The final few days of spring training pointed out once again just how difficult it is to secure a spot on a major league Opening Day roster, but the American Association, despite some disappointments, can take pride that it has more of its former players among the 750 active players than any other Independent league.
And prospects appear very bright the American Association contingent will grow before the season gets far along.
With Chris Martin returning from two seasons in Japan and claiming a spot in the Texas Rangers bullpen, the league that will start its 13th season in a few weeks has five pitchers and Arizona outfielder David Peralta in the majors. Martin joins established pitchers Brandon Kintzler and Max Scherzer with Washington, James Paxton with Seattle and Chaz Roe with Tampa Bay.
Like Scherzer and Paxton, Martin threw his very first professional pitches in the American Association (Grand Prairie) after he attended a tryout back in 2010. He got his major league baptism four years later with Colorado, and started the ’15 season with the New York Yankees. He entered this season with 40 relief appearances already on his record, and a strong spring in which he struck out eight and did not issue a single walk in 10 innings (3.60 ERA) gives confidence he may get called upon a great deal with the Rangers.
Among players disappointed to find themselves back in the minor leagues when spring training ended, both St. Louis reliever John Brebbia (Sioux Falls ’14, Laredo ’15) and Milwaukee starter Junior Guerra (Wichita ’11, ’13) are believed to be in line the first time their organizations need a fresh arm. The fact they had options remaining hurt their chances of opening the season in the majors. Brebbia, with the Cardinals most of last season, struck out 16 in 9.2 innings this spring although his ERA ended up at 5.59. Guerra, last season’s Opening Day starter for the Brewers, posted a 3.15 ERA in 20 spring innings.
Houston’s James Hoyt (Wichita ’12) and Pittsburgh’s Bo Schultz (Grand Prairie ’11) are in need of overcoming injuries to regain major league jobs. Hoyt, who has taken the mound 65 times for the parent Astros the last two seasons, injured an oblique late in spring camp which landed him on the disable list while Schultz has only recently returned to the mound after undergoing elbow surgery early last year.
The Case for Ryan Court
Then there is the case of versatile infielder Ryan Court (Sioux City ’15), who had an outstanding spring with the Chicago Cubs but could not squeeze his way onto the veteran-laden roster. Court seems certain to get his first major league opportunity before much more time passes as long as he goes to Triple-A and continues to excel.
The 29-year-old, the Explorers’ every-day shortstop during their powerful ’15 season, easily led the Cubs in spring training appearances (29), hit .360 (18-for-50), got on base at a .458 clip and tied for second with four homeruns while playing all over the diamond.
Kuzminsky and Corcino Play a Role
In other late spring training developments, Scott Kuzminsky was promoted from Seattle’s minor league camp twice and the onetime Wichita hurler posted two saves in as many appearances in 1.2 innings and El Paso outfielder Edgar Corcino, on a similar promotion with Minnesota, got into five Grapefruit League games, crashing a homer for his only hit (1-for-5).
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 WirzandAssociates.com.