Independent Baseball Chatter – by Bob Wirz
Junior Guerra and James Russell throw from different sides, and their track record in the major leagues varies a great deal. But these are two former American Association hurlers appear worth watching in the new baseball season that starts in one week when battery mates report to spring training.
In some ways, Guerra may be the better known of the two since he became a major factor in Milwaukee’s rotation two years ago. Russell, the left-handed portion of this story, used a month and a half of last season in the Texas AirHogs rotation to get his career back on track even though he has mostly been a bullpen guy in seven major league seasons.
We will examine where they stand going into spring training.
Guerra Bouncing Back With Brewers
Guerra, who had strong seasons in 2011 and 2013 with Wichita, has been making a strong statement late in the winter baseball season even though he still is only considered one of several candidates to become the fourth or fifth starter for what appears to be a very competitive Milwaukee Brewers team.
Pitching in his native Venezuela, the now-33-year-old put together a 2.98 earned run average in nine appearances (eight starts) allowing only one home run, and when his team did not make the playoffs he became the No. 1 overall selection in the draft of reinforcements by champion Lara for the playoffs. Guerra became his new team’s ace, starting five games and hurling more innings than anyone else (28.2), giving up 25 hits and not any homers.
This would seem to be the type of work that would get the right-hander in the Brewers’ mind for a key role, just as he had after his 9-3 record and 2.81 ERA made him their opening day starter last year, a feat that crumbled when he injured himself when he bunted in the third inning. When he regained his health weeks later he could only muster one victory (1-4) and a 5.12 ERA in a disappointing 70.1 innings.
Guerra will not lack financial incentive, either, as www.BrewersOnDeckCircle.com points out he has signed for $554.800, a great deal by normal American Association standards but only $9,800 more than the major league minimum. A much greater payday looms if he can be in the majors all season as he would near arbitration qualification.
Russell Joins Detroit at Triple-A Level
While Junior Guerra had a measly four innings in the major leagues prior to that unexpected run in ’16, James Russell has pitched in 394 major league games (six starts) in seven years, but the hurler struggled so badly starting in 2015 that he found himself needing a fresh start with Texas last May. The son of former major league relief standout Jeff Russell went 3-1 with a 2.79 ERA in month and a half he was in the Lone Star State and finished the year pitching briefly in Mexico.
Now 32 and with southpaws always in demand, he has signed a Triple-A (Toledo) contract with Detroit that does not include a major league spring training invitation although one would assume that with his experience the top brass will be watching closely wherever he pitches.
Where Have They Gone
Tracking other American Association players, first baseman Art Charles, who won the Triple Crown when he was in the Can-Am League two years ago and became Baseball America’s choice as Independent Player of the Year, has been reunited with his manager of that season, Joe Calfapietra, in an attempt to regain something similar to that touch with the Kansas City T-Bones…onetime Laredo first baseman Balbino Fuenmayor, another Indy Player of the Year, has been the No. 1 offensive producer in the Caribbean Series and has signed a Triple-A deal with Washington…Scott Shuman, who pitched briefly at Wichita in ’15, has a new minor league deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers…free agent Ryan Kussmaul, a reliever at Wichita the last two summers, had an impressive winter in the Mexican League.
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 www.WirzandAssociates.com.