Independent Baseball Chatter by Bob Wirz

It finally happened!

Strikeout machine James Hoyt has made his long-awaited major league debut with the postseason-hopeful Houston Astros.

The 29-year-old right-hander is the first player who started in a non-affiliated league to reach the majors since Ian Thomas did so.  Both players were in Independent play as recently as 2012, and are the 42nd and 43rd players who started their pro career in an Indy circuit to climb all the way to the majors.  Thirty of them have been pitchers.

The 6-foot-5 Hoyt was plagued by wildness during his last collegiate season at Centenary College, but after working on a sailboat in San Diego for a time the next year (2011), he hooked up with the Wichita Wingnuts of the American Association in 2012.

He struck out 248 hitters in only 191 innings in the Atlanta and Houston farm systems between 2013 and last season, and he was enjoying a banner season with the Astros’ Triple-A club in Fresno, striking out batters at a rate of 15.1 for every nine innings.  He had 84 whiffs in 50 innings, a 1.62 ERA and his 28 saves ranked as the second highest total in all of the affiliated minors.  Baseball America tabbed him the top reliever in the Pacific Coast League in its recent “best tools” issue.

Hoyt has been in three games in the last five days since being called up, allowing one hit (an Edwin Encarnacion solo home run) while walking one and collecting four strikeouts in 2.2 major league innings.

Wichita Now Has Indy-Leading Four in Majors

The Wichita Wingnuts have a great deal to boast about these days.  The American Association franchise has an Independent Baseball-leading four former players in the major leagues now that James Hoyt and changeup specialist Chris Smith of Oakland have been called up.

The ‘Nuts already had slugging Arizona outfielder David Peralta (disabled list) and the surprising Milwaukee starting pitcher Junior Guerra in the majors.

Smith, 35, is back in the majors for the first time since making 20 starts (8-4, 3.55) for Wichita in ’13 and 12 appearances (eight starts) for Sugar Land, TX of the Atlantic League the next season before San Diego purchased the right-hander’s contract and sent him to their top farm club in El Paso, TX.  He won all six of his decisions and compiled a 2.15 ERA with Sugar Land.

The onetime University of California-Riverside hurler had 50 previous major league relief opportunities with Boston and Milwaukee between 2008 and 2010.  Baseball America named Smith the pitcher with the best changeup in the Pacific Coast League for his work with the Athletics’ Nashville club this season.


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