left the company a few weeks ago and am no longer involved,” Outcalt said in an email, offering that he may still end up in a baseball job. The league website does not give any hint as to who is in charge going forward, and numerous calls to others in the NAL went unanswered or could not shed light on the situation.
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Castillo Out, But ’11 Atlantic Leaguer Rice Could Stick With Dodgers
These final 13 days before the major league season opens April 4 (not counting the March 28-29 set between Oakland and Seattle in Japan) create major nervousness for every player not certain of his status, and that includes many of the 36 former Independent players (out of an original total of 53) we still show as being in American and National League camps.
Veteran lefthander Alberto Castillo has suffered the worst fate of those already trimmed in that the Los Angeles Dodgers gave the 36-year-old his outright release. Castillo first played in an Indy league when he was with Schaumburg, IL (Northern League) in 1999. He was a frequent Atlantic Leaguer from 2002-07, playing with four different teams, but has gotten into 79 major league games (3-0, 4.33) with Baltimore and Arizona since.
Ironically, another southpaw, Scott Rice, who was in the Atlantic League as recently as last season, is edging closer to nailing down a bullpen job with the Dodgers. The Los Angeles Times reports the 30-year-old Rice, a reliever at York, PA early last summer (1-0, one save, 2.45 ERA in 15 appearances), is one of eight candidates (three left-handers) for seven jobs.
Rice, who also made Atlantic League stops at Long Island, NY (’08) and Newark, NJ (’09), has allowed only three hits (no walks) and struck out five in 5.0 innings so far this spring. He has never played in a regular season major league game.
The only two other players who were in Indy leagues last season and still are in major league camps played for Lancaster, PA (Atlantic League). They are starting pitcher Jerome Williams with the Los Angeles Angels and first baseman-third baseman Terry Tiffee with Miami. Williams is making progress from a hamstring strain that has kept him out of any games so far, but he may be losing ground to touted rookie Garrett Richards.
Nava, Others Get Into Major League Exhibitions
It is nice to see that Boston has not completely forgotten Daniel Nava, who made such splash with a grand slam on the first major league pitch he saw back in 2010. Although not even invited to camp as a non-roster player, the onetime Chico, CA (Golden League) outfielder has gotten into three spring training games (0-for-3) with the parent Red Sox.
Other players like Nava who started their career in an Independent league and have seen action in one or more major league games this spring include infielder Dan Kaczrowski (St. Paul, MN, American Association) with Arizona and pitcher Brandon Kloess (Windy City, Crestwood, IL, Frontier League) with the Chicago White Sox.
(This is an excerpt from the column Bob Wirz writes year round on Independent Baseball. Fans may subscribe for 2012 at www.WirzandAssociates.com, enjoy his blogs, www.AtlanticLeagueBaseball.com and www.IndyBaseballChatter.com, or comment to RWirz@aol.com. The author has 16 years of major league baseball public relations experience with Kansas City and as spokesman for two Commissioners and lives in Stratford, CT.)