December 22, 2014

Latest Rash of Player Sales (10 in Two Weeks) Reinforces Some of Independent Game’s Best Attributes

December 7, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Even though there is an urge this early to focus on spring training because of so many promotions to 40-man major league rosters and earlier-than-usual non-roster invitations, truth be told the big story right now is the rash of signings of Independent players to affiliated contracts.

This corner can pinpoint 10 such signings to major league farm systems in the last two weeks alone; 21 since the 2012 Indy season ended and it is likely there have been others that have not come to light.

These happenings cannot be anything but music to the ears of everyone involved in the non-major-league-affiliated game since they reinforce why more than seven million fans turned out to enjoy the win-first, develop-second approach to the game and the reason players eagerly sign on with the 50 or so teams playing throughout the country.

Enter George Tsamis, the decade-long manager at St. Paul, MN, one of the best producing franchises of major-league-worthy talent year in and year out with 107 player sales since the Saints and the Independent game got going two decades ago.

Two recent sales by the American Association team drive home a pair of prime examples why Independent talent is attractive to many of the 30 big-league organizations.

Example A is southpaw hurler Caleb Thielbar, discarded by one organization only two years ago, who meteorically climbed through the Class A, AA and AAA levels of Minnesota’s farm system last summer and now owns a spot on the Twins’ 40-man winter roster.  He needed a second chance, capitalized on it as a 24-year-old in 2011 and now is a solid major league prospect.

Example B is Robert Coe, now 24, who spent his college days primarily as a catcher at a college not greatly known for its baseball, got a chance to convert to pitching as a non-drafted free agent at St. Paul one and a half seasons ago, and impressed the Arizona Diamondbacks to the point he will have his first opportunity in a major league farm system next season.

“A lot of people had written him (Thielbar) off (after his release from the Milwaukee farm system),” Tsamis said from his Connecticut home this week.  “He wasn’t even going to spring training with anyone that year (’11).”  As for Coe, Tsamis said the Saints’ pitching coach at that time (Jason Verdugo, now athletic director at Hamline University in St. Paul) “remembered him from college (University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, where he had pitched all of 12.1 innings).”

MLB Organizations Take Eight From American Association

While six Independent leagues can take credit for at least one of the players picked up by major league organizations since the end of the 12 season, the American Association stands the tallest with eight of its players joining the affiliated ranks.

Five of the 21 players got their very first professional opportunity in an Independent league, with the American Association producing right-hander Robert Coe (see story above) and Fargo, ND outfielder Buddy Sosnoskie (for Baltimore).  In addition to Coe, Arizona also signed righties Chris Cox from Quebec (Can-Am League) and Kyle Schepel from Rockford, IL (Frontier League).  Baltimore inked catcher Jim Vahalik from the Frontier League (Washington, PA and London, Ontario).

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 28 Headed to Major League Camps So Far

Veteran major leaguers Stephen Drew (Camden, NJ, Atlantic League) and George Sherrill (Evansville, IN, Frontier League, and, Winnipeg and Sioux Falls, SD, Northern League) are still on the free agent roster—Drew is one of the major names—but even without them we can already identify 28 former Independent Baseball players with major league spring training trips a certainty.

An impressive total for early December, this group includes 20 on major league rosters, the most recent of whom are pitchers Greg Burke (Atlantic City, NJ, Atlantic League) with the New York Mets and Brandon Sisk (Bay Area, Continental League) with the Los Angeles Angels. 

(This is an excerpt from the column Bob Wirz writes year round on Independent Baseball.  Fans may subscribe for 2012 at reduced rates at www.WirzandAssociates.com, enjoy his blog, 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.)

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