Coaches, Players Who Came Through Independent Leagues Will Have Roles in American League’s Postseason
The constant search this column undertakes to find meaningful stories on current or former Independent Baseball personnel has once again resulted in some nice nuggets heading into major league baseball’s postseason with the further tip that every fan of the unaffiliated game should lean heavily to the American League starting next week.
It is a virtual certainty no less than five players who have toiled in Independent leagues, some of them who clearly did not have other options at the time, will be part of at least American League wild card competition and the number could climb.
This is just a start, too, because no less than three coaches with A.L. teams—it probably will climb to four—will be in uniform and popping up on millions of television screens as they carry out their duties. For the most part, the coaches worked their way up after mediocre playing careers which came up short of major league stardom.
Oakland has two coaches from the Indy ranks, both with intriguing back stories.
Mal Fichman, a longtime Independent manager and in more recent years a scout who has signed umpteen players from all over the non-affiliated world while working for various MLB teams, likes to call the Athletics’ first-year bullpen coach Darren Bush “the definition of perseverance”. The tag certainly fits since he was not drafted out of college, spent three years playing in the Frontier League (Zanesville, OH and Springfield, IL) before a brief opportunity as an outfielder and catcher in affiliated Class A, then finished playing for Yuba-Sutter (Marysville, CA) of the Western League.
Bush also started a successful managerial career in Indy leagues, most likely getting his first attention from the Athletics after a powerful 34-12 second-half in 2004 with Quebec, which now has won five consecutive Can-Am League titles. He joined the Oakland farm system the very next year, but spent eight seasons proving himself before the promotion to the major leagues this summer.
Ariel Prieto is listed in multiple locations as merely “coach” with the A’s although by digging a little deeper it seems this onetime Western League pitcher (Palm Springs, CA) was given a huge jump within the system so he could give outfield standout Yoenis Cespedes a fellow Cuban within the team’s traveling party.
Rafael Belliard, who played at Albany, NY in what at the time was the Northeast League, continues to serve as Detroit’s infield and first base coach, but there is another significant first-year contributor who is just a win or so away from helping take Cleveland into the postseason. That would be the Tribe’s pitching coach, Mickey Callaway, who probably could not have envisioned this opportunity when he served as player-coach five years ago at Laredo, TX, now part of the American Association.
One of Mickey Callaway’s star pitchers, Scott Kazmir, will be right alongside presuming Cleveland does not let up and secures a wild card playoff spot. Kazmir rebounded from his season with Sugar Land, TX to once again become a proficient major leaguer.
Detroit’s 21-game winner Max Scherzer (21-3) heads a contingent of four–possibly five–other players with time in Indy circuits who also will be in the American League playoffs. Scherzer (Fort Worth, TX, American Association) will join the Boston trio of shortstop Stephen Drew (Camden, NJ, Atlantic), outfielder Daniel Nava (Chico, CA, Golden League) and southpaw reliever Craig Breslow (New Jersey Jackals, then in the Northeast League, now in the Can-Am) and if Texas can sneak in its roster will include reliever Tanner Scheppers (St. Paul, MN, American Association).
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Majors Buy 44 Hurlers, 40 Position Players
Position players held their own against the pitchers this season in attracting major league organization offers. The count of 84 player sales The Insider can verify includes 44 pitchers (32 right-handed) and 40 position players, including 15 outfielders, 14 infielders, five first basemen and six catchers.
(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 reduced rates at www.WirzandAssociates.com, enjoy added stories on the 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.)