By Bob Wirz
When baseball finally gets going again both major league teams and their farm systems are not going to have a great deal of time to settle on rosters. Who is healthy? Who stayed in the best shape to play right away considering that group workouts were taboo. Speculation has indicated it might be as little as two to three weeks of training and away we go.
Major and minor league rosters have been frozen during the coronavirus shutdown so the shuffling of personnel from one team to another could get pretty hectic at the last minute.
With all of this in mind, it seemed like fun to see what the immediate–post-COVID-19 that is–, outlook might look like for some of the American Association’s former players beyond the 8-10 who will be on major league rosters.
The logical starting point was to see where first baseman Keon Barnum, who re-wrote the league home run record last season while with the Chicago Dogs and became MVP as well as Baseball America’s Independent League Player of the Year would be playing. The 27-year-old Floridian was signed by the World Series-champion Washington Nationals while he was getting still more experience playing in Mexico during part of the winter.
Barnum was in the Nationals’ minor league camp when the virus brought baseball to a halt, and he appears likely to open the season with Harrisburg, PA. He is listed on the Senators’ roster, which presumably means the Nationals plan to start the lefty two steps below the majors in the Double-A Eastern League.
If he can come close to duplicating his prolific Chicago season of 58 extra-base hits, 90 RBI and 1.030 OPS he could quickly move up to the Nationals’ top farm club in Fresno, CA, which would be a new plateau for Barnum. If that happens he no doubt will continue singing the praises of Chicago hitting coach D. J. Boston. “I worked with (D.J.) a lot,” he reported back to the Dogs recently. “It was little things that helped me, like not closing off my shoulder too much and pressing with my back leg instead of bending it. I was trying to do damage every time at the plate.”
Where Are They Now
Where are some of the other top American Association grads likely to start based on the current rosters?
Pitchers Mike Kickham and Kevin Lenik, both signed by Boston from the Kansas City T-Bones, are assigned to Pawtucket, RI, the top farm club of the Red Sox, with outfielders Edgar Corcino (Gary and El Paso) and Keith Curcio (T-Bones) one level down at Portland, ME. Somewhat surprising is that Boston’s Minor League Defensive Player of the Year Ryan Fitzgerald (Gary) still is with Class A Salem, VA.
Atlanta pitchers Tyler Matzek (Texas) and Jason Creasy (St. Paul) are only one step below the majors at present with Gwinnett, GA. At least nine other hurlers also are in Triple-A. Detroit’s Tim Adleman (Lincoln and El Paso) is with Toledo, OH; Minnesota’s Caleb Thielbar (St. Paul) at Rochester, NY; San Francisco’s Trey McNutt (Fargo-Moorhead) at Sacramento, CA; Tampa Bay’s D. J. Snelten (Chicago) at Durham, NC; Arizona’s Kevin McCanna (Sioux City) at Reno, NV; Toronto’s James Dykstra (Sioux City) at Buffalo, NY; Texas’s Brandon Mann (Fargo-Moorhead) at Nashville, TN; Milwaukee’s Aaron Wilkerson (Grand Prairie) at San Antonio, TX and the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Casey Crosby (Chicago) at Oklahoma City.
Ryan Court (Sioux City) is the only shortstop on Oakland’s top club at Las Vegas, first baseman John Nogowski (Sioux City) returns to Memphis, TN for St. Louis and outfielder Johnny Davis (Kansas City) is at Durham for the Rays.
Impressively, Keon Barnum, Corcino, Crosby, Lenik, Matzek and Snelten all played in the American Association last season.
Two players who were released before the virus halted play were Fargo-Moorhead’s Zach Prendergast and Kansas City’s Akeem Bostick. Both had been in the St. Louis minor league system.
The Happiest Man Around?
How fortunes change.
Just ask onetime Gary outfielder Jonathan Jones, who started playing in Mexico four years ago when his advancement in the United States had seemed to stall as he awaits next year’s Olympics where he figures to be a key player for Team Mexico.
“I never imagined I would be in this position,” the 30-year-old Jones admitted to his hometown Vacaville (CA) Reporter this week. In 2016 (one year after he had hit .314 in Gary), I was just trying to prolong my career. To think that I’d be sitting here now, having played for Team Mexico (when it qualified for the Tokyo Games) and a member of the all-World Team, it’s a crazy feeling.
“But years of hard work, and I’ve taken my lumps along the way, and now I’m finally reaping the rewards.”
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.