It Is Nail-Biting Time for Several Independent Players Although ’11 Standout Jerome Williams Is ‘On Track’
It appears 2011 Lancaster (PA) Barnstormers (Atlantic League) starter Jerome Williams could win that fifth starting job with the Los Angeles Angels after all even though his hamstring strain forced him to miss some 24 days of spring training.
The 30-year-old, who also at one time hurled for Long Beach, CA in the Golden League, shattered a couple of bats and did not allow any hard-hit balls during three shutout innings in a Triple-A exhibition early this week. Williams gave up only a single and a walk and struck out four.
“I am on track,” Williams told MLB.com. “It is a big relief to me.” Assistant General Manager Scott Servais also liked the performance. “He looked a lot better than I anticipated, especially with this being his first outing. He looks good. Very good.”
Williams is slated to pitch again Saturday, and has his sights set on Yankee Stadium April 15, which, according to Manager Mike Scioscia, is the first time the Angels will need their No. 5 starter.
Bubble Time for This Group
While we can count nine players (all pitchers) who seem to have opening day major league jobs sewed up (not counting New York Mets lefty Tim Byrdak and Arizona shortstop Stephen Drew, who will be on the disabled list), the next week still will be nervous time for several onetime Independent players who seem to have a chance of making the treasured 25-man rosters. These are the spring numbers they had put up heading into play Thursday:
Starter-reliever Dylan Axelrod (Windy City, Frontier League) limited San Diego to three runs (eight hits) in 5.2 innings Wednesday to strengthen his hopes of opening with the Chicago White Sox. He has worked 19.2 innings (29 hits) in six appearances (four starts) and is at 0-2, 5.95.
Fourteen year pro Scott Rice (York, PA in 2011 plus fellow Atlantic League foes Long Island, NY and Newark, NJ, in earlier years) threw another scoreless inning in his bid to break into the major leagues with the Los Angeles Dodgers, lowering his earned run average in 6.2 innings to 4.05. He has fanned seven and walked only one, but is not on the 40-man roster as are some of his competitors.
At least one writer has southpaw Raul Valdes (New Jersey Jackals and Nashua, NH, Can-Am League) back in Philadelphia‘s bullpen picture after two scoreless innings against Minnesota Wednesday even though he was assigned to minor league camp earlier. Valdes has a win, a save and a sparkling 1.69 ERA for 10.2 innings in which he has 11 strikeouts and only one walk (nine hits).
Among position players, outfielder Justin Christian and infielder Mike Hollimon have gotten extensive time with San Francisco and Minnesota, respectively. Christian (Southern Maryland, Atlantic League, and River City, Frontier League) has hit .243 (9-for-37 in 21 appearances and has stolen all three bases he has attempted. Hollimon (Grand Prairie, TX, American Association) shares the Twins’ lead by appearing in 19 games, and has hit a sparkling .421 (9-for-21) with a .480 on-base percentage. He has driven in five runs. Catcher Jose Yepez (Pensacola, FL, American Association, and Gary, IN, when it was in the Northern League) has hit .308 (4-for-13) with Atlanta, which also has tested him at first base.
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Fit Boulton on the Job for Atlantic League
Meanwhile, it was good to learn directly from Atlantic League Founder Frank Boulton that he is not only in the office on a regular basis but also able to walk for 18 holes of golf. He faced some health issues during the offseason.
“I’m back to my feisty self,” he chuckled from his Long Island, NY office.
It sounds like Boulton and those who run his Long Island Ducks and Bridgeport (CT) Bluefish had better be on their toes since Andy Etchebarren, who has led York, PA to back-to-back Atlantic League titles, told The York Daily Record after some recent player signings “I think this team (the 2012 Revolution) is going to be the best we’ve ever put on the field.”
(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.)