By Bob Wirz
When the subject comes up of trying to pinpoint the next group of American Association players who could join the major league ranks before long one certain indicator is to find those now in Triple-A, the top minor league level.
Offseason rosters usually get set before the Winter Meetings, and looking at the Triple-A measurement four new major league hopefuls pop up. Mind you, anyone could get sent back to a lower minor league level before the new season starts, still it is pretty apparent a promotion to either the Pacific Coast League or the International League means a player’s organization thinks highly of the talent level or it would not waste a roster spot that high up the ladder.
Two oddities of checking out this particular foursome jump off the page. Each one is a pitcher and every one spent time with the Sioux City Explorers over the last three seasons. It probably is not mere coincidence that Explorers manager Steve Montgomery was a pitcher in his playing days although one would hope the fact he topped out at Triple-A is only a coincidence.
New York Mets prospect Peter Tago and Milwaukee’s Anthony Bender both wore Sioux City uniforms part of last season, Seattle’s Ian McKinney was with the X’s in 2018 and Arizona’s Kevin McCanna one year earlier. McKinney is a southpaw, the others throw right-handed.
Let us examine each pitcher a little more.
TAGO was a first round draft choice of Colorado back in 2010 when he was only 17. He started last season in the Independent Atlantic League (York, PA) and spent nearly the last two months transitioning back to starting games for Sioux City (6-3, 3.16) with an impressive 88 strikeouts in 74 innings. He also has been starting of late in Mexico.
BENDER was at Sioux City for only two appearance at the start of the season (0-0, 0.00 in 3.2 innings) before the Brewers grabbed him. The bulk of his season was at Class A Carolina, and the 24-year-old finished one level higher at Biloxi with a combined 2-3 record along with nine saves and a nifty 1.49 earned run average for his outings with three Milwaukee teams.
McKINNEY had the best production of the group last season, winning 13 of 18 decisions with a 3.63 ERA and 168 strikeouts in 151.1 innings. The lefty won Pitcher of the Year honors in the Class A California League (Modesto) which he led in ERA (2.84) and had the lowest rate among qualifiers of 0.4 home runs every nine innings. McKinney, 25, struck out 67 American Association batters in 53.2 innings over 10 appearances two years ago.
McCANNA pitched at three levels in the Arizona system last season although he only had one appearance with Triple-A Reno. The bulk of his time was with Double-A Jackson (5-5, 2.09), both starting and relieving. Now 25, he was 5-0, 2.95 in 27 appearances (two starts) for Sioux City in ’17.
Guerra Gets $2.55 Million From D-Backs
While it was miniscule by Strasberg and Cole terms, former American Association starter Junior Guerra (Wichita, ’11 and ’13) also signed a free agent deal during this week’s Winter Meetings, getting a not-too-shabby $2.55 million to move to the Arizona Diamondbacks, who also hold an option for 2021.
It is important to remember Guerra was a catcher when he started his professional career at the age of 18 in 2003, and he had still only pitched briefly and out of the bullpen at that before getting to the American Association where he was almost exclusively a starter while compiling an 18-7 record. He has only pitched since that time.
Milwaukee reportedly wanted the 35-year-old back after his 83.2 innings and 3.55 ERA last year in the Brewers’ bullpen.
Nava Hopeful For Next Opportunity; No AA Alum Drafted In Rule 5
Veteran outfielder-first baseman Daniel Nava attended the Winter Meetings, according to NBCSportsBoston, lobbying for one more major league opportunity. The 36-year-old, in the majors from 2010-17, spent the last three months of ’19 with the Kansas City T-Bones. The switch hitter played in 71 American Association games and hit .288 with a .379 on-base percentage. He had the rare feat of striking out fewer times (33) than he walked (40).
No one with American Association experience was chosen in Thursday’s Rule 5 draft, one of the final activities in the San Diego-based meetings.
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 at www.WirzandAssociates.com.