By Bob Wirz
It is no small feat that the American Association is going to be so well represented when the prestigious Caribbean Series kicks off its week-long festival featuring champions from six countries on Saturday. Even though current and former major leaguers take up many of the roster spots, more than 20 players with AA experience are on the preliminary rosters.
Still, the biggest feat of the winter league season for the American Association was the accomplishment of present-day Sioux City infielder Jose Sermo. The 28-year-old infielder returned to his native Puerto Rico and won both Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player honors. Playing for Manati, Sermo was a unanimous choice in voting for the rookie honor.
The switch hitter played in all 31 of his team’s games, hitting .317 (third in the league) with an OPS (on-base-plus-slugging) of .941 (second). He reached base nearly 40 per cent of 130 plate appearances. Sermo hit .333 (5-for-15) in the team’s four playoff games.
Sermo’s performance was reminiscent of 2018 when he was the American Association’s Player of the Year. He hit .310, blasted 22 homers, drove in 81 runs, scored 76 and swiped 24 bases while compiling a 1.050 OPS for the Explorers, and was the first player in league history to have at least 20 homers, 20 doubles and 20 stolen bases.
Originally drafted and signed by the Milwaukee Brewers out of Bethany College in Lindsborg, KS in 2012, the 6-foot-1 Sermo joined Sioux City early in 2019 and remains on their roster. He went .260/13/77 while playing all 100 games, mostly at third base, last season. He also has played for Gary and Winnipeg.
Six From Last Season on Caribbean Rosters
Six players who were in the American Association at least part of last season are on the preliminary rosters for the Caribbean Series. They are:
RHP Vicente Campos (Lincoln) and SS Cesar Valera (Milwaukee) with Venezuela, LHP Christian Torres (Winnipeg) and RHP Tyler Herron (Sioux Falls) with Puerto Rico; RHP Manny Corpas (Milwaukee) with Panama and C Jhonatan Solano (St. Paul) with Colombia. Torres and Herron are on American Association rosters for this season.
Other Winter Standouts
Nestor Molina (Joplin), Ramon Garcia (Texas and El Paso) and Mike Kickham (Kansas City) were among American Association pitchers with strong winter league seasons. Molina and Garcia tied for the league lead with six wins apiece in Venezuela (Molina 6-0, Garcia 6-1) while Kickham, who will be in spring training as a non-roster invitee with Boston, was 4-2 in Mexico and narrowly missed leading the league in earned run average (1.96).
Among position players in addition to Jose Sermo, second baseman Cesar Valera, who played for the Milwaukee Milkmen last season, ranked second in runs (34) and sixth in hitting (.351) in Venezuela and first baseman John Nogowski (Sioux City) finished third in hitting (.316) and on-base percentage (.413) in the Dominican Republic.
Kintzler, Gailen Sign
Brandon Kintzler’s signing with Miami, where he may well become the closer, gives the American Association its 16th alum so far who is guaranteed a spot in a major league spring training camp. The right-hander will be in his 11th major league season since working for St. Paul and Winnipeg, and is guaranteed at least $3.25 million.
Meanwhile, gritty outfielder Blake Gailen, who has more than 1,300 hits as a professional without ever getting into a major league game, has inked his second consecutive and third contract in the last four years with the Los Angeles Dodgers’ minor league system. The 5-foot-9 lefty, who hit an unlikely .406 with Lincoln back in 2011 and was with Wichita three years earlier, will have his season interrupted when he represents Israel in the Tokyo Olympics.
“Still got some tread left”, he tweeted recently. “Gonna ride them ’til all tires blow out”.
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.