By Bob Wirz
The story continues to get better.
When Seattle announced it was bringing former Sioux City southpaw Ian McKinney to its major league spring training camp the total of onetime American Association players due to train with American and National League teams climbed to 20. That is three more than one year ago and more than any other Independent league.
All but three of those in big league camps are pitchers, a fact that repeats itself year after year. Half of the players own coveted 40-man roster slots while the other 10 are non-roster invitees.
One player whose name will not show up in a box score anytime soon is that of veteran New York Yankees starter James Paxton, out for a likely three or four months because of back surgery, and the status of the Los Angeles Angels’ Parker Markel is uncertain for a short time since he was designated for assignment earlier this week. Markel, who was with Sioux City as recently as 2018, seems likely to still be in a major league camp with the Halos or elsewhere. He debuted at that level last season with Seattle and Pittsburgh and has a 95-mile per hour fastball as well as a solid slider.
McKinney also was with the 2018 Explorers, striking out 67 hitters in only 53.2 innings while starting in nine of his 10 appearances (2-2, 3.19) the last month and a half of the season.
Any number of additional graduates of the American Association also will likely get a day or more of major league exposure when they are called up from minor league camps for Grapefruit or Cactus League play.
Those expected in spring training with the major league affiliation and the AA team(s) they played for with a NR designation for the invitees:
Pitchers (17)–NR-Tim Adleman, Detroit (Lincoln and El Paso); John Brebbia, St. Louis (Laredo and Sioux Falls); Junior Guerra, Arizona (Wichita); *James Hoyt, Cleveland (Wichita); NR-Mike Kickham, Boston (Kansas City); Brandon Kintzler, Miami (St. Paul and Winnipeg, when it was in the Northern League); #Parker Markel, Los Angeles-AL (Sioux City); *Chris Martin, Atlanta (Grand Prairie); NR-Ian McKinney, Seattle (Sioux City); NR-Trey McNutt, San Francisco (Fargo-Moorhead); NR-Chris Nunn, Atlanta (St. Paul); *James Paxton, New York-AL (Grand Prairie); Chaz Roe, Tampa Bay (Laredo); *Max Scherzer, Washington (Fort Worth); NR-D. J. Snelten, Tampa Bay (Chicago); NR-Caleb Thielbar, Minnesota (St. Paul); NR*-Aaron Wilkerson, Milwaukee (Grand Prairie).
Position Players (3)–NR-1B John Nogowski, St. Louis (Sioux City); OF David Peralta, Arizona (Amarillo and Wichita); NR-OF Dillon Thomas, Oakland (Texas).
*First professional game was in an Independent league.
#Designated for assignment. Status to be determined this week.
Brandon Mann Back With Rangers
One player likely to draw attention during spring training even though he is not officially in a major league camp is former Fargo-Moorhead lefty Brandon Mann, who has been re-signed by the Texas Rangers after a season in Japan where he pitched in both the majors and minors.
Mann, who will turn 36 in May, had a solid season with the RedHawks five years ago (7-10, 4.07 with 157 strikeouts in 143.2 innings) before spending two years in the higher ranks of Oakland’s farm system and a year in the Texas chain before going to Japan. The Tacoma, WA native got his first taste of the majors in ’18, appearing in relief seven times (0-0, 5.40).
Willis, Samson Own Australian Championship
With the winter league season now history, it turns out the happiest American Association-affiliated players anywhere most likely are longtime Gary SouthShore outfielder Colin Willis and former Sioux City infield star Nate Samson since they were key members of the Melbourne Aces’ championship team in the Australian League.
Willis, who finished a four-year run with Gary last season and has signed with the Boston Red Sox organization, only went 1-for-8 with a run in the Aces’ two-game sweep of Adelaide, but he was a potent .427 in the regular season and hit third in the postseason. Samson, the American Association MVP in 2016 and league batting champion two years later, played second base and went 3-for-6 in the championship series, a sendoff to a new season in Mexico. Samson had five years with the Explorers and some time with Winnipeg.
Onetime Winnipeg closer Ryan Chaffee pitched in both games for Adelaide with a blown save in Game 1 while last season’s Kansas City T-Bones infielder Mikey Reynolds had a hot bat for the Giants, going 5-for-9 with a double, homer, two runs and two RBI.
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.