Independent Baseball Insider – Vol. 12, No. 3, March 20, 2014
By Bob Wirz
The stars all seem aligned perfectly for C. J. Ziegler as last year’s power king tries to become another Independent Baseball product to pull on a major league baseball uniform. It probably will not come as early as this year, but the leader of last season’s Wichita Wingnuts bears close scrutiny.
Ziegler seems to have on his side being in an organization (Minnesota) which has a very open mind to Independent players these days since no less than three of them made their major league debut with the American League team last summer, including longtime Can-Am League star Chris Colabello, who was crowned Independent Player of the Year after the 2011 season. Baseball America bestowed that same honor on the right-handed hitting Ziegler after last year’s league-record 30 homers, 99 RBI in 100 games and a .318 average in the American Association.
If Ziegler eventually reaches the majors he will give a big thank you to the non-affiliated game since he spent nearly four full seasons honing his talent in three separate leagues after a two-year run in which he showed plenty of power potential at the University of Arizona only to get less than two seasons in rookie ball and Class A with the San Francisco Giants before they gave up on the Arizona native.
Ziegler did not mince words, he told us this week, when the Twins contacted him about the time of the Winter Meetings last December and asked him “where do you want to take this (career)”? He had already celebrated his 28th birthday, a time when most prospects have played at a more advanced level.
“My goal is to play every day in the major leagues,” Ziegler says he told Minnesota, strongly hinting that he wants not just a cup of coffee at that level but a still lengthy career.
Ziegler has been playing pretty much every day at first base or as the designated hitter for Minnesota’s top farm club at Rochester, N.Y., so far in spring training in Fort Myers, Fla., including launching one home run that “felt good” against Tampa Bay minor leaguers in Port Charlotte, Fla., recently although he admits with the trickle-down influx of players from the major league camp he has no idea if he will break camp March 30 with the Triple-A team or with Double-A New Britain, Conn.
He knows this much: “I want to be in the middle of the lineup and drive in runs.”
What impressed me the most as we chatted was the repeated comment, without urging, that “I’ve got to keep working hard” or “hard work will show”. Ziegler also emphasized that while he is primarily a first baseman with a little third base and outfield experience “I work on my defense every year. I like to be part of the game the full nine innings.” And, he recognizes that with All-Star Joe Mauer and Colabello among the first basemen ahead of him with the Twins at this time “you’re (also) playing (every day) for the other 29 teams. There’s always someone looking (at you).”
While nearly two seasons at Wichita as well as a summer at Traverse City, Mich., (Frontier League) and a campaign in the North American League are in the rear view mirror, Ziegler is lavish in his praise. “The American Association is a great league,” he offered. “I loved the competition.” He singled out Wichita skipper Kevin Hooper and President/General Manager Josh Robertson. “Overall, they want to win the right way. They run it just like an affiliated organization.”
I was curious whether he had crossed paths with Colabello since they have so much in common and are in the same organization. “Not yet,” he responded, “but I think they (Twins) want to try to get us together.”
Numerous Pitchers in the Mix for Jobs
As is often the case, many of the decisions involving former Independent players trying to secure major league jobs involve pitchers, including whether Tanner Scheppers (St. Paul, American Association) will start or relieve for Texas.
Then there are the cases of Arizona’s Bo Schultz and Colorado’s Chris Martin. Are they in the mix?
Schultz’s fastball, which gets up to 96 miles per hour, has the Diamondbacks’ attention. “The velocity has been pretty consistent in the last year,” General Manager Kevin Towers told AZCentral.com after two perfect innings against Colorado earlier this week, which lowered the American Association (Grand Prairie, TX) grad’s ERA to 2.81 for 6.1 spring innings. “The slider is getting better. Cutter is getting better. His confidence is getting better. I think he’s at a point now where he’s kind of feeling like he belongs.”
Martin’s ascent has been solid since he recovered from a potentially career-ending shoulder problem, and turned professional with Grand Prairie when he was already 24 in 2010. He joined the Boston farm system the next year and he struck out a batter an inning with Double-A and Triple-A teams last season before being an important part of a trade to Colorado in the fall. The 6-foot-7 right-hander’s mid-90s fastball has helped get him into six games with the Rockies already this spring (1-0, one save, 5.68) showing they like his future, even if he should go to Colorado Springs to start the season.