By Bob Wirz
One statistic regarding the pre-All-Star Game portion of the major league season may blow a few minds, including those in high powered front offices.
To set the stage, I went back to last October when in this space I wrote that 17 pitchers with Independent Baseball experience combined for 67 regular-season wins, even without the 20 that onetime Atlantic League trainee Jered Weaver (Camden, NJ) posted for the Los Angeles Angels.
When the Race to October resumes for the 30 major league teams on Friday the Independent hurlers will be out to improve on their count that already totals 69 victories in 2013.
It is true that American League All-Star starter Max Scherzer, who was with the Fort Worth (TX) Cats (American Association) when his professional career started in ’07, has 13 of the wins. But 17 other hurlers who have pulled on Independent uniforms have contributed to the victory total, with 12 of them collecting a “W” at least three times. Twenty-nine of the triumphs have been credited to those who threw their first professional pitch in a non-affiliated league.
Kansas City reliever Aaron Crow, who also started in Fort Worth, ranks second with six wins followed by All-Star Steve Delabar of Toronto (Brockton, MA, Can-Am League and Florence, KY, Frontier League), All-Star voting finalist Tanner Scheppers of Texas (St. Paul, MN, American Association), rejuvenated Cleveland starter Scott Kazmir (Sugar Land, TX, Atlantic) and the Angels’ Jerome Williams (Lancaster, PA, Atlantic and Long Beach, CA (Golden League) with five apiece.
Majors Purchase 53 Players Since Spring Training
The pipeline of Independent Baseball players getting new opportunities in major league organizations also continues to fill up. We can identify 53 players whose contracts have been purchased by MLB teams since spring training ended April 1. Still others have been sold to teams internationally.
The Atlantic League leads with 25 sales to the major leagues and the American Association has had 16 plus two others who were affiliated with their teams but had not yet started the season when the sales occurred. Twenty-four of the 53 are right-handed pitchers, five are southpaws and 14 infielders have had contracts purchased along with eight outfielders and two catchers.
Longtime Atlantic League Executive Director Joe Klein believes he is seeing some changes with the thinking of major league executives which keep the demand for Independent players at a high level. “Baseball is a game of adjustments, and it is mandatory (for non-affiliated leagues) to stay ahead of the curve,” he explained. While teams draft fewer players today, he believes they tend to give those in their farm system a longer look during the minor league season, then release more in the offseason and take fewer players to spring training. That means the major leaguers keep costs down and they can fill out their rosters with quality players but at a lower price from Atlantic League (or other Independent league) rosters when needs arise.
Arizona, Atlanta and Kansas City have taken six players apiece from Independent teams this year and five have gone to San Diego.
(Bob Wirz also writes about Independent Baseball on www.IndyBaseballChatter.com. Fans may subscribe to this Independent Baseball Insider column, which will be published 40 times in 2013, at www.WirzandAssociates.com or comment to RWirz@aol.com. The author has 16 years of major league baseball experience with Kansas City and as spokesman for two Commissioners, and lives in Stratford, CT.)