By Bob Wirz
While the steady tick of American Association players getting opportunities in major league organizations has been impressive the list has one noticeable omission.
Where is Chicago Dogs first baseman Keon Barnum?
All the young slugger has done within the last few months is break the league’s home run record with 31 bombs while cutting down on strikeouts to earn the Most Valuable Player award and even be selected by Baseball America as Independent Baseball Player of the Year.
He does not lack for being imposing at 6-foot-5, hits left-handed, is only approaching what should be his prime years (turns 27 in January) and has the identity of being a first-round draft choice. Still, he is on the Dogs roster, not that of one of the 30 major league organizations.
Barnum seems ready, especially after learning to hit with power to all fields.
“Being able to crush balls the other way, I found that added to my game,” the Florida native told Baseball America. “I could always go the other way, but hitting home runs the other way? That’s new. I wanted to be consistent (driving the ball the other way). That helped me a lot because most pitchers (in the past) have pitched me soft and away.” The magazine reported that only two of Barnum’s 15 home runs for Class AA Birmingham in 2018, the last of his seven seasons in the Chicago White Sox system, were to left while more than half of his round-trippers for the Dogs were to left or left-center.
Barnum drove in 90 runs in 98 games for Butch Hobson’s club, and he hit a career-high .311. The slugger had seven more homers and 32 RBI while hitting .253 during a stint in Mexico this offseason.
Rheault Has New Chance, Now With Cincy
One player with a new affiliated opportunity is right-handed reliever Dylan Rheault, who spent 2016 in the American Association (Sioux City, plus one game for Winnipeg) and after two summers in the San Francisco farm system and time with Team Canada was not in a major league farm system last year.
The 6-foot-9 hurler, who will be only 28 throughout next year, has signed with Cincinnati and is on the Reds’ Double-A Chattanooga roster. He had a combined 3.94 ERA in 34 American Association appearances.
Who Is Hot in Winter Leagues
Current Sioux City infielder Jose Sermo, who hit .316 with 22 homers and 81 RBI for the Explorers in ’18 before slipping to 13-77-.260 last season, is again ripping the ball in the Dominican League. The switch-hitter has the third best average (.338) in this veteran circuit and has the seventh best on-base percentage (.409). He previously logged time at Gary and Winnipeg.
John Nogowski (Sioux City) is impressing St. Louis brass, has major league organization, in both hitting and fielding as he attempts to negotiate the final level of reaching the majors.
Last year’s Cardinals organizational all-star at first base is hitting .316/.442 in the Dominican League, and what has stood out even more for director of player development Gary LaRocque is his defense.
“He’s been as strong over there (first base) as anybody we’ve had move through the upper levels (of the farm system), LaRocque told MiLB.com. “He saves the infielders a lot of runs and a lot of throwing errors. He has very good hands, (is a) very good fielder.” Offensively, Nogowski had career highs with 15 homers and 75 RBI while hitting .295 for Triple-A Memphis last season.
In Venezuela, Cesar Valera (Milwaukee, Lincoln, Laredo) has slipped somewhat from his sizzling start, but still has the eighth best average (.357), ranks fifth in OBP (.442), shares third in hits (46) and is second in runs scored (32) in 36 games. Ramon Garcia (Grand Prairie) leads the league with six victories (6-1, 2.73) while Nestor Molina (Joplin) is 5-0, 2.06 and has the fifth best ERA (1.02).
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.