By Bob Wirz
At 27 and with the type of left arm that really excites baseball people, Tyler Alexander seems a perfect fit, especially for a major league organization that is always struggling to keep up with the competition because its payroll isn’t as flush as many others.
(Photo Credit: Dave Samson/The Forum)
That is the case today for the three-year starter at Fargo-Moorhead, who is training with the Oakland Athletics in Mesa, AZ and could easily be considered the most recent American Association grad worth watching in spring training as a possible break-through candidate.
This has been a fast-changing story for the Tampa native, who has not pitched anywhere except in Independent leagues, Mexico and winter leagues since 2014 and until Oakland came calling recently thought he would not get another major league organizational opportunity.
“I kind of counted it out, I didn’t think it was a possibility anymore with the off-the-field stuff”, Alexander told The San Francisco Chronicle when his signing was announced recently. “I’m just happy that these guys gave me the opportunity to keep chasing the dream.”
The “off-the-field stuff” has been well documented. Two suspensions for marijuana use, and the last one in 2016 was major–for three years.
“I’m not trying to hide it,” he admitted to The Chronicle. Alexander was only 22 and a control-plaqued Milwaukee draftee the first time he was suspended. “I’ve had it over my head for a long time–I couldn’t sign with any (major league) teams until we petitioned to have it lifted and MLB gave me the OK.”
He also had an important development on the diamond: “I learned how to throw strikes.” He gives a lot of credit to Michael Schlact, originally his American Association pitching coach and more recently the RedHawks’ manager, who resigned a few days ago to take a coaching position with an unknown major league organization. “He worked with me on the mental side of the game…I cut the walks in half. The game changes when you throw strikes”.
While the Athletics have several left-handed candidates this spring, Alexander, who could either start or relieve, did not arrive unnoticed. Manager Bob Melvin told The Chronicle’s Susan Slusser assistant general manager Dan Feinstein told him Alexander “is someone they had their eye on for a couple of years”.
Free Agency Stinks; Well, Maybe
Free agency has its rewards for major leaguers. Some of the time, that is.
Just ask Chicago Cubs reliever Brandon Kintzler, the most experienced and best paid pitcher active today who came out of the American Association and is not named Max Scherzer.
You see, Kintzler, now 34, had a terrible two months (7.00 ERA) after joining the Cubs in the second half of last season. The right-hander gulped and picked up his $5 million option for this season. Not bad, many a player would say, except that agreement came after the North Side guys declined the team option that would have paid the longtime major leaguer twice as much.
“I was talking to (new Cubs reliever) Brad Brach and his experience with free agency,” Kintzler told the newspaper. “It’s scary. This guy was an All-Star (in 2016), and it’s a scary world out there.” Brach only got a contract recently, and took about $1 million less than last season ($5.16 million)
Kintzler, who probably would be much happier talking about his 22, 23 and 24-year-old days when he went a combined 20-11 for the Goldeyes and Saints and was dreaming about maybe getting to the majors, also had some thoughts about former Washington teammate Bryce Harper, still a free agent with spring training camps already open although he is likely to surpass Manny Machado’s $300 million payday any day now.
“He’s a field rat,” Kintzler told The Trib. “He loves being at the field and hitting all day, doing his thing. The fact he’s not there, I’m sure it’s driving him crazy.”
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.