FIVE AA HURLERS IN MLB PENNANT CHASE

FIVE AA HURLERS IN MLB PENNANT CHASE

Independent Baseball Chatter
by Bob Wirz

While it seems unlikely most of them will be on postseason rosters, no less than five former American Association pitchers have gotten to experience the thrill of being on active rosters while their team has–or soon will–clinch a spot in major league baseball’s race for October-November glory.

What stories they will be able to tell their children or grandchildren.

Kansas City’s Luke Hochevar (Fort Worth 2006) has had a spot in the bullpen pretty much locked up all year so his postseason spot seems certain, but the other four have had to prove themselves over and over to be where they are today, Tanner Scheppers (St. Paul 2009) with Texas, Chris Martin (Grand Prairie 2010) with the New York Yankees, Bo Schultz (pictured, Grand Prairie 2011) with Toronto and Ian Thomas (Winnipeg 2009-11) with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

It is doubly worth noting that Hochevar, Scheppers and Martin all threw their very first professional pitches in the American Association.

Martin started the season by drawing considerable attention from the Yankees, though he has been used sparingly since his recall from the minors. Scheppers lost time to a knee injury and has been so-so since getting healthy although the fact he has 165 major league appearances in the last four year–42 this season with a 5.63 ERA–will not hurt his chances of pitching beyond the regular season.

Thomas, the only left-hander in the group, has been called on by Don Mattingly six times in a 17-day span as the Dodgers tried to wrap up the National League West. After getting into only eight games all season with Atlanta and LA until he was recalled at the start of September, the 28-year-old has worked eight innings in September, allowing three runs along with eight hits and three walks and he has struck out 10.

It seemed likely Schultz, whose story is worthy of a book since he had virtually given up the game on multiple occasions, would be part of Toronto’s bullpen for as long as the Blue Jays last, but despite a 3.46 ERA for his 30 major league appearances this season he has only been called upon three times in September–not at all in the last 17 days–with limited success.  Still, he understands what an opportunity he has had this season.

“Jogging onto the field, you’re playing against the best in the entire world, you know,” he commented as part of a long story about his career this week from sportsnet.ca.  “It’s humbling to be a part of this.  It’s been a unique path here.  Baseball has ended three or four times for me, and it’s been an almost conclusive end.  And then something’s popped up and the opportunity hasn’t quite closed.”

Were he a baseball writer today as he had started out to be with his Northwestern journalism degree, Schultz admits he’d find his own story worth writing about.  “I guess I’d want to interview myself,” he said.

One More Honor for Balbino Fuenmayor

It was only one year ago when Baseball America honored  Balbino Fuenmayor as its Independent Baseball Player of the Year, now the slugger has been chosen by the magazine as the designed hitter on its Double-A all-star team even though the 25-year-old only played 73 games for Kansas City’s No. 2 farm club, NW Arkansas.  He hit .354 with 38 extra-base hits (15 homers) among his 103 hits and 51 runs batted in before he was promoted to Triple-A Omaha.  He spent part of the 2013 season at Laredo.

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.