By Bob Wirz
It was not so many years ago when Independent Baseball players had a difficult time landing opportunities to play in the various winter leagues. Natives might get a few slots, and even then playing time might be scarce.
My, how things have changed. We have tracked no less than 37 former or current American Association players who are already in or headed to leagues in five different countries, and Puerto Rico, traditionally one of the favored leagues, has not yet published its rosters.
Venezuela has at least 14 American Association grads with another dozen down under in Australia and others in the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Nicaragua. Colombia likely will swell the count even more.
Several of the players are off to a flying start with none better than Omar Bencomo, who leads the Venezuelan league with a miniscule 0.44 earned run average. He has not allowed an earned run in his last three starts for Margarita (17.1 innings), shares the top spot with three wins and ranks second with 20.2 innings of work (four starts). The Venezuelan native, who pitched at Wichita and Laredo in 2015, was a mid-season all-star in the Southern League last season when he went a combined 9-6, 3.45 for Chicago White Sox and Minnesota minor league teams.
Infielder Cesar Valera, who has been with Lincoln the last three years, is hitting .327 after 14 appearances in Venezuela while first baseman John Nogowski (Sioux City, 2017) is at .305 after 16 games in the same league.
Wilkerson in Arizona Fall League
Aaron Wilkerson, one of this league’s prized pitchers since he broke in to professional baseball at Grand Prairie in 2013-14 and made it to the majors three years later, is in the Arizona Fall League.
Wilkerson, whose chances of sticking with playoff-bound Milwaukee this spring took a hit when he injured his non-throwing (left) shoulder on a swing shortly before the regular season, got only three games (one start) with the parent Brewers this year, but he was solid once again in Triple-A, posting a 2.49 earned run average for 15 appearances (12 starts) with Colorado Springs.
The hurler, who is on the Brewers’ 40-man winter roster, hurled a scoreless inning in his AFL debut Tuesday.
Trio of Association Grads to Represent MLB in Japan
The American Association will be well represented on the mound when a team of major leaguers play seven games in Japan November 8-15.
Chris Martin, who started his professional career at Grand Prairie, Milwaukee’s Junior Guerra and John Brebbia of St. Louis make up one-fifth of the 15-man pitching contingent. Guerra was at Wichita while Brebbia pitched for both Sioux Falls and Laredo.
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 (including Kindle copies), or at www.WirzandAssociates.com.