Independent Baseball Chatter – by Bob Wirz
What is it about 33-year-old rookies from the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks?
Catcher Chris Coste was the original, one would say, since he grew up in the area and played four seasons for the RedHawks before eventually breaking into the major leagues with Philadelphia at that not-so-young baseball age in 2006. He even authored a book about that experience.
Photo: Fargo Moorhead RedHawks
The 2018 version is left-handed pitcher Brandon Mann, who turned professional in 2002, spent the season with Fargo-Moorhead three years ago (7-10, 4.07 in 21 games and 22 total appearances) and finally got to make his major league debut with the Texas Rangers last weekend.
“It means everything,” Mann told MLB.com hours before hurling 1.2 innings (one hit) in a 6-1 loss at Houston. “Pretty amazing. It has been a long journey. I’m pretty excited. I always believed so. I always told myself I was a big leaguer. To keep grinding it out to get the opportunity, you have to believe that you are”.
Mann had a 1.04 earned run average in 12 appearances at Triple-A Round Rock, and as Rangers manager Jeff Banister said: “As the season progressed, Brandon continued to throw the ball very well. The command of his fastball, command of his delivery, secondary stuff, how he was handling hitters, all our scouts felt he was a solid option.”
Mann was called on for a second time Tuesday night in Seattle, the area where he grew up, relieving in the fourth inning of an eventual 9-8, 11-inning loss for the Rangers. He did his job with relatives and friends looking on, pitching another 1.2 scoreless innings while only allowing a double and hitting one batter.
Rangers reliever Tony Barnette, also from the Seattle suburbs and a high school opponent of his new teammate may have explained Mann’s situation best when he told MLB.com: “It’s not just a game for up-and-coming prospects. It’s the beauty of the game. If you can throw the ball and have hand-eye coordination, the possibilities are endless”.
Brandon Mann is getting his opportunity.
Taylor’s Role in Tebow Time
Kevin Taylor, who had an outstanding 2015 season in the American Association and now is working his way up the New York Mets farm system alongside football-star-turned-baseball-hopeful Tim Tebow, and one day will no doubt have plenty of stories to tell his grandchildren. The stories might include how others had to accept playing second fiddle to the onetime quarterback.
Taylor, enjoying an encouraging season at Double-A Binghamton, drove in the winning run in a 6-5 game earlier this week. The coverage, not surprisingly, only gave Taylor brief mention because Tebow had launched a three-run homer to pull the Rumble Ponies even from a 5-2 deficit.
Okay, everyone wants to know how the former Heisman Trophy winner is faring, just as the networks follow every one of Tiger Woods’s shots no matter how far off the lead he is in a golf tournament. So here it is: Tebow has driven in six runs with at least one in each of his last four games. He also has hit .290 in his last 10 games to lift his average to .259 with four homers and 18 RBI for the year although he has struck out 50 times overall in 108 official at-bats.
With much less of a spotlight, Taylor, a right-handed thrower who bats left-handed, has hit safely in the last 10 games in which he has come to bat, with the 12-for-34 stretch building his batting average 53 points to .275 with a solid .345 on-base percentage for the season.
Taylor, who played the infield and outfield and even caught three games in the American Association, hit .327, homered 11 times and drove in 54 runs in 98 games for Laredo.
Wilkerson on Way Back
Aaron Wilkerson, who had his hopes of winning a starting role with Milwaukee dashed when he partially dislocated his non-throwing shoulder while swinging early in spring training, is finally back pitching with the first outing at Colorado Springs (Triple-A) very encouraging.
The right-hander, who turns 29 on May 25, threw 5.2 innings for the Sky Sox, giving up six hits and two runs. He continued to show control is one asset, not issuing any walks and striking out six.
Wilkerson stepped out of college directly into Independent Baseball, with the third of his stops at Grand Prairie late in ’13. He also spent most of the next season in the American Association, going 3-1, 3.35 in 13 starts with the Air Hogs before his contract was sold to Boston. The 6-foot-3 hurler got his major league baptism with the Brewers late last season, making three appearances, including two starts, and winning his only decision while posting a 3.48 ERA for 10.1 innings. Combined with an 11-4 record and a strikeout per inning at Double-A Biloxi, he was in position to be considered for a possible starting job this season until the unfortunate injury.
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 for books or Kindle readers, or for autographed copies at www.WirzandAssociates.com.