DIVISION LEADERS FLYING HIGH BUT KEEP AN EYE ON STEADY WICHITA

DIVISION LEADERS FLYING HIGH BUT KEEP AN EYE ON STEADY WICHITA

Independent Baseball Insider by Bob Wirz

The American Association has three exceptional–and mostly surprising–divisional leaders these days with St. Paul’s unbelievable 29-8 start in the North, a true Cinderella in Sioux City (27-11) in the Central since the Explorers have only made the playoffs twice this century and expansion darling Joplin (22-13) in the South.

But history says it would not be wise to rule out defending champion Wichita since the Wingnuts have made the postseason in five of their first six seasons, and if Kevin Hooper’s team is to beat out Joplin (it trails by only three games) or win the wild-card berth one of the reasons could well be because of outfielder Joash Brodin’s contributions.

Brodin did not get to Wichita until more than a dozen games had been played, but the switch-hitter has given the ‘Nuts another experienced bat. At 28, he is hitting .333 with 10 doubles and three home runs among his first 29 hits and only eight strikeouts in 87 at-bats. These are typical numbers for the 6-foot-4, 225-pound athlete, who also is capable of many a stolen base.

He has played in three Independent leagues since going undrafted out of the College of Charleston in 2009 with a very brief opportunity in the Arizona Diamondbacks farm system, and leaves no doubt the major leagues are his goal although he is an avowed fan of Independent Baseball.

“I love it,” Brodin told The Wichita Eagle. “It’s completely different than affiliated ball. We’re out here grinding, trying to get wins every day, and (affiliated teams) are trying to move guys up to the big leagues. I understand both scenarios, but baseball is more fun when you’re out there with a group of guys who are trying to get a (win) every night.”

Bad Break, Then Good One for Saints

When a team is enjoying the type of success St. Paul has had so far this season it may not need an extra good break, although that is exactly what the Saints got after third baseman Steve Nikorak took a nasty disabling pitch to his face. “I was the next guy off the bench,” said starting pitcher Robert Coe.

Coe came to the plate in the seventh inning in a recent game with two outs, a runner on third base and the game in Fargo knotted at 2-2 and hit a line single into right field. It was his first professional hit, and St. Paul went on to a 6-2 victory. “I just tried to put it in play and happened to hit it in right field for a base hit”, said Coe, who, it should be told in fairness, was a catcher at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

Fuenmayor Continues on a Tear

First baseman Balbino Fuenmayor could not possibly have hurt his chances of making it to the major leagues with his performance in the Texas League All-Star Game Tuesday night although current Northwest Arkansas teammate and No. 9 Kansas City Royals prospect Jorge Bonifacio came away with Top Star Award honors in the North Division’s 9-4 triumph.

Bonifacio’s two-run home run in the eighth inning broke a 2-2 tie and the outfielder had one other RBI although the homer was his only hit. Fuenmayor, who played 18 games at Laredo in 2013 before breaking out with Most Valuable Player honors in the Can-Am League (Quebec) last summer when he went .347-23-99, hit third for the winning team and went 3-for-4 with an RBI on a sacrifice fly and scored one time. Balbino, 25, is hitting .348 with 15 homers and 50 runs batted in this season.

Previously the chief spokesman for 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 as well as writing his blog, www.IndyBaseballChatter.com.