One More Record Haul With 54 Independent Baseball Players Headed to Major League Camps
The numbers are staggering. A record of at least 54 players who have played in one or more Independent leagues will be in major league spring training camps starting next week. Seventeen of them started their professional journey in a non-affiliated league, and eight spent at least part of last season in one of the four most established of the Independents.
With players still being signed or issued late spring training invitations, these numbers may even grow a little more. But the 54 known to have major league lockers awaiting them, based on information compiled by the Independent Baseball Insider, represent an all-time best for the Independents, who started play only 21 years ago (1993). This is an increase from the previous record of 51 established one year ago.
Twenty of those headed to Florida or Arizona with hopes of starting the season in the major leagues are on 40-man rosters, an increase of four from one year ago, with another 34 possessing non-roster invitations. Thirty-nine are pitchers although there are sufficient position players to field an entire team.
The American Association has leaped to the No. 1 position with 17 players, two more than the Atlantic League, although the latter can boast that six of its 2012 players will be in major league camps. The Frontier League, which caters largely to younger pros, will be represented by 11 players, including seven who started in their ranks, and the Can-Am League has three. Some players have been in multiple leagues.
Four of last season’s Atlantic League pitchers (Shawn Hill, Scott Kazmir, Rommie Lewis and Daniel Stange) will be in major league camps along with outfielders Lew Ford and Felix Pie. Nate Robertson, who has the unique distinction of also being a part owner of the Wichita, KS franchise, and Wingnuts mound mate Matt Nevarez give the American Association representation from its 2012 season.
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Caribbean Series Has Decided Independent Link
One important baseball championship will be decided this very night (Thursday) when the Dominican Republic and host Mexico square off in the new championship game added this season at the end of the Caribbean Series.
Once again, there is a definite Independent Baseball flavor to the Caribbean Series.
No less than 16 players who were with Independent teams last summer are among 29 we identified with non-affiliated experience on the four teams, and that does not include Dominican Manager Ken Oberkfell, an Indy vet who will lead Lincoln, NE (American Association) this season. Oberkfell is expected to send Angel Castro, a star during the round-robin phase of the championship, to the mound in the finale for Escogido, which goes in with a 5-1 record compared to Mexico’s second place 3-3 mark. Ironically, Castro pitched for Lincoln in 2010, splitting six decisions.
Oberkfell has four Independent grads on his roster although lefty reliever Dustin Richardson (1-0, 3.77 in 17 games for Sugar Land, TX, Atlantic League), is the only one from the 2012 season. Four of Mexico’s players were in Indy leagues last summer with all-star outfielder and switch-hitting leadoff man Chris Roberson (.317-11-59, 36 steals) and first baseman Barbaro Canizares with Winnipeg in the American Association, strong-armed Mike Benacka with Laredo, TX in the same league (and briefly with the York, PA in the Atlantic League which also contributed infielder Jesse Gutierrez of Southern Maryland.
Puerto Rico and Venezuela, both 2-4 in the competition, had 11 and 10 Independent players, respectively.
Intriguing Stories Abound for New Independent Signees
One facet of the research that goes into preparing each of these columns is to pour over countless press releases and news stories from the 40 teams that make up the most established Independent leagues to sort through the most meaningful information to use. For example, it is fascinating to study the background of many of the players coming onto Independent rosters because there are so many diverse stories.
Lancaster, PA (Atlantic League) has signed veteran outfielder Jerry Owens, a speedster who stole 32 bases in one of his four seasons with the Chicago White Sox and played football for two years at UCLA before switching fulltime to baseball. Then just today (Thursday) St. Paul, MN announced it is bringing back infielder Craig Brazell, who has had a couple of limited major league opportunities but pounded 47 home runs and drove in 117 runs in ’10, the best of five years in Japan’s top league. Brazell hit .581 (18-for-31) with four dingers and 12 batted in during a seven-game stint with the Saints in ’09 to earn American Association Player of the Week laurels before his contract was sold to the Hanshin Tigers. He pounded 118 homers overall in Japan, and has 284 for his professional career.
(This is an excerpt from the column Bob Wirz writes year round on Independent Baseball. Forty columns are planned during 2013. Fans may subscribe at www.WirzandAssociates.com, enjoy the blog, www.IndyBaseballChatter.com, which has supplemental stories, 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.)