By Bob Wirz
One is in his prime with a strong bat and glove while the other is veteran trying for a fresh opportunity.
This describes the American Association’s two latest non-roster invitees to major league spring training camps that open the doors one week from now. First baseman John Nogowski, who continued to build his resume in the Domincan Republic this winter, will be reporting to the St. Louis Cardinals, while across the state in Florida left-hander Caleb Thielbar will be getting another look from the Minnesota Twins.
Nogowski’s stout bat showed up when he hit .402 in 34 games at Sioux City in ’17, and he has worked his way through the upper levels of the Cardinals farm system the last two seasons–.295/.413 in Triple-A last summer with 15 homers and 75 runs batted in–and punctuated those performances with the third best average (.316) and on-base percentage (.413) in the Dominican to be ready to state his case with the parent Redbirds during spring training.
Thielbar is back where he should be comfortable with Minnesota since it was with the Twins where he got 109 major league appearances from 2013-15 (5-3, 2.74). He spent the last two seasons in the Detroit system along with a very brief time in the Atlanta chain. He just turned 33, and still ranks as one of the American Association’s prized graduates for his three years with St. Paul (’11, ’16-’17). He can still bring it, as evidenced by 94 strikeouts in 76.1 innings and a 3.22 ERA in Triple-A last season.
Ryan Court’s New Team: Oakland
Ryan Court does not have a major league invitation–at least so far–but the former star Sioux City shortstop would seem likely to get some looks after signing as a free agent with Oakland. He finally got his first 12 major league appearances (5-for-24, one homer, five RBI) with Seattle last season.
Winnipeg Closer Stars Down Under
Winnipeg fans will remember reliever Ryan Chaffee for his 21 saves in 2017. The right-hander, 31, has been the biggest American Association standout in winter league playoffs–Caribbean Series or Australia–so far. He pitched in three consecutive games to help Adelaide advance to this weekend’s three-game championship series in Aussieland.
The last appearance was flat out brilliant, a 10-out save in the 6-3 semifinal clincher against Canberra. Chaffee allowed only one hit while striking out six including all three batters in the ninth innings to give the Giants a shot at their first championship in 40 years. Shortstop Mikey Reynolds, who spent last season with the Kansas City T-Bones (he was with Fargo-Moorhead in ’17), scored the game’s initial run.
New Major League Opportunities
Josh Prince, who had an 11-year minor league playing career that finished with 42 games as a quality utilityman with the Texas AirHogs last summer, is starting a new phase of his baseball life this season as hitting coach for the Boston Red Sox’s farm club at Greenville, SC of the South Atlantic League.
The 32-year-old from Lake Charles, LA, perhaps best known for stealing nearly 400 bases including 55 one season and 18 during his nearly three months with the AirHogs, can show his young hopefuls that he knows something about hitting since he put up a .307 average and a .409 on-base percentage in the American Association. Prince reached the major leagues once, going 1-for-8 in nine appearances for Milwaukee in 2013.
Prince is not the only former American Association grad with a new opportunity with a major league organization. Tony Smith, who pitched for both Winnipeg and El Paso, will be a coach for Detroit’s Double-A franchise in Erie, PA. Another man with Winnipeg and Gary SouthShore RailCats ties from years ago and now somewhat of a veteran in affiliated play, Brendan Sagara, has been named Special Assistant in Player Development for the Texas Rangers and will double as pitching coach for Triple-A Nashville.
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 or at www.WirzandAssociates.com.