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Independent Baseball Chatter – by Bob Wirz

Chris Martin, who began his professional career with Grand Prairie, is back up with the New York Yankees, as is reliever Tanner Scheppers (St. Paul) with Texas, giving the American Association eight hurlers and Arizona outfielder David Peralta (Amarillo, Wichita) in the major leagues for the stretch drive. Like Martin, James Paxton and Tanner Scheppers also made their professional debut in the American Association.

Grand Prairie Righty Aaron Wilkerson Headed to AFL, a Nice Step Toward the Major Leagues

When an Independent league has had the type of success in producing major league talent as the American Association one cannot help but wonder who may be the next player to make this step.

Righthanded pitcher Aaron Wilkerson, who started his professional career at Grand Prairie in 2013 and 2014, certainly has to be on a short list of candidates after a first full season of climbing the ladder in the Boston Red Sox farm system.

The 26-year-old Texas native finished strong at Double-A Portland, ME, and has been invited to play in the Arizona Fall League, a certain sign an organization believes in a player’s major league potential.  For example, another righty out of the American Association, Angel Castro (Lincoln), was in the AFL last autumn, and he got some time with the parent Oakland Athletics this season.

Wilkerson, who was not drafted out of college, worked in three games for Grand Prairie two years ago (1-1, 1.84), then was a fulltime starter one year ago (3-1, 3.35 with 84 strikeouts in 80.2 innings) before the Red Sox purchased his contract.

He pitched for two Class A clubs early this year, then was promoted to Portland in August, and after two struggling starts finished with a flurry, allowing only three earned runs in his last 30 innings (five starts), including one earned tally and four hits in six innings in the season finale.  He was 4-1 for the Sea Dogs.

Paxton Also Headed to Fall League

While his situation has been brought on more by injury since he already has proven major league credentials, Seattle lefty James Paxton (Grand Prairie) also is scheduled for some time in the Arizona Fall League.  Paxton finally started for the Mariners Sunday after missing more than three months because of a finger injury.

Going Out in Style

It appears former American Association catcher Jose Yepez will have to be content with four spring training camps with the Atlanta Braves for his major league playing experience since he did not get an opportunity during the regular season and is contemplating transferring to the world of baseball coaching, but if this was the last of his 15 playing seasons he finished it in grand style.

The 34-year-old backup for the Gwinnett (GA) Braves hit his first home run in more than three years in his next-to-last at-bat, crushing a drive an estimated 396 feet in the Triple-A team’s season finale.

“You’d have thought we’d just won Game 7 of the World Series in the dugout when that ball went out,” manager Brian Snitker told The Gwinnett Daily Post.  “Our team couldn’t have been happier for anyone than they were for him.”

It was just the 41st home run in his career, including three he hit when Pensacola, FL was in the American Association in ’06 and 10 others in ’05 and ’07 for current AA member  Gary when the team was playing in the Northern League.  The homer was the first since the popular Yepez connected for Gwinnett at Louisville on July 14, 2012.

“I was thinking in my mind it would be a good history if I hit a home run my last at-bat,” Yepez told the newspaper. “I was up in the count and hit it good.”  He flied out to deep right-center his last time up and later said “I don’t know for sure (if I am retiring as a player).  I definitely want to be part of the (Braves) organization. They have been really good.  I don’t know if I want to be a coach or player.  I haven’t decided yet.  But there is a 90 per cent chance I’ll be a coach next year.”

He hit .188 in 46 games this season.


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