By Bob Wirz
Winter league play is winding down except for the playoffs and Caribbean Series and major league spring training camps are still a month away, but that does not mean baseball fans need to fret about a total lack of activity on the diamond.
Photo Credit: Winnipeg Goldeyes
Wes Darvill, the everyday third baseman on Winnipeg’s back-to-back championship teams of 2016 and 2017 who got as high as Triple-A in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ farm system last summer, leads a contingent of four American Association players who will start training January 22 to represent Canada in the Pan American Games Qualifying Tournament in Brazil one week later.
Darvill will be joined by recent American Association pitchers Jared Mortensen, Dylan Rheault and Evan Rutckyj and a number of current or former major leaguers on the 24-man team manager Ernie Whitt will take to the eight-team competition. More players from the league could end up on other teams. The top four entries in the January 29-February 3 event will earn spots in Pan Am tournament July 26-August 11 in Lima, Peru. Baseball’s return to the Olympics in Tokyo one year from now is the eventual goal.
Darvill carries some of the everyday burden for his home country following his two full years in Winnipeg where the now 27-year-old hit .262 and .309, respectively, with 90 runs batted in an 48 stolen bases. He won all-league honors in 2017.
“Wes works extremely hard day-in and day-out and was a great teammate”, Goldeyes skipper Rick Forney praised to The Winnipeg Sun when the Richmond, CA native signed with the Dodgers one year ago this month. He played five games with Triple-A Oklahoma City last summer, but most of his time was with Double-A Tulsa where he hit .203 in 49 appearances.
Right-handers Mortensen and Rheault had the most extensive time in the American Association among the three pitchers on the 12-man Canadian staff. Mortensen, 30, went 4-6, 3.77 in 17 appearances (15 starts) at Grand Prairie in ’13, then after stints in the Tampa Bay and Houston farm systems that got him as high as Triple-A returned to the league and spent nearly two full summers with the Texas AirHogs, Kansas City and Cleburne. His best stint was in ’17 when he went 8-1, 2.57 for Texas.
Rheault, who was in San Francisco’s farm system last season, was a busy reliever most of ’16 with Sioux City (1-1, one save, 3.97) and made one brief appearance for Winnipeg. Lefty Rutckyj was 2-0, 5.57 in 22 relief outings with the Goldeyes in 2017.
Kuzminsky, Fallwell Thrive in Australia
University of Hawaii product Scott Kuzminsky’s debut in professional baseball was not an easy one as he gave up 85 hits in only 56.1 inning for Wichita three years ago.
The right-hander has progressed a great deal since with a year and a half pitching as high up as Seattle’s top two farm clubs, and when he returned to the American Association late last summer he was sharp. He posted a combined 1.93 earned run average with less than a hit and more than a strikeout per inning for 17 outings between Lincoln and Wichita.
Still young enough (27) to continue climbing the baseball ladder, after Wichita’s departure from the league the Tacoma, WA native has landed on the roster of the Kansas City T-Bones, who have seen an amazing 11 players win major league organizational jobs since last May.
Kuzminsky is getting ready to face more American Association hitters unless another MLB shot opens up after a strong showing in Australia. He has won all three of his decisions, saved three more games and posted a 1.42 ERA in 19 innings spread over 13 appearances and he has allowed only 12 hits while fanning 24 Aussie hitters.
A teammate in the Melbourne bullpen much of the Australian season has been recent Sioux City grad Tyler Fallwell, whose contract was sold to Philadelphia in July. He had a stingy 0.64 ERA in 23 games with the Explorers (2-1, two saves). Fallwell did not allow an earned run in 14 innings while active with the Aces, giving up only six hits and a walk (one HBP) and striking out 17.
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 a book about his life, “The Passion of Baseball”, is available at Amazon.com or for signed copies at www.WirzandAssociates.com.