By Bob Wirz
It is no secret major league teams look far and wide for playing talent, sometimes taking a gamble on someone who might appear to be a long shot.
Baltimore, which the baseball world knows is trying to recover from a disastrous 2018 season, has done so with a second pitcher within a span of a few days who made at least part of his reputation in the American Association. First, it was Bo Schultz, a former major leaguer struck down in recent years by injuries.
The Birds have struck a second time with a right-hander, this time it is Omar Bencomo, a man with an impressive resume in the minor leagues as well as in his native Venezuela although so far it has not gotten him to the majors.
An even longer shot may be lefty outfielder Blake Gailen, given a second opportunity in three seasons with the potent Los Angeles Dodgers organization even though he turns 34 about the time the regular season begins. He is another player who has yet to get even one day in the majors.
Bencomo, 29, went a combined 6-1 between two American Association teams (Wichita and Laredo) in the ’15 season, and was an impressive control pitcher for Minnesota’s top two farm clubs one year ago (9-6, 3.45 in 133 innings). He also was a dazzling 6-1, 1.25 in nine starts in Venezuela this offseason before being suspended for the balance of the season in November for violating the league’s anti-doping policies. He was so dominant while active he still earned a few league MVP votes.
Gailen, who had two significant stints in the American Association, first hitting .266 in 88 games for Wichita in 2008 and a blistering .406 in 69 games for Lincoln three years later, has played in well over 1,200 games professionally without reaching the majors. Before signing his new minor league deal with the Dodgers, he played at the Double-A level for them in ’17, then had a big offensive season (.282-28-91) for Lancaster, PA of the Atlantic League one year ago.
From Hitting to Teaching Hitting
Travis Denker was a familiar face in the American Association during a three-year period this decade (’14-’16), moving around the infield and once blasting 25 home runs for Laredo. While only 33, he seems to have transitioned well from playing to the coaching ranks.
The native Californian is the only returnee to the coaching staff of the Visalia Rawhide, a Class A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks. He will serve as hitting coach under new manager Shawn Roof this season, using his 17-year playing career that included more than 200 minor league home runs and 24 games with the San Francisco Giants in ’08 to his benefit as he works with young D-back prospects.
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.