Which Independent Players Will Make It to Opening Day?
51 Have Been in Major League Camps
By Bob Wirz, Independent Baseball Chatter
One year it was Chris Coste, another Jon Weber and last season Scott Rice and Chris Colabello.
The names change, but the stories are similar. Players who have devoted years of determination and grit to beat the odds of climbing all the way from Independent Baseball leagues, through the affiliated minors and perhaps…just perhaps…squeezing their way onto a major league roster where the respect and financial rewards are so much greater. Some make it; others never do.
It will be another agonizing three or three and a half weeks before we know who–if any–surprise the major league talent judges and are on 25-man Opening Day rosters this year.
Brock Peterson, Andy Marte, Mark Minicozzi, Anthony Seratelli, Kris Johnson (pictured) and Bo Schultz, the latter pair pitchers, are among those to watch this spring. There also could be a longer shot.
We know this much, 51 players who have toiled in Independent leagues have been dressing in major league clubhouses, and even more will get at least a one-day pass from the minor league camp, hoping to make a lasting impression. The 51 equal the second highest count for any season since modern day Independent leagues started in 1993, three below last year’s record.
Our educated guess as we launch Year 12 of this publication is that about 15 or 16 of the players officially in major league camps will be among the 750 fortunate athletes who will be in the majors at the start of the season–barring an unexpected injury such as the elbow problem that has suddenly shut Luke Hochevar (Kansas City) down for an estimated two month–while all of the others have their work cut out, even if they finished the 2013 campaign in the majors. The number will go up by one more if shortstop Stephen Drew, who spent some time at the start of his career at Camden, NJ of the Atlantic League, ever decides to accept one of the free agent offers available to him for a few million dollars.
Thirty-seven onetime Indy players were in the majors for at least part of last season with 12 of them making their debut at that level. And 25 have a leg up right now by being part of the coveted 40-man major league rosters while the other 26 are on non-roster invitations, meaning they were good enough that the big brass thought enough of them to give them a few weeks playing alongside the Derek Jeters, Albert Pujols’s and Mike Trouts, the superstars of these days. Another important number is 15, the group of players who made their professional debut in an Indy circuit.
The list of American Association players in major league camps, as compiled exclusively by the Independent Baseball Insider:
*Aaron Crow, Kansas City (Fort Worth 2008-09)
Dane De La Rosa, L.A. Angels (El Paso 2009)
*Luke Hochevar, Kansas City (Fort Worth 2006)
Kris Johnson, Minnesota (Kansas City 2001)
Brandon Kintzler, Milwaukee (St. Paul 2009)
^Chris Martin, Colorado (Grand Prairie 2010)
*James Paxton, Seattle (Grand Prairie 2010)
^Chaz Roe, Miami (Laredo 2012)
*Tanner Scheppers, Texas (St. Paul 2009)
*Max Scherzer, Detroit (Fort Worth 2007)
Bo Schultz, Arizona (Grand Prairie 2011)
Caleb Thielbar, Minnesota (St. Paul 2011)
^Jose Gil, N.Y. Yankees (Lincoln 2013)
Jeff Howell, Washington (St. Paul/Lincoln 2011)
^Eddy Rodriguez, Tampa Bay (El Paso 2009/Sioux Falls 2010)
Jose Yepez, Atlanta (Pensacola 2006)
*First professional game was in an Independent league
Kevin Winn, who handles umpires for the American Association and Can-Am League, happily points out all five of the AA umpires who attended the professional baseball evaluation system this offseason have been hired to work affiliated minor league games later this season. Three of Winn’s arbiters are now working major league games with Adam Hamari and Will Little both out of the Can-Am and Nick Bailey a grad of the American Association.