Independent Baseball Chatter – by Bob Wirz

With 18 of their former players in major league spring training camps, American Association teams can give themselves a giant round of applause.  Perhaps even more impressive, two of them were in the league as recently as last season.

Cleburne catcher Shawn Zarraga (pictured) is in the Los Angeles Dodgers camp where on any given day he might handle the likes of Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill or Kenley Jansen, and Sioux City right-hander James Needy is available for Miami manager Don Mattingly to call to the mound.

The 15 pitchers and three position players are three more than at this time one year ago.

Zarraga was with the Railroaders last May and June plus a short time in July before getting a second opportunity with the Dodgers, whose farm system he was in the two previous years.  The switch-hitter hit at a .272 clip in Cleburne with three homers, 17 RBI and a healthy .383 on-base percentage in 41 games.

Needy, a 6-foot-6 right-hander, was idle in 2016 after undergoing elbow surgery, then made three starts for the Explorers early last season (1-0, 2.93) before the Marlins purchased his contract.  He spent the remainder of the year with Florida’s top two farm clubs.

The entire American Association contingent in major league spring training camps with at least half of them likely to be on opening day rosters:

Pitchers (15)–

Position Players (3)–

*First professional game was in American Association.

NR-Non-roster invitee.

Salazar’s Journey Continues

Richard Salazar made a huge mark as both a starting and relief pitcher in the American Association, winning 45 games in six seasons, but he never got back to major league-affiliated play after the seven summers he had in the Baltimore farm system (2001-2007).

That has changed now.  The left-hander, now 36, has been hired as a coach in the Minnesota Twins organization.

Salazar was a fixture in the American Association from 2008-2013, at Wichita the first two years, then to Shreveport-Bossier and to Sioux City the last three years, finishing with a 10-3 record in ’13.  He won well over 100 games during his 17 seasons, finishing last year in the double role of pitcher and pitching coach for Rockland in the Can-Am League.

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,, and a book about his life, “The Passion of Baseball”, is available at or