By Bob Wirz
It was anything but easy, but Chaz Roe is now one of the American Association graduates who seems firmly established in the major leagues.
The 6-foot-5 right-hander already had seven professional seasons under his belt before he needed to get a fresh start with the Laredo Lemurs in 2012. He made the most of that summer, striking out 69 batters while only allowing 47 hits and seven walks in his 55 innings spread over 49 games. He won three of five decisions and posted a sparkling 1.47 earned run average.
He got to the major leagues for part of the very next season with Arizona, but more trips to the minors and major league stints with the New York Yankees, Baltimore and Atlanta followed before the Lexington, KY native landed in Tampa Bay late in ’17. He really got established last season.
Now 32, Roe is considered one of the strengths of the Rays’ bullpen that become the talk of the major leagues one year ago because relievers start roughly two of every five games in addition to carrying their late-inning workload.
“He’s not just stuck (with us), but he’s been a huge part of our bullpen”, manager Kevin Cash told The Tampa Times recently.
Roe confirmed to The Times he nearly gave up his quest to reach the majors until the American Association opportunity came along. “I thought I was out of baseball a few years ago to be honest with you. So to be here right now is a blessing. I was getting ready to kick it aside and go on with life”.
One of the major leagues’ best sliders has been a key to his recent success. He held opposing hitters to a .196 average last season when Roe struck out 53 and gave up only 35 hits in 50.1 innings. “I felt like I knew it (slider) was coming when I was hitting (against him), but still. It’s got a break that you’ve never seen before, and you see it just take a right, (I) guess it would be left-hand turn (as the pitcher sees it),” said catcher Mike Zunino, who is with the Rays after being in Seattle last year. “It’s awesome and it’s going to be fun to catch”.
That Was Short
Lefty Tyler Alexander’s initial opportunity since signing with Oakland did not last long.
The Athletics only gave the former Fargo-Moorhead hurler one inning (no runs, one strikeout) with the parent team before sending the non-roster invitee back to their minor league camp although there is nothing to say they could not bring him back on a day-to-day basis during spring training.
Seattle also has returned non-roster invitee Tayler Scott (Sioux City) to its minor league camp and San Diego did the same with another hurler, Ryan Bollinger (St. Paul and Winnipeg). Scott threw two scoreless innings during two appearances while Bollinger pitched three times, giving up four earned runs in three frames.
AA Count in MLB Camps Up to 35
One non-roster hurler doing well so far in spring training is southpaw Mike Kickham (Kansas City), who spent much of last season injured in the Miami farm system. He has a save and has only been charged with an unearned run in three appearances for the Marlins, allowing one hit in his three innings.
Two runs had scored and he inherited a runner when he came in to face Washington earlier this week and struck out the side, fanning Yan Gomes, Andrew Stevenson and Michael Taylor.
The count of former American Association players who have donned major league uniforms for at least one game this spring has jumped more pegs to an impressive 35. This includes right-handers Omar Bencomo (Wichita and Laredo) and Taylor Grover (Chicago) with Baltimore, Tyler Fallwell (Sioux City) and Josh Tols (Kansas City) with Philadelphia, Trey NcNutt (Fargo-Moorhead) with Oakland, southpaw Chris Nunn (St. Paul) with Texas and a trio of hurlers with Cleveland. Brennan Bernardino (Winnipeg) got to wear an Indians uniform as did Evan Mitchell (St. Paul) and Matt Solter (Gary and St. Paul. Infielder Ryan Fitzgerald (Gary) has been with the World Champion Red Sox and outfielder Dillon Thomas (Texas) with Milwaukee. Grover, Bencomo and Thomas are among those who have made game appearances.
Fitzgerald and Solter give the American Association extra bragging rights since the league is where they played their very first professional games.
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.