It seems amazing -- and likely a first -- that Independent Baseball veterans earned Pitcher of the Year honors in two of the four major winter leagues, which are bearing down on starting the Caribbean World Series.
Dwayne Pollok, who spent two years in the American Association (Fort Worth, TX) and last summer with Lancaster, PA (Atlantic League) earned the honor in Venezuela and well-traveled Ricardo Gomez in Puerto Rico.
While both are in their 30s and may not be prime affiliated candidates, they turn in impressive records wherever they play. Pollok followed up his 14-4, 2.30 '12 season at Lancaster by going 7-2, 2.36 for Zulia during the regular winter league season. Gomez saved 17 games (4-1, 2.66) in 46 appearances in the Atlantic League (York, PA) and picked up saves in all 14 of his chances for Santurce with a sparkling 1.02 earned run average. He also has pitched for Lancaster and Long Island, NY in the Atlantic League and for Charlotte (FL) County in what was the South Coast League.
Another Atlantic League vet, Nick Ortiz was named Comeback Player of the Year in Puerto Rico. He has played for Long Island, Bridgeport, CT and Somerset, NJ as well as the Road Warriors in various Atlantic League stints.
Switch-hitting American Association All-Star outfielder Chris Roberson, a .317 hitter for Winnipeg last season, boosted Aguilas's chances of winning the Mexican League championship by doubling twice, driving in three runs and scoring another out of the leadoff spot in the decisive game of a semifinal series.
Incentive Aplenty at the Pay Window: If any Independent player needs a little boost during winter workouts this may do it.
Jerome Williams, who was pitching in the Atlantic League (Lancaster, PA) as recently as two years ago, just re-signed with the Los Angeles Angels, where he likely will be a long reliever and spot starter this season, for $2 million. Also, onetime New Jersey Jackals reliever Craig Breslow inked a new two-year deal with Boston for $6.25 million and former Schaumburg, IL hurler Brad Ziegler will get $3.15 million for his 2013 relief work with Arizona.
Rookie Stars, INCLUDING FAIRFIELD PRODUCT, Eager to Move Up: Should anyone doubt there are plenty of talented players still looking for their opportunity, I can share what I saw firsthand at what is known the annual Mike DeAngelo Showcase in Port Chester, NY this week.
Among about 25 specially-invited players, mostly recent collegians or those with limited professional experience, were two who won Rookie of the Year honors in Independent leagues last season. Tucker Nathans earned the honor in the Can-Am League after playing the final two-thirds of the year at second and third base for the Newark (NJ) Bears. He was released from an earlier stint with Florence, KY of the Frontier League. Marc Micowski made his mark in the Northern Division of the North American League while playing the outfield for the road team, the Sonoma (CA) County Grapes.
The left-handed hitters got an opportunity to impress the half-dozen scouts on hand, and leave no doubt they believe they can advance in the game, perhaps because of their bats, from humble, non-draft starts.
"Give me one day, I'll earn a second, then another," said Nathans, 24, who played four years at Fairfield University after getting a confidence boost that he could play in the pros from traveling around and sometimes getting to work out while his brother John, nearly 10 years older, worked his way up to Class AA in the Boston farm system.
"I need to have that one person have faith in me," said Nathans, who hit .307 in 199 at-bats for Newark. "I'll keep working until I get that opportunity."
Micowski is scheduled to play with the Frontier Grays, the travel team in the Frontier League, who signed him on the recommendation of onetime major leaguer Albie Lopez, the pitching coach at Sonoma. "The ability to make contact," was the 6-foot-2 Micowski's response, when asked about his No. 1 strength, a fact backed up by his .410 on-base percentage and only 25 strikeouts in 182 at-bats in his rookie year. He hit .317.
(This is an excerpt from the column Bob Wirz writes year round on Independent Baseball. Forty columns are planned during 2013. Fans may subscribe at www.WirzandAssociates.com, enjoy the blog, www.IndyBaseballChatter.com, which has supplemental stories or comment to RWirz@aol.com. The author has 16 years of major league baseball public relations experience with Kansas City and as spokesman for two Commissioners and lives in Stratford, CT)