December 13, 2019

Wilhelmsen, Almonte Step Up, Give Indy Game 14 on Opening Day Rosters

March 31, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

     Erick Almonte’s unexpected jump onto the Milwaukee Brewers’ bench grabbed much of the Independent Baseball attention during spring training, but now that the reality of Opening Day is here the 32-year-old, who has not been in the major leagues since 2003, has to share the spotlight with a quartet of pitchers who also have cemented spots on 25-man rosters.

      Another surprise with virtually as much shock value as that of Almonte is the spot in the Seattle bullpen nailed down by Tom Wilhelmsen, who, incredibly, was out of baseball for five seasons (2004-08) until landing in the ‘09 Golden League.  Wilhelmsen and prized Kansas City prospect Aaron Crow will be in the majors for the very first time.  Brandon Kintzler, still another right-hander, will be a teammate of Almonte’s in Milwaukee, a job not assured until he outlasted some stiff competition even though he got 7.1 innings spread over seven appearances (0-1, 7.36) in his first brush with the major leagues last September.   Bobby Cramer did not win the No. 5 starter’s job with Oakland, as he had a chance to do, but the lefty stuck and will be used in a variety of relief roles.    

      The American Association can claim both Crow (Fort Worth, TX) and Kintzler (St. Paul, MN plus Winnipeg, moving to that circuit from the Northern League).  Almonte played in the Atlantic League (Long Island, NY) for a season, while Cramer, like Wilhelmsen, came out of the Golden League. Wilhelmsen was in Tucson, AZ, Cramer at Orange County (Fullerton, CA).

      With this quintet, 14 players who have worn Independent uniforms made Opening Day rosters with two others, San Diego lefty Joe Thatcher (River City, O’Fallon, MO, Frontier League) and Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Jay Gibbons (Atlantic League teams in Newark, NJ, and Long Island), both on the 15-day disabled list.  The 14 is an increase of three, not counting those disabled, over last year. 

      If Milwaukee did not give Almonte much chance of landing a National League job, Wilhelmsen told MLB.com he gave himself  “maybe a two per cent chance” of starting the season in the American League.  No one could argue.  Although only 27 now, the 6-foot-6 hurler was out of baseball those five years and had been bartending and playing in a coed softball league until Tucson gave him a chance in ’09.  When he throws his first regular season pitch it will be his first above Class A in affiliated baseball.

      “He throws in the mid-90s, he’s got a good breaking ball, he’s throwing strikes and he’s big,” praised Seattle General Manager Jack Zduriencik, who remembered Wilhelmsen when they both were in the Milwaukee system.  An improved changeup also helped the reliever to a 2.70 ERA in 10 spring innings.

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Mark Prior, Rene Rivera Could Be on ‘Future’ List

      It is very tricky trying to predict which others among the 50 Independent players in major league spring training camps fulltime are likely to be promoted sometime during the season, but two more who had strong showings are New York Yankees reliever Mark Prior and Minnesota catcher Rene Rivera.

       “You seem to see more arm speed (from Prior) every time out,” Yankees Manager Joe Girardi praised to ESPN.  The Yankees opted to leave him in the warmer weather of Florida for now, but did not deny the onetime standout Chicago Cubs starter has a chance of getting to the Bronx.  Prior started his comeback from a series of injuries at Orange County (Fullerton, CA) of the Golden League last season, and put up a 1.04 ERA for nine spring appearances with New York.

      Rivera started last season in the Atlantic League (Camden, NJ), and thought enough of his work this spring to take him north for a pair of exhibition games in Atlanta.  Strong defensively, he also hit .292 (7-for-24) in 13 spring appearances.  He has major league experience with Seattle and is only 27.

        (This is an excerpt from the column Bob Wirz writes year round on Independent Baseball.  Fans may subscribe 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.)

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