Farewell to Four Champions
Last week, the Goldeyes officially said goodbye to Willie Cabrera, Eric Eadington, Adam Heisler, and Carlton Tanabe. All four players were instrumental in last year’s championship season, and all four were great individuals off the field. Whether it was Tanabe’s defence, Eadington’s willingness to take the ball everyday, Cabrera’s ability to always deliver the big hit, or Heisler’s leadership and all-around style of play, each one brought something unique to the table that helped make last year’s team so special.
All four of the Goldeyes’ pitchers who threw at least 100.0 innings last year (Edwin Carl, Kevin McGovern, Mikey O’Brien, and Duke von Schamann) have been re-signed for 2017. It was the first time since 2008 that Winnipeg had a quartet of arms reach triple digit innings (Zach Baldwin, Bear Bay, Brandon Kintzler, and Ace Walker). The Lincoln Saltdogs were the only other American Association team to have four such pitchers in 2016.
Over the years, Rick Forney has said many times that “the best ability is availability.” In a league where there is no farm system to serve as a safety net, simply being on the field for a full season can be just as valuable as a player’s actual performance. The difference between 90.0 and 100.0 innings may not seem that big, but if each of your starting pitchers makes that jump, that’s essentially 50 innings of rest provided to the bullpen. This can go a long way in keeping the relievers fresh for when the stretch run arrives, and the Goldeyes already have four starters on board with that type of durability.
American Association Alumni in Big League Camps
Speaking of Kintzler, the incumbent Minnesota Twins’ closer is one of 14 former American Association players currently attending spring training with a Major League club. Kintzler had two productive seasons for the Goldeyes from 2007-08. In 2009, Kintzler started the American Association All-Star Game as a member of the St. Paul Saints, and had his contract purchased by the Milwaukee Brewers shortly thereafter. The 32-year-old has pitched at the Major League level each of the last seven years, and notched 17 saves for the Twins after assuming closer duties last June.
Joining Kintzler among former American Association players in Big League camps is Canadian-born left-hander James Paxton who posted a 3.79 ERA in 20 starts for the Seattle Mariners last year. A native of Richmond, British Columbia, Paxton started his professional career with the Grand Prairie (now Texas) AirHogs in 2010.
Left-hander Caleb Thielbar, whom the Goldeyes saw plenty of action against while he was a member of the Saints last summer, is attending Major League camp with the Miami Marlins.
Productive Day in Cleburne
To say the Cleburne Railroaders went from “zero to sixty” last week wouldn’t be that big of an exaggeration. The expansion club–whom the Goldeyes will open their season against on May 18th–officially signed their first 16 players on February 22nd. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that all 16 contracts were negotiated in one day. There are many instances where clubs have agreed to terms with a player, but delay the official announcement for one reason or another. However, it’s worth pointing out that until last Wednesday, no team had announced more than six players in a single day (off-season or during the season) over the last two years, and the signing binge is believed to be an American Association record.
Of the inaugural Railroaders signed thus far, three names jumped out. Second baseman Mitch Glasser had a breakout year for the Joplin Blasters in 2016, hitting .314 and walking more times (44) than he struck out (39). Glasser helped Team Israel qualify for the 2017 World Baseball Classic. Centre fielder Chevy Clarke was a first-round draft pick (30th overall) of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2010. Clarke was chosen four slots ahead of Toronto Blue Jays’ all-star Aaron Sanchez and eight slots in front of New York Mets’ phenom Noah Syndergaard (who was originally drafted by Toronto that year). Cleburne has also inked catcher Isaac Wenrich. Wenrich has been very productive on both sides of the ball during his career, but is perhaps most well-known for this poignant moment from last June.
Living the Dream
The Railroaders also made headlines a couple of weeks ago when they hosted a joint tryout camp with the AirHogs. Don Broyles, a 78-year-old great-grandfather, suited up during the camp to give his dream of playing professional baseball one more shot.
North Gaining Even More Strength
Every year, the American Association North is one of the most competitive divisions in all of independent baseball. The Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, St. Paul Saints, and Goldeyes are among the most successful indy franchises of all-time. The Sioux Falls Canaries might be searching for their first winning season since 2010, but new manager Mike Meyer has done an excellent job thus far in trying to ensure his club is part of the playoff mix. Dynamic shorstop Blake Schmit returns after hitting .319 with 20 stolen bases and a .380 on-base percentage. Schmit will also retain his LS-1 classification, enhancing his value even further.
Slugging first baseman Chris Jacobs hit .291 with 21 home runs and 70 RBI for the Can-Am League’s Sussex County Miners last year, and was acquired via trade just before the new year. Meyer also swung a pair of trades with the Laredo Lemurs (where he coached the past two seasons), netting outfielders Burt Reynolds and Ty Morrison. Reynolds tied for the league lead with 24 home runs, and could challenge the American Association’s single-season record (30 home runs set in 2013) playing at Sioux Falls Stadium. Morrison, a left-handed pure hitter who can play all three outfield positions, batted .366 during the Lemurs’ championship run in 2015.