Independent Baseball Chatter – by Bob Wirz
The American Association will once again be well represented when the major league season begins this weekend because of the likes of starting pitchers Max Scherzer (Fort Worth) at Washington, Junior Guerra (Wichita) at Milwaukee and James Paxton (Grand Prairie) at Seattle plus reliever Brandon Kintzler (pictured, St. Paul) at Minnesota and outfielder David Peralta (Wichita, Amarillo) at Arizona.
But do not think for a moment there are not some nervous times for others whose fate has not been determined. Houston right-hander James Hoyt, who like Scherzer and Paxton threw his very first professional pitches in Independent play, and veteran hurler Chaz Roe are two fighting for jobs on 25-man rosters which are worth more than $500,000 apiece for a full season.
“It’s miserable being this guy,” Houston manager A.J. Hinch told the Houston Chronicle after he had informed Hoyt (Wichita) and fellow reliever Jandel Gustave they were battling for the final roster spot. Theirs is “a really, really close race,” he said.
Hinch praised Hoyt for his secondary pitches, saying he can retire left-handed hitters even though he is a righty.
Mark Bowman of MLB.com reported this week Roe is the most likely candidate to land the last spot in the Braves’ bullpen. The 30-year-old right-hander spent most of 2016 with Atlanta after coming over midseason from Baltimore, posting a 3.64 ERA in 29.2 total MLB innings.
Disappointing news has been the story for Toronto reliever Bo Schultz (Grand Prairie), who could be headed for elbow surgery, and Cincinnati starting candidate Tim Adleman (Lincoln, El Paso), who has been returned to the Reds’ minor league camp.
Eddy Rodriguez (Sioux Falls, El Paso) has been interesting to follow as a non-roster catcher in the Minnesota camp because this veteran, sometimes considered a coaching candidate as much as a player, has been in 14 games (1-for-17), which brings his career total in spring training games to 66 compared to only two during the regular season.
Brief Lincoln Stay Helped Launch Clayton Cook
Clayton Cook only spent a little over three weeks with Lincoln last July, but that was enough to get the right-hander energized and showing enough talent on the radar gun to get him into the bullpen for more than half-a-dozen Texas Rangers major league exhibition games this spring.
“I appreciate everything a lot more,” he told the hometown Amarillo Globe-News recently. “I didn’t really take things for granted to begin with, but I know it can all be gone again in the blink of an eye.”
Part of that appreciation for Cook comes from missing two full seasons (most of ’12 and all of’ ’13) because of major shoulder issues after seven years in the Cleveland farm system. “I’m throwing a lot harder (reportedly up to 97 mph) than I ever have before. Just being older (26) and more mature makes me not just happy to be here. My goal is to make to the big leagues.”
He started the comeback in the American Association, posting a 0.90 earned run average for 10 appearances with the Saltdogs in which he allowed only six hits and two walks in 10 innings and struck out 16. That led to the Texas Rangers purchasing his contract.
After spending the rest of the season in the California League (Class A), Texas is giving Cook a good look. He has pitched in two Cactus League games, getting a save in one of them. He has walked one and struck out one without allowing a hit in his 1.1 innings.
“I’m a different pitcher now,” he told the newspaper. “I used to be known for a curve ball, but now I’m a power guy. It’s even helped my curve. I throw it harder and my changeup is in the low 80’s. That has transitioned into more strikeouts.”
Laredo Power Arm Sergey Joins Athletics
Matt Sergey has not gotten into any Oakland Athletics games although they have had the fire-baller on their bench, which is quite a jump for the right-hander, who dazzled with 56 strikeouts in only 44 innings during a stint at Laredo last season. Sergey only gave up 26 hits while winning four games and building a 0.82 ERA.
Other recent American Association players who also have been shuttled from minor league camps to be in uniform for major league exhibitions include Sioux City pitcher Geoff Broussard with Cincinnati, St. Paul and Sioux City catcher Willie Argo with Seattle and Laredo and Sioux Falls righthander John Brebbia with St. Louis.
Previously the chief spokesman for Baseball Commissioners Bowie Kuhn and Peter Ueberroth, Bob Wirz has been writing extensively about Independent Baseball since 2003. He is a frequent contributor to this site, has a blog, www.IndyBaseballChatter.com, and his book, “The Passion of Baseball”, came out in October and is available at traditional book-buying sites, or at www.WirzandAssociates.com.
Photo: Arturo Pardavila III