February 20, 2020

While New Leagues Are Slow to Develop, Independent Roster in Majors Grows Rapidly

August 23, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Independent Baseball is continuing to turn out major league players in impressive numbers—two more just this week—but operators are not finding it nearly as easy to start new leagues or even to nail down new franchises.

A new league has not started and lasted since the Can-Am League launched in 2005, and even that was somewhat of a shift from one set of books under the Northeast League banner to the current setup.

Atlantic League Founder Frank Boulton had to put his planned eastern seaboard developmental league on hold for at least another year although he emphasized “we do, however, believe in the economic model and the need based in the game of baseball for a circuit like the Diamond League to exist.”

Meanwhile, Commissioner Miles Wolff, who has been interested in some of the same markets, has not found an easy go in trying to get the Can-Am back to at least six teams (it has five at present).  His present target is to have news “hopefully, by early October.”

Then, there is the effort by major league executive Dan Evans and entrepreneur Nick Desrosiers to start a new Northern League.  Its latest known development has charm in that a team would be based in Northeast Iowa next to the legendary “Field of Dreams” movie site in what is being called All-Star Ballpark Heaven, but the fact remains that is only the second team (Elkhart, IN) to be identified with the start of the ’14 season only about nine months away.

Pirates Call on Two Indy Grads

The National League Central-leading Pittsburgh Pirates have been the latest major league team to draw on players recently playing in Independent leagues, getting a big boost for a tired bullpen from southpaw Kris Johnson and on Wednesday utilizing Felix Pie to fill in at the top of their lineup when two of their outfielders were ailing.

Johnson, who was in the American Association (Kansas City, KS) two years ago, became the 10th former Indy player to make his major league debut this season, a high-water mark since the Independent Baseball Insider started recording such activity in 2008.  Pie, who spent part of last summer in the Atlantic League (Camden, NJ), is the 33rd player with Independent experience to appear in a major league game this season, one more than in all of 2012.

Johnson, who was 6-3, 3.23 in 16 starts for the T-Bones, was sent back to Triple-A Indianapolis in favor of another fresh arm, but it was only after a memorable major league debut in which he gave a tired bullpen a break by hurling five scoreless innings before allowing two runs in a 16-inning loss to Arizona.

“I told him I was just so proud of him,” Pittsburgh Manager Clint Hurdle told MLB.com.  “The job he did for us (six innings, five hits, two walks, five strikeouts) was exciting to watch and obviously well needed for our club and our bullpen.”  It also could bode well for the 28-year-old, who is 10-3, 2,18 at Indianapolis, when rosters expand September 1.

It was exactly two years between major league appearances for Pie, who went 1-for-3 with a walk and scored Pittsburgh’s only run in a 2-1 loss at San Diego Wednesday.  “It’s been a tough two years,” Pie told MLB.com.  “But I learned that the only thing I can control is playing hard, and I’ve worked to show I can play in the big leagues.” 

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 Cycle and Home Run Record All at Once

The Wichita (KS) Wingnuts are having another magical season, already tying their franchise record for wins (59-30) with 11 games to go in the American Association campaign, but first baseman C. J. Ziegler upstaged the historic 18-5 thumping of host Gary, IN Wednesday night by becoming the first player in team history to hit for the cycle and tied the league record for home runs during the contest.

The 27-year-old’s 27th homer, equaling the mark set three years ago by Brandon Sing of Sioux Falls, SD, came in the first inning and also broke the club record with Ziegler’s 87th run batted in.  A fluky triple—the first of his six-year pro career—thanks to a ball being lost in the lights was next followed by a double off the fence and finally a sharp single in the ninth inning.

A strapping 6-foot-5, 245 pounds, the onetime Arizona Wildcats star also has 28 doubles for the season, and in addition to 90 RBI he is hitting .313 with a .403 on-base percentage and a 1.043 OPS (on-base plus slugging) for the division-leading Wingnuts. 

By BOB DUTTON The Kansas City Star

Updated: 2013-03-26T05:37:57Z

(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.)

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