By Bob Wirz
What better incentive for the nearly 300 players going through spring training right now than to see someone who was in the American Association as recently as last year knocking hard on the major league door for the first time.
That has to be the case for 28-year-old relief pitcher Parker Markel, who had Triple-A experience prior to spending last summer in Sioux City’s bullpen, and must surely have a lot of Seattle Mariners brass focusing on what he is doing for the Pacific Coast League’s Tacoma Rainiers.
Markel labored for six years in the Tampa Bay farm system, went to Korea under a reported $525,000 plus bonuses contract, spent a brief period with an Arizona pact, then struck out 62 American Association batters in only 41.1 innings spread over 37 appearances (1-1, four saves, 4.14 ERA) last season. The opportunity with the Explorers gave the 6-foot-4, 220-pound right-hander the chance to prove himself with the Mariners in 2019.
Has he ever.
After opening the season at Double-A Arkansas with five scoreless appearances (2-0, one save) in which he struck out a jaw-dropping 18 in 7.2 innings while giving up just two hits and two walks, the Newport Beach, CA native has been virtually as outstanding at Tacoma where his teammates include another former Explorer, pitcher Tayler Scott.
Except for a solo home run, Markel has been flawless in six trips to the mound. He has only been touched for two other hits in 7.0 innings, has walked four and continued the impressive strikeout log with 11 Pacific Coast League batters manhandled by him. Combined with the two teams, hitters have only managed a .100 batting average.
As a side note, while with Arkansas, one of his victories came in a 10-inning thriller in which his team was no-hit. Markel worked the ninth and 10th innings, and in the later after two runners reached base he stopped visiting Tulsa with a strikeout, groundout and another strikeout.
McCanna Sharp in Double-A Debut
Another former Sioux City pitching product, Kevin McCanna, has spent the first few weeks of the season going from one Arizona farm club to another although there is some thought he might have found more of a long term home.
After some time with Class A Visalia, CA (2-1, 4.35), the 25-year-old started one game for Triple-A Reno (0-1, 5.40), and now is in Double-A with Jackson, TN. He debuted with five innings of one-hit, scoreless ball to pick up a victory against the Tennessee Smokies, who previously had piled up solid offensive numbers against the Generals’ staff.
One must believe his Sioux City stint for most of ’17 (5-0, 2.95 in 27 games) paid dividends. He had only been a professional for two seasons when he joined the Explorers after Houston drafted him out of Rice University but did not promote him above Class A.
Oh, Those Infielders
Youthful Ryan Fitzgerald, who Gary SouthShore gave an initial professional opportunity out of Creighton University two years ago, continues to do much more than play infield defense for Boston’s High Class A team in Salem, VA.
Only 24, Fitzgerald is hitting cleanup, and carrying a .352 batting average, which is more than 60 points better than in any season yet, including the four years at Creighton. The average ranks fourth among all players in the Carolina League. He is tied for fourth with 23 runs batted in, fifth in hits (37-for-105), sixth with a .419 on-base percentage and tied for seventh with eight doubles. The lefty batter has had two or more hits in 12 of his 29 games. Although not much of a base stealer in his first two pro seasons, he has eight steals in the young season, which shares third in the league.
With the major league infielder Marco Hernandez currently with the team and playing shortstop, Fitzgerald has moved to second base in recent games.
Meanwhile, onetime Sioux City infield standout and Chicago Cubs prospect Ryan Court is getting another opportunity in a major league organization. After playing only eight games in the Independent Atlantic League, Sugar Land, TX has sold his contract to Seattle. It seems likely he will join Triple-A Tacoma.
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.