When the World Baseball Classic started the American Association had an impressive 17 of its current or former players among the 16 teams. That number, as expected, has been trimmed a great deal now that only seven teams remain in contention for the championship, but one remaining pitcher is a significant contributor on the field and seems to have the feelings the sport wants this fan-enhancing event to leave long after the title has been determined.
“We have our families back home and every day they tell us what is going on,” Venzuelan righthander Omar Bencomo told The Associated Press. “It’s a huge responsibility (trying to win the title), and it’s important because the situation we face in the country is so difficult. If we are blessed enough to give some joy, it will make Venezuelans very emotional.”
Bencomo was born in Valencia, Venezuela 28 years ago, and the onetime Wichita and Laredo (2015) hurler is still working his way up the baseball ladder as a top-tier minor leaguer in the Minnesota Twins system.
He proved to be a key to Venezuela advancing to the second round of the WBC now being contested in San Diego along with Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Team USA. Bencomo started the tense first-round finale against Italy in Miami and allowed only one run while striking out five over the first three innings of the eventual 4-3 triumph. He has a 2.25 earned run average for the WBC.
Yurendell deCaster had virtually been forgotten, but the 37-year-old was installed at first base when The Netherlands needed a boost and all he has done the last two games to get his team to the brink of the semifinals in the World Baseball Classic is go 5-for-9 with a homer and six runs batted in. The former Fargo (2009) and Winnipeg (’12-’13) infielder helped swamp Israel 12-2 and Cuba 14-1.
Wilkerson Did Not Stick–This Time
One somewhat surprising development involving former American Association players in major league spring training camps was Milwaukee’s decision to reassign onetime Grand Prairie reliever Aaron Wilkerson to its minor league camp with half-a-month to go before the season opens.
The 27-year-old, who started his pro career in Independent play and was in the league for parts of the ’13 and ’14 seasons after recovering from elbow surgery and before his contract was purchased by Boston, was in spring training with Milwaukee, but the Brewers gave the right-hander only six innings spread over three outings. He was dispatched to the minors after a three-inning relief stint last weekend in which he surrendered two runs in a 4-3 loss to the Chicago White Sox. While he could get other opportunities before spring training ends, Wilkerson’s log to date includes a 3.00 ERA and seven strikeouts in those six innings.
When Wilkerson joined the Milwaukee system as part of a trade for major league infielder Aaron Hill last July, general manager David Stearns praised him to FoxSports.com as “a starting pitcher who has had tremendous success in the minor leagues and could be an asset to the major league team in the near future.”
Brewers skipper Craig Counsell told MLB.com “A group of those guys (sent to the minors this week) are Triple-A starters (Wilkerson included), so they need to continue building up pitches. It’s just (that we are) running out of innings.”
Wilkerson has a 24-13 record and 3.16 ERA for three seasons in the affiliated minors, including much of last year in Triple-A.
Four More Visit Major League Camps
Still more former American Association players are getting to experience at least one day with their organization’s major league team during exhibition play. The most recent group includes pitchers Ryan Beckman (Laredo) with Miami and Michael Zouzalik (St. Paul and Wichita) with Baltimore and infielders Kevin Taylor (Laredo) with the New York Mets and Edgar Corcino (El Paso) with Minnesota. Beckman, Taylor and Corcino each played briefly in one game.
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 his book, “The Passion of Baseball”, came out in October and is available at traditional book-buying sites, or at www.WirzandAssociates.com.