By Bob Wirz
One of the enduring aspects of the American Association is seeing players come into the league at a stage in their career when they are well below the age when the average professional peaks, and watching their talents mature.
(Photo Credit: Lincoln Saltdogs)
Such would seem to be the case for a pair of multi-position infielders-outfielders who were teammates with the Lincoln Saltdogs much of last summer.
Cesar Valera and T.J. Bennett were born four months but thousands of miles apart 26 years ago. A ripe baseball age today for Valera, a native of Maracay, Venezuela and Bennett, who was born in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada.
Both players had decent success with the Saltdogs, Bennett the last two months of 2018 (.271-11-39 in 57 games) and Valera slightly longer (.273-3-31 in 73 contests) after having even more success (.327-4-52) in a full ’17 and even a few games in ’16.
Their paths have separated once again this offseason with Valera back in his home country and Bennett in Australia although both are experiencing huge success.
Valera became a free agent after the American Association season, but his exploits this winter with Caribes de Anzoategui have manager Omar Lopez singing his praise. With translation from Spanish to English, he told LVBP Press: “This year, I have experimented in several positions with him, and he has responded when it comes to any situation in the game or due to the injury of a player. You can win a game in various ways, with your bat, with your glove and with your legs…”
At 6-foot-1, Valera, who was in the St. Louis farm system from the time he was17 for six seasons, has played every position for Lopez except pitcher and catcher. “I cannot believe it myself,” he told LVBP Press, of playing all three outfield positions “because I am a natural infielder. I will always be ready to play any role at any time. Whatever it is to contribute to the team is what matters most to me.”
Valera will take the league’s eighth best batting average (.321) and third ranking on-base percentage (.416) into the lengthy Venezuelan League playoffs, which were to begin Friday. He played in 48 regular-season games with a homer and 23 RBI, and finished second in the league with 14 doubles and seventh in OPS at .840.
Bennett, who was traded to Fargo-Moorhead on November 20, has done so well he has gotten his second opportunity with a major league organization, signing this week with the Chicago White Sox. (See earlier story.) The 6-foot-3 University of Utah product has ranked among the Aussie league’s best in multiple offensive categories during his third season playing for Brisbane. He shares the league home run lead (six), is second in runs batted in (20 in 19 games), shares fifth in total bases (43), has the sixth best slugging percentage (.589) and OPS (.935) while hitting .274.
Keeping Up With Brewers’ Aaron Wilkerson
Onetime American Association hurler Aaron Wilkerson (Grand Prairie, 2013) has moved on to the Dominican Republic after finishing a stint in the Arizona Fall League as he continues to prepare in an effort to earn steady work with the Milwaukee Brewers, who have the 29-year-old right-hander on their 40-man winter roster.
Wilkerson has made two starts in the Dominican, allowing five runs in seven total innings. He only threw four relief innings in Arizona, giving up two hits and no runs. He spent most of last season in Triple-A (4-5, 2.49) after recovering from a freak injury suffered in spring training although he did work three times, including one start, for the parent Brewers.
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 for signed copies at www.WirzandAssociates.com.