Independent Baseball Insider – by Bob Wirz
Perhaps the American Association should start promoting itself as the best proving ground for major league catching hopefuls.
A fourth backstop who has played in the 13-team league has become a non-roster invitee to a major league spring training camp. Jeff Howell, who spent much of the 2011 season with St. Paul (21 games) and Lincoln (31) before returning to affiliated baseball where he had only four games of experience above Class AA before joining the Saints. Howell, who turns 30 on April 1, will be one of eight catchers in camp with the Washington Nationals.
Howell joins Jose Gil of the New York Yankees, who also played for Lincoln, Eddy Rodriguez of Tampa Bay (Sioux Falls and El Paso) and Jose Yepez of Atlanta (Pensacola, as well as current American Association city Gary when it was in the Northern League).
Howell has been in the Washington farm system the last two seasons, hitting .280 with five home runs in 30 games for Class AA Harrisburg, PA and .217 (one homer) for Triple-A Syracuse, NY last season.
Eighteen former American Association players will be in major league camps, one more than last season, with still others expected to play in an occasional major league spring training game when called over from minor league camps.
(Independent Baseball Insider columns, written by Bob Wirz, resume for a 12th year starting March 6. A sample of this popular column and subscriptions are available at www.WirzandAssociates.com. Wirz also writes about Independent Baseball on www.IndyBaseballChatter.com. The author has 16 years of major league baseball public relations experience with Kansas City and as spokesman for two Commissioners, and lives in Stratford, CT.)