Independent Baseball Insider: Vol. 11, No. 25, August 1, 2013
By Bob Wirz
The first time I met Chris Carminucci (pictured) he was managing the Can-Am League’s travel team, the Grays, in 2005. Travel teams are not expected to do well, but his energy and upbeat nature were infectious. The Grays actually won half of their games the first half of the season, and it seemed obvious Carminucci would find his way somewhere in professional baseball.
He went on to lead three other teams, including being Manager of the Year at Atlantic City, NJ in ’07, got his feet wet in ownership, and started his own sports consulting company. He never strayed far from Independent Baseball. But he has probably never been so valuable to the Indy game, if that can be a proper term for someone no longer on the field, than in the last seven months since he started scouting the Independent leagues for the Arizona Diamondbacks, one of the organizations most interested in searching through the non-affiliated teams for overlooked talent.
With encouragement from General Manager Kevin Towers, Director of Player Development Mike Bell and daily communication with longtime Indy enthusiast, Special Assistant to the GM Bill Bryk, Carminucci has already signed eight players who are playing throughout the farm system and, for the most part, thriving.
“I have seen every American Association team, every Atlantic League team, every Can-Am League team and most every Frontier League team,” Carminucci said from his Southbury, CT home this week while getting ready for a 10-day baseball junket to Italy where he will help with a youth team and do still more scouting.
“With scouting, you have to be a little lucky,” he said, “but I’ve always felt there were players in the Independent leagues who were being overlooked. I expect them (those he has signed) to do well.”
Carminucci’s successful signings have come from various leagues, with outfielder Dustin Martin hitting .329 in Class AA since coming out of the Atlantic League (Sugar Land, TX), pitcher-turned-outfielder David Peralta at .362 and nearly an RBI a game in Class A from the American Association (Wichita, KS), right-hander Mark Serrano a combined 5-0, 2.35 for Arizona’s top two farm clubs out of the American Association (Laredo, TX) and Brandon Sinnery 9-4 for two Class A clubs combined since leaving the same league (Lincoln, NE).
He’s also enthused about lefty Henry Garcia, a starter-turned-reliever, who was signed out of the United League (Rio Grande Valley) and “reminds me a lot of Jesse Orosco.” Garcia has struck out 40 Midwest League hitters and walked only three in 42.1 innings while building a 4-0, 1.28 record.
“What’s so nice about the D-Backs is that they really give the Indy guys a completely fair shake,” Carminucci praised. It is a nice feeling all around as he heads to Italy.
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Recalls, Homers and a ‘Sucker Punch’ for Grads in Majors
This has been one of the most news-packed weeks I can recall for Independent players in the major leagues where a season-high 25 players are active.
Caleb Thielbar and Tanner Scheppers, two St. Paul, MN (American Association) products enjoying terrific seasons in American League bullpens, have been in the news in oddball situations. Thielbar took his first major league loss Wednesday when two unearned runs cost him even though the rookie lefty’s earned run average dipped still more to 0.68. He has only allowed nine hits in 26.1 innings.
Scheppers, with five wins in six decisions and a skimpy 1.82 ERA for 49 appearances this season for Texas, appears to be okay—he did allow a rare five hits in one inning—after suffering facial bruises when, in the pitcher’s words to The Associated Press, he was “sucker-punched by several young males” and knocked to the sidewalk while heading out to dinner one week ago in Cleveland. “I’m just lucky nothing serious happened,” he told AP. “I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Keep an Eye on Van Stratten and Eddy Rodriguez
Anyone who follows the Insider regularly knows how much this typist likes an unusual angle, especially for players with upside. Enter centerfielder Nick Van Stratten, enjoying a terrific season at Sioux Falls, SD (American Association), and catcher Eddy Rodriguez, who spent the ’10 season in the same city after also playing in the league at El Paso, TX the previous summer.
Van Stratten is only in the American Association because he did not climb above Double-A in seven seasons in the Kansas City organization. The 28-year-old obviously has not let that stop him because he leads the 13-team league in hits (100 in 69 games) and triples where he is only four short of the league record of 16, is second in runs (62), seventh in average (.346) and eighth in steals (20) for a team 10 games under .500.
“I’m hoping we get him picked up,” two-time Manager of the Year Steve Shirley told the hometown Argus Leader. “He can play all over the outfield. He can hit and he can run. Just watch the guy play. He just plays his butt off every night. I don’t know if I’ve ever had anyone in my managerial career who plays as hard every day with the enthusiasm for the game that he brings.”
I could tell much of Rodriguez’s story, especially since it was one year ago (August 2) when he was summoned from Class A—yes, three levels below the majors—and hit a 416-foot home run for San Diego on the fourth pitch he saw in his first major league at-bat in Cincinnati.
But Ken Rodriguez has a great read about the now 27-year-old backstop in SI.com that details Eddy Rodriguez’s dramatic fishing boat arrival in the United States from Cuba when he was only seven and his gift for storing information about opposing batters in his head which may help the onetime University of Miami product get promoted one more time from Triple-A Tucson.
The photographic memory has made an impression on Tucson Manager Pat Murphy, who only got the catcher from Double-A San Antonio, TX about a month ago. “Eddy is a survivor,” Murphy praises. “He’s not blessed with all the physical talent. So he realizes he needs (to store the information) to survive.” As for six-foot receiver, “I’m 1.000 percent confident I’ll make it back (to the majors),” he told SI.com.
Lentini Is Now the Theft King
It was a theft of third base that finally got Winnipeg’s Fehlandt Lentini over the top to become the all-time Independent Baseball stolen base leader. The outfielder has 14 steals in the American Association this season and 332 for his 10 seasons, one more than former Atlantic and Northeast League speedster Billy Hall.
(Bob Wirz also writes about Independent Baseball on www.IndyBaseballChatter.com. Fans may subscribe to this Independent Baseball Insider column, which will be published 40 times in 2013, at www.WirzandAssociates.com or comment to RWirz@aol.com. The author has 16 years of major league baseball experience with Kansas City and as spokesman for two Commissioners, and lives in Stratford, CT.)