It is almost impossible to identify any 29-year-old non-drafted rookie as a certainty to make an Opening Day roster in the major leagues two weeks before the season starts, but Houston relief pitcher James Hoyt has to be on the brink of making it.
The 6-foot-5 righthander, who flirted with the major leagues all of last season, has been exceptional again in spring training, striking out nearly two batters per inning and limiting Grapefruit League hitters to a measly .087 batting average.
If Hoyt does make the Astros’ roster he will become the most recent player who started his professional career in an Independent League to reach the majors. The Boise, Idaho, native came off play in two colleges to start out in what was the North American League in 2011 without benefit of being drafted. He joined the Wichita Wingnuts for a time the next season (2-0, 1 save, 2.61 in 12 appearances) and four years later appears major league ready.
Hoyt had been in six spring training games through Sunday, striking out 13 hitters in only 6.2 innings, and he had allowed only two hits and four walks. The miniscule 1.35 earned run average follows up on 11 previous spring training appearances with Atlanta (2014) and Houston last season in which he did not give up any earned runs while striking out 16 in 10.1 innings.
The last player to reach the majors after starting in an Indy league was Ian Thomas, who debuted with Winnipeg in ’09. Thomas, who broke in with Atlanta and the Los Angeles Dodgers last season, is on the Dodgers’ 40-man roster although he was optioned to Triple-A Oklahoma City a few days ago because two other southpaws were ahead of him.
Cuts Start, Holdzkom’s Velocity Down
The count of former American Association players in major league camps fulltime this spring has dropped from 18 to 12 since roster cuts have started. In addition to Ian Thomas, pitchers Tim Adleman (Lincoln and El Paso), Junior Guerra (Wichita), John Holdzkom (Amarillo and Sioux City) and Chris Smith (Wichita) and first baseman Balbino Fuenmayor (Laredo) have been sent to minor league camps. Kansas City has continued to give Fuenmayor some major league time even after the demotion.
A loss of velocity from an amazing run in 2014 when Holdzkom went from Amarillo to the parent Pittsburgh Pirates in a matter of weeks has cost the righthander. “We’re not saying he’s injured,” general manager Neal Huntington told BucsDugout.com, “but based on what we’ve seen so far in camp he doesn’t make the club.” The question, Huntington said, is “how do we get this guy back to what he was in 2014, back to that guy who can help us? Because that guy can really help us.”
Holdzkom averaged about 96 MPH with his fastball in the stretch run two years ago, and the Pirates say the fastball was hitting only about 90 this spring.
Another AA Trio Join MLB Teams
The trend of bringing players from minor league camps to fill out major league rosters on a given day has continued with three more American Association grads getting such an opportunity although none of them has appeared in a game so far.
The most intriguing of these invitations went to hurler Nestor Molina, who was a mainstay (7-5, 3.12) in Joplin’s first-year rotation last season. He is in the San Francisco farm system. Third baseman Edgar Corcino (El Paso) has spent time with Minnesota and pitcher Rob Wort (Sioux City) has been with Boston.
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 own blog, www.IndyBaseballChatter.com.