Independent Baseball Chatter – by Bob Wirz
It is a well-known fact that not every Independent Baseball player who is signed by a major league organization actually gets to show off his skills in the glittering stadiums we all see on television. That does not mean some of those who fall short of their original goal do not work their way into meaningful opportunities with one of the 30 big league contingents.
Shawn McGill was an everyday stud catcher for the Lincoln Saltdogs for two and a half years (2008-10) before the Atlanta Braves purchased the onetime Boston College star’s contract and watched him climb their ladder as high as Triple-A over a few seasons.
McGill will turn 32 before next season starts so his chances of playing in the major leagues has all but gone away, but the 6-foot-4 Rhode Island native was recently rewarded with a new contract with his latest organization, the Baltimore Orioles, who have utilized him as a coach with their South Atlantic, New York-Penn and Gulf Coast League teams the last two seasons.
McGill’s time in Lincoln not only included guiding the Saltdogs’ pitching staff, but he also hit a combined .296 in 217 games and was at an impressive .347 when the Braves signed him 40 games into the ’10 American Association season.
Chris Smith Moves From SD to Oakland System
Onetime Wichita right-hander Chris Smith also has a new contract, this one with Oakland’s top farm club in Nashville.
Smith is 34 years old and coming off a season in the San Diego farm system–mostly at Triple-A El Paso–where he carded a creditable 3.40 earned run average (5-7 in 24 starts) and struck out 132 in 137.2 innings. That gives him hopes of returning to the majors where he got into 50 games for Boston and Milwaukee between 2008-10 with a 5.19 ERA. He was 8-4, 3.55 in 20 starts for Wichita two years ago.
AA Hurlers 1-2 in Venezuelan League Strikeouts
Potential major leaguers Patrick Johnson and Junior Guerra are making the American Association look good as they rank first and second, respectively, in strikeouts in the Venezuelan League.
Johnson, this season’s Pitcher of the Year after a brilliant 15-1, 2.06 campaign at Sioux City who was recently signed by Pittsburgh, has 40 strikeouts in 44.2 innings in winter play, and his 1.61 ERA ranks third in the league where he is 1-1 after nine starts. Guerra, who converted from catching a few years ago and was a combined 18-7 at Wichita during the ’11 and ’13 seasons, is only one strikeout behind with 39 in 45.1 innings. Guerra is on Milwaukee’s 40-man roster after making his first three major league appearances with the Chicago White Sox last season while Johnson is listed at Class AA Altoona, PA.
Could Fuenmayor Be Chosen in Rule 5 Draft?
When Major League Baseball conducts its annual Rule 5 draft (players automatically are added to 40-man rosters) during the winter meetings in Nashville next week one name that could be called is that of slugging first baseman Balbino Fuenmayor, who re-signed a minor league contract with Kansas City recently.
Fuenmayor, who spent some time at Laredo in 2013, only turned 26 last week, and has yet to play in the majors. But he has drawn considerable attention for winning Baseball America’s accolade as the top Independent Baseball player after a 23-99-.347 season in the Can-Am League in 2014, and followed up with blistering offensive numbers with the Royals’ top two farm clubs and playing in the Futures Game last season before tearing his ACL in July.
Baseball America says he has “plus to plus-plus power potential” and best projects to an American League team where he could be a designated hitter.
Previously the chief spokesman for 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 as well as writing his own blog, www.IndyBaseballChatter.com.