By Bob Wirz
While it still is early to know all of the teams headed to the resumption of baseball in the Olympics next year, some of those who have made the Premier 12 trials in Japan outstanding already can be identified.
Onetime Gary SouthShore right-hander Adam Quintana has continued to help Mexico although another American Association graduate is stealing some of the attention.
Jon Jones, a 31-year-old Californian who has not played above the Double-A level in the United States, stands as Exhibit A among those who have proven they can enjoy a nice career for themselves even though it seems unlikely they will ever get so much as a single day in the major leagues. The Olympics would be a nice alternate cherry on top of the cake.
Jones, who like Quintana played for the RailCats (2015), almost single-handedly carried Mexico to one of its back-to-back shutouts and to the brink of making it to the Olympic field. Jones hit the first pitch thrown in the whitewash of Australia for a home run, then came back with a double to set the final score at 3-0 and made a replay-certified diving catch from his centerfield position.
“Jones was certainly the key to our game,” praised Juan Castro, the Mexican manager.
Quintana contributed a scoreless eighth inning against the Aussies while two of last season’s American Association hurlers, Todd van Steensel (St. Paul) and Luke Wilkins (Fargo-Moorhead, Sioux Falls and Chicago), both threw two scoreless innings for the losers.
In Mexico’s next game, a 3-1 loss to Japan before 31,776 fans in Tokyo, Jones’s fourth inning home run was his team’s only hit of the entire game. Another former American Association outfielder, Noah Perio (Sioux City, ’15-’16, and both St. Paul and Kansas City in ’18), made what was described as a “brilliant” catch although he was 0-for-4 hitting second, right behind Jones.
Team USA, with former St. Paul lefty Caleb Thielbar in the bullpen, has been struggling in the same competition although it has not been eliminated.
Nogowski’s Bat Still Impressive
First baseman John Nogowski went wild in the 34 games he played for Sioux City in 2017 with a .402 average, .482 on-base percentage and 28 runs batted in. That May-June splurge earned him a shot in the St. Louis farm system, and it seems unlikely the Cardinals can keep the 26-year-old out of the major leagues much longer after a career-high 15-homer season with 75 RBI, a .295 average and .413 on-base tally at Triple-A Memphis last summer and a continuing hot stretch in the Dominican Republic so far this offseason. In his first 25 games in the Caribbean, the right-handed hitter (he throws left) shares second in the league in hits (30), is second in RBI (18) and third in total bases (44). He is in the top ten in both average (.313) and OBP (.404).
Left-hander Mike Kickham (Kansas City, 2016), now a free agent after three seasons in the Miami farm system, still has not allowed a home run in six starts and 35 innings in Mexico where he has the league’s fourth best earned run average at 2.06 along with a tidy 1.00 WHIP (walks+hits divided by innings pitched). He has won three of five decisions.
Abundance of Free Agents
The first South African pitcher to reach the major leagues, Tayler Scott, veteran big-league relievers Brandon Kintzler and Chris Martin plus versatile Ryan Court, who reached baseball’s pinnacle last season, could be singled out as the best known of former American Association players who now are free agents although it is a lengthy list as happens every November as both teams and players plan for the next season. Scott and Court played at Sioux City, Martin made not only his league debut but also his initial pro appearance at Grand Prairie and Kintzler worked at both St. Paul and Winnipeg.
The rest of the league’s free agent list:
PITCHERS–Tim Adleman (Lincoln, El Paso), Tyler Alexander (Fargo-Moorhead), Randall Delgado (Kansas City), Brian Ellington (Kansas City), *Ryan Fritze (Gary, Sioux Falls), Jason Garcia (Sioux City), Taylor Grover (Chicago), Bradin Hagens (Fargo-Moorhead), Mike Kickham (Kansas City), Trey McNutt (Fargo-Moorhead), Steve Pastora (Cleburne, Wichita), Jackson Sigman (Wichita), *Matt Solter (St. Paul, Gary), Eric Stout (Kansas City), Caleb Thielbar (St. Paul), Josh Tols (Kansas City).
CATCHERS–Adrian Nieto (Kansas City, Sioux Falls), Justin O’Conner (St. Paul), Dashenko Ricardo (Lincoln).
INFIELDERS–Dante Bichette, Jr. (St. Paul), Taylor Featherston (Kansas City), Kevin Lachance (Winnipeg), Josh Prince (Texas), *Joe Robbins (Lincoln), Darnell Sweeney (Kansas City).
OUTFIELDERS–Jordan George (Kansas City), Evan Marzilli (Gary), David Popkins (Sioux City), Jordan Smith (Sioux Falls, St. Paul), Dillon Thomas (Texas).
*First professional game was in the American Association
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.