Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Five days and counting until the major league season opens with the first real Yankees-Red Sox skirmish of 2010, and we show six former Atlantic League players still in the running for 25-man roster spots. This does not include Jacque Jones (Newark) of Minnesota, who we understand will be with the Twins when they open Target Field Friday night and Saturday with exhibitions against St. Louis but has been told he will not make the Opening Day roster.

We thought lefty reliever Alberto Castillo (Newark, Camden and Road Warriors) would be back in Baltimore where he had a 2.25 ERA in 20 appearances last season, but he was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk, VA Tuesday.

Brendan Donnelly (Nashua) appears set with a bullpen job with Pittsburgh where his 29-9 career major league record helps show his experience. Stephen Drew (Camden) will be Arizona's regular shortstop again, and Nelson Figueroa (Long Island) likely has a job on the New York Mets' pitching staff.

Mike Rivera (Atlantic City) remains with the New York Yankees, but indications are Francisco Cervelli will be Jorge Posada's backup which likely means Rivera will be the third catcher on a two-man staff. Rivera's normally solid bat has failed him with his new team, with whom he has only two hits in 16 at-bats (.125). Cervelli is hitting .345 in more extensive playing time.

This leaves the ongoing outfield battle for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim as the most intriguing story. Both Cory Aldridge (Newark) and Michael Ryan (Somerset) have drawn praise from Manager Mike Scioscia for their offense and their defense. But neither has a 40-man roster spot at the moment. It could come down to the fact one of the competitors is out of options (which hurts) and another has had a nagging injury (which helps).

Aldridge has the better statistics, hitting .382 (13-for-34) with six extra base hits and three runs batted in. He is second on the team in games played this spring (21). Ryan, with more major league experience, is hitting .290 (9-for-31) in 17 games. He has five extra base hits and seven RBI.

Friday, March 26, 2010


Brendan Donnelly’s time in the Atlantic League was one of those “cups of coffee” baseball people always talk about when a player has been with a team for a very short time. He pitched all of three innings spread over three games early in 1999 with the Nashua (NH) Pride, yet that period in his life turned out to be important.

“I did not have a job,” Donnelly recalled in Pittsburgh’s major league clubhouse in Bradenton, FL. He had been released by Cincinnati at the end of spring training after his second stint in Triple-A (Indianapolis) to finish the previous season.

So Donnelly faced all of 11 Atlantic League hitters and Tampa Bay purchased his contract May 15. The 38-year-old right-hander has had his ups and downs in the 11 years since Nashua, moving from one organization to another and surviving some injuries, but there has never been another season without being in a major league organization, and most of the time since 2002 he has had a major league bullpen job. The travels have taken him to what now is the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Boston, Cleveland, Florida to finish 2009, and now to the Pirates.

It seems to be a little known fact the hurler with the herky-jerky delivery has a 29-9 major league record for well over 300 mound appearances.

So, what does Donnelly have to say about the Independent leagues?

“It is a good thing because a lot of good players do not have any other option,” he said, shortly before warming up to face the Red Sox in a Grapefruit League game. “You can’t get seen sitting on the couch.”

Donnelly, who also pitched in the independent Frontier League (Ohio Valley) in 1994, needed to be seen back in 1999. It paid off.


It may not be looked on favorably when it happens, but Brendan Donnelly remembers one specific moment during his brief Atlantic League career. He already knew Tampa Bay wanted him when he threw his last inning for Nashua in Atlantic City. So when it came time to face the Surf’s Juan (The Large Human) Thomas he let the big guy know what he was throwing.

Thomas, perhaps the most powerful hitter around in those days, obliged by depositing the delivery well over the centerfield fence. “Wow” Donnelly still remembers of his reaction to that home run 11 years later.

The record book shows that was the only hit and run Donnelly gave up in the Atlantic League.


Only months after patrolling the outfield for the Newark Bears, Jacque Jones is continuing to make his bid to get back to the majors for the first time since 2008 and to Minnesota, where he spent seven seasons.

The lefty hit in the leadoff position against Florida Wednesday, and did not disappoint with his first spring home run, a single and two runs batted in in only three times at bat, leading the Twins to a 4-1 victory. Jones is now hitting .321 (9-for-28) although it was the first time he had scored or driven in a run in 11 games.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


They were easy to spot.

I went into the Phillies' minor league camp trying to find Jason Standridge and Nate Bump, and possibly one or two other former Atlantic Leaguers. A Triple-A exhibition between the Phils and Pirates had just started, and a crowd of players had gathered since Philadelphia bullpen mainstay Ryan Madson (79 appearances, 5-5, 10 saves, 3.26) was pitching the first two innings.

Standing a few feet behind those who had crowded up to the fence for a closer look were two of the more mature looking players. "I'm looking for Jason Standridge and Nate Bump", I said. "I'm Jason", the taller of the two offered, "and this is Nate".

I had hit paydirt.

Both have major league experience (Bump has been in 113 games; Standridge has a 3-9 career record), but the '09 Atlantic League was their ticket back to an affiliated job and hopefully one day soon to the majors.

Standridge, 31, hurled a gem for Somerset to finish off last year's championship series, a complete game no less. He had been so-so to that point, 5-5, 5.13 in 18 starts. Bump, 33, was a solid 8-2, 2.49 in half a season with Camden.

I always like to know what the players thought of the Atlantic League.

"I was really surprised," said Standridge, looking every bit of the 6-foot-4 at which he is listed.
"I thought it was guys hanging on. It was quite the opposite. 'How in the world does this guy not have a (affiliated) job'", he continued, sounding every bit like that thought came to him many a time while with the Patriots.

Jason used the word "great" repeatedly. "It's a great league, great fans come to the games...some great players. It was Double-A, Triple-A every single night."

Bump had to leave to get some work in before we had a chance to talk in any detail, but Standridge said he had pitched three innings so far in his attempt to prove what he can do for the Philadelphia decision-makers. Both right-handers are currently listed on what the Phils call Group 1 (most likely Triple-A Lehigh Valley) although that unit has 20 pitchers and more will trickle down from the major league club.


It may seem almost routine these days for the Long Island Ducks, but it impresses this typist nevertheless that more than 10,000 tickets were sold the first day they were available. One 11-year-old, Ryan Kamer, waited at the head of the line for 50 hours. Presumably, he had adults with him.


When I looked at the pre-season roster, I thought Michel Hernandez (Somerset) had a really good chance of being with Baltimore this summer as the backup catcher to highly-regarded Matt Wieters. Veteran Chad Moeller looked like the only real competition.

Hernandez, who has played with Tampa Bay and the New York Yankees, may still make it, but not for now. He is out four to six weeks with a fractured right index finger suffered while blocking a ball in the dirt.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


Two weeks from now everyone will be emptying out their spring training lockers to start the regular major league season. The shakedown process of who will be on the 25-man rosters will be all but complete. Many decisions have to be made in the interim, but it seems noteworthy that only two of the 15 Atlantic League vets who were officially in major league camps are still there.

The two now on the outside came as surprises, at least for this early. Milwaukee gave John Halama (Southern Maryland and Long Island) his outright release while Vince Perkins (Camden) was reassigned to the Chicago Cubs' minor league camp.


It appears 2008 Atlantic League vets Michael Ryan (Somerset) and Cory Aldridge (Newark) may well be battling for the same reserve outfield job with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Both players are enjoying a wonderful spring with the 32-year-old Ryan hitting .400 (8-for-20) with a homer, seven runs batted in and a lofty .480 on-base percentage. Aldridge, two years younger, is at .333 (7-for-21) with two homers, three RBI and a .417 on-base mark.

Aldridge has only had five major league at-bats in his 13 professional seasons and they came with Atlanta way back in 2001. Ryan has been in 127 major league games with Minnesota, but he has not been at that level since 2005. Both are left-handed hitters

* * * *We offer additional Independent Baseball Coverage through our subscriber-only Independent Baseball Insider column (see www.WirzandAssociates.com) and the blog
www.IndyBaseballChatter.com. * * * *


Another Atlantic League position player getting into a number of spring training contests is Ed Rogers, who was Bridgeport's shortstop for 32 games just last summer. He has been used in 12 of Arizona’s Cactus League contests so far. The Dominican gloveman, whose 30 major league games came between 2002 and 2006 for Baltimore, has gone 2-for-13 (.133) with three runs scored and one run batted in. Fans know the Diamondbacks’ regular shortstop is Stephen Drew, who started his pro career in Camden.


Slugging outfielder Joe Gaetti, the son of 20-year major league third baseman Gary, has taken his potent bat to Lancaster, where he will play this season under one of his dad’s former teammates, Tommy Herr. Gaetti has displayed power at every level below the major leagues, including nine homers and 25 runs batted in in only 89 at-bats late last season for Joliet, IL of the independent Northern League.

The Barnstormers also have signed a fascinating player who has won four gold gloves (second base) and hit 143 home runs in Japan. While Toshihisa Nishi is getting up in age (38), this longtime Yomiuri Giants and Yokohama Bay Stars player will be trying his hand in an American league for the first time.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Cubs Do Not Keep Vince Perkins; Other Atlantic League Vets Doing Well

Baseball can be cruel, at times. It is especially difficult for those trying to make a major league roster for the first time.

It looked like Vince Perkins, who spent a little time with Camden in 2008, might get a serious look this spring from the Chicago Cubs. It didn't happen, though, as the 28-year-old right-hander only got one inning of official work (one hit, one walk, one unearned run) before he was reassigned to the minor league camp.

Hopefully, his spirit is not broken. This was Perkins's fifth major league spring training, and healthy entering camp after battling elbow issues--including when he was in the Atlantic League--he told this writer in January "I think they are expecting me to come in and win a spot (in the bullpen). I think I am one of the arms they are looking at, and it could be either right away or later in the season," as I wrote in my Independent Baseball Insider column at the time.

Perkins had a fine '09, with a 7-2 record, five saves and a 3.02 ERA in 53 appearances, most of it at Triple-A Iowa.


It certainly isn't fair to cheer against someone else, but the fact Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim outfielder Reggie Willits is sidelined for the moment with an hamstring problem could be one more reason former Somerset outfielder Michael Ryan will continue his long look with the American League team.

Willits, a switch hitter, was in 49 games with the parent club and 62 in Triple-A one year ago. Ultimately, Ryan must continue to show his own positives. He was 0-for-2 with a walk and scored a run against the Cubs Sunday, dropping his spring average to .429 (6-for-14), with such favorable crooked numbers as six runs batted in, four runs and three walks to improve the already impressive on-base percentage.


It was only one spring training appearance, but then each one is important to a guy like 38-year-old John Halama, who is hoping for another major league opportunity with Milwaukee. After three spring innings over two games in which he had been touched for only two hits and no runs, the Chicago Cubs got to this former Southern Maryland and Long Island southpaw in his most recent outing. The Cubs collected five hits and two runs in a two-inning stint by Halama. It probably is a decent sign that Halama has gotten two innings in two of his three appearances (so many times a reliever only gets one frame), and his ERA is a very decent 3.60.


It is awfully early in minor league spring training, but from what we have seen last season's Atlantic League batting (.335) and slugging (.567) king Charlton Jimerson likely will patrol centerfield for Minnesota's top farm club at Rochester, NY.

The onetime College World Series Most Valuable Player did it all at Newark last summer with 49 extra base hits (27-1-21), 38 steals, 91 runs, 62 RBI and all-league honors.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Michael Ryan's Two-Run Homer Earns More Praise from Mike Scioscia

Atlantic League credibility is getting another positive run through the all-around talents of former Somerset outfielder Michael Ryan, who is making a determined bid to earn a spot on the 25-man roster of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Ryan's latest success was a two-run home run with two out in the ninth inning at Goodyear, AZ Friday as an Angels' split squad rallied for three runs to tie Cleveland, 7-7.

"He's certainly fighting for a spot on our club," Angels skipper Mike Scioscia told The Los Angeles Times after the game, in which the 32-year-old played the entire game in leftfield and batted sixth. Ryan's Cactus League batting average actually took a hit, dropping to a still-great .545 (6-for-11) after the 1-for-4 performance. He has six runs batted in in five games.

"I knew he was a good player, but he's been a pleasant surprise how much he's brought this spring," added Scioscia, who also has lauded Ryan's defensive skills.

Centerfielder Torii Hunter added his own praise, telling The Times: "He can flat-out hit, but he never had a chance to play every day (in the majors) and show what he could do."

Ryan, a left-handed hitter who also can play some first and third base, hit .282 with 20 doubles, 15 homers and 44 RBI in 65 games for the Patriots in 2008. He has 127 major league games to his credit--all with Minnesota, which selected him in the fifth round of the 1996 draft--but they came in spurts between 2002 and 2005. His longest stint was for 57 games in '05. Ryan has been a .265 hitter in the majors with seven homers and 33 RBI.


Jay Gibbons is the most recent former Atlantic League player to show up in a major league camp. The longtime big-leaguer, who was in 27 games for Long Island in 2008 and 40 with Newark last season, is in the minor league camp of the Los Angeles Dodgers, but logged some time at first base and went 0-for-1 in a major league game on Thursday.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Atlantic League Alums Patterson, Aldridge, Jones Make Noise in Spring Training

Atlantic League alums had a prominent day in major league spring training camps Monday, including one unlikely source.

Scott Patterson, the onetime Lancaster reliever who is not even an official invitee to the Boston Red Sox camp, was the winning pitcher in the 7-6 victory over St. Louis. Patterson, who started his pro career in an Independent league (Gateway, Sauget, IL., Frontier League) but really started impressing while in the Barnstormers bullpen, worked a scoreless top of the ninth with Boston trailing, 6-5. The 30-year-old, who has had brief major league time with both the New York Yankees and San Diego, gave up a walk, but he only faced three hitters because he also started a double play.

Onetime Newark outfielder Cory Aldridge has to be feeling pretty good after cracking a home run for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in their 13-9 win over Texas. Aldridge is now 1-for-3 for the spring.

It is obvious Minnesota plans to give another former Bears outfielder, Jacque Jones, a long look in his return to the Twins. Even though many players are limited to one or two at-bats a game early in the exhibition season, longtime major leaguer Jones has had three times at the plate in each of the last three games. The 34-year-old, who did not play except for 28 games for Newark last season, collected his first extra-base hit (double) of the spring Monday. He struck out the other two times up in Minnesota's 5-0 whitewash of Baltimore. Jones is at .273 (3-for-11) in the early going.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Newark's Swindle Has Some Fun With a Writer

While giving the major league exhibition season a few days before we start analyzing performances by any of the former Atlantic League players, I felt it would be fun to share part of a Q&A onetime Newark pitcher R. J. Swindle had recently with a Tampa Bay writer, where the southpaw is a non-roster invitee.

Q: How does a player from Vancouver make it to the brink of the major leagues?
A: "I actually grew up in Orlando".

Q: Are both of your parents Canadian?
A: "Neither".

He told the reporter his favorite pitcher growing up has been Jamie Moyer, a teammate during Swindle's stint with the Phillies. "I'd say he's pretty high up there with me being a soft (tossing) lefty and seeing what he's been able to do (with a similar style) his whole career."

Swindle, only 26, has gotten a few major league innings with Philadelphia and Milwaukee the last two seasons, but still is looking for his first lengthy big-league opportunity and his initial win. He was with Newark for part of the 2007 season.

Swindle made his 2010 Grapefruit League debut Friday, working parts of the seventh and eighth innings of the Rays' 12-7 win over the New York Yankees. He got four outs (two on strikeouts) while allowing two hits and a run.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

15 Former Atlantic Leaguers in Major League Spring Training Camps

While this number most likely will increase via late additions or one-day visits, the Atlantic League leads all Independent Baseball leagues with an impressive 15 of its former players in major league spring training camps. Four of the players have the coveted 40-man roster spots while the other 11 are non-roster invitees, regardless of whether they already have major league experience.

Arizona, Baltimore and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have two players apiece. Newark has five of its former players on the list and Camden has three, with nine teams represented, including former entries Atlantic City, Nashua and the traveling Road Warriors.

The entire list of former Atlantic League players in major league camps with their current team and the teams they played for in the AL follow. Those on 40-man rosters are designated with an asterisk (*):

PITCHERS (8)--Greg Burke, San Diego (Atlantic City); *Alberto Castillo, Baltimore (Camden, Newark, Road Warriors); *Brendan Donnelly, Pittsburgh (Nashua); *Nelson Figueroa, New York-NL (Long Island); John Halama, Milwaukee (Long Island, Southern Maryland); Oneli Perez, St. Louis (Newark); Vince Perkins, Chicago-NL (Camden); R. J. Swindle, Tampa Bay (Newark).

CATCHERS (2)--Michel Hernandez, Baltimore (Somerset); Mike Rivera, New York-AL (Atlantic City).

INFIELDER (2)--*Stephen Drew, Arizona (Camden); Ed Rogers, Arizona (Bridgeport).

OUTFIELDERS (3)--Cory Aldridge, Los Angeles-AL (Newark); Jacque Jones, Minnesota (Newark); Michael Ryan, Los Angeles-AL (Somerset).

Figueroa Gets a Jump

Nelson Figueroa, who came to camp with a head start because he had been pitching winter baseball, got off to a solid beginning in his quest to land a starting job with the New York Mets by starting and hurling two shutout innings in the very first major league game of spring training. The right-hander, who once worked briefly for the Long Island Ducks, allowed two hits and two walks while striking out three in the Mets' 4-2 win over the Atlanta Braves.

Halama Likely to Get a Long Look

John Halama has several things going for him as he tries to get back to the major leagues for the first time since family issues took him away after 2006 when he was 3-1 in 17 appearances with Baltimore which ran his career record in the bigs to 56-48. We can point to such reasons why we expect the 38-year-old to get a long look from Milwaukee as he had a respectable year under Brewers Manager Ken Macha in Oakland in 2003 (3-5, 4.22), he was impressive in winter baseball, he told the blog BrewersBeat.com "I'm clear-minded" after handling family matters and he is a much valued commodity, a southpaw.

Halama was 12-2 during significant parts of the last two seasons with Southern Maryland, including a nifty 8-1, 1.96 season in 10 starts for Butch Hobson's Blue Crabs in 2009. Halama was 8-10 in 26 starts for Long Island in 2007.